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Book Reviews Carol Clark. T he V ulgar R abelais. Glasgow: Pressgang, 1983. Pp. 161. Three-quarters of this little book constitutes an excellent general introduction to Rabelais, which 1 have been recommending to my students ever since it appeared. After a brief introduction claiming that while “ learned” Rabelais is well-known to English readers “ vulgar” Rabelais is not, Dr. Clark divides most of her discussion into three long sections. The first, “ What Happens in Rabelais?” is a first-rate straightforward summary of the four books, accurate except for a few minor errors, and with a number of interesting com­ ments, for instance on different time planes (17) and on the humor of the Quart Livre (44). The next section, “The Festive World,” is full of useful information and discussion on carnival and comic theater, the Grandes croniques, Pulci, and the Disciple de Pantagruel. Passing anti-Bakhtin remarks (57) could well have been developed into a full-scale refuta­ tion, since Clark’s information on Carnival and Lent is both broader and more objective than Bakhtin’s. She is particularly good on Rabelais’ enumerations as carnival processions (69), and on Renaissance attitudes to different kinds of food (71). The “ Fools” section is sketchier, but instructive about fool-societies, mountebanks, comic actors and the comedy of death and disease. One of the 12 plates illustrating folly shows a fool with spectacles, like Panurge, whose strange robe in the Tiers Livre also reminds us of fool-society costume. Some delightful pages relate mountebank rhetoric on nonsense-relics to modern analogues. A much shorter section on “ Panurge” is more controversial, claiming that Panurge should be seen primarily as an actor playing different roles, like Groucho Marx, and that to see the Quart Livre storm episode as “ the shaming of Panurge” is “ a bad mis-reading” (129, and cf. also 34). It is in the final section, “ Reading Rabelais,” that I part company entirely with Dr. Clark. To assert that it is impossible to distinguish “ serious” passages from non-serious ones is to impose on Rabelais a radical separation between serious and comic which neither he nor most of the Renaissance would have recognized. The storm scene is Rabelaisian pre­ cisely because it is both “ the shaming of Panurge” and a hilariously comic scene with car­ nival overtones. Clark’s lengthy analogy between Rabelais and Monty Python is also mis­ leading, because it assumes a similarity between different kinds of reader/viewer in the 16th and 20th centuries. Rabelais would, I believe, be saddened by the conclusion that every reader is entitled to his own interpretation of the work; as Screech, Duval (who is not men­ tioned) and others have shown, he cared passionately about a number of intellectual issues and hoped for a reader who would share his convictions. Two concluding pages headed “ Vivre Joyeux” affirm that this, and only this, is Rabelais’ message, and the book ends with notes and a short bibliography. I shall continue to wait for the book which will combine Clark’s insights on carnival and folly with the fascinating intellectual discoveries made recently by other scholars. This “ vulgar Rabelais,” entertaining as he is, is only half an author. B arbara C . B ow en Vanderbilt University VOL. XXX, NO. 2 105 ...


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