Item #4264 Le Parasite Mormon, histoire comique. François de LA MOTHE LE VAYER, Charles ? SOREL, d. 1674.
Le Parasite Mormon, histoire comique.
Le Parasite Mormon, histoire comique.

Le Parasite Mormon, histoire comique. [Paris?], s.n., 1650.

8vo (162 x 111 mm). [12], 204 pp. Page 2 with a blank space left for readers to fill in. A modest copy: foxing, browning, first and last few leaves frayed and softened, short marginal tear to f. H1. Contemporary parchment over flexible pasteboards, manuscript spine title (soiled, covers bowed, tears).***

First edition, only separate edition, of a multi-faceted Tristram Shandy-like satire. Written as linked stories, each in a different comic style, it is ostensibly a fantastical caricature of one notorious Paris character, but the work ridicules more generally the powerful, the law, erudition, narrative and dramatic conventions, and even accepted conventions of printing (viz. the blank space for the reader to supply his/her own portrait of the authors at a banquet). Authorship itself is mocked: according to the tongue-in-cheek letter to the reader, several writers chipped in to the fun, making the book an early work of collaborative fiction.

The target of this Rabelaisian spoof was Pierre de Montmaur (1576-1760), Royal Professor of ancient Greek at the Collège de France, a Jesuit bibliophile who was evidently both highly amusing and insufferable. An habitual dinner guest at weathy tables, he was a pedantic punster, glutton, and gossip with a prodigious memory, who bartered witty barbs for meals, and proudly called himself the greatest parasite who ever lived, inspiring literary attacks (in Latin, French, and Greek) which he seemed to delight in bringing upon himself, mocking, as he did, the most revered Latin poets and contemporary writers. This satire, considered the most entertaining, was written soon after his death, by a group of writers including La Mothe Le Vayer fils, son of the philosopher, probably along with Charles Sorel and other young writers who emulated the dramatist and novelist Paul Scarron.

“One of the relatively neglected yet more fascinating of the histoires comiques” (Suozzo), the Parasite Mormon opens with the impending execution by hanging of the eponymous hero, with commentary by onlookers, one speaking in slangy dialect. A member of the party launches into burlesque reminiscences, beginning with the little foetus Mormon, who not only starved his mother by devouring all her food, but who ate his twin brother. An imaginary bibliography of Mormon’s oeuvres, most of which play on his love of food, is followed by aphorisms and jokes poking more fun at his monstruous gluttony (”Which is better, dancing or singing? - Eating,” “Which is preferable, lunch or dinner? - Neither, for one should have one long meal which lasts all day” [p. 39], etc.). Most of the book consists of long digressions, bringing in other characters, such as Pointy (Le Pointu), the Stunted Poet (le petit poète rabougri), or the Hedgehog (de la Herissonière), who engage in discussions about poetry, modern novels, the position of women, drama (”a long indictment of the rules and rhetoric of contemporary theater” - Suozzo, p. 164) and other serious subjects, laced with puns, word-play, passages of slang, and tall tales. In a final return to the plot, the tricks played on Mormon by these “friends,” which had led to his near-execution on charges of sodomy and atheism, are revealed, and he is released from prison, not without a final nose-thumbing of the authors at any reader’s attempts to discern the purpose of the book: “it’s enough that we know what it is, and we’re not obliged to tell you.”

The work was reprinted, along with 11 other spoofs of Montmaur, in Sallengre’s Histoire de Pierre de Montmaur (The Hague, 1715). In Drujon’s detailed description of the contents of that edition, he called Le Parasite Mormon “assuredly the most interesting of all.”

Anonymously published, this edition was clumsily printed and is filled with typos and mistakes, a couple of which were corrected by an early reader (on p. 57). (A reference to an engraved frontispiece in an OCLC entry and in a modern literary scholar’s article on the work is a mistake, due to the use of the catalogue record for the extra-illustrated Brigham Young copy.)

Cioranescu, Bibliographie de la littérature française du dix-septième siècle 39749; Barbier, Anonymes 3: 784; Drujon, Les Livres à clef I: 444-447, no. 12; Lachèvre, Bibliographie des recueils collectifs de poésies publiés de 1597 à 1700 (1903), 2: p. 674. Cf. Andrew Suozzo, “Le parasite mormon or the `Heretical’ Novel,” Cahiers du dix-septième siècle, vol. 7, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 161-168; and Mark Bannister, “The Montmaur Affair: poetry versus pedantry in the seventeenth century,” French Studies 33 (Oct. 1979): 397-410.
Item #4264

Price: $2,800.00