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Earthly Treasures: Material Culture and Metaphysics in the Heptameron and Evangelical Narrative.

Catharine Randall. Earthly Treasures: Material Culture and Metaphysics in the Heptameron and Evangelical Narrative.

Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures 40. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2007. x + 354 pp. index. illus. bibl. $43.95. ISBN: 978-1-55754-449-1.

After the publication of Carol Thysell's admirable work, The Pleasure of Discernment: Marguerite de Navarre as Theologian, one might have concluded that the possibilities for original analysis of the connections between spirituality and the Heptameron were somewhat limited. Catharine Randall's exploration of an overlooked aspect of the Heptameron in Earthly Treasures demonstrates that there is still potential for unique approaches to the relationship between religion and Marguerite's collection of tales. As the title of Randall's innovative work suggests. her primary focus is the relationship between Marguerite's representation of material objects and her evangelical aspirations for her seemingly secular text. By examining the portrayal of various objects in Marguerite's tales in relation to the most salient characteristics of evangelical thought, this volume highlights how reformist theology strongly influenced certain stylistic and narrative elements of the Heptameron. In particular, Randall emphasizes how Marguerite integrated objects into her tales in order to illustrate the limited value of the material world and thereby underscore the necessity to surpass it for a "metaphysical truth" (9).

Randall's approach is highly interdisciplinary: it offers an examination of the Heptameron in relation to Reform theology and to sixteenth-century visual arts. This volume gives a solid overview of key elements of Reformist thought with particular attention to Luther's development of evangelical narrative. Randall demonstrates the philosophical, thematic, and stylistic parallels between Luther's Table Talk, certain Reformist emblem writers, and Marguerite's nouvelles. The author highlights certain commonalities between Reformist writings and the Heptameron and also offers detailed examinations of Marguerite's tales from a theological perspective. Thus, when she suggests that, "Objects in the Heptameron are encapsulations of the material world's preoccupations; they are also intellectual constructs set to the service of spirituality" (181-82), readers will find her argument convincing. Along with the analysis of the Heptameron from the perspective of theological writings, Randall frequently draws on examples of Reformist tendencies in the visual arts to illustrate Marguerite's use of similar artistic techniques. She underscores the parallels between artists who portrayed objects in their works in order to transmit a theological message and the Heptameron's representation of material goods, a representation that primarily serves to stress the inadequacy of such worldly treasures and the necessity to seek fulfillment in God. Randall not only highlights how evangelical artists profoundly impacted Marguerite: she also examines similarities between Marguerite's approach and that of other writers who manifested evangelical tendencies such as Rabelais, Jacques Yver, Bonaventure Des Periers, and Noel Du Fail.

Randall's arguments are both creative and persuasive. This volume is particularly impressive in its mastery of various disciplines; the author has meticulously researched Renaissance theology, the visual arts, and French literature. Various illustrations, especially Northern European paintings, enhance the arguments presented in the book. Other useful resources include ample notes, a substantial bibliography, and an index. While Earthly Treasures is interdisciplinary in nature, it is also an extremely specialized work that will be of greatest benefit to specialists of Marguerite de Navarre and scholars whose main interest is the intersection between religion and literature in sixteenth-century France.


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Author:Rezvani, Leanna Bridge
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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