Book 7: Gargantua and Pantagruel

Book 7 is Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, published 1532-1564 (it is several books published at different times). It is available for download from Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1200 and Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=nfIZAAAAYAAJ&dq=Gargantua+and+Pantagruel&printsec= frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=6-ynS_S0Bs6ztgfOif2jDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=11&ved= 0CCQQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=&f=false . It is also available in downloadable pdf format at http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/rabelais/rabelais.pdf. This last version was the easiest to use.

This text was completely new to me. So, inspired by what my students would do, I googled it. I found out quite a lot. The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel in French, is apparently a connected series of five books written in the 1500s by François Rabelais. The books focus on two giants, the father Gargantua and son Pantagruel. It is satirical and is supposed to be written with both extravagant humor and extravagant crudity.

Book One: Although many place this as the second book in the series, Book One is Pantagruel, or according to Wikipedia, “the full modern English title for the work commonly known as Pantagruel is The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua and in French, Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel Roi des Dipsodes, fils du Grand Géant Gargantua.” It was published in 1532.

 Book Two: As noted above, many place this book as the first, but Book 2 is Gargantua, or again as Wikipedia notes, “The Very Horrific Life of Great Gargantua, Father of Pantagruel (in French, La vie très horrificque du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel).” Book 2 is remembered for its parable of the Abbey of Theleme, a critique of the educational practices of medieval scholasticism in favor of the Renaissance’s humanist approach. However, it satirizes the humanist approach as well, through the endless thirst of Gargantua to be enlightened.

 Book Three: Book 3 returns to Patangruel and focuses on his and friend Panurge’s conversations with others regarding whether or not Panurge should marry. Having not resolved that issue, the friends embark on a sea voyage in search of an oracle to decide for them. This endless search is a continuation of the theme as introduced in book 2 of the futility of the search for knowledge, the search for understanding.

 Book Four: Book 4 is the sea voyage. It has the travelers in an Odysseus-like way encounter many strange people and beings. This book is the most satirical, highlighting excessive wealth in the church, political figures of the day, superstition, and philosophical issues.

Book Five: Published about 1564, this final book has been attributed to other writers because of its posthumously publication (by nine years, according to several sources). Book 5 appears to finalize the quest, but again, its authorship is seriously in doubt.

 This work really was brought to our attention by Mikhail Bakhtin’s book Rabelais and His World. Bakhtin, a Russian literary scholar, began his work on Rabelais for a postgraduate dissertation during World War Two. Having had two grad school professors enamored with Bakhtin and the Dialogic Imagination, I was familiar with Bakhtin’s notions of language and the connection of the social and language and the heteroglossia, or the ideological positioning of language. Nonetheless, I find his analysis of Rabelais and carnival dense and difficult to get through. I’m not sure what social position the carnival is nor how Rabelais constructs it.

I don’t think this is a text that most modern readers (me, for instance) can understand without some kind of notes or analysis to explain it (by someone less complicated than Bakhtin). To me, it reads as an indictment of women, but evidently others see it as a powerful and moving philosophical vision. I really don’t see it, but the 1001 Books You Must Read writers note that “the history of the modern novel begins with Rabelais” (30). Its importance is that “it established a whole new genre of writing with a riotous mix of rhetorical energy, linguistic humor, and learned wit. In creating a comedy of sensory excesses, playing off various licentious, boozy, and lusty appetites, Rabelais also prefigures much in the history of Don Quixote to Ulysses” (30). Honestly, I think I have heard that before. This seems to be the standard line for the inclusion of each book so far. It is amazing how many books must have been the precursor of the modern novel. Hmmm.

Anyway, happy reading!

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2 Comments

Filed under 1001 Books

2 responses to “Book 7: Gargantua and Pantagruel

  1. hmmm… I have this one as an ebook ready to read. Nice to get a synopsis before I tackle it from your blog. You mentioned the 1001 books list and I wondered if you were interested in the new spreadsheet that’s been released to accompany the recent new edition that’s been published.

    More info about it here if you want…

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