American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque

By Anthony Di Renzo | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
This Is My Body: The Word, the Flesh, and the Grotesque

"The ways of God are beyond human understanding," [the Reverend Curtis Hartman ] cried.... "I have found the light.... After ten years in this town, God has manifested himself in the body of a woman[,]... appeared to me in the person of Kate Swift, kneeling naked on a bed. Do you know Kate Swift? Although she may not be aware of it, she is an instrument of God, bearing the message of truth."

-- Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

R A B E L A I S, whose biography can be found in Flannery O'Connor's library, tells an apocryphal story about François Villon, the medieval French poet, in book 4 of Gargantua and Pantagrud. Villon, wanting to produce a passion play for Corpus Christi in the town of Saint-Maixent, calls on the local Franciscans for some props. He asks the sacristan, Friar Stephen Ticklepecker, if he can borrow a cope and a stole, to dress up an old peasant as God the Father. Ticklepecker refuses. He thinks it is blasphemous to put a vestment used for mass on the body of a smelly peasant. More to the point, he objects to passion plays on principle: they are performed at fairs during late May and early June, and those who attend are more interested in baring their backsides, petting in hay wagons, and dancing around maypoles than in celebrating the Feast of the Body of Christ. The friar shows Villon the door, but the poet swears to avenge himself.

The next Saturday, Villon receives word that Ticklepecker has gone to a neighboring village to collect alms and will be back by two in the afternoon. The poet gathers his crew of peasant actors and tells them his plan. They dress up as devils and parade through the

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