Montaigne's "Essais": Tradition and Reform

Dissertation, University of Washington (1997)

Montaigne is a seminal figure not just for the sixteenth century but for the French literary tradition generally. His impact reaches beyond France to the wider European literary traditions. My dissertation therefore chooses five topics of research that are particularly relevant not only for Montaigne's writing but also for the late sixteenth century: the genre of the essay and its style, pedagogy, politics, religion, and historiography. Accordingly, I have considered each field with regard to Montaigne as well as with regard to the sixteenth-century context. This allows me to point out the innovative aspects of the essays. Paradoxically, Nietzsche influences my critical approach. This approach is justified by the fact that contemporary research has neglected Montaigne's influence on Nietzsche, while Montaigne scholars have been equally hesitant to uncover the unorthodox Nietzschean elements that we find in the Essais. The gap in contemporary research may partly be attributed to Montaigne's style that seduces the reader with the construction of an immensely agreeable yet fictitious personality. It has diverted many interpreters away from what really matters in Montaigne's politically explosive text. In order to shift the Montaigne image a little from the apostle of sincerity to the diplomat and the spy, I propose in my first two chapters an analysis of the essay as well as of the style that results from Montaigne's choice of this genre
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