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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Contrast of the Moyen de Parvenir


_I_ to such block-heads set my wit! _I_ [_pose_] such fools! Go, go--you're bit."

And there is not wanting, amongst us sceptics, a further section who are quite certain that a not inconsiderable proportion of the book is not allegory at all, but sheer "bamming," while others again would transfer the hackneyed death-bed saying from author to book, and say that the whole Chronicle is "a great perhaps."

[Sidenote: And dismissed as affecting the general attraction of the book.]

These things--or at least elaborate discussions of them--lie somewhat, though not so far as may at first seem, outside our proper business. It must, however, once more be evident, from the facts and very nature of the case, that the puzzles, the riddles, the allegories cannot constitute the main and, so to speak, "universal" part of the attraction of the book. They may be a seasoning to some, a solid cut-and-come-again to others, but certainly not to the majority. Even in _Gulliver_--the Great Book's almost, perhaps quite, as great descendant--these attractions, though more universal in appeal and less evasively presented, certainly do not hold any such position. The fact is that both Rabelais and Swift were consummate tellers of a story, and (especially if you take the _Polite Conversation_ into Swift's claim) consummate originators of the Novel or larger story, with more than "incidental" attraction

itself. But we are not now busied with Swift.

[Sidenote: Which lies, largely if not wholly, in its story-interest.]

Not much serious objection will probably be taken to the place allotted to Master Francis as a tale-teller pure and simple, although it cannot be said that all his innumerable critics and commentators have laid sufficient stress on this. From the uncomfortable birth of Gargantua to the triumphant recessional scene from the Oracle of the Bottle, proofs are to be found in every book, every chapter almost, and indeed almost every page; and a little more detail may be given on this head later. But the presentation of Rabelais as a novelist-before-novels may cause more demur, and even suggest the presence of the now hopelessly discredited thing--paradox itself. Of course, if anybody requires regular plot as a necessary constituent, only paradox could contend for that. It _has_ been contended--and rightly enough--that in the general scheme and the two (or if you take in Grandgousier, three) generations of histories of the good giants, Rabelais is doing nothing more than parody--is, indeed, doing little more than simply follow the traditions of Romance--Amiles and Jourdains, Guy and Rembrun, and many others. But some of us regard plot as at best a full-dress garment, at the absence of which the good-natured God or Muse of fiction is quite willing to wink. Character, if seldom elaborately presented, except in the case of Panurge, is showered, in scraps and sketches, all over the book, and description and dialogue abound.

[Sidenote: Contrast of the _Moyen de Parvenir_.]

But it is not on such beggarly special pleading as this that the claim shall be founded. It must rest on the unceasing, or practically unceasing, impetus of story-interest which carries the reader through. A remarkably useful contrast-parallel in this respect, may be found in that strange book, the _Moyen de Parvenir_. I am of those who think that it had something to do with Rabelais, that there is some of his stuff in it, even that he may have actually planned something like it. But the "make-up" is not more inferior in merit to that of _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_ than it is different in kind. The _Moyen de Parvenir_ is full of separate stories of the _fabliau_ kind, often amusing and well told, though exceedingly gross as a rule. These stories are "set" in a framework of promiscuous conversation, in which a large number of great real persons, ancient and modern, and a smaller one of invented characters, or rather names, take part. Most of this, though not quite all, is mere _fatrasie_, if not even mere jargon: and though there are glimmerings of something more than sense, they are, with evident deliberation, enveloped in clouds of nonsense. The thing is not a whole at all, and the stories have as little to do with each other or with any general drift as if they were professedly--what they are practically--a bundle of _fabliaux_ or _nouvelles_. As always happens in such cases--and as the author, whether he was Beroalde or another, whether or not he worked on a canvas greater than he could fill, or tried to patch together things too good for him, no doubt intended--attempts have been made to interpret the puzzle here also; but they are quite obviously vain.


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