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Rabelais, François

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(?1483/1494-1553) French monk, doctor, priest and author. The various titles now generally gathered together as Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1552 plus a posthumous text of dubious authenticity 1564) were initially published as separate volumes [see Checklist for individual titles plus the translations of same by Sir Thomas Urquhart – first two books 1653, third book 1693 – and Peter Anthony Motteux – fourth and fifth books 1694]. This assemblage of closely linked texts has often been assembled under titles indicating that they comprise the author's collected works, as in Les oeuures de Maistre François Rabelais [for full title see Checklist] (1567), rather than a connected narrative as such. Recent translations – the most idiomatic contemporary version being Burton Raffel's version under the title Gargantua and Pantagruel (1990) – have tended to revert to common sense, and treat as substantially one inspiration Rabelais's immense, exuberant, linguistically inventive, adventurous Satire, which may seem to lack coherence until it is understood that medieval Christendom is a constant target; it is also possible to trace a gradual increase in the savagery of his satirical assaults over the twenty years of composition. The giants of the title are literally enormous, and enormous in their joyous, Rabelaisian, charismatic gusto; the violence of their upsetting of the world in order to expose and inhabit it fully was taken by the Russian Formalist critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), in Rabelais and His World (trans 1968), to embody the principle of the carnivalesque, to present a world governed by cleansing misrule: as a revel where class distinctions have been obliterated, and a non-hierarchical Utopia can be conceived; less skilful, but similarly disruptive, The Prophecies (1555; exp 1568; best trans Richard Sieburth 2012) of Rabelais's contemporary Nostradamus can also be understood as a transfiguring response to the troubled sixteenth-century world..

In the Fourth Book (1552) of the sequence, the narrative – the first English translation is entitled Pantagruel's Voyage to the Oracle of the Bottle (1694) – becomes a Fantastic Voyage, during the course of which Islands exemplary of various aspects of society are visited – an Archipelago that includes the island of the Papimanes, description of whose inhabitants (once again) involves a radical criticism of the Catholic Church. Darker and more bitter in tone, the Fifth Book (1564) – which may well have been completed by another hand from Rabelais's first draft – incorporates a section, L'Isle sonante ["The Ringing Island"] (1562), originally published separately, with the most notable sf imagery of the entire work. The islands of the fourth and fifth books were probably the most sustained invention of other worlds in literature up to that time. The succession of Alien societies, often manifesting some kind of satirical comment on our own, complete with all sorts of colourful anthropological detail, has been greatly influential in Proto SF, and a little later on Herman Melville's Mardi: And a Voyage Thither (1849 3vols); its resonances can be sensed even today in the work of writers like Jack Vance, who, even if not directly influenced by him, continue the Rabelais tradition. [JC/PN]

see also: Chess; France.

François Rabelais

born Chinon, Indre-et-Loire, France: circa 1483-1494 [the latter date is more likely]

died Paris: 9 April 1553


The bibliography of Gargantua and Pantagruel is complex, and we do not attempt to encompass it. For convenience, we break the checklist below into two parts: initial publication in single volumes of the five parts, with the first translation of each, plus the first full printing; secondly, publications of the book as a whole.

Gargantua and Pantagruel complete (selected)

about the author


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