Sainte-Beuve comparing François Rabelais to Laurence Sterne  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In the Causeries du lundi[1], Sainte-Beuve compares François Rabelais to Laurence Sterne, first citing Sterne's defense of his The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (the book is like your young heir there) who hides nothing but is perfectly innocent. Saint-Beuve adds that in Rabelais the young boy has become a giant who "still conceals nothing":

"Mais avec Rabelais, l'enfant a grandi; c'est un homme, c'est un moine, c'est un géant, c'est Gargantua, c'est Pantagruel ou pour le moins Panurge, et il continue de ne rien cacher."[2]

Full excerpt:

"Rien n‘est moins commode que de venir parler convenablement de ces livres, car Rabelais a de ces licences qui ne sont qu’à lui, et que la critique la plus enthousiaste ne saurait prendre sur son compte. Quand on veut lire tout haut du Rabelais, même devant des hommes (car devant les femmes cela ne se peut), on est toujours comme quelqu’un qui veut traverser une vaste place pleine de boues et d’ordures: il s'agit d’enjamber à chaque moment et de traverser sans trop se crotter; c’est difficile. Une dame faisait un jour reproche à Sterne des nudités qui se trouvent dans son Tristram Shandy; au même moment, un enfant de trois ans jouait à terre et se montrait en toute innocence: «Voyez! dit Sterne,mon livre, c’est cet enfant de trois ans qui se roule sur le tapis.» Mais, avec Rabelais, l’enfant a grandi; c’est un homme, c’est un moine, c’est un géant, c’est Gargantua, Pantagruel ou pour le moins Panurge, et il continue de ne rien cacher. Ici il n’y a aucun moyen de dire aux dames: Voyez! et, même quand on ne parle que devant des hommes et qu‘on est de sang-froid, il faut choisir."[3]

Translated in English:

"Nothing is less easy than to hit on the right way of speaking of those books, for Rabelais takes licences peculiarly his own, of which the most enthusiastic critic cannot take the responsibility. When we want to read Rabelais aloud, even before men (before women it is impossible), we are always in the position of a man wishing to cross a vast open space full of mud and filth : every moment it is necessary to take a long stride, and to walk without getting rather dirty is difficult Once a lady reproached Sterne for the nudities of his Tristram Shandy. At the moment a three-year-old child was playing on the floor and exhibiting himself in complete innocence. " Look," said Sterne," my book is that three-year-old child who is rolling on the carpet." But with Rabelais the child has grown up ; he is a man, a monk, a giant Gargantua, Pantagruel, or at any rate Panurge, and he still conceals nothing. Here there is no possibility of saying to the ladies : Look I And even when we are speaking in the company of men only, and are perfectly cool-headed, it is necessary to make a choice." --tr. ‎Elizabeth Lee




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