Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grayling, A. C. "A Man for All Seasons." PROSPECT MAGAZINE June 21, 2010.

Bakewell, Sarah. How to Live: a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. London: Chatto and Windus, 2009.

A reason for the enduring attraction of Montaigne’s Essays is that they do what all classics do: they illuminate the universal in the particular. In one way this should be a surprise, because Montaigne was a highly individual man and, by his own account, a rather unsuccessful one. He frankly confessed his inabilities and shortcomings, his dislike of business, his yearning for solitude, his regret at being forgetful and not very clever, his physical lacks (he was short and had, he tells us, a small penis). Yet his frankness is refreshing and full of human truth. He found a method of writing suited to the character of his mind—an aleatory, divagatory, exploratory method which meandered along with his thoughts, making his essays unsystematic and random, full of unexpected, entertaining detours.

Sarah Bakewell adopts Montaigne’s own method to give an account of him and his views. Because Montaigne’s great question was Socrates’s question—“how to live?”—she arranges her portrait of him around the answers he offered. The outcome is an instructive journey around Montaigne, exemplifying his charm and the universality of his appeal. . . .

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