MONTAILLOU: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie

MONTAILLOU: The Promised Land of Error

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The splendid sources at his command and his own sagacity as an interpreter of historical detail and human behavior have made Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's portrait of the 14th-century southern French village of Montaillou a tour-de-force of social and cultural history. Le Roy Ladurie, professor of history at the Collège de France and author of The Peasants of Languedoc, bases his synthesis upon the surviving records of the inquisition against the Albigensian heresy conducted in Montaillou between 1318 and 1325 by Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers and later Pope Benedict XII. Thanks to Fournier's character--the author describes him as ""a sort of compulsive Maigret"" who preferred the rigors of a minutely argued interrogation to the use of torture--his ""Register"" is rich in precisely those particulars of medieval peasant life about which so little is known, and in the form of testimony from the peasants' own mouths. This is the underworld of conventional historiography, history in the raw, and as a result Le Roy Ladurie's conclusions are based upon evidence of unusual authenticity. He divides his work into two sections. The first deals with the ""ecology"" of Montaillou, and is a remarkable sociological sketch of a village in which the major unit was not the family, but the house, where outside authority was represented in the main by the church, and where existing social relations became almost ""Kafkaesque"" under the pressure of religious struggle. In the second part, entitled ""An Archaeology of Montaillou,"" the author explores all aspects of the cultural life of the villagers: body language, sexual customs and social-sexual importance of delousing, the place of women, death, concepts of time and space, etc. Here the author has many new things to say. His evidence indicates, for example, that contrary to much recent theorizing, the children in medieval villages enjoyed an ""ambience of affection."" It might be argued that this work suffers from two inherent limitations of the Annales method of social investigation: it is specific to one small place and to a short time. Yet this wise and lively book, full of the voices of the peasants' themselves, seems a telling justification of the efficacy of that method, and beautifully illustrates what Flaubert meant when he said, ""Through the crevice we can see the abyss.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1978
ISBN: 0807615986
Publisher: Braziller