This burden of duty explains why Montaigne's library and writing room stood in a tower separate from the chateau, and also why he loved to escape on horseback to find solitude in the vignobles and walnut groves. Would that little mouths crying for peaches and saucissons could wait as patiently as the servants, I thought grumpily after I read this, resenting neither my daughters nor my partner but the idea of Montaigne working--essaying--more or less as he pleased.
Because I was jealous, I plunged into uglier thoughts: Western intellectuals worship too many bright personages who may in fact not have been particularly genius but only had extra time to ramble their brains. I even dared to think that the essay, inasmuch as it challenges the essayist to try, to attempt, really doesn't stretch one intellectually or existentially so much as parenthood. Maybe motherhood in particular. And so I had my own backward little insight, as I looked up from wiping tiny sticky hands to glance out over the green Dordogne just as our seigneur did those 450 years ago: I get more haughty about my status as a mother than about my identity as a writer, perhaps in the same way that a servant might privately disdain of the master of the house. Such coddling! I'll think, shaking my head, imagining my essayist self on the other side of the river, perched over bear rugs in a tower, surrounded by books and favored quotations, quill poised. In comparison, domestic work is harder and the pay is less (if you can imagine). And yet, one accomplishes the job rather honorably. It always both surprises and disappoints me to feel a strange frustrated pride in that, a small-minded sour-grapes kind of comfort.
So those are my curmudgeonly thoughts on the essay at the moment, perhaps not in the right spirit for the blog, but you can decide.
Bonnie J. Rough is the author of the 2011 Minnesota Book Award-winning memoir Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA. Her essays have appeared in numerous periodicals including The New York Times, Huffington Post, The Sun, The Iowa Review, Ninth Letter, Defunct, Brevity, Identity Theory, and Sweet: A Literary Confection, as well as anthologies including The Best Creative Nonfiction, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, and Modern Love. She teaches in the Ashland University low-residency MFA program in creative writing, and she is a prose editor for Versal, an award-winning international journal of literature and art based in Amsterdam. Both abroad and at home in Seattle, she is at work on Mama Bare, her second nonfiction book.
Hey Bonnie-- Thanks so much for this post. I have had my own curmudgeonly mother thoughts toward Montaigne, even as I appreciate his legacy, from an essay up at the VIDA blog. http://herkind.org/articles/on-my-mind/kidney-stone-in-my-shoe (I don't know if the comments section will let me post a link, but it's called "Kidney Stone in My Shoe." I think part of the essayist's "swagger" is what is interesting about Montaigne but also what bothers me about his voice: "Montaigne, as a man of wealth and noble birth, had a life that predisposed him to think that his offerings were worthy."ReplyDelete
The link works! A great piece, Sonya. I love your intellectual sure-footedness and clear voice. Thank you!Delete
I was just so excited to see your name on the byline! I think you are the coolest. I read Carrier on my belly in a Flagstaff pine forest and then recommended it to everyone I know.
Kati, thank you! I really appreciate your passing Carrier around. Shoot me an email sometime and tell me about your work.Delete