Continental Humanist Poetics: Studies in Erasmus, Castiglione, Marguerite de Navarre, Rabelais, and Cervantes

By Arthur F. Kinney | Go to book overview

FOUR
Marguerite de Navarre's Heptamëron des Nouvells: The Poetics of Metaphysics and the Fiction of L'inquiétisme

THE PRISMATIC CONTES THAT CONSTITUTE L'HEPTAMÉRON OF MARGUERITE, THE QUEEN OF NA- VARRE--"THE PATRON OF THE RE- NAISSANCE, AND THE CHAMPION OF THE LEARNED"1--ARE COMPOSED, FROM THE start, to emphasize the caducity of the world we know. Essentially, they share with Castiglione a universe noted for its frailty, its perishability, its very impermanence. Together, these contes mark a decisive turning point in the development of Continental humanist poetics. Drawing simultaneously and consentaneously on the wit and paradox by which Erasmus exposed man's folly and rescued his wisdom and on the urgent need for cultivation and the strategic use of manners advanced by Castiglione, Marguerite transforms her predecessors' inherent disputation and open dialectic wholly into the service of fiction. The various embedded tales of L'Heptaméron function both philosophically and rhetorically to create a singular--and a memorable--nouvelle. L'Heptaméron (written from 1541; published posthumously in 1558) is a masterpiece of humanist fiction, a splendid and dazzling accomplishment, propaedeutic in turn to the great novels of Rabelais and Cervantes that will follow.

Marguerite de Navarre "was the greatest lady of her time," L. Cazamian writes. He echoes the praise given her at her death in 1544 that she was "certes tout l'honneur Des Princesses de nostre age"; "She was also the most cultivated and gifted woman of the French Renaissance," an "epitome" of humanist culture.2 But she is no feminist epigone of Boccaccio, just as L'Heptaméron is no mere imitation of the Decameron. Whereas the Italian collection of tales remains

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