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Narrative, Genre, and Community in Marguerite de Navarre's "L'Heptamron" and Baudelaire's "

Le Spleen de Paris"
Author(s): Bendi Benson Schrambach
Source: The French Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Apr., 2008), pp. 930-943
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25481322
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The

French

Review,

Vol.

81, No.

5, April 2008

Printed inU.S.A.

Narrative, Genre, and Community


inMarguerite
de Navarre's
L'Heptatneron and Baudelaire's

Le Spleen de Paris

byBendi Benson Schrambach

1 he present study undertakes an examination of two formes breves nar


rativesfrangaises: the sixteenth century nouvelle, as observed inMarguerite
de Navarre's Heptameron, and themodern poeme en prose, as recorded in
tales selected for
Charles Baudelaire's
Spleen de Paris. The individual
"Portraits de
32 and Baudelaire's
Nouvelle
comparison, Marguerite's
mattresses," were chosen due to their thematic similarity (of amorous
vengeance)
production

and

of

framed narrative

their

respective

eras,

structures. Exemplary
these

texts

both

of the literary

inaugurate

new

gen

res and remain prototypical of their forms for years to come.


to recits brefs, narrating
Nevertheless, when
limiting the examination
not animal adventures or lemerveilleux, but human experience, few if any
In fact, the conte becomes
alternative genres would merit consideration.
the only other possibility. The divergent literary examples of the conte1 as
well as its affinity for unrealistic or fantasy settings in the mode of the
fable explain its omission here.
in time by several centuries
This choice of literary forms separated
derives from a desire to investigate how storytelling evolves over time.
For if, as Walter Benjamin suggests, narrative attempts to uncover the
imperative questions of a people or society, then juxtaposing the compel
eras might
ling issues presented within the typical literary genres of two
serve to trace the progression ofmetaphysical
theories, ideological move
concerns.
The
and
ments,
following investigation will there
sociological
fore endeavor to address the following questions: What characteristics do
these storytelling forms share? Inwhat respect/s do they differ? Does the
nature of the concerns these tales represent evolve? How does the func
tion of story and storyteller change over time? Finally, what, if anything,
do these changes reveal about the future of storytelling?
The pious Oisille recounts L'Heptameron's tale. She begins, as a matter
of course, by presenting the historical setting: a chateau, which will host
930
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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

931

a servant of
interest in royal
King Charles VIII. Typifying the Queen's
own por
two
these
with
the
personages,
propagation,
along
King's
are
ones
name.
to
the
traitist,
important enough
only
Bernage, traveling
through Germany for his king, comes upon the chateau late one evening
and there requests lodging for the night. The host's initial reluctance to
admit his guest due to the ill intentions of his wife's family toward him
foreshadows
the grizzly scene to come. It is Bernage's mention of the
illustrious title of his master, in another example of ceremonious name
dropping, which finally opens the door of the chateau to this traveler.
It is suppertime. While dining with his host on delicacies
in a magnifi
cent hall, Bernage observes the
"une
of
femme, la plus belle
approach
etait
de
Head
bowed, she wears black and
qu'il
possible
regarder" (295).
remains silent for the duration of themeal. When thirsty, she drinks from
a cup made of a human skull. The host,
recognizing his guest's mystifica
tion, relates her story. This tale within a tale introduces an additional
frame into the narrative,

that of the husband

who

describes

his wife's

betrayal.
in love, he trusted his wife
Bernage's host relates how, passionately
a
after
he
discovers
that she loves another.
implicitly until,
long voyage,
His telling reenacts her crime. He narrates: "[...] bientot apres mon parte
ment elle se retira; et y fitvenir ce jeune
gentilhomme, lequel je vis entrer
avec la privaute qui
moi
avoir a elle. [...] je vis qu'il
n'appartenait
qu'a
voulait monter sur le lit aupres d'elle
[...]" (296). After witnessing his
wife's illicit lovemaking, the husband kills her suitor.2
Instead of death for the adulterer in themanner first established
by One
Thousand Nights and a Night's King
and
his
the
brother,
Shahryar
gentle
man of Nouvelle
32 chooses another, harsher punishment.
Indeed, the
severity of the assigned penalty composes one principal theme of this
tale. Oisille explicitly proposes
this question for philosophical
debate by
the group in the preface to her conte: which
punishment proves themost
or

severe?death

torture?

The

narrator's

own

remarks

leave

no

shadow

of doubt as to her judgment on thematter. She states:


la fin de tous nos malheurs
Je suis sure que vous
que
n'ignorez
point
la mort.
mettant
fin a notre malheur,
elle se peut
nommer
Mais,

est
notre

felicite et sur repos. Le malheur done de Thomme, c'est desirer lamort et


ne la pouvoir avoir.
Parquoi la plus grande punition que Ton puisse
donner

a un malfaiteur

n'est

ment continuel si
grand qu'il
avancer

[...].

(294-95)

pas

la mort,

mais

c'est

de

donner

un

tour

la fait desirer, et si petit qu'il ne la peut

For Oisille,
torture only perpetuates
the pain
death
trary,
represents?not
punishment?but

of existence. On the con


the end of all human mis

fortune.

Bernage's host appears to agree with Oisille's assessment regarding the


less severe nature of the death
for his
penalty. He judges it inadequate
wife's crime, and prefers, rather, to
her
He
therefore
prolong
misery.
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932 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


assigns as punishment
He relates:

the morbid,

incessant

reminder of her adultery.

Et pource que le crime de ma femme me sembla si grand qu'une telle


mort n'etait suffisante pour la punir, je lui ordonnai une peine que je
pense qu'elle a plus desagreable que lamort: c'est de l'enfermer en ladite
chambre ou elle se retirait pour prendre ses plus grandes delices, et en la
compagnie de celui qu'elle aimait tropmieux que moi. Auquel lieu je lui
ai mis

dans

precieuse

une

les os de

tous

armoire

en un

cabinet.

Et

afin

son

qu'elle

comme
une
tendus
chose
ami,
en bu
n'en
oublie
la memoire,

vant et mangeant lui fais servir a table, au lieu de coupe, la tete de ce


mechant, et la tout devant moi, afin qu'elle voie vivant celui qu'elle a fait
son mortel ennemi par sa faute, etmort pour l'amour d'elle celui
duquel
elle avait prefere l'amitie a lamienne. (297)
state of unforgiveness,
of unabated wrath, introduces a second
for
issue
discussion
appar
philosophical
by the devisants. The woman's
ent contrition inspires merciful words
from Bernage regarding forgive
ness and reconciliation. His courageous
counsel, reflecting positively on
his master, ultimately convinces the husband to pardon his wife.
devisants conclude this tale by debating the value of honor
Marguerite's
and forgiveness.
This

"Comment

sauriez-vous

savez que, quelque

ne

saurait

reparer

son honneur."

"Je vous prie," dit Ennasuite,

d'honneur
"Je vous

entre

les hommes

me
que Dieu
voulusse
mourir."

dit

Longarine,

"dites-moi si laMadeleine

maintenant,

"Car

vous

faire une femme apres un telmefait,

que

sa sceur

n'a pas plus

qui etait vierge?"


entre nous
louee
de

est
Longarine,
"qu'elle
a Jesus-Christ,
et de sa
portee
grande
penitence.
de pecheresse."
le nom
nom
me
dit Ennasuite,
les hommes
donnent;
"quel
et mon
mari
il n'y a rien pourquoi
aussi,
pardonne
(299)

confesse,"
amour
qu'elle
grande
si lui demeure
Mais
soucie,"
"Je ne me
mais

la honte?"

amender

chose que puisse

dit

la

Ennasuite's biblical analogy


ultimate moral of the tale.

toMary Madeleine

establishes mercy

je

as the

The mention of the biblical heroine moreover affirms the Christian lens
considers all things. Indeed, the overarching
through which the Queen
re
love, unfaithfulness, punishment,
32?conjugal
intrigue of Nouvelle
recreates
the
pentance, intervention and ultimate forgiveness?faithfully
love for creation followed by
traditional Judeo-Christian story. God's
in the form
human unfaithfulness in the garden resulted in punishment
a
of banishment. Only the intervention of
envoy of the
royal visitor?an
son
in
the Christian story?inter
of God himself
King in the nouvelle, the
woman based upon her repentance, ultimately reconciles
ceding for the
the husband with his wife.

This ending suggests that, although death represents the final haven,
only the living, as witnessed here in the person of thewife, may reap the
earthly rewards of honor (earned through humility and repentance), fame
(as demonstrated both by the painter sent to record her beauty and her

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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

933

in literature), and forgiveness (returning to her an


tale's perpetuation
abundant life, including children). Because of mercy, the wife will enjoy
all of these. This nouvelle, characteristic of L'Heptameron, thus concludes
in life or death.
with a message of hope?whether

Unlike this nouvelle's descriptive, historically-based


introduction, only
In
the setting for Baudelaire's
few incisive details provide
poem.
a
in
men's
"Portraits de mattresses," four gentlemen smoke and drink
boudoir. There are no affected mentions of names or explicit omissions of
the same serving, in the nouvelles, to authenticate the reliability of the
devisants' reports.3 Instead, these men remain nameless, as do most of
Baudelaire's
protagonists. They thus signify prototypes.4 Although pos
a
level of financial comfort as represented by their "ele
certain
sessing
ni beaux ni
gant" setting, their physical ordinariness, "ni jeunes ni vieux,
an
common
laids," ascribes to them the
average playboy.
experience of
the noblemen of the nouvelle enjoy the pleasure of each other's
Whereas
"veterans de la joie" fraternize only in
company over dinner, Baudelaire's
the sense that they all find themselves in the same fashionable men's
boudoir. These men have "fortement vecu, et [...] [cherchent] ce qu['ils
state
pourraient] aimer et estimer" (1: 345).5 The conditional form of this
ment reflects their uncertainty in the possibility of finding the same.
32's internal
Imitative of L'Heptameron's overall structure and Nouvelle
narrative, this poem introduces several framed tales inwhich alternating
collection,
storytellers recount their personal anecdotes. As inMarguerite's
an omniscient narrator introduces the ensemble and occasionally
inter
com
venes to comment upon the proceedings. Also similar to theQueen's
a

pilation is the underlying impetus for the narratives: group boredom.6 Yet
in "Portraits de mattresses," storytelling occurs not consciously, methodi
cally, and enthusiastically as in L'Heptameron. Rather, the storytelling rep
resented here arises with seeming randomness and flippancy. The narrator
relates how "L'un d'eux jeta la causerie sur le sujet des femmes" (1: 345).
Unlike the spiritual, moral, and philosophical
enlightenment sought in
here
from
the mixing of alcohol
tales, storytelling emerges
Marguerite's
ne
les
conversations
banales"
[1: 345])
meprisent pas
("apres boire, [ils]
with ennui. Four gentlemen recount their amatory prowess, or lack of the
same, for the bemusement of the group.
the directive remarks of the devisants preceding
each of
Recalling
announces
the
first
the
orientation
of
nouvelle,
Marguerite's
gentleman
his conte?less moral than salacious. In braggart fashion, demonstrating a
desire to amuse his fellows, he elaborates his sophistication with regard
to love. Having passed from the firstdegree inwhich, "on embrasse, sans
degout, le tronc des chenes" (1: 345), to the second, inwhich one searches

after beauty,
alone can no
his tale with
comme a un

he has arrived finally at the third degree, forwhich beauty


longer suffice. The first gentleman concludes the preface to
this confession: "J'avouerai meme que j'aspire quelquefois,
bonheur inconnu, a un certain degre qui doit marquer
le

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934 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


calme absolu"

(1: 345). It is notable

that such "bonheur" remains

for him

unknown.

His mistress's

fault, ironically evocative of her lover's exaggerated ma


resides
chismo,
precisely in her yearning, as he claims, to be a man. The
tolerates
his mistress, despite the annoyance her
gentleman
masculinity
like
inMarguerite's
the nobleman
Nouvelle
32, he dis
represents, until,
covers her in the arms of his domestique. Instead of
punishing her, the first
gentleman, "nerveux" in the face of his mistress's strength, takes the occa
sion of this discovery to dismiss her in the same manner as he does his
"
servant. He explains:
'Le soir je les congediai
tous les deux, en leur
les
de
leurs
(1: 346). No marriage or sense of
payant
arrerages
gages'"
as
in
bonds
them
tale; no feelings of commitment
obligation
Marguerite's
incite the gentleman to attempt to reform his lady. The ties that bind in
the nobleman's
in Bau
chateau appear enfeebled, even nonexistent,
delaire's boudoir. In this respect, this poem suggests the impossibility of
real

human

communion.

One notable distinction between


to be the
these collections appears
content of the tales. Whereas Marguerite's
nouvelles generally recount the
lives of others, Baudelaire's
framed tales offer as subject matter the
one exception to this rule, the
their
tellers.
UHeptameron's
exploits of
narrator"7
Nouvelle
"naked
of
62, who unsuccessfully
attempts to relate
an indiscrete
as
encounter
been
the conduct of another,
personal
having
the boastful practice of recounting one's own
condemns
apparently
Baudelaire's
poems notably diverge from this standard of eti
escapades.
Le
quette. Indeed,
Spleen de Paris's narrators appear to relish firstperson
disclosure because such revelations provide a way for the poet to "get
closer" to his reader. Baudelaire's
poems do not pretend to offer impar
tial accounts and refrain from ascribing any "truthfulness" to themselves.
the illusory feelings of sundry individuals,
Rather, by representing
and
of the poet himself, these pieces proclaim
those
including
especially
the validity and import of firstperson subjective experience.
of the auditors
unlike the prominent, diverse viewpoints
Moreover,
the
of "Portraits de
narratives
framed
nouvelles,
following Marguerite's
romancer.
mattresses" canvass only the utterances of each succeeding

of the firstmistress or of the aptness of her


Foregoing any discussion
suitor's response, Baudelaire's
poem continues immediately with the tale
of the second gentleman, "interrupteur," who, without awaiting solicita
tion to speak in themanner outlined in L'Heptameron, begins to recount
his own experiences in love. No debate of the im/proper conduct of the
thus
first gentleman follows his reminiscence. Any and all explanations
stand uncontested as illustrative of expected behavior.
The second mistress, although "douce," "soumise," "devouee," and always
themale-female
relationship in combat
"prete," lacks passion. Describing
ive terms not unlike those utilized in L'Heptameron, the gentleman tires
of their "duel inegal." Yet when his mistress weds another, the narrator

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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

935

blames himself. Regretting what he possesses no longer, the second gen


tleman now admits that he should have married her. His recognition of
to the forms of contrition
little resemblance
bears
error, however,
tales.8 Instead, relating this anecdote as a form
depicted inMarguerite's
narrator
fosters?not reform or justice in themode
of entertainment, this
derision and ridicule.
ofMarguerite's
protagonists, but?(self-)
a third gentleman contends that he
a verbal
one-upsmanship,
Pursuing
knows some pleasures ofwhich the others remain ignorant. This narrator
mistress not in the sense of esteem, but of
speaks of "admiration" for his
and astonishment. He declares, "J'ai plus admire ma derniere
wonder
maitresse que vous n'avez pu, je crois, hair ou aimer les votres. Et tout le

monde Tadmirait autant que moi"(l:


347). He recounts his comic experi
about eating as the
ence with a "phenomene vivant" (1: 347) as passionate
in love-making. She left him, "C'est du
last mistress had been passive
for someone who could better gratify her
moins ce qu['il a] suppose,"
insatiable appetite. His attitude of seeming indifference indicates that the
departure of thismistress procures him less heartache than benefit. Here,
itprovides him, in themode of a stand-up comic, with interesting narra
tive material. This third gentleman's narrative suggests that individuals
rank subordinate to the poetic material they provide.
The fourth gentleman crowns this prospect of domestic misery and
woe, claiming to have suffered more hardship than the others with re
in a manner contrary to that expected.
gard to the "selfish" female, and
were fortunate to have endured theirmis
to
the
others
him,
According
their fate when con
tresses' imperfections. They should not bemoan
trasted to the "souffrances atroces" he endured.
in the poem, the meta-narrator
In one of the only breaks in dialogue
to provide a more detailed
interrupts the fourth gentleman's discourse
the
only gentleman to receive such attention.
portrait of this tale-teller,
un
narrator
homme d'un aspect doux et pose, d'une
The
describes, "[...]
illuminee par des yeux
malheureusement
physionomie presque clericale,
d'un gris clair, de ces yeux dont le regard dit: 'Jeveux!' ou: TI faut!' ou
a breach in relation
bien: 'Jene pardonne
(1: 347-78). Whereas
jamais!'"
reception by the host inMarguerite's
ship generating the misanthropic
nouvelle harbingers the dark secrets of the chateau, it is the actual physi
cal countenance of the fourth gentleman of Baudelaire's
poem that por
tends

doom.9

exigent eyes immediately assess the shortcom


determines them to be "nerveux," "laches," and
"legers" (1: 348), incapable of surviving his mistress. This gentleman
least with regard to the
appears supremely capable of discernment?at
faults of others.
The mistress's
crime, according to the gentleman, resides precisely in
her perfection. She is "incapable de commettre une erreur de sentiment
ou de calcul," and possesses
"une serenite desolante de caractere; un
The fourth gentleman's
ings of his comrades. He

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936 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


devouement
une energie
contrast, his
ment against

sans comedie
sans violence"

et sans emphase; une douceur sans faiblesse;


(1: 348). Her very presence exposes, by stark
the self-incriminating nature of his judg
Consider
person.
her. He narrates:
de mon

L'histoire

amour

ressemble

a un

interminable

voyage

sur

une

surface pure et polie comme un miroir [...] qui aurait reflechi tous mes
sentiments et mes gestes avec l'exactitude ironique de ma proper con

science

[...].

[J]e ne

pouvais

pas

me

permettre

un

geste

ou

un

sentiment

sans apercevoir immeaiatement le reprochemuet de mon inse


parable spectre. (1: 3484-89, emphasis mine)

deraisonnable

This consummate mistress literallymirrors her lover's imperfections. The


result becomes a quite unflattering portrait?not
of the mistress, for the
reader remains ignorant as to her appearance, mental sharpness, sexual
passion, and physical appetite, all characteristics chronicled by the preced
ing narrators in their portraits de mattresses. Rather, thismistress reflects the
gentleman's own "sottises," "dettes," and "folk personnelle." After admiring
her for years with a heart full of hatred, the gentleman can endure her
infallibility no longer. He determines that he must "vaincre ou mourir" and

kills her.
Failed human relationship summarizes Baudelaire's
poem. Four men
recount tales of fourmistresses, yet each ultimately finds himself alone.
Unlike Marguerite
de Navarre's Nouvelle
32, which expresses the possi
"Portraits" depict varying
Baudelaire's
for
relational
regeneration,
bility
examples

of

conjugal

degeneration.

Even

the

glimmer

of hope

for

con

tentment expressed by the first gentleman finds no confirmation in fact;


indeed, his interest in a fourth degree of love might indicate more a
desire for "calme," tranquility, and peace than for love itself. Yet such a
for this exclusively masculine
state of serenity proves unrealized
group
the first three gentlemen covet precisely what
of narrators. For while
someone he can
they no longer possess, the fourth, having chanced upon
or esteem, ultimately
what
he ostensibly
"admire"
rejects precisely
seeks.10 This poem thus reiterates the collection's overall depiction of the

impossibility of human connectedness.


to ensnare their peers, if not
these gentlemen manage
Nevertheless,
to justify
of appealing
their mistresses, by means
oratory. Attempting
their actions in love, theymake use of tropes and figures. The firstgentle
man begins with association, finding common ground with his confreres
"Tous les
He commences:
by asserting the universality of his situation.
He
continues
eu
ont
Cherubin
de
hommes
[...]" (1: 345).
[...]
by
l'age
means of antonomasia. The second gentle
describing his sage Minerve by
man practices allegory, asserting that, "Le bonheur est venu habiter chez
moi, et je ne l'ai pas reconnu" (1: 346). The third includes equivocation
or word-play when he states: "J'ai plus admire ma derniere maitresse
que vous n'avez pu, je crois, hair ou aimer les votres. Et tout lemonde

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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

937

nous entrions dans un restaurant, au


autant que moi. Quand
bout de quelques minutes, chacun oubliait de manger pour la contem
("une femme qui etait
pler" (1: 347). Additional
examples of hyperbole
bien la plus douce, la plus soumise et la plus devouee des creatures [...]"
a ce mur ou a ce canape,
la bastonnade
[1: 346]), irony ("Vous donneriez
vous
en
tireriez
que
plus de soupirs que n'en tiraient du sein de ma
maitresse
les elans de Tamour le plus forcene" [1: 346]) and circumlocu
tion ("Elle mangeait, machait, broyait, devorait, engloutissait
[...]" [1:
347]) amuse and tantalize the listeners.
The rhetorical sophistication of these humorous
anecdotes, a practice
Tadmirait

shunned by L'Heptameron's devisants,11 succeeds


in removing the dis
course from an arena of debate and dissension, like that
practiced within
The gentlemen's use of seductive
L'Heptameron, to one of declamation.
their listeners, lulls their comrades into quiescent
language, mesmerizing
receptiveness. Consequently, when the final storyteller confesses to the
murder of his perfect mistress, his companions offer little reaction. Their
of the story's con
momentary
surprise reflects more the unexpectedness
clusion than condemnation
for the crime. In their silence resonates only
an
acknowledged
inability, "nerveux," "laches et legers" that they are, to
an
act.
such
accomplish

the imperfect nature of human


Depicting
experience, Baudelaire's
poems function much as the perfect mistress: graphically reflecting their
society, they expose itsmany blemishes. For these gentlemen's world is
characterized by antagonism, exemplified by the hostile firstmistress;
by
second mistress
passive acceptance, witnessed both in the unresponsive
and in the apparent
indifference of the first three gentlemen
to the
fourth's confession of murder; by horrific admiration?both
of the third,
ravenous mistress and of the fourth
gentleman's ability to commit such a
crime "quoique
suffisamment expliquee d'ailleurs"
(1: 349); and finally,
by violence and death.
What
then defines the generic distinctions between the two
examples
of storytelling considered here? One notable difference seems to be a
sense of
waning
community. Emphasis on the group and relationship,
the
basis
forMarguerite's
in the poeme en
nouvelles, dissipates
founding
case
In
the
of
prose.
L'Heptameron and Le Spleen de Paris, this generic
trending away fromOther appears intricately tied to their forms.
For while Marguerite
undertakes a collective work of 100 interrelated
touts the advantages of individual "trongons",13 able to
tales,12Baudelaire
be understood
and appreciated on their own. With
regard to the tales'
ultimate arrangement, L'Heptameron groups them
thematically, unifying
each day with a unique topic. The
ordering of Le Spleen de Paris, on the
other hand, though determined
by the poet, remains more ambiguous.14
Unlike L'Heptameron, which requires an
of the narrators'
understanding
in order to comprehend
the global meaning
of the work,
personalities

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938 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


Baudelaire's
pieces possess meaning both within and outside of their col
lective context. No narrative thread connects these pieces; like the poet,
they stand alone.
a
Even the pretext for UHeptameron,
gathering of peers, dramatizes
it as "un processus de
social intercourse. Philippe de Lajarte describes
sur
characteristic is not
sociale
fonde
This
(402).
production
l'exchange"

surprising, given that community literally creates the conte,15 the genre
and the
from which
framed narratives
emerge. Canvassing
gossip
human
of
encounters, L'Heptameron's multiple storytellers and
dynamics
framed narratives manifest a celebration of community inwhich instruc
tion and amusement
intertwine for the participants' mutual benefit and
health. Conversely, Le Spleen de Paris generally records the diverse obser
vations of a sole narrator on diverse solitary figures.

this
The rhetorical priorities of these collections further demonstrate
relation
evolution toward isolation. Marguerite's
Heptameron promotes
men and women
inNouvelle
32), while Baudelaire's
Spleen
ship (between
de Paris testifies to a lack of human connectedness. From the structure of
these collections to their narration, content, and rhetorical themes, these
reveal a progressive turning away from others to focus on self.
The sociologist Robert D. Putnam delineates an analogous propensity

works

in modern

culture.

The dominant theme is simple: For the first two-thirds of the twentieth
century a powerful tide bore Americans into ever deeper engagement in
the

life of

warning?that

their

communities,
tide reversed

but

and we

few

were

decades

overtaken

without
ago?silently,
a treacherous
rip
by

current.Without at firstnoticing, we have been pulled apart from one


another and from our communities over the last third of the century. (27)

Putnam attributes this trend in part16 to "Mobility and Sprawl" combined


with "Pressures of Time and Money"
(183-278), factors also pertinent in
Paris.
Baudelaire's
Indeed, and as highlighted by its title, Le Spleen de Paris features the bur
an adverse assessment of its effects
geoning city,while appearing to offer
on human connectedness. Chaos
"Le Vieux Saltimbanque"),
Plaisant,"
("Le
crowds ("Les Foules," "Les Veuves"), noise ("A une heure du matin," "Le
Mauvais Vitrier"), anonymity ("Perte d'aureole"), and mental derangement
sense of isola
(^'Mademoiselle Bistouri") all contribute to an overwhelming
tion. This turning inward appears to alter the very nature of storytelling.
the contemporary
Walter Benjamin bemoans
incapacity "to exchange
which
is passed on frommouth
He
explains, "Experience
experiences" (83).
tomouth is the source from which all storytellers have drawn" (84), trans
demise as
mitting the "lore of the past" (85). Interpreting storytelling's
nature
of
the
from
blames,
among
society, Benjamin
changing
resulting
correlative to those
other things, economic concerns and violence17?issues
established by Putnam as factors in the collapse of community ("Pressures

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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

939

and "Mobility and Sprawl," respectively). According


of Time and Money"
to Benjamin, the result becomes a growing reticence on the part of the tradi

tional storyteller. Lacking suitable "communicable experience," themodern


teller of tales prefers to remain silent.
Benjamin's article highlights what might be another generic distinction
nouvelle and the modern poeme en prose. For
the Renaissance
between
Baudelaire's
stories generally record, not the "lore of the past," as Ben
jamin would suppose, but that of the present: "la chose vue," the guile and
The poet notes the novelty of this revolu
cunning of the here-and-now.
tionary thematic change, for he takes note of it specifically in his letter to
Instead of finding his sources in history, as did his
Arsene Houssaye.
poetic predecessor, Aloysius Bertrand, whose poems represent "la pein
ture de la vie ancienne," Baudelaire discovers inspiration, "surtout de la
frequentation des villes enormes" and thus undertakes, "la description
de la vie moderne"
(1: 275-76).

Baudelaire's
collection captures the broken, transitory, fragmentary
the
of
modern
world. These poems typify themore violent nature
quality
of experience outlined by Benjamin, for Baudelaire
records the ruins of
the society inwhich he lived. The poet pens such illegal acts as vagrancy

("Le Mauvais
(f'L'Etranger"), vandalism
Vitrier"), assault
("La Femme
sauvage et la petite-mattresse"), battery ("Assommons les pauvres!"), and
even murder
("Portraits de mattresses"). Unapologetically
confessing to
and even advocating
the perpetration of heinous
crimes, Le Spleen de
Paris's tales bear witness to the "unspeakable."
The poet's version of sto
thus
to
nature
conforms
of
the
his
story
rytelling
contemporaries'
experi
ence:
disconcerting and solitary.18 The result becomes a different kind of
story: no

moments,

longer

no

longer

asserting
naming

"truth," no

names

and

longer
citing

referring to historical

sources.

The

modern

story

credibility and force from its very personal character, its secretive
quality, and its resulting ability to relate personally and secretively to
each individual.
One final distinction between these forms appears to be the
expanding
role granted to the reader. For although expected to
recognize the jaded
of the gaulois and the godly wisdom
of Oisille
in L'Hep
perspective
reader need not make the extended and
tameron,Marguerite's
inexplicit
connections required of the reader of Le Spleen de Paris. For,
according to
the information gleaned from L'Heptameron's tales, the devisants drama
tize pertinent discussions
for the reader within the text itself. They take
deliberate and appropriate action?whether
in the form of
interpreting
the tales or pursuing moral edification. Baudelaire's
multiple narrators,
provocative positions and absence of debates, on the contrary, oblige the
reader to develop a personal explanation, evaluation, and ultimate re
gains

the story's
sponse. Comprehending
intellectual participation.19

import requires

his or her active

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940 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


In an ironic twist, this makes
the relationship between the reader and
the poet-narrator of Baudelaire's
poems a more authentic demonstration
of connectedness
than the artificially-instituted group of fictional peers
inMarguerite's
can
collection. For the reader of UHeptameron
depicted

witness

the intrigues and discussions of the nouvelles only third-hand. An


extradiegetic participant to the storytelling, s/he cannot debate with the
devisants the appropriateness
of the husband's
response toward his wife
inNouvelle
32. Instead, s/he must read on, and by so doing, implicitly
embrace the conclusions as espoused by theQueen's
diegetic narrators.
more
condensed
Baudelaire's
forme breve moderne intro
Alternatively,

duces new, unexpected actors into the storytelling event: silence and the
white page.20 Baudelaire's
poems provoke an echo of emotion on the part
of the reader by means of their elliptical character. For it is the reader
in the story's construction, building
it
who must ultimately participate
from the ruins assembled by the poet. This is the feat of Baudelaire's
narrative
into its sparest parts, these
poemes en prose. Concentrating
the
intellectual
and
emotional
poems compel
engagement of the reader
himself. Extending Peter Brooks's assertion that plot is fueled by the
reader's desire to know a story's conclusion, I would
suggest that Bau
delaire's minimalist genre realizes its consummation
through the read
er's desire to understand.
Le Spleen de Paris's community
is interdiegetic. Not
Consequently,
or
it
established by chance plague
flood,
represents the conscience and
to
deliberate decision of the reader
engage the text: to decipher itsmean
to
make
important connections, and to synthesize the "trongons" in
ing,
In so doing, Le Spleen de Paris's reader
the whole.
order to comprehend
a fraternal investigator, an intimate confi
becomes a fellow wanderer,
dante of the poet himself.
sense of community within the modern
What
then seemed a waning
turns
of a new community, one tran
the
creation
into
story ultimately
Le Spleen de Paris, symbolic of
and
Baudelaire's
scending paper
binding.
other modern minimalist
texts, throws open the proverbial doors of the
the storytelling
select narrative circle, extending outward
previously

present, and future. Inaugurat


community to include the reader?past,
of
of
the
aesthetic
the
fragment,
possibility, and of brevity, these
ing
ruins of story at last enable the poet to achieve a unique brand of com
munion with his audience, one that remains unrealized within the in
not
storytelling community unites
trigues of his collection. The modern
no
attain
with
reader.
but
author
longer literally
Though
protagonists
able in themodern world, virtual human connection becomes the conse
quence

of storytelling itself.

Whitworth

University

(WA)

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DE NAVARRE'S L'HEPTAMERON AND BAUDELAIRE'S LE SPLEENDE PARIS

941

Notes
in the eigh
'The versified French conte of the seventeenth
evolves,
century (La Fontaine)
inves
teenth, into the genre of the fairy tale (Perrault) as well as that of satiric philosophical
contes return to traditional
oral
(Voltaire), while
contemporary
francophone
tigation
for
their
inspiration.
storytelling

to the "Story of King


date minimally
back
2The origins of this topos of cuckoldry
a
sto
Thousand
basis
for
One
His
the
and
Brother,"
Nights and Night of
establishing
Shahryar
Marie
de France's Lais and the medieval
Sheherazade.
fabliaux
rytelling by the ingenuous

are earlier
in the French tradition. The treachery of unfaithful wives
examples
formodern
narratives, as seen in such poems as Baudelaire's
provide material
mattresses" and "Deja!"
simulate the truthfulness of their tales by altering
3The devisants occasionally
when
their protagonists
nary remarks toNouvelle

announcing
10 provide

them would

an

example

continues

to

"Portraits de
the names

indiscreet. Parlamente's
prove
of this. She explains:

of

prelimi

Et combien que je ne l'aie vue, sim'a-t-elle ete racontee par un de mes plus grands et entiers
amis, a la louange de l'homme du monde qu'il avait le plus aime. Et me conjura que, si
nom des personnes; parquoi tout cela
jamais je venais a la raconter, je voulusse changer le
est veritable, hormis les noms, les lieux et le pays. (Navarre 94)
as
such personages
"[...] la
types, including
"UEtranger,"
portrays many
"Les Veuves," and "Le Vieux
"Le Fou [...]," "La Femme sauvage et la petite maitresse,"
a proper
"Mademoiselle
translated
name,
Bistouri,"
Saltimbanque."
possessing
Although
"Miss Scalpel,"
also represents a caricature, that of a surgical enthusiast.
4Baudelaire

vieille,"

the poem formulates this statement


here adjusted
for readability,
5Unlike my adaptation
in the first person plural: "Nous avons fortement vecu et nous cherchons ce que nous pour
rions aimer et estimer" (1: 345).
one impetus of artistic creation for the poet himself.
Tndeed, ennui provides

7Ihere adopt the terminology


article of the same name.

proposed

by Frangois

32 exemplifies
contrition
in L'Heptameron's Nouvelles
appear
of this physical
The
description might
significance
teenth century's interest in phrenology.
8The wife

Additional

of Nouvelle

examples

,0This statement

is based upon
the initial
at the beginning of the tale. See note
"The Queen's
storytellers shun the artifices
announces
to be followed by
the procedure
himself. She explains:

narrator

Cornilliat

and Ulrich

in their

Langer

in matters
of love.
humility
5, 22, 33, 41, and 50.
to the nine
be partially attributed

and

character evaluation
performed
by the meta
5, above.
of the rhetor in their own milieu. Parlamente
the devisants,

the one

established

by the King

Et promirent lesdites dames, et monseigeur


le Dauphin
avec, d'en faire chacun dix, et
d'assembler
jusqu'a dix personnes qu'ils pensaient plus dignes de raconter quelque-chose,
ne
sauf ceux qui avaient etudie et etaient gens de lettres: car monseigneur
le Dauphin
voulait que leur art y futmele, et aussi de peur que la beaute de la rhetorique y hit tort en
quleque partie a la verite de l'histoire. (48)
a tale's
and figures detract from the "truth" of the stories, while
import lies in the
itself.
story
12TheQueen's
death precluded
the resulting work includes 72
L'Heptameron's
completion;
finished tales.

Tropes

13Thepoet initially sent nine poems


to his editor, Arsene Houssaye,
that now precedes
the collection. Baudelaire
takes this opportunity
versatile nature of the individual pieces. He writes:
mercially

along with
to highlight

the letter
the com

nous offre a
cette combinaison
commodites
Considerez,
je vous prie, quelles admirables
tous, a vous, a moi et au lecteur. Nous pouvons
couper ou nous voulons, moi ma reverie,

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942 FRENCH REVIEW 81.5


de
vous lemanuscrit,
le lecteur sa lecture [...]. Enlevez une vertebre, et les deux morceaux
en nombreux
cette tortueuse fantaisie se rejoindront sans peine. Hachez-la
fragments, et
vous verrez que chacun peut exister a part. (1: 275)
no
reflects the order established
collection
logical
by the poet,
14Although Baudelaire's
Evans finds that, "As
to explain this ordering. Margery
has yet been discovered
progression
Le Spleen de Paris pushes
a mobile work, a work whose
parts may be read out of sequence,
towards an ideal of non-linearity"
(155).

the
on the conte, see Pierre Leon and Paul Perron, eds. Henry Schogt explains
a Vecrit), "[It is] not quite clear
literary status of this form (mise
problematic
. .]: is the text
a 'conte'
'le conte7 becomes
[.
by virtue of being correctly received
or is there a text beforehand?"
(65).
only created by the response from the reader,
as contributing
television and electronic media
16Putnam also cites generational
changes,
15Formore

resulting
whether

to a collapse

in the American

community.
to the demise of the story (84).
in particular as contributing
to support
de Navarre must have, likewise, found it disconcerting
18Although Marguerite
was not alone in the
she
in an era of growing
reform of the Church
intolerance,
religious
war
17Benjamin cites

thinkers found haven


like-minded
sense depicted
Indeed, many
poems.
by Baudelaire's
in her kingdom of Navarre.
and protection
on this
role required of the reader of Le Spleen de
participatory
"Margery Evans elaborates
Paris.
The unstable structure of the collection, and the absence of any continuous narrative thread
the reading of a given element to benefit from an
linking the different poems, encourages
effect of inner-reflection or collaboration with other elements in thewhole
[...]. At the same
time, it implies a radically modern view of the readers' role and of the degree of control
structure it is a work [. . .]
exercised by the poet over his product. Because of itsmobile
which actively encourages the reader to participate in its creation by perceiving patterns and
associations within the text, in the same way that Baudelaire describes the poet in his article
in nature. (9)
on Hugo as actively discerning the correspondences
text [signals]
of Baudelaire's
concludes:
"[the] dynamic openness
it offers its readership"
creative participation which
(159).
text in this way:
the benefits of theminimalist
20JeanneDemers
explains

Evans

the opportunity

for

au blanc, done au silence, qui contribue a sa cloture,


Dans
enfin accordee
l'importance
le detache du contexte et en constitue comme une sorte d'echo porteur de reflexion et
le texte qu'il suit, plus il le
d'emotions.
[...] Plus [le lecteur] est appele a questionner
desire [...]. (269-70)

Works
Baudelaire,

Cited

1975.
Pichois. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard,
CEuvres completes. Ed. Claude
Leskov."
Illumina
on theWorks
of Nikolai
"The Storyteller: Reflections
Arendt. New York: Harcourt,
and Reflections. Ed. Hannah
Benjamin, Essays

Charles.
Walter.

Benjamin,
tions: Walter
1968.83-109.
Bernard,

Suzanne.

1959.
en prose de Baudelaire jusqu'a nos jours. Paris: Nizet,
1984. Cambridge:
Narrative.
in
Intention
and
Plot:
the
Design
for

Le Poeme

Brooks, Peter. Reading


Harvard
UP, 1992.

Selections from The Arabian Nights. New York: De Luxe, n.d.


Burton, Richard.
62." Critical Tales:
"Naked Narrator: Heptameron
and Ulrich Langer.
Francois,
Cornilliat,
and Early Modern Culture. Ed. lohn D. Lyons and Mary B.
New Studies of theHeptameron
U of Penn P, 1993.123-45.
McKinley.
Philadelphia:
la forme breve a la brievete lit
et conception du monde ou De
breve
"Forme
Demers,
leanne.
teraire." La Licorne 21 (1991): 263-72.
and Intertertextuality: Poetry at the Crossroads. Cambridge:
A. Baudelaire
Evans, Margery
UP, 1993.
Cambridge

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943

et le processus de production de l'ceuvre." La


Geneve:
Slatkine, 1981. 397-423.
1987.
Didier,
Leon, Pierre, and Paul Perron, eds. Le Conte. Quebec:
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de. L'Heptameron.
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Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New
Lajarte, Philippe de. "Le Prologue de L'Heptameron
Nouvelle frangaise a la Renaissance. Ed. Lionello

Sozzi.

York:

Simon & Schuster, 2000.


Lire le poeme en prose. Paris: Dunod,
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Schogt, Henry.
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Sandras, Michel.

Vade,

Yves.

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Le Conte.

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Pierre