Marguerite de Navarre
L’Heptameron was written by Marguerite de Navarre in 1549. It was written as a framework narrative, similar to The Canterbury Tales and the Decameron. These collections of stories are organized by day; the whole collection corresponds to a period of quarantine (the Decameron) or pilgrimage (to Canterbury). In the Heptameron, the stories are connected through the characters that tell them, and in turn, these fictional narrators have their own adventures. Many of the stories are romantic, some speak about religious matters (Marguerite de Navarre was pious), and a few deal with war and politics. It is also clear that many of these stories contain elements of autobiography.
Originally, there were supposed to be ten days, with ten stories apiece. However, Marguerite de Navarre wrote the collection at the end of her life. The Heptameron was the last thing she wrote before dying in 1549, after the death of her brother, the king François I. Thus, there are only 72 stories. She wrote them in private, and they were not found and published until 1558.
Marguerite de Navarre uses architecture to convey a sense of place, to create a visual representation, and to help us distinguish between people in different scenarios.
Marguerite de Navarre wrote the first ten stories with the hope of setting up the background to all the stories that follow. Many of the techniques she used in the first day’s stories are seen throughout the collection. Places have a purpose and often act as a plot device. This section defines what those places mean. For example, a bedroom isn’t a place to sleep, especially not as a married couple: it is where you and your lover enjoy each other, where you plot court intrigues, or where a young maiden is locked away to keep her chaste. The bedroom is inscribed or imbued with the secrets that the characters are trying to hide. Similarly, the remote villa in the countryside keeps the wife away from the husband, while he is in the city, enjoying his palatial residence and his mistress. The country villa becomes a prison warden of sorts, almost a character in the story. In that sense, places can act like characters in the Heptameron.
As suggested above, in the description of the Première Journée, places in the Heptameron act almost as characters in the story. This is also true for the Deuxième Journée. Here, Marguerite de Navarre adds a few more places. On the second day, she also refers to numerous cities throughout Europe. Although today these city names convey different associations from those of Marguerite, some still conjure up the same, specific images: typically, a site or landmark for which the city was famous. Thus, throughout the travels of the second day and through her characters’ experiences, Marguerite de Navarre plots a map that consists of architectural sites. The Deuxième Journee is also where she scales up the grandeur, from house to chateau and from village to city, while still keeping the intimate spaces, such as a bedroom, relevant.
The locations such as Le Monastere (the Monastery), La Chapelle (the Chapel), and La Maison (the House) all keep the meaning from the previous day. The ones that follow have slight alterations or are new to la deuxieme journee.
Marguerite, Queen Consort of Henri II, King of Navarre, 1492-1549. «Marguerite, Queen, consort of Henry II, King of Navarre, 1492-1549. [ 1559 ] L'Heptaméron In Pierre Jourda, ed., Conteurs français du XVIe siècle. (Paris : Gallimard, 1956).» 1956. ARTFL FRANTEXT. Éd. University of Chicago. PhiloLogic4. Book. 15 July 2020. Link
I chose all the background pictures for L’Heptameron as symbolic representations; they are not from the period. The heading picture is Notre-Dame de Dijon, meant to highlight Marguerite de Navarre’s piety and love of the Church; the Gothic church may have been similar to the ones she frequented. The picture for “La Première Journée” is the Abbaye de Fontenay: an abbey is the setting of the tenth story. The Cistercian abbey whose construction began in the twelfth century may have looked similar to the abbeys visited by Marguerite. “La Deuxième Journée'' is illustrated with an aerial view of Dijon, representative of the cities mentioned in the narrative.