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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Of the same plan in the opening of Pantagruel


[Sidenote:

A general theme possible.]

[Sidenote: A reference--to be taken up later--to the last Book.]

Such a sentence, however, cannot be pronounced in any such degree or measure on the similar attempts in the case of _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_; for a reason which some readers may find unexpected. The unbroken vigour--unbroken even by the obstacles which it throws in its own way, like the Catalogue of the Library of Saint-Victor and the burlesque lists of adjectives, etc., which fill up whole chapters--with which the story or string of stories is carried on, may naturally suggest that there _is_ a story or at least a theme. It is a sort of quaint alteration or catachresis of _Possunt quia posse videntur_. There must be a general theme, because the writer is so obviously able to handle any theme he chooses. It may be wiser--it certainly seems so to the present writer--to disbelieve in anything but occasional sallies--episodes, as it were, or even digressions--of political, religious, moral, social and other satire. It is, on the other hand, a most important thing to admit the undoubted presence--now and then, and not unfrequently--of a deliberate dropping of the satiric and burlesque mask. This supplies the presentation of the serious, kindly, and human personality of the three princes (Grandgousier, Gargantua, and Pantagruel); this the schemes of education (giving so large a proportion of the small bulk of _not_-nonsense

written on that matter). Above all, this permits, to one taste at least, the exquisite last Book, presentation of La Quinte and the fresh roses in her hand, the originality of which, not only in the whole book in one sense, but in the particular Book in the other, is, to that taste, and such argumentative powers as accompany it, an almost absolute proof of that Book's genuineness. For if it had been by another who, _un_like Rabelais, had a special tendency towards such graceful imagination, he could hardly have refrained from showing this elsewhere in this long book.[90]

[Sidenote: Running survey of the whole.]

But however this may be, it is certain that a critical reader, especially when he has reason to be startled by the external, if not actually extrinsic, oddities of and excesses of the book, will be justified in allowing--it may almost be said that he is likely to allow--the extraordinary volume of concatenated fictitious interest in the whole book or books. The usual and obvious "catenations" are indeed almost ostentatiously wanting. The absence of any real plot has been sufficiently commented on, with the temptations conferred by it to substitute a fancied unity of purpose. The birth, and what we may call the two educations, of Gargantua; the repetition, with sufficient differences, of the same plan in the opening of _Pantagruel_; the appearance of Panurge and the campaign against the Dipsodes; the great marriage debate; and the voyage to the Oracle of the Bottle, are connected merely in "chronicle" fashion. The character-links are hardly stronger, for though Friar John does play a more or less important part from almost the beginning to quite the end, Panurge, the most important and remarkable single figure, does not appear for a considerable time, and the rest are shadows. The scene is only in one or two chapters nominally placed in Nowhere; but as a whole it is Nowhere Else, or rather a bewildering mixture of topical assignments in a very small part of France, and allegorical or fantastic descriptions of a multitude of Utopias. And yet, once more, it _is_ a whole story. As you read it you almost forget what lies behind, you quite forget the breaches of continuity, and press on to what is before, almost as eagerly, if not quite in the same fashion, as if the incidents and the figures were not less exciting than those of _Vingt Ans Apres_. Let us hope it may not be excessive to expend a few pages on a sketch of this strange story that is no story, with, it may be, some fragments of translation or paraphrase (for, as even his greatest translator, Urquhart, found, a certain amount of his own _Fay ce que voudras_ is necessary with Rabelais) here and there.


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