Synopses & Reviews
To receive a royal pardon in sixteenth-century France for certain kinds of homicideunpremeditated, unintended, in self-defense, or otherwise excusablea supplicant had to tell the king a story. These stories took the form of letters of remission, documents narrated to royal notaries by admitted offenders who, in effect, stated their case for pardon to the king. Thousands of such stories are found in French archives, providing precious evidence of the narrative skills and interpretive schemes of peasants and artisans as well as the well-born.
This book, by one of the most acclaimed historians of our time, is a pioneering effort to us the tools of literary analysis to interpret archival texts: to show how people from different stations in life shaped the events of a crime into a story, and to compare their stories with those told by Renaissance authors not intended to judge the truth or falsity of the pardon narratives, but rather to refer to the techniques for crafting stories.
A number of fascinating crime stories, often possessing Rabelaisian humor, are told in the course of the book, which consists of three long chapters. These chapters explore the French law of homicide, depictions of "hot anger" and self-defense, and the distinctive characteristics of women's stories of bloodshed.
The book is illustrated with seven contemporary woodcuts and a facsimile of a letter of remission, with appendixes providing several other original documents. This volume is based on the Harry Camp Memorial Lectures given at Stanford University in 1986.
"The dreary title describes but scarcely illuminates the fascinating subject of this book by the distinguished author of The Return of Martin Guerre. By applying the methods of literary analysis to archival documents she shows how requests for royal pardon are linked to fiction. As she remarks, reading 16th-century letters of remission is like having the Decameron in one's hands. Her book is not only a social history as such but a means to the reading of Renaissance fiction as a clue to historical 'reality.'" Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"Natalie Zemon Davis's articles . . . have already earned her a reputation among those familiar with her work as one of the most brilliant and original historians active in American today. This collection of eight essays, her first book, reprints five of the most important of her published articles along with three entirely new ones. . . . Each of these eight essays bears the imprint of Davis's distinctive style, a style which is characterized above all by the exceptional range of perspectives which she brings to bear on whatever subject she discusses. . . . Historians will wish to savor this book. For virtually every one of these essays is the kind of model study which reminds us how revealing exciting history can ben when a love of reconstructing the details of past societies is wedded to the search for larger patterns of significance."
,The Journal of Modern History
"No historian of our time has a more immediate and vital sense of the past than Dr. Davis, and none has been more ingenious and persistent in putting the smalles piece of evidence to work in order to recover the sights, the sounds, and the sensations of a world what have lost. . . . The capacity to stimulate new thinking is the hallmark of the creative historian, and about Dr. Davis's creative capacity this lively collection of essays can leave no possible room for doubt."
,The Sixteenth Century Journal
"Here, then, is an invaluable introduction to the work of one of today's best and most creative historians of early modern Europe. . . . It is also a beautifully produced, carefully edited, and well illustrated book."
E. William Monter
,Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance