Recommendations from our site
“This book tells the fascinating story of Martin Guerre: a mysterious tale of imposture, love, and honour among sixteenth-century French peasants. It is a brilliant bit of historical detective work and a captivating read that plunges the reader deep into the world of the past.” Read more...
The Best History Books to Take on Holiday
Suzannah Lipscomb, Historian
“It’s one of the easiest microhistories to get into. It’s very short, working on a very famous case, it’s been turned into not one, but two films: a French film inevitably starring Gerard Depardieu and a — not particularly good — American version with Richard Gere. It tells a very unusual story about a French peasant who disappears off and leaves his wife and about eight years later this other French peasant turns up and claims to be him. His wife, who’s called Bertrand, says “Yeah, absolutely, this is my husband, this is Martin Guerre.” She defends him in front of the law courts in the village. Her family then really push the case, there’s a soldier who walks past and says “that’s not Martin Guerre, I saw him at war, he only has one leg.” He ends up in another law court and then dramatically the original husband turns up and the imposter ends up getting hung. It’s a very tragic, very strange story. Why does the wife accept this? Why does she think “I’m going to tell everyone that this is my husband?” Has she been duped? The spin that Natalie Davis puts on it is a broadly feminist one, which is that she is in a very tricky position in her world, she is stuck without a husband so she uses agency, she takes in this guy who wants to move up slightly in the world. She needs this protection of a husband and so she goes along with it. She’s been criticised, but it’s a broadly defensible position.What I really like about this book is that it’s such an intricate story of very ordinary people, and yet Natalie Davis uses it to draw out these big themes about sixteenth-century Europe: about gender relations, about the hardship of peasant life. It’s just a fascinating story. It’s riveting. While you’re following it, you’re wondering how it’s going to end. It’s like a novel.” Read more...
The best books on Microhistory
Jonathan Healey, Historian
A perfect history short listen. “This book tells the fascinating story of Martin Guerre: a mysterious tale of imposture, love, and honour among sixteenth-century French peasants. It is a brilliant bit of historical detective work and a captivating read that plunges the reader deep into the world of the past.” says Suzannah Lipscomb.
Narrator: Sarah Mollo-Christensen
Length: 3 hours and 35 minutes
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