During the period of the Renaissance in France in the sixteenth century, people had renewed interest in learning and values. Writers began rejecting accepted religious beliefs and focused more on human nature. This brought about a new way of life for people in France. In Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre, an account of a man, Arnaud du Tilh, impersonating Martin Guerre shows us first hand the way of life during this time. An imposter, at this time, would be particularly frowned upon in society and would face rather harsh consequences.
Davis proposes many possibilities regarding the story of Martin Guerre. Firstly, had the two men met? Davis proposes that Guerre and du Tilh had, indeed, met in their travels, whether it had been brief or extensive. Had they conspired? Perhaps Guerre “trained” du Tilh to be like himself. Yet, it seems to Davis, Guerre had never met du Tilh. As Davis says, a man du Tilh met who mistook him for Guerre sparked his eccentric idea to forge the identity of a somewhat well-off peasant with an estate left to him. Whatever the case may have been, du Tilh went along with this scheme.
Regardless of the answers to the previous stated questions, people in the town took this imposter in as the real Martin. Perhaps this was because he told his accounts of the past so accurately, so precise, that no one could truly deny it was him. With that in mind, Davis also presents the perplexing question as to how his own wife didn’t detect he was a phony.
Another credible and realistic point is made by Davis. Most likely, Bertrande knew he was not her real husband, as Davis believes she is a somewhat intelligent woman, yet she did not care. For many years, there was a missing role in their family as a father, husband, brother, son, and nephew. Now that “he” returned this void is filled. Life is made easier on Bertrande, and the rest of the family as well.
Davis’ thesis is quite apparent, des...