More than any other early modern text, Montaigne's Essais have come to be associated with the emergence of a distinctively modern subjectivity, defined in opposition to the artifices of language and social performance. Felicity Green challenges this interpretation with a compelling revisionist reading of Montaigne's text, centred on one of his deepest but hitherto most neglected preoccupations: the need to secure for himself a sphere of liberty and independence that he can properly call his own, or himself. Montaigne and the Life of Freedom restores the Essais to its historical context by examining the sources, character and significance of Montaigne's project of self-study. That project, as Green shows, reactivates and reshapes ancient practices of self-awareness and self-regulation, in order to establish the self as a space of inner refuge, tranquillity and dominion, free from the inward compulsion of the passions and from subjection to external objects, forces and persons.
Felicity Green is Junior Research Fellow in history at Trinity College, Cambridge. She has also held fellowships at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study and at the Huntington Library.
Introduction; 1. Freedom and the essai; 2. The languages of the self: Montaigne's classical inheritance; 3. Self-possession, public engagement and slavery; 4. Oysivete and nonchalance: liberty as carelessness; 5. The art of self-management; Conclusion.