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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Comic writing and the reader in the Quart livre of François Rabelais Sheppard, L. Randall


The Quart Livre of Francois Rabelais is a work which like all the work of Rabelais, presents a non-verisimilar fiction, through abundant authorial commentary, and an unreliable narrator, through a narrative strategy peculiar to a certain genre of comic writing. Following the model of Aristotelian poetics, which founded a generic theory of tragedy on the response of a reader (catharsis), we pursue our inquiry into "genre" in the Quart Livre of Rabelais by examining the effects of the comic fiction on an "implied reader," an exemplary reader created by the generic expectations generated by the literary text itself. First, we examine the authorial strategy which distinguishes the comic fiction in the Quart Livre from other genres which rely upon a mimesis of "representation" (an "illusion of reality") to obtain their characteristic effects. Secondly, we examine the question of "purpose" (purposiveness) in the kind of writing of which the Quart Livre is an example, as literary form determined by the (anticipated) "desire" of a reader. Finally, we examine the major episodes in the Quart Livre itself, with a view to drawing the portrait of this reader — a reader who "indulges" the author, a smiling reader gratified by the accentuated "difference" of satire, a laughing reader identifying with the object of his laughter. It is this last reader who is the sign of the characteristic ambivalence of the humour in Rabelai3, which relativises any attempt by the polemic either to kill laughter by idealising or 3acralising, or to reduce laughter to the smile of irony. We conclude that the comic writing in the Quart Livre of Rabelai3 opposes the tendency, for instance, in tragedy to idealise, to individualise, and thereby to sacralise the tragic "victim" necessary to fulfill the cathartic (social) function in the audience. Comic "victimage" as we found it in the Quart Livre, show3 a movement antithetical to tragic victimage: the ideal and the "individual" become the common and the "ordinary," and the sacred becomes the profane, in order that the reader may laugh.

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