Michel de Montaigne is a famous French writer who succeeded to establish a completely new literary form. When it comes to his well-known essays, he wrote one of the most intimate and captivating self-portraits. That’s why professors often ask their students to write a critical analysis or other academic papers about him. To end up with an interesting assignment on Montaigne essays, find out more about his life and work. Be sure to conduct your deep research and structure your ideas effectively.
A Brief Biography of Michel de Montaigne
This well-known writer lived and worked in the 16th century, so he witnessed the decline of the intellectual optimism marking the Renaissance. Montaigne was quite critical of his time and involved in its countless struggles and preoccupations. He decided to write about himself to share some possible truths about human conditions in the period when any possibility of truth seemed treacherous and illusory.
Describing His Early Years
Montaigne was born in France, and he spent most of his life in Bordeaux. His family was wealthy because of his grandfather who acquired its nobility and estate. His father expanded it due to public services and he was a mayor of Bordeaux. As a kid, Montaigne was tutored at home to the following pedagogy ideas that belonged to his father:
- Exclusive use of Latin;
- Gentle encouragement and its cosseted ambience.
That’s why he failed to learn French until he was 6 years old. His education was continued at the college where he found its strict discipline and at the university where the future writer studied law. Montaigne decided to follow the public-service traditions started by his grandfather, and it helped him meet Étienne de la Boétie who was a humanist scholar and a writer. He was 24 years old when this significant meeting happened. Their extraordinary friendship was based on their profound emotional and intellectual closeness, and one of the Montaigne essays is devoted to this bond. Unfortunately, his irretrievable friend died of dysentery, and it’s quite likely that he started his own writing career to fill the emptiness left by this loss.
His Further Prominent Life Events
- In 1565, the writer got married because of his sense of social and familial duty. He was a father of 6 daughters, but 5 of them died in their infancy, so only Leonore survived.
- In 1569, he published his first book, which was a French translation of Natural Theology written by Sebond. This writing task was completed based on his father’s request who died before its publication and left the domain and title to his oldest son.
- In 1570, Montaigne made a decision to sell his seat in a local parliament, thus departing from public life. He took care of La Boétie’s works and their posthumous publication.
- In 1571, he retired and devoted his time to meditating, reading, and writing. The library in the castle tower was his refuge. In this room Montaigne decided to put his famous essays on paper.
- From 1571 to 1580, he’s spent his time composing the first books of his essays that included up to 57 chapters with different lengths, and Montaigne essays were published in 1580.
What Happened Next
He dedicated a big part of this life period to writing, but the writer also had to supervise his estate. So, Montaigne had to leave his retreat to intervene as a mediator in some episodes of religious conflicts and travel to the court. After publishing his essays in 1580, he decided to travel to other European countries, including Italy, Germany, Austria, France, and others. That’s because he was eager for new life experiences. He was a born traveler because he was curious and interested in all details, such as regional aspects and geography. Montaigne managed to keep a detailed record of his travelling experiences, and it’s rich in vivid encounters, episodes, descriptions, and evocations.
In 1581, the writer received the news that he was elected to the office held by his father. He was quite reluctant to accept it due to a dismal political situation in his native country and his health problems. Finally, he accepted this position and worked until 1585. It’s worth mentioning that Montaigne played an important role in preserving a major equilibrium that existed between Protestants and Catholics. Unfortunately, the plaque soon broke out in his region and killed 1/3 of its population.
Last Years of His Life and His Death
The writer decided to resume his literary work by publishing the 3rd book of his essays. This work was interrupted by another outbreak of the plaque, so it was finished only in 1587. The next year, there are many prominent literary and political events. When Montaigne went to Paris, he was arrested twice. However, he still succeeded to supervise the publication of his essays enriched with a number of additions. The writer spent the last years of his interesting life at the chateau while reading and working on his essays. He added new passages to offer a further exploration of his experiences and ideas. Different diseases beset Montaigne, so he died after another attack of quinsy that deprived him of speech. He died while hearing the mass in his room.
Basic Information about His Famous Essays
The age of Montaigne was characterized by the following negative trends:
It’s no wonder his essays reflect this negativity, including his loss of connection with the truth of existence and his recognition of the ruling appearance. His skepticism resulted from initial negativity, and he often questioned the image of human being as the creatures of failure and weakness, fragmentation and incapacity, uncertainty and inconstancy. Besides, this skepticism is reflected in the title of his essays that reflect a project of trial and error. It also indicates the intellectual attitude of ongoing assessment and questioning instead of any reference to the established genre and indication of a certain structure and internal unity within his writing work.
His skepticism doesn’t preclude people’s belief in the existence of truth because it offers a defense against the dangers of locating it in unexamined, false, and imposed notions. It’s combined with his desire for the truth, and this is what made him reject all kinds of commonly accepted ideas. Montaigne essays are all about the profound distrust of different abstractions and generalization. They also show a way to the exploration of the only way that promises some certainty. His books are devoted to his personality and character.
Other Major Themes in His Essays
The writer believed in the value of reaching outside people’s selves. Throughout his writing works, Montaigne manifested the necessity to entertain ties with the world of other events and people. That’s why he used the image of the black room to show readers this need to come and go between the exteriority of the world and the interiority of the self. It means that all people have their front rooms that face the street where they interact with others. However, they always demand a possibility to go back into the black room to reaffirm the strength and freedom of their intimate identity. This is how the writer encourages readers to contact with other people to be able to learn many useful things. He advises to read, travel, and talk to friends. Of course, no one could replace his good friend La Boétie, but it was possible for Montaigne to have a number of worthwhile and interesting exchanges with other good people.
When it comes to his relationships with women, he always wrote about them with the frankness unusual for that period of time. On one hand, a marriage is the only uncomplicated bond based on the reasons of posterity and family. On the other hand, love with its different erotic and emotional demands has a high risk of losing freedom and enslavement.
It’s interesting that Montaigne is often called a misogynist, but he recognizes that women and men are quite alike in their desires, fears, and attempts to define and affirm their identity. He claims that only customs and traditions establish any apparent differences between both sexes. He didn’t explore any possibility to overcome this basic separation and establish their intellectual equality. Finally, he extended his curiosity about other people to the New World inhabitants. He claims that they are superior to European inhabitants in their sense of beauty and personal dignity.