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The Return of Martin Guerre

The Return of Martin Guerre


The Return of Martin Guerre

ratings:
4.5/5 (6 ratings)
Length:
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 10, 2018
ISBN:
9781541481862
Format:
Audiobook

Description

The Inventive Peasant Arnaud du Tilh had almost persuaded the learned judges at the Parlement of Toulouse, when on a summer's day in 1560 a man swaggered into the court on a wooden leg, denounced Arnaud, and reestablished his claim to the identity, property, and wife of Martin Guerre. The astonishing case captured the imagination of the Continent.

Natalie Zemon Davis reconstructs the lives of ordinary people, in a sparkling way that reveals the hidden attachments and sensibilities of nonliterate sixteenth-century villagers. We learn what happens when common people get involved in the workings of the criminal courts in the ancien régime, and how judges struggle to decide who a man was in the days before fingerprints and photographs. We sense the secret affinity between the eloquent men of law and the honey-tongued village impostor, a rare identification across class lines.

Deftly written to please both the general public and specialists, The Return of Martin Guerre will interest those who want to know more about ordinary families and especially women of the past, and about the creation of literary legends. It is a remarkable psychological narrative about where self-fashioning stops and lying begins.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 10, 2018
ISBN:
9781541481862
Format:
Audiobook

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What people think about The Return of Martin Guerre

4.5
6 ratings / 9 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    Excellent, brief study of a famous impersonation. The author's main additions to the original story is to fill in the Basque background of the Guerres, the influence of the Reformation in the village, and the unlikeliness of the wife having really been deceived.
  • (5/5)
    I rate this as one of my favourite books. I love the ambiguity of the outcome. There is no black and white here, but the law can't see in shades of grey. It raises many questions about identity, and how to prove some one is who he says he is.. no less relevent now when we are being threatened with identity cards than it was in medieval France. I read this after seeing the film (which also rates as a favourite) so it always seems to me as a companion to the film, the text of the background research.
  • (4/5)
    Natalie Zemon Davis, along with the likes of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Carlo Ginzburg, both of whom she explicitly acknowledges in "The Return of Martin Guerre," has carved out a relatively new niche in the academic history. Instead of writing about the movers and shakers, the kings or emperors, or large-scale religious change, she writes here specifically focused on a few families in mid-sixteenth century France. The reputations made by the people that exist within the covers were not the result of high birth or diplomatic achievement. The only reason the name "Martin Guerre" has any resonance to our ears is because his story is perhaps the most incredible since that of Odysseus. Except Guerre's has the virtue of being historical fact. Without any of the historiographic jargon that we may have come cynically to expect, Davis has wonderfully harnessed most of the elements that allow the causal reader to fully appreciate the story of Martin Guerre.Not long after moving from the Basque village of Hendaye to Artigat with his father Sanxi and his uncle Pierre, Martin Guerre, aged 13, marries a certain Bertrande de Rols. After a period of restlessness and sexual impotence, they conceive a child (also named Sanxi); soon afterwards, he gets into a dispute with his father and runs away, never to return. From this point on, there are intermittent lengthy discussions of property transfer in France at the time, specifically detailing how Basque tradition stipulates that the property moves from Bertrande to Pierre (since Sanxi the elder had already died).In another world, Arnaud du Tilh (aka "Pansette," or "The Belly," for his well-defined paunch), eager to remove himself from the monotony of the seigniory of Sajas, joins Henri II's army. In one of the weaker and more speculative parts of the book, Davis here guesses that Arnaud and Martin might have both met somewhere while in the service of Henri II (in whose service the real Martin might have lost a leg), traded intimate life stories and history to such an extent that Arnaud could then arrive in Artigat, proclaim himself the long-lost Martin Guerre, and insert himself into lives of Pierre Guerre and Bertrande, who quickly learns of du Tilh's imposture, but outwardly fervently maintains that he is really Martin Guerre. Pierre, however, decides to form an inquest into Pansette's identity, suspecting something is out of place.The inquest turns into a trial where witnesses - Martin's friends, family, doctors, neighbors - cannot agree on his identity. In fact, Pansette is such a good impersonator that about one-third of them say he is Martin, another third say he isn't, and the remaining refuse to comment, being too baffled or fearing retribution from a member of the village. He is found guilty, but appeals to an illustrious court in Toulouse, where the author of one of the first accounts of the story, Jean de Coras, sits as a judge. After careful consideration, he overturns the ruling of the lower court, and announces Pansette innocent. At that moment, a man with a wooden leg enters the courtroom claiming to be Martin Guerre. One by one, everyone begins to recognize "the newcomer" (as Pansette calls him), and within a matter of hours Martin, who has been gone for a several years, regains his reputation, family, and friends inside the courtroom. Coras sees the error of his previous judgment and sentences Pansette to, first, an "amende honorable" (a traditional French assignation of culpability) and then death by hanging (a punishment deeply tied to avarice in the medieval imagination).Davis ends again on a speculative note, suggesting that perhaps Coras found sympathy with Pansette because of their common sympathy for Reformation ideas (Coras was and remained fairly liberal for the time). Given the time period, there were countless accusations slung back and forth of faithlessness and apostasy. However, the book is much too short and this part in particular too underdeveloped to seriously support this idea.Interesting, too, is what Davis never explicitly takes much time to discuss, but nevertheless lurks beneath the surface: ideas of identity, gender, property acquisition, incipient capitalism, and belonging in sixteenth-century France. So, while a causal reader can enjoy it for its unique historical cache, those whose interest is more academic have a lot to unpack, too. For those interested in enjoying the latter approach, I recommend a reading in tandem with Valentine Groebner's "Who Are You?: Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe," which takes the time to fill out some of the undercurrents in Davis' thought which she only alluded to.
  • (4/5)
    Reading this micro-history narrative over 25 years from its original publication is more of an exercise in redundancy than unique historical insights. Our "post-post modern revising revisionist" perspectives leave this wonderful, yet brief work in a matrix of has-been biography or sensationalist epic. Still, Davis' work is a fantastic snapshot of a world that is so bathed in cliches that its topic, Renaissance France, is usually passed over as a bland zombie-esque masquerade of nameless faces and and dates. What Davis does is bring a name to a place that is surpassing normal yet exotically framed, choosing to meticulously divulge a family that had been caught in the misfortunes of their bad decisions. The real gift of the narrative is that, as 21st century dwellers, we can equate our fears, passions, desires, and decisions with those of Martin Guerre and his scorned wife Bertrande. The complexity of the human condition is displayed with such deftness it's hard to decipher where our stereotypes dissolve into a common identification with the protagonists. Obviously, this is a wonderfully researched "long article," including a variety of sources that are pulled from some of the best archives in France. Davis does err on brevity, and as such loses the reader is a vague discussion of her sources, namely Coras. Certainly, he is a player in the story of the Guerres, but his inclusion at the end of the narrative is distracting from the power of the story. A fantastic but at this point outdated work of revisionist working class history.74 Commendable
  • (3/5)
    Short and relatively shallow but interesting enough.
  • (3/5)
    16th C France 157 pages: A well researched historical mystery. False identies, court cases, and execution! See what it was like to defend yourself in the courts of the time period. Great information on basic village interactions and the life of a sucessful farmer in our period.
  • (4/5)
    This slim narrative history tells the story of a 16th century imposture. A young Martin Guerre, only son of Basque transplants in the southern French village of Artigat, is married to an even younger girl, Bertrande de Rols. After eight or nine years of marriage, Guerre takes off for parts unknown. Nine years later, a man returns, claiming to be Guerre; he is welcomed by Bertrande as her missing husband. Three years on, Guerre's father files suit, claiming the returned Guerre is a fraud and impostor. Is he?The tale is dramatic, and has stayed in circulation - both in written accounts and local legend - down the years since. Natalie Zemon Davis' account, however, has an academic pacing; the climactic confrontation feels like a speed bump rather than a sharp turn. From the outset, she leaves no doubt about the outcome. What's left? Mostly, details providing context on what life was like at the time, and suggestions of additional details that aren't in the record but are probable based on our understanding of the period from other sources. Any reader who doesn't already know how the story ends may want to see the film Le Retour de Martin Guerre before reading this book, so as to enjoy the plot as well as the explanatory details.
  • (4/5)
    Natalie Zemon Davis offers a tour de force demonstration of alternative approaches to "standard" history. By exporing the case of a man who went to war, and possibly returned somewhat altered, she opens the world of pre-modern France for our perusal. Her historiographical methodolgy sets new standards to which to aspire.
  • (3/5)
    A lot of history focuses on the great – kings and princes, bishops and popes, inventors and scientists, explorers and generals. The Return of Martin Guerre instead is about a peasant family in 16th-century France. The story is interesting and author Natalie Zemon Davis does a good job with it. The basic story is astonishing but simple; peasant Martin Guerre has some sort of dispute with is father and runs away from his family, wife, and child. Some years later he returns, resuming relations with his wife and fathering more children. But he gets involved in family disputes again and an uncle claims he’s not Martin Guerre at all but an imposter. The village is divided; a local court takes up the case and decides yes, there is fraud and Marin Guerre is condemned to death. But the appeals court seems to think otherwise and they are just about reverse the decision when a grizzled, one-legged war veteran shows up with sufficient proof that he’s the real Martin Guerre; the imposter’s sentence is confirmed and he’s hanged after a confession and apologies to all concerned. Martin Guerre (the real one) and his wife are reunited and live – well, they live ever after.Although it involved the lowly rather than the great, the case attracted a lot of contemporary and later attention; one of the jurists involved wrote a long description that became part of the standard French texts on marriage law. Davis takes the opportunity to explore all sorts of side tracks – the system of land ownership in the area, inheritance law, marriage ritual, clothing styles, religion (the Huguenots held that a women could remarry a year after her husband disappeared if she made a reasonable effort to find him; a Catholic woman remained married until there was unequivocal proof her husband was dead) and even sex life (Bertrande, the wife, claimed that there were certain secrets of their marriage bed that only the “real” Martin Guerre would know). That leads to something Davis doesn’t explore very much; why did Bertrande, who presumably knew which Martin Guerre was which, stick with the imposter for so long (she eventually did confess she was “deceived” – and took advantage of the fact “everybody knew” women were weak and easily duped).I can think of a number of reasons, and Davis speculates on a few – with the “original” Martin Guerre gone, Bertrande was in the limbo of being neither wife nor widow and of lower status in the village so having him return gave her more status than if she had simply remarried and allowed her to remain part of the relatively wealthy – for peasants – Guerre family.Davis notes the villagers of Artigat still talk about the case as the most interesting thing that ever happened there, and that there are still distant sets of Martin Guerre relatives – both of them – scattered around. Fascinating; although it was written after the movie of the same name it’s not a “movie tie-in”. Davis was starting to research the case when she said “Wow, this would make a great movie” – then discovered and collaborated with a couple of French screenwriters working on the same story. Well illustrated (although all but one are general illustrations of peasant life in the 1500s rather than specific illustrations of the case); very well referenced and footnoted (although all the books in the bibliography are in French or legal Latin).