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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote The peace and the Abbey of Thelema


But,

even were this not so, a person who has undertaken, wisely or unwisely, to write the history of the French Novel is surely entitled to lay some stress on what seems to him the importance of this its first eminent example. At any rate he proposes _not_ to _passer oultre_, but to stick to the line struck out, and exhibit, in reasonable detail, the varieties of novel-matter and manner contained in the book.

[Sidenote: The peace and the Abbey of Thelema.]

The conclusion of _Gargantua_--after the victor has addressed a _concio_ to the vanquished, has mildly punished the originators of the trouble or those he could catch (Spadassin and Merdaille having run away "six hours before the battle") by setting them to work at his newly established printing-press, and has distributed gifts and estates to his followers--may be one of the best known parts of the whole book, but is not of the most strictly novel character, though it has suggested at least one whole novel and parts or passages of others. The "Abbey of Thelema"--the home of the order of _Fay ce que vouldras_--is, if not a devout, a grandiose imagination, and it gives occasion for some admirable writing. But it is one of the purest exercises of "purpose," and one of the least furnished with incident or character, to be found in Rabelais. In order to introduce it, he may even be thought guilty of what is extremely rare with him, a fault of "keeping." He avoids this

fault surprisingly in the contrasted burlesque and serious chronicles of Grandgousier and Gargantua himself, as well as in the expanded contrast of Pantagruel and Panurge. Yet the heartiest admirer of "Friar John of the Funnels" (or "Collops," for there is a schism on this point) may fail to see in him a suitable or even a possible Head for an assemblage of gallant gentlemen and stately ladies (both groups being also accomplished scholars) like the Thelemites. But Rabelais, like Shakespeare, had small care for small objections. He wanted to sketch a Paradise of Anti-Monkery, and for this he wanted an Anti-Abbot. Friar John was the handiest person, and he took him. But it is worth noting that the Abbot of Thelema never afterwards appears as such, or in the slightest relation to this miniature but most curious and interesting example of the Renaissance fancy for imaginary countries, cities, institutions, with its splendours of architecture and decoration, its luxurious but not loose living, its gallantry and its learning, its gorgeous dress, its polished manners (the Abbot must have had some trouble to learn them), and its "inscriptions and enigmas" in verse which is not quite so happy as the prose. One would not cut it out of the book for anything, and parallels to it (not merely of the kind above referred to) have found and may find place in other books of fiction. But it is only a sort of chantry, in the Court of the Gentiles too, of the mighty Temple of the Novel.

[Sidenote: _Pantagruel_ I. The contrasted youth.]

What it was exactly that made Rabelais "double," as it were, on _Gargantua_ in the early books of _Pantagruel_[101] it would probably be idle to enquire. His deliberate mention in the Prologue of some of the most famous romances (with certain others vainly to be sought now or at any time) might of course most easily be a mere red herring. It may be, that as _Gargantua_ was not entirely of his own creation, he determined to "begin at the beginning" in his original composition. But it matters little or nothing. We have, once more, a burlesque genealogy with known persons--Nimrod, Goliath, Polyphemus, etc. etc.--entangled in a chain of imaginaries, one of the latter, Hurtaly, forming the subject of a solemn discussion of the question why he is not received among the crew of the Ark. The unfortunate concomitants of the birth of Pantagruel--which is fatal to his mother Badebec--contrast with the less chequered history of Gargantua and Gargamelle, while the mixed sorrow and joy of Gargantua at his wife's death and his son's birth completes this contrast. Pantagruel, though quite as amiable as his father, if not more so, has in infancy the natural awkwardnesses of a giant, and a hairy giant too--devouring cows whole instead of merely milking them, and tearing to pieces an unfortunate bear who only licked his infant chops. As was said above, he has no wild-oats period of education like his father's, but his company is less carefully chosen than that of Gargantua in the days of his reformation, and gives his biographer opportunities for his sharpest satire.


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