The Return of Martin Guerre

by

Natalie Zemon Davis

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Martin Guerre Character Analysis

Martin was born into a family from Basque country, an area of southern France near the border with Spain. When he was a child, his family moved further north, to the village of Artigat, where Martin may have been bullied for his unfamiliar name and accent. The young Martin loved sword-fighting and village athletics. He had a great deal of interaction with women as a child: he grew up in a family of sisters and was married to Bertrande de Rols very young, around age fourteen. The marriage was initially not a success; they didn’t have a child for eight years—perhaps because Martin didn’t feel ready for marriage. Martin was stifled by village life and longed to escape the small community, but his father, Sanxi the elder, forbade him from traveling or leaving home. When he fled the village as a punishment for stealing a small quantity of grain, then, it might have been something of a relief. Martin settled in Spain, where he became a servant to a cardinal called Francisco de Mendoza. After Francisco’s death, Martin fought for the Spanish army against his native country, France—demonstrating just how far estranged he had become from his old identity. In a siege of 1557, Martin was shot and had to have his leg amputated. From then on, he walked with a wooden leg, a characteristic that crucially differentiated him from the imposter Martin, Arnaud du Tilh. Martin must have heard at some point that another man had stolen his name in Artigat, and he returned home to re-claim his family and identity. He was immediately identified by his family. But when Bertrande begged his forgiveness, Martin reproached her, telling her that a wife ought to know her husband. In this respect, both the court and posterity has taken a mixed view of Martin. Certainly, he had been wronged by the imposter Arnaud. But on the other hand, his attitude toward Bertrande seemed callous—after all, he was the one who had abandoned his wife and family for more than a decade. Davis embraces these contradictions, depicting Martin’s motivations sympathetically but not glossing over his personal flaws.

Martin Guerre Quotes in The Return of Martin Guerre

The The Return of Martin Guerre quotes below are all either spoken by Martin Guerre or refer to Martin Guerre. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Property Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harvard University Press edition of The Return of Martin Guerre published in 1983.
Preface and Introduction Quotes

But we still know rather little about the peasants’ hopes and feelings; the ways in which they experienced the relation between husband and wife, parent and child; the ways in which they experienced the constraints and possibilities of their lives. We often think of peasants as not having had much in the way of choices, but is this in fact true? Did individual villagers ever try to fashion their lives in unusual and unexpected ways?

Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

[H]ow, in a time without photographs, with few portraits, without tape recorders, without fingerprinting, without identity cards, without birth certificates, with parish records still irregular if kept at all—how did one establish a person’s identity beyond doubt?

Related Characters: Martin Guerre, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

Into this village, then, came the Daguerres, settling to the east of the Lèze, acquiring land (perhaps buying someone else’s propres), and establishing a tileworks […]. To be accepted by the village they had to take on some Languedoc ways. Daguerre became Guerre; if Pierre had used the Basque form of his name, Betrisantz or even Petri, he now changed it.

Related Characters: Martin Guerre, Sanxi the Elder, Pierre
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Much of the time historians of population movement think of peasant migration as due only to economic considerations; the case of the Guerres shows this is not the whole story. Martin dreamed of life beyond the confines of fields of millet, of tileworks, properties, and marriages.

Related Characters: Martin Guerre
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

I think we can account for the initial acceptance by family and neighbors without having recourse to the necromancy of which Arnaud was later accused and which he always denied. First of all, he was wanted in Artigat—wanted with ambivalence perhaps, for returning persons always dash some hopes and disturb power relations, but wanted more than not. The heir and householder Martin Guerre was back in his place.

Related Characters: Martin Guerre, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Forty-five people or more said that the prisoner was Arnaud du Tilh alias Pansette, or at least not Martin Guerre, since they had eaten and drunk with one or the other of them since childhood…About thirty to forty people said that the defendant was surely Martin Guerre; they had known him since the cradle.

Related Characters: Martin Guerre, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Who am I, Martin Guerre might have asked himself, if another man has lived out the life I left behind and is in the process of being declared the heir of my father Sanxi, the husband of my wife, and the father of my son?

Related Characters: Martin Guerre
Page Number: 83-84
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

In Coras’s “comitragic” version…one can approve the cuckolding of the once impotent and now faraway husband. Here Arnaud du Tilh becomes a kind of hero, a more real Martin Guerre than the hard-hearted man with the wooden leg. The tragedy is more in his unmasking than in his imposture.

Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

Montaigne insists how difficult it is to know the truth about things and how uncertain an instrument is human reason. “Truth and falsehood have both alike countenances…Wee beholde them with one same eye.”

Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

The story of Martin Guerre is told and retold because it reminds us that astonishing things are possible. Even for the historian who has deciphered it, it retains a stubborn vitality. I think I have uncovered the true face of the past—or has Pansette done it once again?

Related Characters: Martin Guerre, Arnaud du Tilh
Related Symbols: The Carnival Mask
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
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Martin Guerre Character Timeline in The Return of Martin Guerre

The timeline below shows where the character Martin Guerre appears in The Return of Martin Guerre. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface and Introduction
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The historian Natalie Zemon Davis explains why she decided to write The Return of Martin Guerre, which she calls “a historian’s adventure with a different way of telling about the... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...chance to tell her side of the story. One unusually well-documented case is that of Martin Guerre, chronicled in a book called Arrest Memorable (1561) by Jean de Coras. The book... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
The case of Martin Guerre is so valuable, Davis argues, because it shows how peasants thought about issues of... (full context)
Chapter 1
Identity and Property Theme Icon
In 1527, Martin Guerre’s father, Sanxi Daguerre, moved to a village called Artigat in southwest France, leaving behind... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
...Occitan. They ran a successful tilework business and farmed the local land. Davis explains that Martin’s mother would have adapted her dress to the way that other women dressed in the... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Guerres were evidently successful at integrating, because in 1538 Martin married Bertrande de Rols, the daughter of a well-off local family who brought a substantial... (full context)
Chapter 2
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
For eight years after the wedding, the young Martin and Bertrande didn’t conceive a child. Bertrande would later claim that this was because a... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
However, Martin’s troubles weren’t over. He liked little about Artigat except swordplay, which he loved. He fought... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
In 1548, when Martin was twenty-four, he was accused of stealing a small quantity of grain from his father.... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Martin settled in Burgos, Spain, where he learned Castilian and became a servant to a cardinal... (full context)
Chapter 3
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
When Martin left Artigat, Bertrande was probably about twenty-two years old. Davis explains that Bertrande would have... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...local noblewoman owned and leased her own land after the death of her husband. After Martin’s departure, Bertrande was left with the ambiguous status of neither wife nor widow, since, under... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Martin’s parents eventually forgave him for his disappearance, and Martin’s father named Martin as his heir... (full context)
Chapter 4
Identity and Property Theme Icon
In 1556, a man called Arnaud du Tilh arrived in Artigat, claiming to be Martin. Arnaud was born in the village of Sajas, about a day’s ride to the north... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Bertrande later suggested that Martin and Arnaud might have met in the army, which was how Arnaud knew about Martin’s... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
...was more elaborate, since he practiced and memorized for several years in order to “become” Martin Guerre.   (full context)
Chapter 5
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Arnaud first arrived at a hotel near Artigat, where word spread that “Martin” had returned. At first, Bertrande, Pierre, Martin’s four sisters, and the rest of the family... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Davis suggests that Arnaud’s ability to successfully impersonate Martin is more plausible than it may seem: after all, the Guerres hadn’t seen Martin for... (full context)
Chapter 6
Identity and Property Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...action was an unthinkable rebellion against his patriarchal authority. He became convinced that the new “Martin” was an impostor. In retaliation for the lawsuit, he began telling family and neighbors that... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
However, Bertrande continued to maintain that Arnaud was indeed the true Martin. Arnaud claimed that Pierre had made up the story. The quarrel split the villagers, some... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...Arnaud. A solider from Rochefort came through the village and told people that the real Martin was still alive and now walked with a wooden leg, having had his leg amputated... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Pierre made inquiries and found out that “Martin” was actually Arnaud. He opened a formal legal inquiry in Bertrande’s name without her permission.... (full context)
Chapter 7
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...some of whom swore that the man was Arnaud, some of whom swore he was Martin, and some of whom said that the two men looked alike but they couldn’t say... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...made a good performance on the stand, recounting intimate details about her wedding night with Martin that Arnaud was able to corroborate. (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...witnesses gave contradictory testimony, and the handwriting test couldn’t be used because neither Arnaud nor Martin had ever signed their name prior to Martin’s disappearance. After months of deliberation, the judge... (full context)
Chapter 8
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
The court placed the most value on the testimony of close relatives who had known Martin since childhood. But even those witnesses were unable to agree on whether Arnaud really was... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...favor, a man with a wooden leg arrived in Toulouse, claiming to be the real Martin Guerre. (full context)
Chapter 9
Identity and Property Theme Icon
After Martin lost his leg at the battle of Saint-Quentin, he was given a position as a... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Martin and Arnaud were each questioned separately. At first, things seemed to go well for Arnaud:... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...had prepared herself for a variety of outcomes. Consequently, her performance was flawless. She embraced Martin and asked his pardon for her mistake, claiming she had been deceived and seduced by... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
The real Martin had now been identified. However, there was little legal precedent for a case like this:... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
...with the Guerres: Pierre was not punished for his schemes against Arnaud and Bertrande, and Martin was also not punished for treason against his country, since the court considered that he... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Arnaud, Martin, and Bertrande were summoned before the court for the last time. The famous essayist Michel... (full context)
Chapter 10
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...some translations and history books, and in 1560 he wrote the “Admirable History of the Pseudo-Martin of Toulouse,” based on the court’s notes and perhaps on his own experience of the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...in French rather than Latin, the language of the courts. He described the case of Martin Guerre as “prodigious,” implying it was unlike anything that France had ever seen before. Davis... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...that Bertrande was easily deceived by “the weakness of her sex,” but is unsympathetic to Martin for abandoning his wife, and he leaves out the details of Arnaud’s confession. (full context)
Chapter 12
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Some people read about the case of Martin Guerre as part of their legal training, while others read it as a “marvelous” and... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...doubt that someone is a witch. To prove his point, he cited the trial of Martin Guerre, a case in which it was very difficult to prove that either of the... (full context)
Epilogue
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
By 1563, everything seemed back to normal in Artigat. Pierre and Martin were on good terms, their names appearing together on contracts and in lawsuits. Although there... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Martin and Bertrande even had two more sons, who inherited the family property along with Martin’s... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...that “nothing ever happens in Artigat,” an old woman once again told the story of Martin Guerre. (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
The reason the story of Martin Guerre has been “told and retold” so many times since the sixteenth century, Davis thinks,... (full context)