Marguerite de Navarre, L'Heptaméron
About the Heptameron
"Appearing in print for the first time in 1558, the book that we now know as the Heptameron represents in microcosm the conflicts, tensions, and beliefs of early modern French society as viewed from one part of the court. The 'tales of the queen of Navarre,' as Brantôme called the work, present a forum where different elements of Renaissance and Reformation culture meet and, at times, collide. Often the encounters are idealogical. The stories and discussions of the Heptameron depict confrontations based on, among other elements, gender. Contradictory suppositions about women emerge repeatedly from the stories and discussions as the devisants or fictional storytellers--five men and five women--delineate attitudes both feminist and misogynist. At the same time, similarly conflicting notions about men emerge to be debated. Whether echoing the late medieval querelle des femmes, the contemporary querelle des amyes, the evolving currents of Neoplatonism and Petrarchism, or the attitudes toward sexual roles put forth in Reformation polemics, deeply felt beliefs about gender inform and animate the Heptameron.
Ideological confrontations in the Heptameron often echo evangelical efforts at church reform. Here, conflicts among the storytellers are less oppositional, for even if some seem more fervent in their religious ardor than others and some more concerned with the corporal than with the spiritual, none of them advocated a theological postion opposed to that of the evangelical reformers. The stories the devisants tell are often cautionary tales conveying their hostility and dismay about the state of the Catholic church: decadent priests and monks, most often lubricious and venal; unfortunate Christians whose belief int he efficacy of good works leads to disaster and death. Both the stories and the discussions often center on differing attitudes toward sin and virute, alienation and reconciliation, eros and caritas, pleasure and honor--alternatives that the storytellers and their characters present as conflictual states and values within which they must negotiate a tenable place in their fictional world. If some have found a haven of tranquillity in the steadfast convictions of their evangelical faith, others are still playing out restless scenarios of unsatisfied desire. The climate of unrest, menace, and hostility that characterizes the prologue also portrays the world of the Heptameron in general, the physical world from which the storytellers flee and to which they wait to return, and their overall view of the human condition as well. The conflicts of the Reformation loom over the Heptameron as a prominent symptom of larger, related disruptions and new departures that marked mid-sixteenth-century Europe."
--from Critical Tales: New Studies of the Heptameron and Early Modern Culture (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1993) edited by John D. Lyons and Mary B. McKinley
For a complete transcription of the Heptameron, see the Gallica site (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), which has reproduced the edition prepared by François Michel (Bordas, 1991) in text format (“documents en mode texte”): http://gallica.bnf.fr
Portail Multimédia de Renaissance-France.org — Listen to sound recordings of excerpts from stories 6, 11, 20, 40 and 60 of the Heptaméron: http://www.renaissance-france.org/multimedia/pages/presmarguerite.html