A summer with Montaigne – Un été avec Montaigne by Antoine Compagnon

A summer with Montaigne – Un été avec Montaigne by Antoine Compagnon
Member discussion from #bookclub [ return to article ]

Here are a few comments & grabbers before or while reading – BEWARE #SpoilerAlerts will be clearly marked!

‘A Summer with Montaigne’ was published after a French podcast that was recorded on French radio ‘France Inter’ in the Summer of 2012. It highlights both the life and work of Michel de Montaigne, the most important French writer of the sixteenth century. Montaigne was a Magistrate when he resigned from his office to devote himself to his library. From his readings and his reflections, he gradually wrote a journal of a man in search of wisdom, ‘Les Essais’.  In it, not only does he describe himself fully but he also shows the powerlessness of man to find truth and justice.

Antoine Compagnon, the author of these chronicles, is a writer and essayist. He is a Professor of French Literature at Collège de France, Paris, and the Blanche W. Knopf Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, New York. He is also a specialist of Marcel Proust and has taught many courses on his work. 

Discussion: ‘A Summer with Montaigne’

Keith VS
I enjoyed A Summer With Montaigne and appreciated the opportunity to learn a bit about Montaigne. I was struck by his open-mindedness and willingness to learn new things, adapting his point of view as he gained new information. We could use more of that today! I agreed with his concept that most people (unlike Montaigne) don’t like to have honest discussions where their ideas might be challenged, preferring the comfort of their established beliefs.

I was surprised at what a tough guy Montaigne was, facing down danger as mayor of Bordeaux and admiring the Spartans for their warrior spirit. One doesn’t usually think of a literary master that way.

Where I’ll part ways with Montaigne is on his view that culture and science weaken us. Given all of the scientific advances since his time, if Montaigne were alive today I like to think that he would change his opinion on this one.
I appreciate author Compagnon’s bite-sized excerpts of Montaigne himself, followed by an explanation of what he meant. I read the book in French and found Montaigne’s style and vocabulary difficult at times so Compagnon’s explanations helped me a lot.

Thank you, Jacqueline, for choosing this book!

Jacqueline DP
Thank you very much for this comprehensive first feedback on this book. Since it’s no fiction, there is no spoiler and might encourage members here to also read it with us. I read it when it was first published in French and will refresh my memory with the English translation that I have on kindle edition now. I completely agree with you, you’re not alone in this, French people find it also hard to understand his style and vocabulary which dates from the 16th Century even before Shakespeare whom he influenced (I read that info somewhere); I find it amusing that author’s family name is ‘Compagnon’ and that the book feels like he accompanies the reader on the path to discovering the French Renaissance philosopher!

Keith VD

He was easier to read than Molière but not by much!

Michel P
Ce livre est issu d’une série de chroniques quotidiennes diffusées par France Inter durant l’été 2012. Il met en lumière tant la vie que l’œuvre de Michel de Montaigne, le plus important écrivain français du XVIème siècle. Magistrat, Montaigne se démet de sa charge pour se consacrer à sa bibliothèque. De ses lectures et de ses réflexions, il élabore progressivement un journal d’un homme à la recherche de la sagesse, Les Essais. S’il s’y décrit lui-même et s’il traite de nombreux sujets et de ses propres réflexions qui leur sont associées, il y montre l’impuissance de l’homme à trouver la vérité et la justice.Antoine Compagnon, l’auteur de ces chroniques, est un écrivain et essayiste. Il a été notamment professeur de littérature française et comparée à l’Université Columbia. Depuis 2006, il est titulaire de la chaire de Littérature française moderne et contemporaine : histoire, critique, théorie au Collège de France. Il y a donné, entre autres, des cours sur Marcel Proust et son ouvre accessibles sur le site du Collège de France et dont il est un spécialiste. Il a écrit plusieurs ouvrages sur Montaigne et est membre de la Société des Amis de Montaigne.

Tomi KS
I am halfway through and in ways, amazed at how contemporary his thoughts and comments are. Several apply today especially in the 2019s in my country, the US

Elisabeth SC
I read Antoine Compagnon’s “A Summer with Montaigne” – in French, actually. I also listened to a few of the accompanying podcasts, finding them even more fascinating than the book. Even though I have a doctoral degree in French literature, I am not a Renaissance expert and never took a course on Montaigne. So, I know his Essays only very cursorily.

Elisabeth SC
Found this in Book 2, Chapter 1 of the Essays – which is what I was talking about here:
“If I speak variously of myself, it is because I consider myself variously; all the contrarieties are there to be found in one corner or another; after one fashion or another: bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal: I find all this in myself, more or less, according as I turn myself about; and whoever will sift himself to the bottom, will find in himself, and even in his own judgment, this volubility and discordance. I have nothing to say of myself entirely, simply, and solidly without mixture and confusion.”I remember being absolutely fascinated by this passage. And loved it.

Jacqueline DP
This is a wonderful passage indeed, this ability to self analyze, and the very definition in fact of what it is to be human.
Elisabeth SC
I was not quite aware, actually, of all the trials and tribulations that Montaigne had to go through in his political (i.e. “public” life) – the religious wars and also the plague that struck Bordeaux when he was the mayor of the city.
What always strikes me the most about Montaigne is how he constantly describes his personality as incredibly contradictory and fluid. I remember that, when I was in graduate school, the professor who was the Renaissance specialist used to say that this was a trait typical of Mannerism or of the Baroque era.

Jacqueline DP

Many modern debaters should follow in his footsteps and learn from the art of conversation, of nuances, of accepting contradictory arguments. Antoine Compagnon wanted to show us how modern this man from the 16th century was and he succeeded in this
Keith VS
Jacqueline, One thing I have found that the French are very good at is this art of débat, the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Too often in the U.S., I see disagreements of ideas quickly turn personal. In France, this seems to happen much less often, with disagreements staying at the level of ideas. I remember one dinnertime debate among my French friends that got very heated and then eventually…ended. Everyone had said their piece, they had argued and listened and sometimes changed their minds, and then it was over. “Who’s ready for dessert?” said our host, and we were on to the next topic…


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Judy MacMahon

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