|1898 edition of Héptameron.|
The Heptaméron is a collection of short stories within a frame narrative, written by Marguerite de Navarre (known also as Marguerite of Angoulême) and first published nine years after her death in 1558. The concept was inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron (1348-53): in Boccaccio, a group of seven women and three men are staying in a villa in Florence hoping to escape the plague that was ravishing Italy at the time. For the ten days they were there, each person would tell a tale each day, thus there were a hundred stories told. The title Decameron comes from the Greek δέκα meaning ten and ἡμέρα meaning day, so δέκα-ἡμέρα would mean a 'ten days'. In the Heptaméron's case, ἑπτά means seven, so ἑπτά-ἡμέρα simply means a 'seven days'. In Marguerite de Navarre's frame collection, which was originally titled Histoires des amans fortunez (Stories of Fortunate Lovers), a group of five men and five women stranded after floods in the Pyrenees Mountains. To pass time they decide to each tell a story every day. The Heptaméron was planned to encompass ten days like Boccaccio's Decameron however it was unfinished: each member of the group tells a story each day for seven days, and then two members tell a story on the eighth day, giving a total of 72 stories.
Each day, like the Decameron has a specific theme:
- First Day: 'A collection of low tricks played by women on men and by men on women'.
- Second Day: 'On which is discussed all manner of thoughts, at the pleasure of the storytellers'.
- Third Day: 'Of ladies who have goodness and purity in love and of the hypocrisy and wickedness of monks'.
- Fourth Day: 'Principally of the virtue and long-suffering of ladies in the winning over of their husbands, and of the prudence of men with respect to their wives for the preservation of the honour of their house and lineage'.
- Fifth Day: 'Of women and girls who have held honour dearer than pleasure, of some who have done the opposite, and of the simplicity of others'.
- Sixth Day: 'Of the deceptions perpetrated by men on women, by women on men, and by women on women, through greed, malice and desire for vengeance'.
- Seventh Day: 'Of those who have acted contrary to their duty of to their desires'.
- Eighth Day: 'Truthful accounts of deeds of folly, which may serve as lessons to one and all'.
The ten characters are:
Like the Decameron, the Heptaméron has themes on love, society, the church, and social class. The church in particular receives many criticisms, as in Boccaccio and also in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1386-94). Furthermore, following the stories are debates or discussions on the issues raised: this means that not only do the characters telling the stories develop within this framework, but also we see a variety of different perspectives on a variety of subjects from men and women of different social standing, be it social class, gender, or marital status, which gives further insight into France during the Renaissance.
Another interesting element of the collection is that, when the author acknowledges her debt to Boccaccio, she writes through the character Oisille (who is most likely based on Louise of Savoy, 1476 - 1531) that each story must be true:
... I don't think there's one of us who hasn't read the hundred tales by Boccaccio, which have recently been translated from Italian into French, and which are so highly thought of by the most Christian King Francis I, by Monseigneur the Dauphin, Madame the Dauphine and Madame Marguerite. If Boccaccio could have heard how highly these illustrious people praused him, it would have been enough to raise him from the grave. As a matter of fact, the two ladies I've mentioned, along with other people at the court, made up their minds to do the same as Boccaccio. There was to be one difference - that they should not write any story that was not truthful...
Could they be truthful? That is unclear though some are generally agreed to be such, and the narrators of each tale do seem to be based on real people. Whatever the case the stories are great fun, like Chaucer and Boccaccio before her rather bawdy at times, very biting, and above all else very engaging.