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Gargantua and Pantagruel (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

François Rabelais was born at the end of the fifteenth century. A Franciscan monk turned Benedictine, he abandoned the cloister in 1530 and began to study medicine at Montpellier. Two years later he wrote his first work, Pantagruel, which revealed his genius as a storyteller, satirist, propagandist and creator of comic situations and characters. In 1534 he published Gargantua, a companion to Pantagruel, which contains some of his best work. It mocks old-fashioned theological education, and opposes the monastic ideal, contrasting it with a free society of noble Evangelicals. Following an outburst of repression in late 1534, Rabelais abandoned his post of doctor at the Hotel-Dieu at Lyons and despite Royal support his book Tiers Livre was condemned. His last work, and his boldest, Quart Livre was published in 1551 and he died two years later. For the last years of his life Rabelais was persecuted by both religious and civil authorities for his publications. His genius however was recognized in his own day and his influence was great.

Dr. M. A. Screech is a Senior Research Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of University College London; he long served on the committee of the Warburg Institute as Fielden Professor of French Language and Literature in London, until his election to All Souls in 1984. He is a Renaissance scholar of international renown. His books include Montaigne and Melancholy, as well as Rabelais and (on Erasmus) Ecstasy and the Praise of Folly; all are acknowledged to be classic studies in their fields.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 1104 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140445501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140445503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Shadowgraphs on June 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
Just to be perfectly clear, I love this book. It is one of my all-time favorites, providing a humorous and profound take on theology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, literary criticism, and, most importantly, the superior tool for wiping oneself after defecating (according to the young Gargantua, that would be the neck of a well-downed goose). It's basically an obscene pack of Zen koan cards which will delight just about any intellectual type with a decent knowledge of the Western tradition.

However, this edition falls short in a large number of ways. First of all, it's presented as a big, fat, "scholarly" edition, with lots of footnotes, chapter summaries, and aids for the reader to contextualize the information. Not that there's any problem with that in itself - Rabelais is certainly one of those authors that requires at least some knowledge of his intellectual predecessors - but it really disturbs the general flow and feel of the book and places it in the context of being some old and stuffy book read as a "primary source" that can give us insight into 16th-century France than for its own sake. Given that this book essentially ridicules such "old and venerable" texts by means of obscene humor resembling that used by South Park in our modern culture, I really don't think this is the best way to present Rabelais. Also, the books are presented in the order they were written rather than in the traditional order of Gargantua first, then Pantagruel, then the books which are actually numbered. Again, this isn't in itself a problem, except that it disrupts the narrative flow if one wishes to read this book as a whole, starting with the exploits of Gargantua and then moving to the adventures had by his son.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Van Wagoner VINE VOICE on August 10, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I discovered Rabelais while reading Durant's Story of Civilization. After reading such a strong endorsement I decided to get a copy of his works to see if he was really as good as was described. I've always had a somewhat different sense of humor (I love Monty Python), and have always liked satire; so I thought I would like Rabelais. It turns out I really liked him. Sometimes he was a bit crude for my tastes, but he was hilarious.

In general I liked the first two books more than the later books. They were a little more wild and inconsistent, but a lot more fun. Panurge was probably my favorite character in the first book; in the third book he was a key character, but by the last two books he was a somewhat annoying character.

A quick summary of the books is below. Pantagruel is the story of the birth and early life of the Giant Pantagruel, which was probably the most hilarious of the books. Gargantua is the story of the birth and life of Panagruel's father Gargantua; this was also quite funny covering several topics. The 3rd book of Pantagruel contains two main themes; the first is a discussion between Pantagruel and Panurge on debtors and borrowers. Panurge gives the funniest discourse on the need for debtors I have ever seen. The rest of the book tells of Panurge consulting every imaginable method of seeing the future to see if he should marry. The 4th book is basically a travel log similar to Gulliver's travels where Pantagruel and his friends go on a long sea trip finding many interesting lands. The 5th book is a continuation of the 4th book. Note that the 5th book is of questionable authorship.

As far as the translation goes, I was impressed; but note that this is the only translation I have read.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By rater25 on March 9, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am truly shocked that there are reviewers here complaining about this edition (tr. M.A. Screech - Penguin). This book is without a doubt a landmark in the publication of Rabelais in English. The translation is very accurate in meaning and yet quite readable. Cohen's was full of euphemisms and Briticisms, not to mention flat-out mistranslations. Raffel's is an anachronistic and groovy retelling - not really a translation at all. Screech's notes ground the work in period context. I found them illuminating. Students of French literature should find them extremely useful. They are easily ignored, if one oddly finds them offensive.

The "dumbing down" mentioned by one reviewer really describes translations which simplify and pretend that an older work is contemporary by using current slang (e.g. Raffel, Mitchell, Slavitt et. al.). This edition should be the translation of choice for years to come and is especially recommendable for academic use.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ruk on June 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
I definitely agree with Shadowgraphs: the Cohen translation/edition is far superior. The Screech colossus has scholarly value (to the point of vanity) but it gets in the way and ruins everything about the pleasure of reading, and this would have infuriated Rabelais. I want to teach Gargantua and Pantagruel in my college classes, but I cannot stomach the thought of my students' first approach to Rabelais bring spoiled by this atrocity. Penguin, please reconsider and bring back the Cohen translation, which is classic in its own right. At the very least, offer it as an alternative version which readers might choose -- indeed, I dare you to see which sells better! For now, I'm glad it's available used in so many copies for only $.01 + shipping!
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