- Heroic Virtue, Comic Infidelity: Reassessing Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron
The volume of essays edited by Professor Polachek represents one of the most attractive collections of symposium papers I have seen in recent years. Attractive to see and to read, it contains a variety of approaches dealing with a timely topic, the “feminine” perspective of a sixteenth-century French collection of novellas within the framework of a “romance” written by a female author. Professor Polachek has masterfully edited the materials, grouping them by subject and giving her readers a text remarkably clean of typographical errors. Her introduction gives a review, as it were, a critical evaluation of the contents. The reader who wishes a more detailed synopsis of the studies in the volume may consult it to advantage.
Building upon the historic reference implicit in the introduction, “The Heptaméron Then and Now,” the first group of essays by Robert D. Cottrell, Robert Melançon, and Judy Kem appear in the section entitled “Locus Amænus: Setting the Stage.” They provide background setting for the two groups that follow. Articles by Patricia Francis Cholakian, Carla Freccero, Jeffery C. Persels, and François Paré deal with the topic “Heroic Virtue: Signaling Crisis.” Gary Ferguson, Paula Sommers, Jerry C. Nash, and Dora E. Polachek conclude the volume’s third part with the theme “Engendering Laughters: Men Mocked.”
The Amherst conference on Marguerite proved, of the three I attended, the most varied in theme, in critical approach, and in openness of discussion. It produced an outstanding volume of essays: timely, imaginative, qualitative, and even provocative. Colloquium implies dialogue, and dialogue means dialectic, open debate of divergent opinions. And yet, even as Marguerite herself would [End Page 150] wish it, the total experience is one of harmony, the sounding together in unison of the divergent themes, the seemingly discordant approaches that parallel the different voices created by one of the great sixteenth-century female authors of the French Renaissance. In her edition of the conference, Professor Polachek has succeeded very well in presenting a coincidentia oppositorum of the sometimes discordant opinions of Marguerite’s critics whose divergent points of view contribute to our better understanding of her too often underestimated text.
The volume will prove very useful for students of Marguerite at all levels of inquiry, as it permits exposure to many different critical approaches to the text and provides additional bibliography such that readers may pursue their own interests and serious research on the subject by looking into the best of Marguerite criticism of the last decades and, indeed, of the last two centuries. The studies contained in it propel us back to the beginnings, so to speak, of Marguerite criticism, bring us up to date in terms of the most recent approaches, and move us forward through the setting of new directions and standards for future research.