Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. French city to which the affable giant prince Gargantua is sent to be educated. In the City of Light, he is exposed to the light of humanist learning. The Paris portrayed in this book is that of Rabelais’s own day. Gargantua travels there on a brood mare the size of six elephants. After his arrival, he undergoes a rigorous regimen of classical studies and physical exercise, directed by his tutor, Powerbrain, and some of Paris’s truly learned scholars. This learning is contrasted with that of Paris’s Sorbonne, the college of powerful and conservative theologians at the University of Paris. Combining mental and physical exertion, Gargantua swims across the Seine River while reading a book which he holds high above the water with one hand.

Later, Gargantua’s own son, Pantagruel, also goes to Paris to study. He falls into company with Panurge, a brilliant but almost criminal trickster, who explores the seamier side of Parisian life. Although the people of Paris, who are represented realistically in the text, marvel at the giants, they easily accept their presence in their midst.


*Touraine. Region containing the Loire valley in west-central France, the so-called “garden of France,” where Panurge was born and reared. Touraine was also the birthplace of Rabelais himself.

Thélème Abbey

Thélème Abbey. Church along the Loire River, two leagues from the forest of Port-Huault, that Gargantua builds to reward Friar John for his help in winning the mock-heroic war against Picrochole. The abbey is the thematic center of the work, with its credo that instinct forms the only valid basis for morality and social structure. Befitting his gigantic nature,...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Chesney, Elizabeth A., and Marcel Tetel. Rabelais Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains a good general introduction to the four novels definitely written by Rabelais and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on Rabelais. Explores relationships between male and female characters in Rabelais’ novels.

Febvre, Lucien. The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Translated by Beatrice Gottlieb. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. Explores the many different representations of religious belief in Rabelais’ writings. Demonstrates the need for modern scholars to avoid anachronistic interpretations of Renaissance treatments of religious topics.

Frame, Donald. François Rabelais: A Study. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. Clear, well-documented biography of Rabelais’ life as a monk, medical doctor, and novelist. Summarizes general trends in the critical reception of Rabelais’ works since the sixteenth century.

Greene, Thomas. Rabelais: A Study in Comic Courage. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Thoughtful analysis of the coexistence of farce and high comedy in Rabelais’ writings. Explains clearly how Rabelais uses laughter as an effective weapon for discrediting unsympathetic characters.

Screech, Michael A. Rabelais. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Insightful, thorough study of Rabelais’ four books. Discusses Rabelais’ work in the light of Renaissance philosophy and theology, and examines his creative imitation of biblical, classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources.