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The Return of Martin Guerre
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The Return of Martin Guerre

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,533 Ratings  ·  174 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, 176 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 t ...more
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Roman Clodia
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 reconstruc
Jan 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, europe
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
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
Jul 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the true story written by the woman who was the historian helping out with the movie version with the great French actor Gerard Depardieu. I recommend both the movie and the book. I learned a lot about village life in 16th century France.

The peasant Martin Guerre goes off to war to fight with the Spanish Army. After being away for a few years, an imposter arrives. The peasant Arnaud du Tilh pretends to be Martin Guerre. He takes over Guerre's wife, property, and life. Finally, about thr
Oct 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfic, france
So, this was rather interesting in its utter bizarre source material. The events sound like something out of Chaucer or something, but there is documented evidence of it actually happening, so its pretty irrefutable. I also liked how the author took the time to examine multiple points of view, show evidence and then speculate on the motives of each person. Secondly, I like that this wasn't written in overly academic language and was instead very approachable. The length was something else I was ...more
Aug 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a fascinating microhistory of a strange episode in 16th century France, where a man abandons his wife and an impostor takes his place with surprising success. The scholarly style does not make for a page-turner, but the research is fantastic; Davis draws on countless records from the time period to paint a vivid picture of the setting, often in quite innovative ways. Unfortunately, the available sources are too sparse to provide anything close to the complete story, and she fills in the ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
"The Return of Martin Guerre" is the account of one of France's most infamous trials ( in 1527?). A young man, namely Martin Guerre, returns to his native home town after his long disappearance. People accepts this man with open arms as Martin Guerre who has returned to his family and to his wife. But later, when another Martin Guerre returns, problem arises as to who the real person is.

After reading this book, be sure to check out the film version starring Gerard Depardieu; it is a great versio
Once upon a time, I had to read this for a history class. What really stuck with me is the concept of identity before photos and biometrics: how the identification of a person was based around the goodwill of the people you grew up with and that they could choose to accept or exclude you. The idea being that there would never be a trustworthy stranger because why would you willingly abandon those who could vouch for your identity?

There's a movie version out there somewhere, but I haven't seen it
Julio César
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is a must for those interested in History as a research field. Zemon Davis builds a solid, concise book on a long-forgotten episode in sixteenth century France and she teaches a lesson on how to delve into the past in order to inquire into human history. The case is well known nowadays, but that's the less important part of this book: I think it shows (like Carlo Ginzburg's work) how a minor episode might illuminate a whole era.
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Richard F. Schiller
Apr 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
Very interesting story , but the rambling historical style that Zemon Davis employs is incredibly tiresome. Somewhat of a hybrid novel-historical document.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Чудова книга! Надзвичайно цікаве мікроісторичне дослідження, що. на тлі життя невеликого французького села Артига та регіону з яким у місцевих жителів були тісні контакти показує наскільки сильно над середньовічною людиною тяжіло традиційне життя, а наскільки існувала свобода вибору життєвого шляху? Які могли бути життєві стратегії (усталені і девіантні)? Якою була роль жінки? (і її сприйняття чоловіками, які вважали Бертранду легковірною, слабкою, дурненькою жінкою, яку, через слабкості її стат ...more
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would never have picked this up if it wasn't assigned reading for a class, but it was thoroughly engrossing. The focus on telling a story is a large part of that: it's a slim volume that wanders little from its core narrative, a "prodigious history" of a family abandoned, a charismatic impostor posing as the returning husband, and the providential last-minute arrival of the real husband during the trial of the impostor. However, the book doesn't end with the return of Martin Guerre - there are ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
From court records and published accounts the author tells the story of a man who abandons his family and the imposter who takes his place. This case is intriguing as it took place in the 1500's in France. Without modern day forensics the court officials had to try to prove that the man who claimed to be Martin Guerre, having 'returned' to his wife after years of absence, was not the real Martin who years ago had walked away from his life in the village of Artigat. It was interesting to read abo ...more
Shari Salisbury
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A historian tells the tale, based on eyewitness accounts, of a 16th century mystery concerning the identity of a man who leaves his young wife and child, goes away to war, and returns greatly changed. Is the man who returned the same man who left, or an impostor? I had seen the French film starring Gerard Depardieu years ago, and enjoyed getting the actual historical take on this tale which was studied at law for centuries after.
Averill Earls
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I don't get to teach it often because when am I ever teaching Early mod Europe? Never. But I got to teach it with my first-years this semester as an example of a microhostory (to endeavor to model their own papers on) and it is engaging and interesting and sassy and I LOVE IT. The students like or love it too, so it's a win win! Poor Pansette.
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
A totally different way to the way I do history and a fascinating reconstruction of events of the 16th century. The mass of details sometimes get in the way of the narrative and the reconstruction work calls on Zemon Davis to bring in archival material that assists her speculations but that sometimes don't assist in enabling the reader to concentrate on the narrative.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a quick read; a fascinating story of the life of the peasantry in 1500s Europe. I have done genealogy and many of my german roots fade out of the records in this time frame as families were starting to use surnames. One wonders what life was really like for people that had not long been free from serfdom or equivalent. This gives good insight into the times.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
It has a nice flow and the story was interesting. Really well written for historical nonfiction.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2017
It didn't really live up to the hype (please imagine the crowd of people I run with that I've heard a TON of hype on how great this book is).d
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this in a history class and it was fascinating. A great story and thought experiment. Fun to read about real, intriguing history.
Charvi Rastogi
Feb 03, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 to be fair.
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre tells the story of Arnaud Du Tilh’s impersonation of Martin Guerre, a Basque peasant who traveled with his family to the small French village of Artigat, married, and disappeared shortly thereafter. According to the account of Jean De Coras, one of the judges who presided over Du Tilh’s trial, the imposter was successful in deceiving Guerre’s wife and indeed his entire family as to his identity. Davis disagrees with Coras, insisting that not only ...more
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historia
La historia cultural —que no la historia de la cultura— es la historia de las perspectivas. De los puntos de vista. La historia de lo que la gente ve y juzga en un momento dado y, por supuesto, de cómo y por qué ve y juzga en el modo en el que lo hace. Una historia imaginativa, ciertamente, dado que el estudioso debe inferir una cantidad importante de cosas y, sobre todo, debe encontrar la manera e la que su personaje, o sus personajes, pudieron haberse hecho eco de lo que acaecía a su alrededor ...more
Stephen Selbst
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Natalie Zemon Davis tells the story of The Return of Martin Guerre. But beyond adding a few details, the retelling isn't much because the outlines of the story are well-known: a man disappears, a man claiming to be him returns, lives with his wife and resettles into the community. But doubts persist, even among his family, and he is placed on trial, near the end of which the true Martin Guerre returns. The impostor is convicted and sentenced to death. What this book does is illuminate the social ...more
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