Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2004


Published in Fecal Matters in Early Modern Literature and Art, ed. Jeff Persels and Russell Ganim. Studies in European Cultural Transition, Volume Twenty One, General Editors: Martin Stannard and Greg Walker. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.
ISBN 0 7546 4116 3
Copyright 2004 Jeff Persels and Russell Ganim. Used by permission.


This collection of essays was provoked by what its editors considered to be a curious lacuna: the relative academic neglect of the copious and ubiquitous scatological rhetoric of Early Modem Europe, here broadly defined as the representation of the process and product of elimination of the body’s waste products (feces, urine, flatus, phlegm, vomitus). Our most educated forebears, different from ourselves, did not disdain it — if such proof may be found in the mere proliferation of examples — and, further, employed it in all manner of works, not just in the crude jokes of comic ephemera. This neglect led to the idea of an anthology that would invite reconsideration of the many forms and functions of scatology as literary and artistic trope. The results emphasize that while the Rabelaisian corpus may yet serve as the standard referent, hallmark or even touchstone of the scatological in Early Modem European works, critical inquiry must move beyond this so that readers may extend and deepen their understanding of what the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses simply as ‘dirty literature.’Achieving a new respect for, contributing knowledge to and fostering interest in Early Modern scatology within the realm of literary and art history studies would mean, without blush or shame, that this collection has been ‘well shat’ (bien chié). To each generation its idiom; for discerning readers and spectators to gauge its value without prejudice.