About the Book
Writers of the modern essay can trace their chosen genre all the way back to Michel de Montaigne (1533–92). But save for the recent notable best seller How to Live: A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell, Montaigne is largely ignored. After Montaigne—a collection of twenty-four new personal essays intended as tribute— aims to correct this collective lapse of memory and introduce modern readers and writers to their stylistic forebear.
Though it’s been over four hundred years since he began writing his essays, Montaigne’s writing is still fresh, and his use of the form as a means of self-exploration in the world around him reads as innovative—even by modern standards. He is, simply put, the writer to whom all essayists are indebted. Each contributor has chosen one of Montaigne’s 107 essays and has written his/her own essay of the same title and on the same theme, using a quote from Montaigne’s essay as an epigraph. The overall effect is akin to a covers album, with each writer offering his or her own interpretation and stylistic verve to Montaigne’s themes in ways that both reinforce and challenge the French writer’s prose, ideas, and forms. Featuring a who’s who of contemporary essayists, After Montaigne offers a startling engagement with Montaigne and the essay form while also pointing the way to the genre’s potential new directions.
About the Editors
David Lazar is a professor of the Nonfiction Program at Columbia College Chicago and the editor of the journal Hotel Amerika. His books include Occasional Desire, The Body of Brooklyn, and Truth in Nonfiction.
Patrick Madden is an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University and author of Quotidianaand Sublime Physick. His work has appeared in the Iowa Review, Portland Magazine, Fourth Genre, and the Best Creative Nonfiction and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was a minor French nobleman, a lawyer, mayor, advisor to kings during a time of religious unrest, and the world's first and best essayist. When he retired from law and politics at age 37, after the deaths of his best friend, Etienne de la Boetie, and his father, he proposed to isolate himself in the tower at the corner of his family estate at Montaigne, near Bordeaux, and dedicate himself to reading, thinking, and leisure. Soon he found that, with so much free time, his mind was "like a horse that has broke from his rider, who voluntarily runs into a much more violent career than any horseman would put him to, and creates me so many chimaeras and fantastic monsters, one upon another, without order or design," so he began writing his thoughts, in order to keep himself focused. Not so focused, as it turned out. While his "essays" (attempts, trials, experiments) did keep him roughly on track exploring such topics as fear, age, friendship, repentance, sorrow, and many others, his natural wandering also helped make them engaging, artful, individual.
This site contains all 107 of Montaigne's essays, in Charles Cotton's 1685 translation (John Florio produced the first English translation, in 1605, and several other twentieth-century translators have made their attempts at rendering Montaigne's mind in English as well). We hope that you will enjoy spending time with this quirky sixteenth-century Frenchman, that by reading his essays you will find yourself pondering timeless ideas, and that in reading his essays, you will begin to create your own essays.