Agony, Ecstasy, and the Mulekeeper's Wife: a Reading of Heptameron 2

  1. author McKinley, Mary, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Published
Published in: A French Forum, festschrift for Raymond C. and Virginia La Charité, 2000
Publisher: Paris: Kleinsieck
Pages: 129 - 142
Keywords
French Renaissance literature, short story, mystical poetry
Abstract

The second story of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, the tale of a mulekeeper’s wife who is raped and murdered by her husband’s servant, incorporates many elements of Marguerite’s mystical poetry. Precise details of the woman’s ‘agony’ and death echo the mystic’s gradual sublimation of the body as she progresses toward ecstatic union with Christ. Passages in Les Prisons describe the death of Louise de Savoie, Marguerite’s mother, as a mystical ecstasy. In Le Miroir de Jhesus Christ crucifié, Marguerite depicts her own approach to ecstatic union with similar language. Those two works, composed around the same time as the Heptaméron, invite us to see the humble mulekeeper’s wife in a sort of mystical sorority with those two royal women. In her portrait of the dying woman, Marguerite offers a mediated self-portrait. She thereby obeys the lesson that Oisille, the narrator, gives at the end of story two: “that is why we must humble ourselves, because God’s grace is not given to men for their nobility and wealth…. He often elects the lowly in order to confound those women whom the world regards as highborn and honorable.”

Notes

The copies of the book containing this article were destroyed in a fire in the publisher’s warehouse near Paris before they were released for sale. The book was never re-issued. I was fortunate to have one of the few advance copies, and I am pleased for this opportunity to ‘publish’ my article here.