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The Return of Martin Guerre
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The Return of Martin Guerre

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,701 ratings  ·  116 reviews
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.
Paperback, 162 pages
Published October 15th 1984 by Harvard University Press (first published 1983)
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In the autumn of 1560 Arnaud du Tilh was executed in front of the house, deep in southern France, where he had lived for the past three years. He had been found guilty of impersonating one Martin Guerre, a local man who had walked out of his marriage and life in the village over ten years previously and had not been heard of since. Du Tilh had succeeded in convincing Guerre's uncle, sisters and wife that he was in fact the long lost Martin Guerre. His testimony in court was convincing, he had th ...more
Erik Simon
Martin Guerre: get a load of this dick: 1560s, and he bails on his wife and child, just gets the hell out, so a few years later some guy comes along and pretends he's the returned Martin Guerre, and even though he's not, the wife says, "Sure. Why not?" And when the real Martin Guerre does return all these years later to find his wife now with "Martin Guerre?" That dick chews her out. Fucking men, man.

This was a fascinating book. It not only recounts this captivating 16th Century tale, it also p
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
John David
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 res ...more
Dec 03, 2007 Genichka rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historians
I was deeply impressed when I read this book. I read it like a fiction not like a historian book. (according to the linguistic turn this method of reasoning seems to be a tragedy)I was interested in tasks that Devis set before herself. She tried to understand the motivations of her heroes. but not only those who were described in the source but also the motivations of the recorders, what were the feelings of the witnesses of that events. and why they had exactly that feelings. It's the kind of ...more
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, Bertran ...more
This book is mind candy for a historian like me (footnotes galore! obscure sources by the boatload!). One of the most fascinating things about it is how it came to be written. I love the way that Natalie Zemon Davis was first an advisor to the film, and then decided to do some digging to see if she could flesh out the story afterward, resulting in this deeply researched but readable account. It definitively tells the story of Martin Guerre, but also give us a view of life in rural 16th century F ...more
Zemon Davis's subject matter is fascinating but her analysis is cautious and doesn't truly address her questions. I'll sound like the worst history nerd ever, but skip the book and watch the movie. She was a consultant on the film and it's well done and in many ways more rigorous than the book.
Having seen the movie before the book, I went in knowing the story. The first half of the book was quite interesting, but once they got into the later trials I found myself getting bored. It was a quick read, and I don't think it was a waste of time, especially since it was for school. If you do see the movie, I recommend also reading this book. Davis did a thorough investigation, and while it's was at some points biased towards the "honorable Bertrande" (a character who I have grown fond of als ...more
Dan Gorman
It's very interesting that Davis, writing an academic history, never explicitly states her one thesis. Rather, she creates a driving narrative with digressions into social, legal, and cultural history. I can't put my finger on just where this book goes from being well-done history to being truly sublime, but it's a massively compelling read, certainly the best evocation of life in Renaissance-era Europe that I've ever encountered. And this is while exploring various shades of meaning & possi ...more
May 19, 2013 Michael rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History Students, History Instructors, French Historians
Recommended to Michael by: Brandon Hunziker
This is an interesting experiment in an academic historian writing a more “accessible” piece by focusing on a dramatic story. The project began, according to the introduction, with Davis serving as a consultant on the film version of “The Return of Martin Guerre,” but rather than allowing a dumbed-down novelization to become the book version, she decided to research the case more seriously and add complexity through a new book. As the book demonstrates the use of historical methods accurately bu ...more
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. Told and retold over the centuries, the story of Martin Guerre became a legend, still remembered in the Pyrenean village where the impostor was execut ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Ken added it
This is a fairly well known story that I had never heard before. Martin Guerre a French-Basque Peasant who married at around 14 to a girl of 10, left for parts unknown in his 20s. Some years later he returned, but there were questions all over the village if it was really him. He seemed a bit shorter, his shoe size was smaller, but he was a fairly good match. Also, he seemed to know all about Martin's life. His wife also claimed that it was Martin. And seemed much happier with the new-Martin tha ...more
Megan Marie
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I enjoyed this book. It is an example of a history book that is written in the form of a narrative and is accessible to a popular audience. It is an easy read, is a thankfully short monograph, and tells the the spectacular case of Martin Guerre and his imposter, Arnaud. It is so intriguing to realize that until fairly recently, it was extremely difficult to prove without a shadow of a doubt someone's identity. In 16th century France, this is only too clear when Arnaud is able to live as Martin G ...more
Natalie Zemon Davis’ Return of Martin Guerre is a great investigation into the authenticity and plausibility of the infamous 16th century case of stolen identity. Davis begins with an introduction to the Guerre family members, their faith and etiquette, and how they came to relocate to Artigat from the French Basque country. The reason why Sanxi Guerre’s only son Martin chose to spontaneously leave his wife and son is still unknown, though Davis offers some speculation based on records of his wh ...more
"The most prodigious stories you can read
From Christian times or pagan
Will seem like nothing to you
After the sham husband." (106)

I rarely list books that I've read for class on Goodreads, but this one I couldn't resist. Rarely does a work of history come so alive as Davis's rendering of this 16th-century fiasco-turned-folktale.

The tale tells of a curious imposture, the likes of which can be found in Roman comedy. Years after Martin Guerre has abandoned his family, a man arrives bearing his liken
I read this for my studies, which means I unfortunately had to hurry through it, but I still enjoyed reading it. I like microhistory and Natalie Zemon Davis is both an excellent writer and an excellent historian.

There are always gaps in the source material, but Davis makes her best to fill those gaps by interpreting the source and by making some well-educated guesses. However, she tells that these are her guesses on what might have happened and makes an effort to separate the information from t
Todd Stansbury
While there can be some question about the nature of narrative, and particularly pushing the boundaries of history and fiction, this is an excellent book that tells the charming and interesting story of an imposter in 16th century France. There a weak moments, and there is a sense that it is more invention than history at times, but Davis does an outstanding job at writing a readable book that can entertain while also sneaking in a look at the life of a sixteenth century peasant.
Nicole Prak
Tbh I don't give a rat's ass about the story of Martin Guerre. I read it for class and I have to write a paper on it and that's that.


I did find a very cute quote in the book that I really liked, even if it was random and had absolutely nothing to do with the story.

"I beg you believe that day and night at every hour and minute I dream of you, I wait for you, I desire you and love you so much that without you I don't exist." *swoons* Why don't people still talk like this?

Jacquelyn Mccaw
The story set in early modern France, late seventeenth century. Martin Guerre, a son of peasant parents, attempts to escape a life already dictated for him. His family has arranged his marriage to Bertrande, a daughter to peasant parents as well. In an effort to escape this situation, he leaves the village for war in northern France. A "Martin Guerre" returns, but the town and his own wife question if this Martin is an impostor. The French high court gets involved and the town is forced to pick ...more
A really enjoyable portrait of a village and family in 16th century France. The question of the extent of Bertrande's agency and compliancy in Arnaud's deception is fascinating and provides insight into the ability of women to work within their societal constraints. Also of great interest is R.Findlay's criticism of this work titled "the Refashioning of Martin Guerre" which is laughable in how badly it misses the point of this work. Zemon Davis strikes back eloquently in her response essay "on t ...more
Jun 24, 2007 James rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Hostorians, anyone interested in history
Shelves: recently-read
The Return of Martin Guerre is a history of what is probably the earliest written account of identity theft. Martin Guerre is a wealthy middle-class boy who has an arranged marriage to an even younger girl. While he seems to be relatively successful, there are signs that his marriage is unhappy and after his son is born, he disappears. Almost ten years later, he returns and is immediately accepted back into the family, but his father becomes suspicious. This story has one of the most dramatic en ...more
This account of a 16th century identity theft is very accessible, and provides a lot of historical context for the lay reader unfamiliar with peasant life in 16th c. France (!). What I enjoyed most, however, was the history of the story after the trial takes place. Davis follows an account from the presiding judge, in a sympathetic aside that even includes the judge's adoring letters to his young wife. She follows its inclusion into a "prodigious history," a kind of tabloid of its day that would ...more
Brandi Morgan Richardson
Natalie Zemon Davis provides a fascinating drama that reads like fiction and then a great comparative analysis of the works of two witnesses to this drama! This story provides great insight into both the life of peasant classes, gender roles, and the law in 16th century Europe. Quick, easy read
Roxana-Mălina Chirilă
A lovely micro-history, quite fascinating, if a little dry at times. The only thing that bothers me is that the author assumed some of the internal motivations of the characters with too much assurance and too little data.

Taken with a pinch of salt or three, it's quite an excellent book.
A really interesting domestic and court story of 1500s France. Not long after their wedding, Martin Guerre leaves his wife and child. No one knows where he has gone or why. Then, one day he shows back up...but not really. The man pretending to be Martin Guerre takes the place of the original and all goes well(ish) until the real Martin returns.
This was a fascinating book. Davis did an incredible amount of research and balances it beautifully with a story that is interesting without any embellis
excellent narrative-history retelling of a weird incident in 16th century france wherein a peasant (Martin) abandons his young wife and child (and his modest inheritance of land) for a decade. Then he returns, except it's an impostor. The new fake Martin gets into grief with his uncle, who outs him as a fake, except the wife of both Martins takes the side of the new fake Martin, and a strange trial ensues. New fake Martin is winning people over with his encyclopedic knowledge of Martin's life be ...more
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