In the aristocratic milieu of its storytellers, a woman's honor is prized, but it is radically vulnerable. As often as the tales speak of love, they also examine the honor that it so frequently endangers: the Queen of Navarre creates what might be read as a conduct book for women navigating the treacherous waters of male desire with an eye to conscience and reputation. She does not teach resignation, nor passive acceptance, nor silence for its own sake. Instead, through a sustained critique of the brutality and excess that often undergird early modern aristocratic masculinity, she saves the best of honor for her brave and virtuous women. In Nouvelle 26, the virtuous, married lady courted by the young Seigneur d'Avannes mentions on her deathbed that "l'honneur des hommes et des femmes n'est pas semblable.
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In the aristocratic milieu of its storytellers, a woman's honor is prized, but it is radically vulnerable. As often as the tales speak of love, they also examine the honor that it so frequently endangers: the Queen of Navarre creates what might be read as a conduct book for women navigating the treacherous waters of male desire with an eye to conscience and reputation.
She does not teach resignation, nor passive acceptance, nor silence for its own sake. Instead, through a sustained critique of the brutality and excess that often undergird early modern aristocratic masculinity, she saves the best of honor for her brave and virtuous women. In Nouvelle 26, the virtuous, married lady courted by the young Seigneur d'Avannes mentions on her deathbed that "l'honneur des hommes et des femmes n'est pas semblable.
Parlamente's stark contrasts criticize the ethical laxity of standards of masculine honor, and the excess and disproportionality they allow. In this citation, men's honor is indistinguishable from the capacity for violence on the one hand, and sexual desire on the other.
The association of men's honor with violence is an old one, with deep roots in aristocratic ideals of masculinity. Although characters from across the social classes guard their chastity, specific references to honor rarely apply to those who are not highborn. Instead, the Queen of Navarre primarily uses her own world of aristocratic actors to examine the problem of honor.
Among them, honor and the capacity for violence are virtually synonymous. Nowhere is this link clearer than in Nouvelle 10 about the warlike Amadour, who loves the higher-born, virtuous Floride. After years of a seemingly chaste love, Amadour tries to pressure her into a sexual relationship and attempts to assault her when she refuses. Ultimately, Amadour dies of self-inflicted wounds on the battlefield, and Floride, who escapes his clutches, enters a convent.
As Amadour is a younger son, his social advancement relies on his reputation, which is gained entirely on the battlefield. The tale presents Amadour as an unparalleled fighter, and over the course of the story, even as his love for Floride turns vicious, his bravery and militarism are never in doubt. As the tale weaves between Amadour's interactions with Floride and his departures to fight in Spain's wars, battle repeatedly interrupts love in its scenes.
Over the course of Nouvelle 10, the text brings Amadour's militarism to bear more and more heavily on his relationship with Floride. When confessing his feelings, he frames his future military exploits as both the result and proof of his love. This is devotion expressed primarily through violence—the willingness both to suffer and to inflict it: all his glorious deeds will be in Floride's name and will exceed any he performed before, but only if she consents to his desires — Here, although Floride loves Amadour, she rejects his advances.
In response, he turns on her; the text plays out this shift on the battlefield:. Il meit arriere tout le conseil de raison, et mesme la paour de la mort, dont il se mectoit en hazard; delibera et conclud d'ainsy le faire.
In Amadour's case, the tale ends in an excess of bloodshed when, enraged, he turns his sword on himself. In the discussion following Nouvelle 4, the story of the Princess of Flanders often taken to be Marguerite de Navarre herself who defends herself from a nighttime assault by a suitor, these consequences are exposed by the devisant Hircan, who argues that her attacker should not have given up so easily:.
Puis que vous avez ceste oppinion, on doibt bien craindre de tumber en voz mains. Nomerfide's disbelieving interjection articulates the text's criticism, highlighting the alarming and deeply problematic repercussions for women of a masculine honor that cannot lay down arms. Hircan [End Page 89] suggested as much following Nouvelle 10, but following Nouvelle 18, the story of a young man who falls in love with a lady who tests him repeatedly, the devisant Saffredent goes a step further, arguing that rape and desire or admiration—in fact that rape and honoring—are the same:.
Saffredent's language of victory recognizes no difference at all between desire and war. In fact, he argues for violence as the very highest form of appeal: while other women can be cajoled, bribed or tricked, the intelligent, honest, and unwilling woman represents the greatest challenge Martineau For him, rape requires the same courage that establishes a man's honor on the battlefield. The dangers for women from this line of thinking are obvious.
However, in weighing these hazards, the tales portray the values and motivations of its women as strikingly similar to those of its men. Honor is equally at stake for both, and the tales explore the meaning and precarity of women's honor at even greater length. Following Nouvelle 43, the story of Jambicque, who cultivates a harshly chaste reputation but takes a lover in secret and turns on him when he unmasks her, Parlamente argues:. Men's honor, as we've seen thus far, is violent and aggressive, but Parlamente also highlights its excess: it is an uncontrolled "fureur" and disproportionate.
In sharp contrast, the traits that define women's honor all demonstrate restraint. It would be a mistake to see these as passive: Parlamente first equates women who succumb to pleasure with men, implying that women exercise greater self-control. More specifically, she portrays this self-control [End Page 90] as a form of combat, as the term "vaincues" implies. In her arresting formulation, a woman's honor increases when she is victorious over pleasure; if she loses the fight, she is no more than a man.
In the discussion following Nouvelle 10, Hircan claims women "ont l'honneur autant que les hommes, qui le leur peuvent donner et oster" , but beyond the open menace of men's desire and aggression, there is also the danger of wagging tongues, "les oppinions de ceulx qui plus tost jugent mal que bien" Honor, after all, is intricately tied to reputation.
Its precarity is therefore multivalent; it is at risk from anyone with ill intent, and even at times from oneself. However, the female storytellers often support the punishments that unchaste women face.
Et croy que le mary, puisqu'il s'en voloit venger, se gouverna avecq une merveilleuse prudence et sapience" — The violent language of the hunt highlights the very real threat from men who see rejection as dishonor. Here, she explicitly rejects the equation of sexual conquest with honor, 6 insisting instead on a Christian ethics that contrasts aristocratic-heroic motivations with the reality of their consequences: pleasure and honor on the one hand, dishonor and death on the other.
To be sure, as Parlamente's words imply, this zero-sum conception of honor victimizes not only women, but also other men "tuer les hommes". Within the violent framework of aristocratic-heroic masculinity, men gain honor off one another as well, as the ruin of one makes the reputation of the other. To this end, the text opposes women's honor not only to its masculine counterpart, but also to love itself. For instance, the virtuous widow who loves the young Sieur d'Avannes sickens and dies, "ne povant porter la guerre que l'amour et l'honneur faisoient en son cueur" Even the male devisants recognize these risks.
Following Nouvelle 53, Dagoucin emphasizes the importance of secrecy "parquoy les fault aussy bien cacher quant l'amour est vertueuse, que si elle estoit au contraire, pour ne tomber au mauvais jugement de ceulx qui ne peuvent croire que ung homme puisse aymer une dame par honneur" Parlamente concurs elsewhere, pointing out that "l'honneur d'une femme est aussi bien mys en dispute, pour aymer par vertu, comme par vice" Ullrich Langer notes that in these tales, "chastity is demonstrated by physical fortitude, not by passive suffering and submission to violence.
Moreover, several women die to preserve their honor or to avoid dishonor, as in Nouvelles 2, 23, 26, and In these instances, the tales often use the language of martyrdom that emphasizes the pathos of their fortitude or suffering. Dora Polachek argues that "By making chastity the protagonist's choice, the female saint's life opens up a space for the kind of heroic action usually reserved for men.
In Nouvelle 58, a lady enlists the help of none other than Marguerite de Navarre in avenging herself on a wayward lover Two further examples of women's vengeance highlight the crossing of gender boundaries that results.
In Nouvelle 23, a monk tricks a chaste, married woman by taking her husband's place in her bed. Although Oisille is critical, her attitude is not universal. The seemingly paradoxical simile turns her into a soldier: while attempting to flee, the muleteer's wife appears not only masculine, but martial. Parlamente portrays Floride as "victorieuse de son cueur, de son corps, d'amour et de son amy" , prefiguring the conflict between Amadour's desire and Floride's honor that follows.
Que dirons-nous icy, mes dames? Avons-nous le cueur si bas, que nous facions noz serviteurs nos maistres, veu que ceste-cy n'a sceu estre vaincue ne d'amour ne de torment? Battlefield heroism inscribes Parlamente's language with words like "cueur," "victorieuses," "vaincue," and "victoire" as she sets out a new kind of victory for women who protect their honor at all costs.
It is a victory over self and, as she describes it, the greatest victory of all. Although it criticizes or discourages imprudent speech, silence is not praised for its own sake.
Instead, I would argue that the text repeatedly showcases important examples of risky speech by women confronting powerful adversaries in defending their honor.
Insisting on the link between conscience and honor—that is, between private virtue and public reputation—she corrects Amadour, the prime exemplar of aristocratic-heroic masculinity that betrays its violent hypocrisy. On two separate occasions, the lady reproaches men and defends her virtue. The first, less risky address criticizes an admirer's cowardice when he turns away from her at the king's request. Over three uninterrupted pages, she defends her honor and conscience, and explains her desire for vengeance.
Over the course of her speech, the lady's fear becomes self-assurance as she embraces the role of speaking truth in the face of risk. Nouvelle 21's well-born Rolandine, neglected by her father and the queen her guardian, reaches the age of thirty without marrying. Taking matters into her own hands, she weds a bastard from a lower house, and is persecuted by the king, the queen, and her father, who imprisons her to break her resolve.
Refusing to renounce her faithless husband despite pressure from all sides, she appears very much as a martyr: the tale emphasizes her piteous state and heroic endurance — Over four pages —18 , she justifies her position and defends her honor against the queen's furious interruptions.
Je ne crainctz que creature mortelle entende comme je me suis conduicte en l'affaire dont l'on me charge, puisque je sais que Dieu et mon honneur n'y sont en riens offensez. After this remarkable speech, which addresses the reader alongside the angry queen, overtly religious vocabulary highlights Rolandine's virtue and heroism. Eventually, Rolandine is rewarded with a well-born husband who recognizes her value, and on two occasions she is avenged by none other than God Himself, who kills her faithless first husband and also the brother who tries to strip her of her inheritance — Once again, the tale's religious imagery combines with that of frank speech, proposing another martyr-like figure who defends her honor boldly in the face of great risk.
She responds to the prior's threats to excommunicate her "d'un visaige sans paour" , calling God as witness to her honor. In the end, she avenges herself through a network of women, including Marguerite de Navarre, to whom she manages to get word of her plight through her brother.
She reproaches the prince several times, and at length when he manages to trap her — Here, as the risk inherent in the disparity between her station and his is compounded by her isolation, she exclaims:. Nonetheless, he concludes that true honor is a chaste heart, which loves out in the open Longarine responds once again by affirming self-mastery as the highest ideal of feminine honor, with the martial language of victory.
The tale's emphasis on the princess's strength and authority might therefore seem incongruous: during the attack, her physical strength appears equal to her male attacker's When she realizes that he is trying to silence her, she redoubles her efforts and calls out to the older lady-in-waiting, scaring him off.
Her immediate reaction is to seek his death by telling her brother the prince what he has attempted:. The princess's "great anger" and desire for bloody vengeance, followed by the lady-in-waiting's recognition that she is willing to take his life to defend her honor, mark hers as a traditionally aristocratic-heroic, masculine response. However, the lady-in-waiting convinces the princess to remain silent instead, arguing that any admission of the attack might damage her reputation.
Patricia Cholakian sees the older woman's advice as "a digest of all the arguments used to intimidate and silence rape victims. It is her attacker who loses his power instead:. The tables have turned: whereas the princess is now the "victorious enemy," "all assured" that her suspicions were correct, he instead blushes, no longer audacious but disconcerted and afraid. And, most tellingly, her attacker must accept her decision with patience , that traditional hallmark of women's honor.
The princess and the gentilhomme have effectively exchanged expected gender roles.
The history of the Heptameron is singular. It is the best known and the most popular of all the old collections of tales in the French language. It has been the delight of the unlearned, scholars have warmly commended it, and men of talent and genius have borrowed from its pages. From all this, would it not seem reasonable to presume that the world had long possessed a tolerably correct text of this celebrated book—one at least which has not been seriously falsified both by omissions and interpolations? But such is not the fact.
Honor and violence
In the early s five men and five women find themselves trapped by floods and compelled to take refuge in an abbey high in the Pyrenees. The stories, however, soon degenerate into a verbal battle between the sexes, as the characters weave tales of corrupt friars, adulterous noblemen and deceitful wives. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1, titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators. Chilton Translated by Paul A.