Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1733

First published: La rotisserie de la reine pedauque, 1893 (English translation, 1912)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Humorous satire

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Locale: France

Principal Characters:

Jacques Menetrier, a young scholar

Maitre Jerome Coignard, an abbot

Catherine, a temptress

Jael , a...

(The entire section contains 1733 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

First published: La rotisserie de la reine pedauque, 1893 (English translation, 1912)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Humorous satire

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Locale: France

Principal Characters:

Jacques Menetrier, a young scholar

Maitre Jerome Coignard, an abbot

Catherine, a temptress

Jael, a Jewess

Monsieur d’Astarac, a philosopher

The Story:

Jacques Menetrier’s mother was a long-suffering, plain woman and his father, a merry cook. The father spent several hours each night at a nearby tavern in the company of Jeannette, the hurdy-gurdy woman, and Catherine, the lace maker. Both ladies helped him relive his lusty youth.

When Jacques was six years old, he was stationed all day long in the chimney corner to turn the spitted roasts. His time was not altogether wasted, however, for he learned his letters at the same time from a beggar Capuchin, Brother Ange. The good Brother Ange ate well at the common table in return for his services, and in secret he sighed for Catherine.

After a drunken brawl, Brother Ange was imprisoned, and Maitre Jerome Coignard, a Greek and Latin scholar, became Jacques’s tutor. As he grew to young manhood, he progressed rapidly under the scholar’s teachings.

Jeannette, complaisant with all, initiated Jacques into the mysteries of love, but, perversely, Jacques was attracted to Catherine, who made fun of Jacques’s beardless chin and refused to take him seriously. Jacques and his father were greatly discomfited when she ran away with Brother Ange.

One evening, a tall, gaunt philosopher entered abruptly, crying that he saw a salamander in the fireplace. Vigorously stirring the ashes, he asked the company if they saw anything. Only Jacques thought he saw the outlines of a beautiful woman in the smoke. The philosopher was much pleased with Jacques’s discernment.

When Monsieur d’Astarac, their strange visitor, learned that the Maitre Jerome could read Greek easily, he arranged to have the abbot and Jacques come to live with him.

At the ruined estate of the philosopher, the two friends were astonished by the rich library. In spite of crumbling walls and overgrown grounds, d’Astarac was evidently wealthy as well as learned. Maitre Jerome was set to work translating the ancient works of Zosimus the Panopolitan, with Jacques as his helper. According to d’Astarac, the only other inhabitant of the estate was Mosaide, a learned Jew over a hundred years old. The Jew lived mysteriously withdrawn in a separate cottage, where he worked on old Hebrew manuscripts.

After several tranquil months, Jacques went for an evening walk into Paris. Brother Ange came up and whispered that a lady was eagerly awaiting him in her carriage. At the rendezvous, Jacques found Catherine seated in an elegant coach. Astonished at her magnificence, Jacques learned that she was now the mistress of de la Gueritaude, a tax collector. Then they kissed fervently and made an appointment for later that night.

The house where Catherine lived was in disturbance when Jacques arrived. She, half-dressed, was shrieking at the door, and lackeys were pursuing Brother Ange with spears. De la Gueritaude had surprised her with her monk. Jacques comforted Catherine ardently, but when de la Gueritaude returned, he rudely shoved Jacques into the street and slammed the door.

Soon afterward, d’Astarac summoned Jacques to a private conference in a secret laboratory, where he told the young man that he would reveal some of the mysteries of philosophy. The spirit world consisted of sylphs, males who helped philosophers, and salamanders, beautiful females in search of human lovers. Since Jacques was well on his way to becoming a philosopher and since he had little to do with carnal women, d’Astarac would show him how to summon a salamander. Guiltily thinking of Catherine, Jacques agreed to try.

D’Astarac helped him open a crystal ball filled with stardust. Feeling overwhelmed, Jacques sank down and d’Astarac left him. After a few minutes, Jacques looked up to see a voluptuous, dark-haired woman in front of him. Although she resisted his advances for a time, she accepted him as her lover, and they spent the night together.

Jacques soon learned that she was no salamander; she was Jael, niece of Mosaide. The fierce old Jew kept her secluded, hiding her from Christian eyes, but Jael came frequently to his room, despite the uncle’s vigilance. One early morning, Maitre Jerome saw her leaving and traced her to Mosaide’s cottage. Although Jael slipped inside unseen, Mosaide saw the abbot from his window and cursed him in Hebrew and Spanish. Not to be outdone, Maitre Jerome cursed the Jew in French and Latin.

That evening, as Maitre Jerome and Jacques passed Catherine’s house, she greeted Jacques with great affection from her doorway. Someone inside slapped her sharply and pulled her inside. It was the noble d’Anquetil, Catherine’s new lover. He invited them in, pleased that he had Jacques for a rival instead of the begging Capuchin.

The four spent an agreeable evening at the card table. Maitre Jerome always won. Catherine sat snuggled close to d’Anquetil, and while vowing eternal fidelity to him, she pressed Jacques’s foot under the table. Suddenly, there was a thunderous rapping outside. De la Gueritaude had returned, furious at being locked out of the house he rented for Catherine.

The four revelers brawled with the tax collector, injuring him gravely and killing one of his lackeys. Jacques, Maitre Jerome, and d’Anquetil fled to d’Astarac’s estate for safety. Jacques put the nobleman in his own room and went to talk with the philosopher, although it was almost morning. Unfortunately, Jael came visiting, and before she could flee, d’Anquetil was smitten with her charms.

D’Anquetil, who had hired carriages so that they could flee the police, wanted to take Jael with him. To Jacques’s horror, Jael agreed after being promised a set of silver plate and a monthly income. In the morning, d’Anquetil and Jael set off in a closed coupe, followed by Maitre Jerome and a morose Jacques.

During the journey, Jacques reproached Jael for her easy switch of lovers, but she took a practical view of the matter. A set of silver plate could not be ignored. One night at an inn, Jael left d’Anquetil’s room to visit Jacques, who was thereafter somewhat more content.

From Jael, Jacques learned that Mosaide was not a hundred years old, but barely sixty years old; and instead of being a famous scholar, he was a banker who had fled Spain after killing a Christian. Furthermore, Mosaide was Jael’s lover.

Shocked by these disclosures, Jacques was uneasy at the sight of a mysterious carriage which followed them closely. His apprehensions were justified one night when they ran into a bridge and broke a wheel. Jacques, d’Anquetil, and Jael waited for repairs in a nearby dell, while Maitre Jerome searched the wreckage for bottles of wine.

In the darkness, Mosaide, who had been following the runaways, fell upon the abbot and wounded him mortally, for the jealous Jew thought that Maitre Jerome had stolen Jael. The monk died in a neighboring village, where he had been carried for medical aid. Mourning his tutor and friend, Jacques returned to his parents in Paris.

Later, Jacques went to pay a visit to d’Astarac. When he arrived, he saw the big house blazing fiercely. D’Astarac was burned to death in the fire, and Mosaide drowned in a swamp as he tried to run away. Gradually, the memory of Jael became less poignant and Jacques found his true vocation. He became a bookseller and supported his parents in dignity in their old age.

Critical Evaluation:

AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PEDAUQUE was the first of Anatole France’s many works to exhibit in full his peculiar talents. This tale is gusty in outline and overlaid with vast erudition in philosophy and in ancient history. In plot, the novel is reminiscent of TOM JONES, but the treatment is pure Gallic. France’s humor is always subtle and at times wicked. In the Abbe Jerome, he has created a memorable character, the fluent, scoundrelly cleric who becomes a sympathetic creation.

The novel’s discreet mocking of the occult and its refined and occasionally lusty intelligence appeal more to the brain than the senses. France’s careful artistry and pure style are the perfect vehicle for his peculiar combination of sensitivity and irony. He disliked Romanticism and condemned the crudity of the Realistic school of fiction, and, indeed, there is little of either the romantic or the realistic in this or his other novels. He scorned prose that claimed profundity in obscurity, stating that a good style is complex but does not appear so. Clarity and purity were fundamental qualities of his art, and nowhere do these virtues stand out more admirably than in AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PEDAUQUE.

The narrative and dialogue are both crowded with epigrams and witticisms, sometimes to the point of almost paralyzing what little action there is in the book. Jacques tells his own story with a strangely sophisticated innocence. Every aspect of life is intellectualized, from eating to lovemaking to battling the world for survival. Many of the monologues are short essays, and the dialogues between characters are more philosophical than dramatic. Whole discourses are presented on subjects such as the influence of food upon civilized history. Much of the talk that fills the book is humorous, and most of it makes its point sharply and bitingly. France was never a great inventor of incident in his fiction, and the value of this novel, as of so many of his, lies in the reflections and comments that fill its pages.

Influenced by the irony of Renan, the bitter wit of Voltaire, and the use of the eighteenth century setting of Denis Diderot, France attempted to interweave his tale of the adventures of the Rabelaisian, philosophical monk and his faithful follower, Jacques, with satire of quasi-magic and astrology; the story is filled with the irreverence that came to be its author’s trademark. France was steeped in borrowed thought and language, and his weak narrative construction reduces his plot in places to a kind of loping commentary, yet his grace and wit raise AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PEDAUQUE to the level of high art.

Illustration of PDF document

Download At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Characters