read online books The return of Martin GuerreAuthor Natalie Zemon Davis –

Identity theft, 16th century style Martin Guerre, an affluent farmer, steals something from his father Disgraced, he runs away, abandoning his wife and children, and isn t heard from again fo nearly a decade Sometime during those years, a petty criminal Armand du Tihl runs into two men who mistake him for Marin Guerre This gives Armand an idea he ll impersonate Martin and steal his life Which he does For three years, Armand lives as Martin, and even has a child with Martin s wife, Bertrande de Rolls But then the first Martin s uncle grows suspicious of the new one, and eventually takes him to court First he s declared guilty and sentenced to death He appeals The appeal goes well and the court is just about ready to announce him innocent when a one legged man makes an appearence, going it is I, Martin Guerre Responds Armand Nu uh, I am Martin Guerre But the court no longer believes him and he hangs The real Martin Guerre and Bertrande resume their marriage and even have a few children.Weird, right The contemporaries thought so too Two books were written about the case shortly after it ended, one by the main judge And it has been repeated many a time over the centuries in various collections of odd happenings Don t think that the craving for curious true stories is a 21st century reality tv thing Zemon Davis reads the two original books, and draws conclusions from them Were that material falls short, she speculates, but the speculations are never plucked out of thin air they re based on what historians know about the era.As a book The Return of Martin Guerre is close to pefection It s well and succintly written, and of course the events themselves provide lots of excellent drama we have legal drama, family drama and romantic sex drama What could you ask An interesting look at a little slice of life, crime, the courts in France in the mid 1500s I think the author did good research based on what was written about the case at the time including an account written by the trial judge of the case , as well as the small amount of general info that was available about the life of an average peasant during that period in that location From those info sources, she then tries to draw some lines infer motivations further details of the events So, it s a bit of a mix in that the bulk of it is factual history, but some parts are filled in with the author s guesses as to what happened why I think that s important to keep in mind if you re reading this for historical value I think it s fairly accessible even to non historians, but it is semi dry textbook y in the style of quite a few history narrations i.e., it s not high literature Recommended, especially if you like history or true crime Note Historian Robert Finlay criticized Zemon Davis conclusions in her version of the Martin Guerre events she wrote a rebuttal to his criticisms. The Clever Peasant Arnaud Du Tilh Had Almost Won His Case, When A Man With A Wooden Leg Swaggered Into The French Courtroom, Denounced Du Tilh, And Reestablished His Claim To The Identity, Property, And Wife Of Martin Guerre This Book, By The Noted Historian Who Served As A Consultant For The Film, Adds New Dimensions To This Famous Legend One of the classic works of microhistory, The Return of Martin Guerre tells the story of a sixteenth century French case of fraud and imposture A young man called Martin Guerre, the only son of Basque parents who had moved eastward into France, is married off to a local girl, Bertrande After a decade of marriage, he disappears and after another decade or so, he returns Martin is welcomed back by Bertrande as her missing husband but within three years, Martin s father has filed suit, claiming the returned Guerre is a fraud and impostor If this story sounds familiar, it was the inspiration for the rather turgid Sommersby with Jodi Foster and Richard Gere As a narrative, it s interesting The story itself is of course fascinating, and Davis weaves in threads about everyday life in sixteenth century southern France which gives us a complete picture of the world in which the Guerres lived a world of trade and crafts, of social pressures and close family ties That said, I found the standard of writing to be disappointing There is a lack of literary skill here Davis prose is often clunky there is a liberal use of shallow, pointless rhetorical questions and there are even one or two points where a lack of citations left me unable to tell whether what Davis was saying was based on historical fact or her own imaginings Interesting, but flawed. None of this was my business. 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 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 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. I really enjoyed this book mainly because the author took real life people and created a narrative of a rather odd situation solely from primary research A very quick read that makes you think of life in 16th century France The book focuses on topics such as identity, peasant life, and the rights of women Beautifully written and well researched. In The Return of Martin Guerre, Natalie Zemon Davis recounts the fascinating history of a sixteenth century imposter who duped a wife and her inlaws into believing he was Martin Guerre, her husband of fifteen years and their brother and nephew who had disappeared 10 years earlier For three years, everyone was content to believe the man was indeed who he claimed he was But after some time, relatives began to notice the man remembered remarkably little of his Basque heritage, their language and customs When this Martin Guerre decided to sell off family property in Basque country, his uncle Pierre got alarmed and he realized the man who claimed to be Martin Guerre was definitely not his nephew He forced Martin s wife, Bernarde de Rols, to press charges, and thus one of the most intriguing court cases of sixteenth century France commenced.During the court case, many witnesses were heard, testifying both on behalf and against the defendent yet it proved difficult for the judges to establish whether the man really was Bernarde s husband, and the case was referred to a higher court During the appeal, however, something remarkable happened A man with a wooden leg entered the courtroom and astonished everyone by announcing he was the real Martin Guerre The imposter was then quickly revealed as Arnaud du Tilh, a man from a neighbouring village who had conned his way into the lives of the Guerre family Why had it taken so long for this man to get caught In The Return of Martin Guerre, Zemon Davis faithfully relates contemporary accounts of the court case that appeared immediately after sentencing, raising important questions about identity Her book is one of the most famous examples of microhistory history that looks into the lives and livelihoods of small communities or individuals of low pedigree, finding answers to big questions in small places While her book is indeed a riveting holiday read, it was astonishingly low on critical analysis A lot of musings and what ifs and perhapses, but as an account of history it lacked rigour and depth So unfortunately a bit of a letdown for me, but surely a wonderful read for the non specialists. This would be a great introduction to microhistory for the casual non fiction reader, as long as that reader knew what they were reading Microhistorians examine one particular moment in time in great detail, trying to see how that moment can betray larger truths about society and culture at large Usually these historians are looking for some rare window into the lives of ordinary people, and Davis has a great one here, with the records from a 16th Century trial of a peasant in southern France who was accused of stealing the identity of another peasant and living as Martin Guerre for years Davis also consulted on the movie with Gerard Depardieu, which is also really good She writes this in a narrative, almost novelish way, easy to follow, and this can really be enjoyed by just about anyone But it would be important for the casual reader to keep her intro in mind she says that the book is in part my invention, but held tightly in check by the voices of the past Because this isn t a movie, but rather a book written by a historian, it could be very easy for a reader to forget about that sentence in the intro, and treat the book as if it was some sort of proven truth Davis has a great story here, and she has evidence to back a lot of it up, and her story makes logical sense it definitely could have happened in this way But nothing is certain It is important for each reader to decide how much of this story to accept and how much to take with a grain of salt. Much of what we know about sixteenth century France concerns the nobility since it is they who were literate enough to have left records in the forms of journals, letters, and diaries Here Zemon Davis uncovers one of the few cases which gives us an insight into artisan life in a French village the mysterious, beguiling case of Martin Guerre.Drawing on both court records and contemporary written accounts, Zemon Davis traces her version of the story, all the while being aware that her reconstruction might still be full of possibilities rather than proofs And it is this historical self consciousness which raises this book beyond the romantic biases of popular historians.The case of Martin Guerre is still an amazing one Guerre leaves behind his wife, family and inheritance and, eight years later, a man returns claiming to be the missing husband and is accepted back by wife and sisters but is he really who he claims to be The story is unpacked expertly by Zemon Davis, taking in issues of religion, village relationships, the social role of women, love and identity amongst the non elite And even when we think we know what happened, there are still questions posed by this story which tantalise.