Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Voltaire on Rabelais

I'm gallivanting at the Sydney Writer's Festival for the rest of the week, so blogging may be intermittent (err, more intermittent?) due to my being overcome by logofascination, liquor, lack of sleep or all three. Fear not, though - I have a number of links and things which I shall foist on you in the interim.

To start you off, here is Voltaire's opinion of Rabelais - I'm afraid I've lost the referencing for it, but I will attempt to restore it later*:
The former has interspersed his unaccountably-fantastic and unintelligible book with the most gay strokes of humour; but which, at the same time, has a greater proportion of impertinence. He has been vastly lavish of erudition, of smut, and insipid raillery. An agreeable tale of two pages is purchased at the expense of whole volumes of nonsense. There are but few persons, and those of a grotesque taste, who pretend to understand and to esteem this work; for, as to the rest of the nation, they laugh at the pleasant and diverting touches which are found in Rabelais and despise his book. He is looked upon as the prince of buffoons. The readers are vexed to think that a man who was master of so much wit should have made so wretched a use of it; he is an intoxicated philosopher who never wrote but when he was in liquor.
For one iconic French writer to have such a poor opinion of another has caused a number of people some difficulty, although it has also given them something to write theses and books about. Rabelais is considered by some to be an early champion of democracy, individualism, libertarianism or various other -isms as the writer saw fit. I suspect Rabelais would have made fun of -isms on general principle, but here is a link to a biography of Rabelais from a libertarian perspective, which claims that Voltaire eventually saw some worth in Rabelais' work.

*Update: it's from Voltaire's Letter XXII.--On Mr. Pope and Some Other Famous Poets; thanks to a commenter for the link.


  1. The source appears to be from Voltaire's voluminous letters:

  2. Thankyou, I think you're right - I read them late last year, so that's the logical source!