ON SOLITUDE by Michel de Montaigne

Part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, this short book is a poignant collection which reminds us that solitude is not the same thing as loneliness. The essay blends intellectual and personal reflection on subjects as varied as the virtues of solitude, the power of imagination, the pleasures of reading, the importance of sleep and why we sometimes laugh and cry at the same things.

French Renaissance writer Montaigne (born 1533, died 1592) established the essay as a literary genre, and he wrote many philosophical and existential essays about life and the human condition which still remain relevant today. It may seem counterintuitive to read about the subject of solitude when life is weighing heavy, but it actually helps to understand the mechanisms of solitude and realise that isolation is not always an unhappy place to be. Particularly relevant in uncertain times, this essay offers hope through solidarity and shared human experience.


‘There is hardly less torment in running a family than in running a whole country.’

‘We take our fetters with us; our freedom is not total: we still turn our gaze towards the things we have left behind; our imagination is full of them.’

‘It is reason and wisdom which take away cares, not places affording wide views over the sea.’

‘Let us make our happiness depend on ourselves; let us loose ourselves from the bonds which tie us to others; let us gain power over ourselves to live really and truly alone – and of doing so in contentment.’

‘We should have wives, children, property and, above all, good health … if we can: but we should not become so attached to them that our happiness depends on them.’

‘Let us pluck life’s pleasures: it is up to us to live; you will soon be ashes, a ghost, something to tell tales about.’

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