Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

DAY 2: STORY 16: The Lady from Milan and Her Lover

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 1000 words.

It is now the second day, and one of the stories has described the naughty antics of a wife who felt neglected by her husband. Geburon provides a counter-example of a woman who is virtuous, and this time he uses his sense of humor to tell a love story. As in Geburon's story of the boatwoman, the heroine of this story is chaste and modest: this time she is a beautiful and pious widow, with whom a Frenchman has fallen desperately in love.

"It is not fair," said Oisille, "to conclude from one instance of a naughty woman, that all others are like her."

"You are all women, however," replied Saffredent; "and however bravely adorned you may be, any one who looked carefully under your petticoats would find that you are so."

"We should do nothing but wrangle all day, if we were to listen to you," said Nomerfide. "But I so long to hear another story, that I beg Longarine to call on some one."

Longarine cast her eyes on Geburon, and said, "If you have a story to tell of some good lady, pray do so now."

"Since you call upon me," replied Geburon, "I will relate to you a thing that happened at Milan."

AT the time when the Grand-Master of Chaumont was governor of Milan, there was a lady there who passed for one of the most respectable in the city. She was the widow of an Italian count, and resided with her brothers-in-law, not choosing to hear a word about marrying again. Her conduct was so correct and guarded, that she was highly esteemed by all the French and Italians of the duchy.

One day, when her brothers and sisters-in-law entertained the Grand-Master of Chaumont, the widow could not help being present, contrary to her custom of never appearing at any festive meeting. The French could not see her without praising her beauty and her grace; one among them especially, whom I will not name. It is enough to inform you that there was not a Frenchman in Italy more worthy to be loved, for he was fully endowed with all the beauties and graces which a gentleman could have. Though he saw the widow dressed in black crape, apart from the young people, and withdrawn into a corner with several old ladies, yet, being one who had never known what it was to fear man or woman, he accosted her, took off his mask, and quitted the dance to converse with her. He passed the whole evening with her and the old ladies her companions, and enjoyed himself more than he could have done with the youngest and sprightliest ladies of the court. So charmed was he with this conversation, that when it was time to retire he hardly believed he had had time to sit down. Though he talked with the widow only upon common topics, suited to the company around her, she failed not to perceive that he was anxious to make her acquaintance, which she was so resolute to prevent, that he could never afterwards meet with her in any company, great or small.

At last, having made inquiries as to her habits of life, and learned that she went often to the churches and religious houses, he set so many people on the watch that she could not go to any of those places so secretly but that he was there before her, and stayed as long as he could see her. He made such good use of his time, and gazed at her with such hearty good-will, that she could not be ignorant of his passion; and to prevent these encounters she resolved to feign illness for some time, and hear mass at home. This was a bitter mortification to the gentleman, for he was thus deprived of his only means of seeing her.

At last, when she thought she had baffled his plans, she returned to the churches as before, and Love took care forthwith to make this known to the gentleman, who then resumed his habits of devotion. Fearing lest she should throw some other obstacle in his way, and that he should not have time to make known to her what he felt, one morning, when she was hearing mass in a little chapel, where she thought herself snugly concealed, he placed himself at the end of the altar, and turning to her at the moment when the priest was elevating the host, said, in a voice of deep feeling, "I swear to you, madam, by Him whom the priest holds in his hands, that you are the sole cause of my death. Though you deprive me of all opportunity to address you, yet you cannot be ignorant of the passion I entertain for you. My haggard eyes and death-like countenance must have sufficiently made known to you my condition."

The lady pretended not to understand him, and replied, "God's name ought not to be taken in vain; but the poets say that the gods laugh at the oaths and falsehoods of lovers, wherefore women who prize their honor ought neither to be credulous nor pitiful." So saying, she rose and went home.

Those who have been in the like predicament will readily believe that the gentleman was sorely cast down at receiving such a reply. However, as he did not lack courage, he thought it better to have met with a rebuff than to have missed an opportunity of declaring his love. He persevered for three years, and lost not a moment in which he could solicit her by letters and by other means; but during all that time she never made him any other reply, but shunned him as the wolf shuns the mastiff; and that not by reason of any aversion she felt for him, but because she was afraid of exposing her honor and reputation. The gentleman was so well aware that there lay the knot of the difficulty, that he pushed matters more briskly than ever; till, after a world of trouble, refusals, and sufferings, the lady was touched by his constancy, took pity on him, and granted him what he had so long desired and waited for.

The assignation having been made, and the requisite measures concerted, the gentleman failed not to present himself at the rendezvous, at whatever risk of his life, for the fair widow resided with her relations. But as he was not less cunning than handsome, he managed so adroitly, that he was in the lady's chamber at the moment appointed.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did the Frenchman meet the widow of the Italian nobleman?
  • when and where did the Frenchman declare his love for the woman?
  • how long did it take for the woman to agree to see him?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM