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The Return of Martin Guerre Paperback – November 14, 1984

ISBN-13: 978-0674766914 ISBN-10: 0674766911 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (November 14, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674766911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674766914
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A fascinating reconstruction of a famous incident of impostorship and love in sixteenth-century rural France. Davis delicately deploys historical fact to suggest what is singular about the modern individual. (Todd Gitlin The Nation)

In her intelligent and subtle analysis, the story gives an inside view of an otherwise little-known world, the private lives of peasants...Natalie Davis has also collaborated on an excellent film of the story (produced in France) as well as writing this book...About Martin Guerre, I would say, without hesitation, the movie was great, but Natalie Davis's book is even greater. (Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie New York Review of Books)

Davis combines a veteran researcher's expertise with a lay reader's curiosity and an easygoing style. She draws on sophisticated...work in land tenure, legal rights, and demography to reinterpret a 'prodigious history' among the French peasantry...Davis's book combines ingredients essential to good social history--painstaking historical research and a vividly empathetic imagination. The result of this happy combination is that character emerges in context...Davis's book balances possibility and constraint, character and situation. It puts people back into history but doesn't take the social and political forces out of it. The universal is there in particular, and it makes you think not only about their choices then, but about ours now. (Pat Aufderheide Voice Literary Supplement)

A fascinating anecdote, with enough colorful background, psychological complexity, and unsolved mysteries to delight any intelligent audience. (Kirkus Reviews)

Natalie Zemon Davis...has scoured the legal and notarial records of south-western France to recreate for the reader not merely a highly entertaining story but a vivid picture of the world which fashioned its principal characters. Her observations on property rights, inheritance, customs, family relationships and the mechanisms of the law are welded together by a rare blend of historical craft and imagination...Professor Davis's ability to combine lively narrative, wit, historical reflection and psychological analysis will ensure for this book a wide audience. It is truly captivating story with which to pass a rainy weekend; it is also a brilliantly professional reconstruction of the rural world of sixteenth-century France, which will both stimulate and inform for many years to come. (David Parker Times Literary Supplement)

The fullest account to date of this extraordinary tale. Davis has constructed a Fine piece of social history, a look into the lives of 16th-century peasants who left no records because they could neither read nor write. (Jean Strouse Newsweek)

Davis combines a veteran researcher's expertise with a lay reader's curiosity and an easygoing style... Davis's book balances possibility and constraint, character and situation. It puts people back into history but doesn't take the social and political forces out of it (Pat Aufderheide Village Voice)

About the Author

Natalie Zemon Davis is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Emerita, Princeton University.

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Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

Also, beware of any claims that are not supported directly by citations to her sources.
J. Whelan
After reading this book, be sure to check out the film version starring Gerard Depardieu; it is a great version of the story, and Depardieu never looked so thin!
Jeffrey Leach
The story of Martin Guerre, Bertrand de Rols and Pansette demonstrates how sixteenth century peasants attempted to fashion their own lives.
J. Seth Witmer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on April 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Natalie Zemon Davis was a history professor at Princeton University when two French screenwriters, Jean-Claude Carriere and Daniel Vigne, asked her to act as a consultant on a film version of the infamous 16th century case of Martin Guerre. This project served as the impetus for Davis to research and write this immensely readable account of the Guerre event, a case of impersonation that caused an uproar in parts of France for years to come. The film version Davis consulted on starred Gerard Depardieu as the fake Martin Guerre, and a later American version, entitled "Somersby," placed events during the American Civil War and starred Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.
Any way you look at the situation, the Martin Guerre case is just plain strange. Davis traces the case back to the year 1527, when the Daguerre family left their Basque homeland in France and moved to the village of Artigat in the Languedoc region. The Daguerre family changed their name to Guerre in an effort to fit into the local community. The Guerre's quickly rose in prominence, although son Martin tended to enjoy acrobatics and swordplay in lieu of hard work.
Martin soon married Bertrande de Rols, the daughter of a prominent local family. After some initial problems conceiving children, attributed to a dangerous curse by many in the community, Martin and Bertrande finally had a son. But things did not go well for Martin; his father accused Martin of stealing some grain, an accusation that, coupled with Martin's desire to avoid family squabbles over inheritance issues, resulted in Martin's sudden departure from his family and home. With Martin gone off to various adventures in Spain and parts unknown, Bertrande was in quite a spot. Hope was on the way, however, when a man shows up claiming to be the missing Martin.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Tanja M. Laden on August 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Natalie Zemon Davis� book The Return Of Martin Guerre is a finely detailed, readable and well-researched account of the famous Martin Guerre and his impostor, Arnauld du Tilh. But even more than simply outlining the facts of the story, Davis also uses her research to enlighten us on the roles of different family members in 16th Century rural French life, the politics of family life and peasant life in general, and the role of the growing shift from Catholicism to Protestantism among the elite as well as the peasant classes. In relation to family and marriage life, Davis uses Bertrande de Rols, Martin Guerre�s wife, as an example of a strong, virtuous woman with familial duty and an obstinate nature. Davis uses this characterization to explain how de Rols was not a weak-minded woman who was so easily duped by her missing husband�s impostor, but was rather a woman who was in love and used her strength in order to fascillitate her new relationship with Arnauld du Tilh: �Either by explicit or tacit agreement, she helped him become her husband.� Bertrande de Rols, according to Davis, is an example of the more broad-minded and less misogynist peasant society of the village of Artigat in 16th Century France. Through Bertrande de Rols, learn about how surprisingly fair the law was towards women: �The testaments in the area around Artigat rarely benefit one child but instead provide dowries for the daughters....(If there are only daughters, the property is divided equally among them)� (11) Natalie Zemon Davis� The Return Of Martin Guerre is also a deeper historical chronicle of changes in the shift from French Catholicism to the �new religion� of Protestantism.Read more ›
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sebastien Pharand on December 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
Natalie Zemon Davis's The Return of Martin Guerre is the account of one of France's most infamous trials. In the 16th Century, a young man returned to his native home town after his long disappearence. Although his looks were slightly different, people accepted this man with open arms. He took the place of the old Martin Guerre, returning to his family and to his wife. But it is only later, when the real Martin Guerre returned and after some of the men in Guerre's family had become suspicious about the new Martin Guerre, that the other man was showned to be an impostor.
Written with intelligence and prose that is compelling yet never too simplistic, The Return of Martin Guerre is a fantastic historical account that should please historians and history lovers alike.
In the first pages, Davis tells us that some of her research is more heresay than anything else, since she tried to fill in the gaps where an answer could not be found. Maybe that's why the book reads more like a story than an actual factual account.
Davis recreates the whole town and the ways of life of 15th century France with care and skill. Every single character that peoples the book is fully dimensional and interesting. Her presentation of these people and of the facts is always impartial, which is surprising coming from someone who states that she's also using some of her own opinions and thoughts to fill in the gaps.
The Return of Martin Guerre is a great read that is full of facts, but where the information is never overwhelming. This is how every historical treatise should be like.
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