Epigraph Philosophy | The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I love a good epigraph.

A well-chosen, thoughtfully considered epigraph can set just the right tone for the book journey you are about to embark on. However so many authors spend much time and effort on finding a fitting epigraph only for it to be skimmed over by most readers.

For the reader who does consider the epigraph, its true significance may not become apparent until the end of the book, by which time it has been long forgotten.

I want to rectify this sad, sad wrong, here today.

I am currently reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. She begins her tale with an epigraph from Michel de Montaigne, On Friendship.4841030-Michel-de-Montaigne-Quote-If-you-press-me-to-say-why-I-loved-him-IStraight away I had a personal connect to this quote. It sums up beautifully how Mr Books and I feel about each other (although, apparently, Montaigne himself didn’t believe that women were capable of this level of emotion, but that’s another story!)

Montaigne’s quote also gives us a clue about the romance that is at the centre of this story. Furthermore, on the blurb for Montaingne’s book, On Friendship, it says,

Michel de Montaigne was the originator of the modern essay form; in these diverse pieces he expresses his views on relationships, contemplates the idea that man is no different from any animal, argues that all cultures should be respected, and attempts, by an exploration of himself, to understand the nature of humanity.

Not only the epigraph, but the author of the epigraph, highlight Perry’s intentions in The Essex Serpent. In this case, the pertinence of the epigraph is apparent from the beginning.

Montaigne (8 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. He is credited with turning the essay into a popular literary genre – a genre that merged anecdotes, autobiography and intellectual insight.

My review of The Essex Serpent

Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.

Back Cover Blurb

3 thoughts on “Epigraph Philosophy | The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

  1. I tend to not remember epigraphs but often will pause over the, or revisit them after finishing the book. But I do recall a few book dedications. So the funniest book dedications I have ever run into are1. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. The dedicaiton reads: \”For Woody\”…which, of course, has a double meaning. \”Woody\” be slang for male genitalia. I wonder how many people have seen that and thought nothing of it. Me, I laughed my head off.2. Land of Stories by Chris Colfer he dedicated to his grandmother with these words \”To Grandmother who gave me the best writing advice I've ever received, 'Christopher, I think you should wait until you are done with elementary school before worrying about being a failed writer.'I know this isn't what you were asking for but I though I'd share anyway.


  2. They're great Anne!The dedications can be just as revealing or relevant as the epigraphs – as you've just highlighted so beautifully. Thanks for sharing 🙂


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