I should have liked Natalie Davis to have teased out the socio-linguistic significance of the letters between Jean de Coras and his wife, letters to which she refers so briefly and so tantalisingly. She emerges as, if not a winner, than as one who came closest to making the most of the circumstances in which she found herself, which is no more maybe than we all try to do with varying degrees of success.
Building a bridge between academia and the world of popular histories The Return of Martin Guerre, Reviewed by Cole Bricker In the s in Languedoc, France, a rich peasant named Martin Guerre left his wife, child and property and was not heard from for eight years. Like Davis, we can only guess at the emotions that must have wrenched the family members when Martin Guerre left and when he returned and returned again — the anger, fear, perplexity, concern, and acrimony that can accompany any unplanned or unwelcome change in a life course that has been accepted, especially when that change affects future status, comfort, and security.
The Return of Martin Guerre is at once an attempt to reach a wider public and to approach social history by a somewhat different route. Not an exploration of the spread of Protestantism in Southern France in the middle of the sixteenth century nor of the structure of the rural economybut a singular, very human, story.
Her wide-ranging curiosity and especially her interest in social anthropology prompt her to ask original and searching questions about the life of the French people during their bitter religious wars of the later 16th century. After more than eight years of impotence, Martin succeeded in consummating the marriage and begetting a son.
This reaction, I think, may have resulted not only from the defendant's sense of danger, but also from anger. This idea of social drama with which Natalie Davis is familiar, though she does not appeal to it in this book may be helpful in the case of Martin Guerre.
One of the major problems which social historians have to face is that of dealing with relatively slow changes in the lives of large numbers of people without eliminating local and individual idiosyncrasies and variations. Eight years after that, a man came to Artigat and announced himself as the long-lost Martin.
The delicacy and precision of how she positioned herself as a deceived person and an innocent victim is carefully brought out. Trying to take him off guard, President de Mansencal asked him how he had invoked the evil spirit that taught him so much about the people of Artigat.
At this point storyteller and social historian merge into each other.