Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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DAY 7 STORY 62: Secrets Revealed

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

This story is actually an example of a story-within-a-story, as you will see - but the whole joke depends on the identity of the storyteller. So, Longarine tells a story about a certain lady, and that certain lady is telling a story about someone who was visited by a man in her bedroom...

"It is difficult, however, for a sin to be so secret as never to come to light," said Longarine, "unless God himself conceals it for sake of those who repent of it truly for love of Him."

"What would you say of women," said Hircan, "who have no sooner committed a folly than they go and tell it?"

"The thing seems so surprising," said Longarine, "that it seems to me a token that they do not dislike the sin. I have already said that the sin which is not covered by the grace of God can hardly be denied before men. There are many who take pleasure in talking of such things, and glory in publishing their vices, and others who accuse themselves by self-contradiction."

"That is a very clumsy kind of self-contradiction," said Saffredent, "but if you know any example of it, I beg you will relate it."

"Hearken, then," said Longarine.

IN the time of King Francis I there was a lady of the blood royal who had honor, virtue, and beauty, and who knew how to tell a story with grace, and also to laugh at a good one when she heard it. This lady being at one of her houses, was visited by all her dependants and neighbors, by whom she was greatly beloved.

Among other visits she received one from a certain lady, who seeing that every one told the princess tales to divert her, wished to do like the rest, and said, "I have a story to tell you, madam; but you must promise not to speak of it. It is quite true, and I can conscientiously give it you as such.

"There was a married lady who lived on very creditable terms with her husband, though he was old and she young. A gentleman in her neighborhood, seeing she had married this old man, fell in love with her, and solicited her for several years, but she only replied to him as became a virtuous woman. One day it occurred to the gentleman that if he could come upon her at a moment advantageous to himself, she would perhaps not be so cruel. After he had long weighed the danger to which he exposed himself, love smoothed over all difficulties, dissipated his fear, and determined him to seek time and opportunity. Keeping good watch for intelligence, he learned that the lady's husband was going away to another of his houses, and intended to set out at daybreak to avoid the heat, whereupon he repaired to the lady and found her asleep in bed. Seeing that the maid-servants were not in the chamber, he got into the lady's bed, booted and spurred as he was, without having had the wit to lock the door. She awoke, and was very much vexed to see him there; but in spite of all her remonstrances there was no stopping him - he violated her, and threatened, if she made a noise, to tell everybody she had sent for him; which frightened her so much that she durst not cry out. One of the servants came back some moments afterwards into the chamber. The gentleman jumped up with such celerity that she would have noticed nothing, if his spur had not stuck in the top sheet, and carried it clean off the bed, leaving the lady quite naked."

So far the lady had told her story as if of another; but here she could not help saying: "Never was woman more astonished than I when I found myself thus naked."

The princess, who had listened to the whole tale without a smile, could not then restrain her laughter, and said, "I see you were quite right in saying you knew the story to be true." The poor lady tried hard to mend the matter; but there was no possibility of finding a good plaister for it.

I assure you, ladies, if the act had given her real pain she would have been glad to have lost the recollection of it; but as I have already said, sin is sure to discover itself unless it be covered by the mantle which, as David says, makes man blessed.

"Truly, of all the fools I ever heard of this was the greatest, to set others laughing at her own expense," said Ennasuite.

"Why," said Geburon, "what sin had she committed? She was asleep in her bed, and he threatened her with death and infamy. Lucretia, who has been so much lauded, did quite as much."

"It is true," said Parlamente, "there is no righteous person who may not fall; but when one has felt at the instant great disgust at one's fall, one remembers it only with horror. To efface its memory Lucretia killed herself; but this wanton chose to make others laugh at it in her own case."

"It seems to me, nevertheless," said Nomerfide, "that she was a good woman, since she was urgently solicited several times, but would not consent. Accordingly, the gentleman was obliged to use fraud and violence in order to succeed."

"What! "said Parlamente, "do you suppose that a woman's honor is spotless when she succumbs after two or three refusals? At that rate there would be many a woman of honor among those who are regarded as having none. Plenty of women have been known for a long time to repulse him to whom their hearts were already given. Some do it because they fear infamy; others to make themselves the more loved and esteemed by a feigned resistance. A woman, therefore, ought not to be held in any consideration unless she remains firm to the end." [...]

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

  • how did the married lady react to the amatory advances of this gentleman?
  • what happened when the gentleman was discovered in the lady's bedroom?
  • what made the princess burst out laughing?

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