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Reviewed by:
  • Essais I, Essais II, Essais III
  • Felicity Green
Michel de Montaigne : Essais I, Essais II, Essais III. Edited by Emmanuel Naya, Delphine Reguig-Naya, and Alexandre Tarrête. (Folio classique). Paris: Gallimard, 2009. 720 + 832 + 656 pp. Pb €7.10, €7.70, €6.60.

At the time of his death in 1592 Montaigne had not yet finished work on the sixth edition of his Essais. In the absence of a final, corrected state of the text, modern editors must choose between two rival versions, neither of which is without important [End Page 478] shortcomings. The edition under review is based on the 'Exemplaire de Bordeaux' (EB), a copy of the 1588 edition containing extensive additions and corrections in Montaigne's hand. As Naya, Reguig-Naya, and Tarrête make clear, EB is an 'exemplaire imparfait et incertain en sa nature' (i, 91), an unfinished and provisional 'brouillon' (i, 98). It is therefore best regarded not as an alternative but as a complement to the posthumous edition prepared by Marie de Gournay (Paris: Abel L'Angelier, 1595), which provided the basis for all editions of the Essais until the nineteenth century. The authenticity of Gournay's text was cast in doubt following the discovery of EB, from which it diverges in more than two hundred and fifty instances. In recent years, however, a convincing case has been made for its rehabilitation, as a transcription not of EB but of a later set of authorial revisions, now lost. This approach reached its culmination in 2007 with the publication of a major critical edition (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade) based on the 1595 text. Naya and his fellow editors profess a judicious, if slightly gingerly, 'suspension du jugement' regarding the 'degré exact d'authenticité' of Gournay's text (i, 94), rightly drawing attention to its suppression of EB's langage coupé — an energetic, paratactic style of writing produced through thousands of careful adjustments to the punctuation and capitalization of the 1588 text. A further important feature of this edition — and one that it shares with the Pléiade text — is its rejection of the bracketed letters conventionally used (notably in the Villey-Saulnier edition) to distinguish successive stages in the composition of the text: 'A' for the 1580 edition, 'B' for text added between 1580 and 1588, 'C' for all later additions. This 'genetic' approach to the Essais, Naya and his colleagues argue, can only do imperfect justice to the movement of a text that 'à chaque instant [. . .] se clive entre une pensée relue et un commentaire ajouté' (i, 20). In keeping with EB's status as a draft, however, different fonts are used for the printed part of the text and for the manuscript additions made in its margins, in order to highlight the latter's status as 'zones d'incertitude' (i, 98). The minimal paragraphing of the original text is also preserved. Yet 'il ne s'agit pas ici de fournir une édition scientifique et critique qui excéderait le format lié à une large diffusion' (i, 98-99): the spelling has been modernized and only the most significant variants are indicated in the apparatus. This is a valuable and well-conceived edition, sensitive to the open-ended nature of the Essais, in keeping with Montaigne's commitment to doubt and to an unfinished conférence both with his readers and past texts.

Felicity Green
Trinity College, Cambridge


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