Tuesday, April 28, 2015
A Monument of Probity
As for his obscenities, I have already ventured to suggest that by and large and relatively they are as devoid of moral obliquity and harm as a manure-heap swept by breezes on a farm. Compared with sly immoralists like Sterne and Anatole France or a corrupter of youth like André Gide, Dr. Rabelais is a monument of probity. Like some of his medieval predecessors, and with a medical training to boot, he sees the comic side of the bodily functions, and no doubt tends to labour the joke overmuch in some aspects; but of itself it has no corruptive influence. Modern delicacy, and the priggish humbug thereto attached, carries a Manichee stink which is far more obnoxious.
Thanks to Logan, who writes:
Your excerpt of D. B. Wyndham Lewis put me in mind of Orwell's contrary opinion, stated in a book review — the reviewed book happens to be "Nailcruncher by Albert Cohen, translated from the French by Vyvyan Holland" — where he, Orwell, writes
What is chiefly remarkable in it is the length and disgustingness of its scatological passages. As soon as I came on the first of these I turned back to the blurb on the dust-jacket, well knowing what adjective I should find, and, sure enough, there it was— "Rabelaisian". It is curious that this word is invariably used as a term of praise. We are forever being told that whereas pornography is reprehensible, "hearty Rabelaisian humour" (meaning a preoccupation with the WC) is perfectly all right. This is partly, perhaps, because Rabelais is nowadays seldom read. So far from being "healthy" as is always alleged, he is an exceptionally perverse, morbid writer, a case for psycho-analysis. But people who lead strict lives have dirty minds, and Rabelais had a considerable underground reputation in Victorian times. Archdeacon Grantly read him on the sly, it will be remembered, and the bachelor in Browning's poem possessed "a little edition of Rabelais". Perhaps the only way of making him respectable was to maintain that there is something "normal" and "hearty" in coprophilia, and the legend has survived into an age when few people have glanced at his dirtier passages.The review is reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 2 (New York: Harcourt, 1968), pp. 44-46; according to which the original appeared in New Statesman and Nation, 7 December 1940.
There is a slight second connection here, for in two 1932 letters (vol. 1, pp. 82, 101) Orwell refers to D. B. W. Lewis in passing as "the professional RC" and "a stinking RC".