Gargantua

The novel “Gargantua” looks as if it revolves around the life of the main character Gargantua. The author gives us an insight into the smallest details of his life such as his origins, birth, childhood, life in Paris and liberation of his homeland.

The novel seems to be a chivalric romance that consists out of the main character’s life episodes but Rabelais doesn’t put the plot in the spotlight of the novel. The main points of his novel are sayings, verses, the Bible, parodies and different political events. The plot actually happens between the stories which Rabelais implemented into the novel. Rabelais placed many comic scenes into the novel through quips and word plays.

In the work the author often uses Latin but changes it a bit so that he would get the element of parody which is notable in Gargantua’s discussion with Janotus de Bragmardo about the robbed bells.

Also, the author uses street language with many curses and vulgarisms.

Since the main characters are giants, the author uses everything that’s big proportioned to cause laughter. The author uses big numbers that are often unnecessary and the work itself has 58 chapters. Also, he often gets involved in the pointless enumeration. In the 22nd chapter, he wrote a 6 pages long list of games that existed in those days. In 5th chapter, he listed some sayings. That type of writing wasn’t uncommon back in the days. The enumeration served to create a sense of someone screaming on the street and it was all supposed to cause laughter.

The origins of the work can be linked to the chivalric romances of the Arthurian circle and folklore. The main character, Gargantua, is allegedly from folklore.

Rabelais also tended to exaggerate, especially when it came to food and beverages. It was mentioned that his mother once ate so much tripe that her bowel movement caused her to end up at the doctor, having her anus stitched.

Bodily fluids and feces are often mentioned. In the 17th chapter, we can read that Gargantua sunk 260 418 people by urinating on them and in the 39th chapter his mare’s urine flooded the enemy’s army.

Rabelais is also led by grotesque realism in his writing, so he worships festivals and carnivals without any restrictions. He twists hierarchy and gives an advantage to parody, which is more common for a carnival.

This novel is pretty incomprehensible to today’s readers. The reason was for that is Rabelais different interpretation of historic events. The events he described as positive are negative and unacceptable to today’s audience.

Book Summary

At the beginning of the novel, in the preface, Rabelais tells us that the plot won’t be tense and that it won’t have a plot twist or a denouement.

The novel Gargantua begins with the description of the life of the main character Gargantua. Everything since his birth, childhood, family description and the significance of his name is described.

Furthermore, chapters that describe his love and education come along. His teacher Ponocrates is said to be the one to thank for Gargantua’s education.

One day Gargantua decided to go to Paris. He was escorted by Ponocrates, Eudemon, Gymnast…

There Gargantua stole the bells and then the negotiation for their return began. In the end, Gargantua did give them back and then he spent his days as usual – doing nothing. He played different games, indulged in food and beverages and studied. When it would rain outside he would spend his days pouring water from one cup to another.

After some time there was a confrontation between the people from Gargantua’s land and the people from Lerne. The conflict got complicated so much that a war started. The people of Lerne, under the command of Picrochole, went to invade Gargantua’s.

Grandgousier, Gargantua’s father, decided to send a letter to his son in Paris hoping he’ll help him fight the enemies and defend the kingdom. In the meantime, he tried to calm down the conflict by negotiating with the enemies but Grandgouisier gads big plans about taking over the Mediterranean coast.

Gargantua decided to leave Paris in order to help his father and on the way, as he stumbles upon enemies, he lets them go. He also encountered Jean des Entommeures, a monk whose vineyard wasn’t attacked by the enemy’s army so he joined their struggle.

When Gargantua managed to get home his mother died of excitement. Grangousier decided to throw his son a welcome party.

After the feast, Gargantua went to combat to defeat Grandgousier and free the land. His mission was successful. When he defeated his enemy even monk Jean was free from his captivity.

In the end, Gargantua decided to reward his army for being courageous. He also had an abbey made for Jean to give him credit for all the good he had done for his country. The abbey had only one rule: “Do as you please”.

François Rabelais Biography

François Rabelais was born in 1483 or 1484. His father was a rich landowner and lawyer in charge of some government duties. Somewhere around 1500 Rabelais enrolled to university where he studied law.

In 1510 he joined the Franciscans in a convent named La Baumette. Ten years after he became a monk in the convent Fontenay-le-Comte.

In the mid 20’s of the 16th century, he had some troubles with the administration of the convent and the church authorities so he went to Maillezais, a Benedictine convent, where he worked for some time as the secretary of the bishop Geoffroy d’Estissac.

By the end of the century, he decided to leave the convent and he went to study medicine, in 1532 he published “Pantagruel” under a pseudonym but the novel was forbidden a year later due to explicit content.

He had two children and decided to dedicate himself to his career in medicine. He works in south France and later he went to Lyon. Soon after he moved to Rome where he started working as the secretary of the cardinal Du Bellay. He moved with him to Ferrara.

While he was there he wrote “Gargantua” and it’s unsure whether the novel was published in 1534 or a year later. He went to Rome again with the bishop Geoffroy as his friend and protector. He asked Pope’s permission to join the Benedictines again.

In 1537 he finished his studies and became a doctor in the university in Montpellier. After that, he had another child and did not publish anything for 11 years.

After the death of his protectors, his works were forbidden again but despite everything he published a third book that was a sequel for the previous two. He was under the protection of the French king and he didn’t use a pseudonym. The third book was also forbidden.

Rabelais then decided to join the German Protestants and go to Metz.

In 1548 he went back to Rome to cardinal Du Bellay and in the meantime, he published “The Fourth Book” in Lyon. Four years later the king allowed the publication of that work.

He died in Paris in 1933.

Books published postmortem: a sequel to “The Fourth Book” and “The Fifth Book”.