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The Fabliaux Hardcover – June 10, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0871403575 ISBN-10: 0871403579 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A fabliau is an “Old French comic tale in verse,” explains R. Howard Bloch, Sterling Professor of French at Yale University, in his informative, tantalizing introduction to the first modern anthology of these little-known, devilishly bawdy and irreverent works. The 69 fabliaux presented here in their original French and translated into rascally, buoyant English by Nathaniel E. Dubin, are relentlessly scabrous, egregiously misogynistic, and exuberantly oppositional to “bourgeois respectability” and the church. With such mischievous titles as “The Cleric behind the Chest,” “Black Balls,” and “The Knight Who Made Cunts Talk,” the rollicking fabliaux were composed during the Middle Ages to be performed aloud, forgotten for more than two centuries, then gingerly resurrected by scholars. Vivid, funny, robustly grotesque, and drolly outrageous, these satirical tales of lust, revenge, and folly feature lecherous peasants, fornicating priests, scoundrels, fools, and women wily and tough, castigated and abused. Though their leering focus is on the body and its appetites, the fabliaux do reflect their world, one both alien to us and undeniably familiar. An historic literary achievement bound to arouse vociferous discussion. --Donna Seaman

Review

“Like Seamus Heaney’s translation of ,…Dubin reproduces the world and the feeling of the medieval tale…that travel joyfully from the Middle Ages to the present.” — R. Howard Bloch, from the introduction to

“Devilishly bawdy and irreverent…The 69 fabliaux presented here in their original French and translated into rascally, buoyant English by Nathaniel E. Dubin, are relentlessly scabrous, egregiously misogynistic, and exuberantly oppositional to ‘bourgeois respectability’ and the church…. Vivid, funny, robustly grotesque, and drolly outrageous, these satirical tales of lust, revenge, and folly feature lecherous peasants, fornicating priests, scoundrels, fools, and women wily and tough, castigated and abused…. An historic literary achievement bound to arouse vociferous discussion.” — Booklist

“ are comic tales, in verse, composed between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries…. The words used…have not been adjusted to conform to modern immodesty; the translation is literal…[This is the] first substantial collection of , in any language, for today’s general reader.” — Joan Acocella (The New Yorker)

“Pure, unadulterated fun…. A golden bough of erotic imagination and folk humor, peopled by randy wives, cuckolded husbands, fornicating priests, and priapic knights…. Ultimately, what’s so potent and profound about these risqué yarns is not their unbridled expressions of sexuality and vulgarity per se, but their unusual ability to provoke a carnivalesque laughter in all. Through denuding, debauchery, and bodily degradation, the fabliaux create a common denominator for humanity, an earthy, holistic world in which, to quote Bakhtin again, ‘he who is laughing also belongs to it.’ Flaunting unabashed obscenity in delightful verse, is a book that would entertain the fans of Dr. Freud and Dr. Seuss alike.” — Yunte Huang (The Daily Beast)

“The fabliau, then, is a short story that is a tall story. It combines a burly blurting of dirty words with a reveling in humiliations that are good unclean fun. A popular venture that is keen to paste—épater—everybody (not just the bourgeoisie), it is the art of the single entendre. Highly staged low life, it guffaws at the pious, the prudish, and the priggish. High cockalorum versus high decorum…. The introduction here, like the translator’s note, tells well the story of the comic tales, anonymous for the most part, usually two or three hundred lines long, of which about 160 exist.” — Christopher Ricks (New York Review of Books)

“The fabliaux are important not only for their approach to humor, but for their focus on sex, class and wealth, and bodily functions like eating and defecating—all elements quite absent from more highbrow, courtly, or Church-sanctioned religious texts. Liveright’s edition serves as the largest and most complete collection of fabliaux, in English or French, ever published “for the general reader…" is a reminder that medieval texts can remain engaging, lively, and, above all, funny.” — Charlotte Bhaskar (Zyzzyva)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (June 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871403579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871403575
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #672,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a delightful and important book. Dubin's extremely witty, no-holds-barred, and often literal verse translation of sixty-nine fabliaux (about half of those that survive) captures the good-humored bawdiness and antic wordplay of these medieval short stories. They're both sweet-tempered and very naughty--like Bette Midler telling dirty jokes. If these funny, madcap tales and Dubin's clever rhymes don't make you laugh out loud, check your pulse. Once you start reading them, it's hard to stop; they're medieval literary peanuts.
Beyond their risqué pleasures and their expert, lively translation, these stories are fascinating windows into everyday life in 13th-century France. Here are details about what people wore and ate, how they made their livings and spent their idle time, how they fought the (apparently constant) battle of the sexes, and how they maneuvered through a socially stratified world. This is a Middle Ages filled with earthy laughter. Add to this content a beautifully-produced hardback with an embossed cover, a sewn-in cloth book mark, and close to 1,000 pages (!) of facing Old French and English translation, and this is an incredible bargain at Amazon's current price. This book now surpasses all previous translations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Murray Domney on July 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The hardback version, at 1024 pp, includes the Old French originals alongside the English translation. This is highly useful. But the Kindle version omits the Old French original, even though it is advertised at the same number of pages!

This needs fixing. If fixed, it would be 5 stars for a very good translation, with useful introduction.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on June 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The fabliaux are an attempt to parody the more courtly formal literature, which is certainly more elegant but never truly represented the thoughts and feelings of the average peasant as did the fabliaux. The introduction points out that these tales were written from the later 12th through the early 14th century, but were largely forgotten from the 16th century to about 1830 when the first popular translation occurred.

Before going further, I should note that the vast majority of these verse contain an abundance of explicit four-lettered words; if one were to be offended by these then one need go no further; assuming otherwise, please read on. The fabliaux might be compared to the rap lyrics of today which also appeal to baser instinct and use an abundance of explicit verbiage.

These verses were told by a jongleur or storyteller who expected to get paid for the telling as a modern actor would so expect. Some of the verses are attributed to particular individuals but many have no particular name attached. In keeping with the overall sexual theme of these works, the author translated exactly 69 verses although there are more. The verses are best appreciated when heard as opposed to read, but since few if any jongleur survive today, reading is the next best thing. I felt the authors use of a particular choice of words to complete a rhyme was magnificent, but do admit my French is, at best, sketchy. But for those so interested the French version of each fabliaux is given on the left hand page and the English translation on the right hand page for those wishing to compare the translation with the original. Assuming one is only reading the English translation, the book is approximately half as long as the stated pages.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Phred on July 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book are the Fabliaux,
Old French poems, lewd nasty and low.
The ending rhyme is often forced in,
Thanks to translator Nathaniel Dubin.
Sixty nine poems are herein present.
All about middle class and naughty peasants.
And naughtier still are the priests and the ladies
Although no tale is bad as people in Hades.
In each the reward is all for the cleverest
Fast thinking wins over the mere pious saintliest.
Do not expect all to be in smooth couplets,
As some are roughhewn,
Made like badly butchered cutlets.
Originally told to Christians 12th Century
They all deal with subjects earthy and sensory.
So this is not best for devoutly faint hearted
Or those who blanch at words like: who f**ted?
Instead for the scholarly and those who jest crude,
Fabliaux win by being sly and skewed.
We tend to think all ye olde stories were writ clean.
And all tales told condemned that which was mean.
The Fabliaux serve here to tell the truth plainly
And that truth is bawdy and body functions mainly.
So treat yourself to reading Fabliaux, the funny, the bad and the fine
And accept that translated old French can scan poorly
With many forced rhymes.
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By Thomas G. Field, Jr. on December 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One reviewer notes that the well-made hardcover (what I purchased) presents both original text and matching English translations (on facing pages). As its cover should make clear, the book is not for prudes. The stories are accompanied by scholarly commentary and read well in euphemism-free English.

Readers who expect every story to be both hilarious and racy are apt to be disappointed, however. I didn't keep count and have loaned my copy, so I report only that I found few stories as humorous and racy as ones for which Chaucer is famous. Indeed, at least two inspired Chaucer, perhaps via Boccaccio's Decameron. Others were either humorous or racy, and still others seemed neither humorous nor racy.

Not all Fabliaux are included in the book, and omitted stories may be less compelling than those that remain. Nevertheless, finding perhaps a third of the stories neither especially informative nor entertaining, I dock the book one star.
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