The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel

The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel

The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel

The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel

Excerpt

Rabelais stands prejudged. He has given to the languages of the world that single adjective coined from his name which has come to represent him in the minds of all those millions who have never opened his book. Of course François Rabelais was a Rabelaisian writer; that is to say one who mentioiied human functions which, after his day, were referred to, by imaginative writers at least, in a far more guarded way, until James Joyce, his counterpart and admirer in our own age, put them back into literary circulation. But this is the least part of Rabelais' achievement. There are smutty writers in plenty, obscure figures of the Renaissance or the eighteenth century whose works figure in the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers under the heading 'Curious'. Rabelais' outspokenness was of another sort. He was a man intoxicated by every sort of learning and theory, who had at the same time the earthy commonsense of a peasant. His mind would reach out in pursuit of the wildest fancies, and when he had captured them he would relate them only to the three constants of this life: birth, copulation, and death, which he saw in their crudest physical terms. There was in the mind of this loose-living monk no twentieth-century conflict between the two sides of his nature, the scholar's and the peasant's. They played into one another's hands. Nor was he conscious of any inconsistency between his professed beliefs and the often pagan workings of his imagination. François Rabelais was a whole figure, chock-full of human contradictions, which he attempted neither to reconcile nor to apologize for.

'Rabelais plays with words', wrote Anatole France, 'as children do with pebbles; he piles them up into heaps.' Now if it were possible at this late date to give the word Rabelaisian a new meaning, fairer to the reputation of the writer Franqois Rabelais, it should be made to denote the writer who is in love with his medium, the man for whom words call up associations, in contrast to the man who employs them to express previously conceived notions. The characters of Gargantua and Friar John, and of Pantagruel and his company, are built up from what they say. All are loquacious talkers, and all are inveterate . . .

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