Martin Guerre Quotes in The Return of Martin Guerre
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?
[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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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?