The Imposter in "the Return of Martin Guerre": the Economics/new Institutional Economics of Identity

Janet T. Landa (York University, Canada)

Abstract: The Return of Martin Guerre, a book written by Natalie Zemon Davis (1983) and made into a move, is about a famous legal case in 16th century France where an imposter, Arnaud du Tilh, not only stole the identity of Martin Guerre ---a rich peasant who left his village of Artigat in Southern France and was unheard from for 8 years--but also his wife and his landed property. The wife, even when she knew of Arnaud’s fake identity was unwilling to expose Arnaud because she loved him. Things began to unravel, however, when Arnaud had a property dispute with Pierre Guerre, Martin Guerre’s brother-in-law, who suspected Arnaud as an imposter and sued him in court. Two trials were held. The judge in the first trial ruled that “Martin Guerre” was an imposter and condemned him to death. Arnaud appealed to the Parliament in Toulouse. At the second trial, just as the judge was about to acquit Arnaud of impersonation, in walked a one-legged man, the real Martin Guerre who had lost one of his legs when he went off to war. Arnaud de Tilth was sentenced to death and executed. My paper is divided into two parts. Part I discuss the story of Arnaud posing as Martin Guerre and Arnaud's prodigious memory and knowledge of the details of Martin Guerre’s life and Guerre’s interpersonal relationships with the villagers in Artigat. Part II, analyze this famous legal case, using the Economics/New Institutional Economics of Identity. No. of characters:1,427. (Words: 245) Submitted by Janet T. Landa (Email: And: ) to the “MOVIE AND TV INDUSTRY” panel organized by Janet Landa, Feb. 4, 2019. Final version of Abstract (slightly revised), submitted May 1, 2019.]