The Return of Martin Guerre Book Review Sample

Oct 3, 2018 in Analysis

According to History, the retelling of the story about Martin Guerre abounds as a treacherous activity since the events concerning him took place long time ago in rural France. History indicates that only a few participants had the capability to write about him. However, two contemporary writers have tried their best to come up with materials that speak directly about the case. These two materials have significantly influenced other writers concerning Martin Guerre. These two articles have resulted to the development of a traditional version of the story focusing on the cunning of the impostor, Arnaud du Tilh and his stunning deception. Notably, Natalie approaches the story from a fresh perspective with the intention of linking the impostor’s ruse with the creation of personal identity. This results to the author shortening the gap between the sixteenth century French peasants and the upper class. Notably, this debate confirms that historians reconstruct the past from evidence that is found in other books. Additionally, historians employ the evidence availed by people that lived in the time under investigation as bounds from Finlay’s argument regarding Martin Guerre.

This paper explores Finlay’s principal critique of Davis’s book and how Davis defends her approach.

Finlay does not commence his article as Davis did. He commences his article in an obtrusive manner in that, he comments about the life and society of the peasants’ presence in mainstream media and modern history. This is followed by an explanation regarding how Davis’ managed to popularize Martin Guerre’s story. Finlay’s criticism depicts from the point where he starts to bring Jean de Coras into the picture1. Finlay also indicates from his perspective that Jean de Coras was alive during the whole scandal and from his reports, the actors were very different from how Davis portrayed them. According to Finlay, Davis did not use the right impostor in her story as he indicates that Coras’s account depicts a charlatan property snatcher as the impostor who got what was coming to him. Finlay considers Davis account of the story as befitting an invention of her own imagination. He notes that Davis exaggerated sources in order to come up with a dramatized story of Martin Guerre, which does not add up as history. Finlay terms Davis’s account as n historical fiction. Finlay also disputes Davis’s idea that the wife of Martin Guerre was in on some plot as he indicates she was duped by a scoundrel2. 

From Davis’ article, it can be established that the protagonist is not so much Arnaud du Tilh as it depicts as Bertrande de Rols who is Martin Guerre’s wife. Finlay’s version indicates Bertrande’s willingness as an accomplice in the deception because she had realized how the charade could benefit her both socially and economically3. This explains why Bertrande is forced to testify against the impostor when he was brought to trial. However, she does this technically as she does not abandon the impostor, but plays her double role perfectly. This is achieved through her validation of d Tilh’s testimony while on the other hand, she strived significantly to maintain her position. Bertrande’s strategy shifts when the actual Guerre reappears. She pretends to realize her mistake then and begs for forgiveness from the real Martin du Tilh for the part she has played; thus far. This leads Martin Du Tilh to confess his crimes although he does not implicate his accomplice as a testament for his love to her. Bertrande escapes death as Martin is put to death. Bertrande returns to her previous life as wife to Martin Guerre. In Davis’s respond to Finlay, she indicates that she wanted her novel to have a detective approach. She did this with the intention of enabling the average person to read her account of the story. Davis also indicates that all what she mentioned in her story is true and is supported by research, which any person can counter-check to confirm her position4. For instance, she refutes Finlay’s argument that Martin Guerre’s wife could not be in a position to not the difference between her real husband and the impostor, which she supports using psychology sources.

In conclusion, I second Finlay’s assertion regarding Davis letting her imagination run away with her. This abounds from the fact that she tries to stretch the truth and calling it history through the use of credible sources. On the other hand, Finlay also informs history wrongly concerning Martin Guerre’s impostor. This abounds from the fact that people aged more rapidly in the sixteenth century because of labor and harder lives. Therefore, there is nothing that could have altered a man, which could make a wife not able to tell the difference. Notably, from the two articles, it can be concluded that historians utilize other sources and first hand information in construction of history. This depicts from Finlay’s critique of Davis’ work on Martin Guerre as Finlay indicates that Coras was around during the time and does not provide the same assertions as Davis’s regarding Martin Gurre. From the two accounts by these authors, it can be assumed that they do not inform history fully; thus, Martin Guerre will be a half mystery of history.


  1. Davis, Natalie Zemon. "AHR Forum: The Return of Martin Guerre:"On the Lame"." The American Historical Review, JUne 31, 1988: 572-603.
  2. Finlay, Robert. "AHR Forum: The Return of Martin Guerre. The Refashioning of Martin Guerre." The American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jun., 1988), pp. 553-571Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf, JUne 12, 1988: 553-571.

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