Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Dialogue, Space, and Selfhood in la Chastelaine De Vergi and Marguerite De Navarre's Heptameron 70

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Dialogue, Space, and Selfhood in la Chastelaine De Vergi and Marguerite De Navarre's Heptameron 70

Article excerpt

When in Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron Oisille, the oldest and wisest of the group of travelers forced to spend their days narrating stories while they wait for the floodwaters in the Pyrenees to subside, hesitates embarking upon the 70th story, it is because she realizes that the story she had in mind is not only too long to be considered an orally transmitted novella ("pour sa grande longueur"), but also that it violates a rule the devisants had established in the Prologue, and to which she explicitly refers, namely not to recount old stories, especially those from written sources: "pour ce que n'est pas de nostre temps; ... et nous avons jure de ne riens mectre icy qui ayt este escript" (477). (1) Since her story is a retelling of the popular thirteenth-century anonymous verse narration La Chastelaine de Vergi, it is virtually the only story in the Heptameron so faithfully modeled after a literary source, and therefore indeed a strange guest in the collection. Although the novella's incongruous nature is recognized by fellow storyteller Parlamente, who knows the story too, the latter nevertheless encourages Oisille to recount ir, since "il a este escript en si vieil langaige, que je croy que, horsmis nous deux, ii n'y a icy homme he femme qui en ayt ouy parler; parquoy sera tenu pour nouveau" (ibid.). This so strongly emphasized exception to the storytelling rules towards the end of the collection (Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron counts 72 stories) makes us wonder why this particular story, in spite of its transgressive nature, is granted a place in the exchange of novellas within the frame-story.

That a key to understanding this novella should be sought in the intertextual link to its medieval source has been common agreement in the critical field. Indeed, numerous critics have analyzed Marguerite's retelling of the Chastelaine de Vergi story from this perspective, e.g. by comparing the two versions in terms of narrative structure and technique, (2) and by proposing insightful interpretations of Marguerite's recasting of the medieval tale's emphasis on problems of speech, language, and communication. (3)

However, little critical thought has been given to the way in which the medieval tale has been integrated into the Heptameron as a larger project that dramatizes the interaction between the genres of the novella and the dialogue by embedding the stories in a collective dialogue of a classical Ciceronian character (whereby the discussions often exceed the novellas in length). Against this background of dynamics between dialogue and novella, I would like to propose a different interpretation of Marguerite's Chastelaine de Vergi recasting. First, I will argue that the anonymous medieval tale has a privileged status in the book because of its questioning of dialogical principles that contrasts with, and ultimately mimetically reinforces, the dynamics of devisants' collectire dialogue. Second, the mimetic interplay between the dialogical dynamics of novella and frame-story manifests a particular link to a notion of selfhood: the tragical unfolding of the novella suggests a collapse of the bonds that tie individual selves to their social and affective others, a breakdown that is repaired at the level of the collective dialogue in the frame-story. Third, dialogue and selfhood are in correlation with certain uses of space: I will argue that, on a narrative as well as a metanarrative level, spatial elements help mimetically reinforce dialogical patterns and notions of selfhood. Space is hereby understood both in an abstract sense, such as the space of dialogue or social bonds between characters, and in the concrete sense of 'locations,' such as rooms and caskets. With respect to this latter element, my analysis will take into account the famous series of fourteenth-century ivory caskets depicting the Chastelaine de Vergi story.

Both in the medieval and in Marguerite's version, the interest of the story, and no doubt a major reason for its popularity, lies in a sequence of dilemmas between various contracts of trust, loyalty, and secrecy by which the four characters, i. …

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