Michel de Montaigne.
Madeleine Lazard is undoubtedly aware of the first of these biographical dilemmas since she mentions Marie de Gournay's remark. Lazard offers a three-fold justification for her own biography of Montaigne: to provide knowledge of the diverse experiences of the author which "devrait aider a decouvrir, ou redecouvrir, son livre unique" (10); to fill gaps or "zones obscures" which remain after the publication of R. Trinquet and D. Frame's biographies (8); and to "dissiper les legendes tenaces qui deforment encore la personnalite de [Montaigne]" (10). The nature of these persistent legends suggests that Lazard's book is addressed not to scholars of the Essais as much as to a general literate public. Was he a homosexual? a misogynist? What did he mean by "que sais-je"? Such issues are not currently the objects of scholarly inquiry, though her biography also echoes the main issues of interest to scholars that Frame treats in his biography of Montaigne. Scholars who have read Frame's work will find relatively little new in Lazard.
Lazard's book is informative but not excessively documented, explanatory but not overly polemical. The presentation is both literary and historical; Montaigne's statements are explained in terms of the historical events and personages to which they allude. (Those interested in more detailed historical analyses of Montaigne should consult Geralde Nakam's two exhaustive studies.) Lazard explicates several canonical essays; devoting an entire and quite insightful chapter, for instance, to the intellectual and political history relevant to l'Apologie de Raimond Sebond.
In her treatment of Montaigne's later essays (1588), Lazard adopts an "evolutionist" scheme in which philosophical, moral and even physical changes in the author are reflected in his text. According to this logic, the progressive abandonment of direct quotations from Stoic thinkers would indicate that Montaigne had at last found his own voice. "Le dessein de Montaigne s'est precise au fur et a mesure de [la] redaction. Il a pris conscience de ce qu'il voulait faire" (362). Such a "man behind the text" reading has for some time been a matter of debate among literary scholars. Lazard does not enter the critical fray, but her adoption of such a scheme may raise yet a third issue for biographers: to what extent does one use the book to know its author when this author's life is largely constituted from the book in the first place? But readers of Montaigne know that he leads us all into the circular trap: "Tout le monde me reconnoit en mon livre et mon livre en moy" (362).
Lisa Neal UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
|Previous Article:||The Antiquarian and the Myth of Antiquity: The Origins of Rome in Renaissance Thought.|
|Next Article:||L'Architecture des 'Essais' de Montaigne: memoire artificielle et mythologie.|