In The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis, Bertrande struggles to stretch her limited independence and gain control over her life. Although being a woman limits Bertrande’s freedom, she uses female stereotypes to her advantage in court to promote empathy and support her innocence.
Bertrande plays a “double role” by helping Arnaud become Martin Guerre and then by testifying against him in court (69). Bertrande is an intelligent woman who exercises “a shrewd realism about how she could maneuver within the constraints placed upon one of her sex” (28). Her critical thinking and careful analysis of situations such as whether to testify against Arnaud and how to behave in court suggest that she would not be “easily fooled” by Arnaud during her close relationship with him (44). Arnaud would also be less likely to “greet everyone by name and remind them accurately of things they had done together in precise circumstances may years before” without Bertrande’s tutelage (67). Their communication and cooperation is necessary for Arnaud to have enough information to fool witnesses and match testimonies with Bertrande (64).
Sixteenth century men consider women inferior, and Bertrande makes herself appear less extraordinary and more pitiful by conforming to this. She “spoke with trepidation, her eyes fixed on the floor” (75). Although her fear could be sincere because she is out of place as a woman in a “man’s world,” Bertrande is stubborn and outspoken, and it is more likely that her actions are deliberate (69). Bertrande “manipulate[s] the image of the woman-easily-deceived, a skill that women often displayed before officers of justice,” emphasizing female “weakness” so that she appears honest and more susceptible to being lied to (68).
Bertrande’s appearance and reputation also help her. Coras calls her a “belle,” which might make her appear more angelic, at least physically (20). Witnesses also claim “she was a woman who had lived ‘virtuously and honorably'” for years in the village, faithful to waiting for Martin’s return (79). Coras considers that she is “a respectable woman and honest,” and that she tells the truth (69). Bertrande supports these claims by seeming “fragile” (90). Even if she made some mistakes, “the possibility of an honorable woman disposing of her body as she pleases is much more disturbing than the self-fashioning of Pansette,” and people did not want to believe it (112).
Even the judges did not want to make further accusations or question whether Bertrande was Arnaud’s accomplice because they are more relieved to finish the baffling case (90). Martin is not as willing to ignore the matter, but “Mansencal then tried to reconcile Bertrande and Martin, rebuking them for their faults and urging them to forget the past” (91). Bertrande is important as a woman to family life. She is necessary as a mother to her two children and as a wife and nurse to her disabled husband (124). While Arnaud is a nuisance, Bertrande still has wifely duties that make her innocence crucial to reinstating normalcy in the town again.
Bertrande uses her femininity to appear innocent during the trials. Though her humbleness does not deceive the true Martin Guerre, her actions and womanly role in family life successfully save her from punishments for her adultery and deception.
Davis, Natalie Zemon. The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Print.