Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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DAY 4 STORY 36: The President of Grenoble's Revenge

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

When Ennasuite begins the story, she says that she will expose the weakness of both men and women but show what "probity and virtue" a man is capable of. When she reaches the conclusion of the story, you will see that there is some debate about whether she has actually shown an example of virtue or not. The wronged husband in this story is certainly very methodical in his reaction to his wife's infidelity... but is it an example of virtue? You will have to see what you think about that.

"Since it is my turn to speak," said Ennasuite, "I will spare neither man nor woman, so as to make: both sides even. You find it hard to overcome yourselves and admit the probity and virtue of men."

THERE was at Grenoble a president whose name I shall not mention. It is enough to say that he was not a Frenchman, that he had a very handsome wife, and that they lived very happily together. The husband, however, being old, the lady thought fit to love a young clerk named Nicolas. When the husband went in the morning to the Palace of Justice, the clerk used to step into the bedchamber and take his place.

An old domestic of the president's, who had been in his service for thirty years, discovered this, and as a faithful servant, could not help revealing it to his master. The president, who was a prudent man, would not believe the fact without inquiry, and told the servant that he wanted to create dissension between him and his wife; adding, that if the fact was as he stated, he could easily give him ocular proof of it; and if he failed to do so, then he, the president, would believe that the servant had trumped up this lying tale to make mischief between husband and wife. The valet assured him that he should see what he had told him.

One morning when the president had gone to the palace, and the clerk had stolen into the bedroom as usual, the valet sent one of his fellow-servants to apprise the president, while he himself remained on the watch before the bedroom door, to see if Nicolas came out. The president, on seeing the messenger beckon to him, immediately quitted the court on pretence of sudden illness, and hurried home, where he found his old servant standing sentry at the bedroom door, and was assured by him that Nicolas was inside, having gone in not long before. "Remain at the door," said the president. "There is no other way to get in or out of the room as thou knowest, except a little closet, of which I always keep the key."

The president enters the room, and finds his wife and the clerk in bed together. Nicolas, who did not expect such a visit, threw himself in his shirt at his master's feet and implored pardon, whilst the lady fell a crying.

"Though what you have done," said the president to her, "is as bad as it can be, I do not choose to have the credit of my house blasted for you, and the daughters I have had by you made the sufferers. I command you, then, to cease your, crying, and see what I am going to do. As for you, Nicolas," said he to the clerk, "hide yourself in my cabinet, and make no noise."

Nicolas having done as he ordered, he opened the door, and calling in the old servant, said to him, "Didst thou not assure me thou wouldst show me my clerk in bed with my wife? I came hither on the strength of thy word, and thought to kill my wife. I have found nothing, though I have searched everywhere. Search thyself, under the beds and in all directions."

The valet, having searched and found nothing, said to his master, "The devil must have flown away with him; for I saw him go in, and he did not come out by the door; however, I see he is not here."

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

  • how did the man learn that his wife was having an affair with Nicolas?
  • why did the man decide to not punish his wife publicly for her affair?
  • how did the man try to prove to his servant that there was no lover in the bedroom?

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