Using largely unrecorded or little known copies of Montaigne’s 'Essais' with contemporary annotations from the years 1595-1700, this Bonnier lecture will contend that early modern readers of Montaigne can help us re-focus our interpretations of key concepts in his work. The lecture will concentrate on three such areas: self, subject and thinking. In contrast to modern interpretations of Montaigne, which take him as the creator of an introspective self, his first readers favour the idea of an active self, connected to the world and dealing with the challenges that arise in respect of ideas of the subject and thinking. By attending to the evidence provided by such historical readers of the 'Essais', we avoid the pitfalls of presentism while nonetheless understanding Montaigne in the light of our own changed perspective.
John O’Brien is Professor Emeritus at Durham University. He took his B.A. and M.A. at Cambridge and his D.Phil. at Oxford. He taught at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, and then at the Universities of Liverpool and London, before moving to the University of Durham in 2013 where he was also Director of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. He has been Visiting Professor at the Université Paris-VII and at the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance (University of Tours), British Academy Exchange Fellow at the Newberry Library, Chicago, and Visiting Scholar at the Universities of Oxford and Michigan. The epicentre of his research is the French essayist, Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), on whom he has published extensively.