Manon Lescaut

This article is about the novel by Prévost. For other uses, see Manon Lescaut (disambiguation).
First page of the redacted 1753 edition of Manon LescautD

Manon Lescaut (L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a short novel by French author Abbé Prévost. Published in 1731, it is the seventh and final volume of Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité (Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality). It was controversial in its time and was banned in France upon publication. Despite this, it became very popular and pirated editions were widely distributed. In a subsequent 1753 edition, the Abbé Prévost toned down some scandalous details and injected more moralizing disclaimers.

Plot summary

Set in France and Louisiana in the early 18th century, the story follows the hero, the Chevalier des Grieux, and his lover, Manon Lescaut. Des Grieux comes from a noble and landed family, but forfeits his hereditary wealth and incurs the disappointment of his father by running away with Manon. In Paris, the young lovers enjoy a blissful cohabitation, while Des Grieux struggles to satisfy Manon's taste for luxury. He scrounges together money by borrowing from his unwaveringly loyal friend Tiberge and by cheating gamblers. On several occasions, Des Grieux's wealth evaporates (by theft, in a house fire, etc.), prompting Manon to leave him for a richer man because she cannot stand the thought of living in penury.

The two lovers finally end up in New Orleans, to which Manon has been deported as a prostitute, where they pretend to be married and live in idyllic peace for a while. But when Des Grieux reveals their unmarried state to the Governor and asks to be wed with Manon, the Governor's nephew sets his sights on winning Manon's hand. In despair, Des Grieux challenges the Governor's nephew to a duel and knocks him unconscious. Thinking he had killed the man and fearing retribution, the couple flee New Orleans and venture into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to reach an English settlement. Manon dies of exposure and exhaustion the following morning and, after burying his beloved, Des Grieux is eventually taken back to France by Tiberge.

Later references in art and literature

In the novel The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Manon Lescaut is an all-important model and point of comparison for Marguerite's life, loves, and death. In the opening pages, the narrator encounters a copy of Manon Lescaut in the auction of Marguerite Gautier's estate, and buys it. He reflects that Marguerite died alone in a "sumptuous bed" and Manon in the desert in her lover's arms, concluding that the former is worse, for Marguerite died "in that desert of the heart, a more barren, a vaster, a more pitiless desert than that in which Manon had found her last resting-place." The narrator learns this copy of Manon Lescaut was a gift from Armand to Marguerite, Armand telling him that she read the story "over and over again", making notes in the margins and "declar[ing] that when a woman loves, she can not do as Manon did". (But of course she does because she must: hence the tragedy.) In Act I of Dumas's play The Lady of the Camellias, the characters attend a performance of the ballet Manon Lescaut.

In chapter 2 of Saul Bellow's novelThe Adventures of Augie March, Manon is one of the novels that Grandma Lausch reads.

In chapter 4 of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian leafs through a copy of Manon Lescaut while waiting for Lord Henry.

In Book II chapter 28 of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black, Julien and the woman he pretends to court, Madame de Fervaques, watch the opera Manon Lescaut while Julien is really thinking about his other lovers, Madame de Rênal and Mathilde de la Mole.

Michael Fane, the hero of Compton Mackenzie's novel Sinister Street, reads Manon Lescaut just before plunging into his own hopeless pursuit of a "fallen woman".

In the first letter of Ivan Turgenev's short tale "Faust", the epistle writer mentions a portrait which had been seen as a portrait of Manon Lescaut.

In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs, the masochistic hero Severin refers approvingly to the Chevalier's love for Manon even after she has left him for another man.

Manon features in the first poem of the Czech Decadent Karel Hlaváček's classic Symbolist cycle, Mstivá kantiléna (1898). She is weak and weary, hungry perhaps for food, certainly for sexual fulfilment. The poet addresses her in a rough, hoarse voice, informing her that this is no longer her timid abbe speaking to her.

Aleksandr Kuprin's 1915 Russian classic novel of prostitution, Yama: The Pit, contains a section in which the students bringing culture to the reformed prostitute Liubka read Manon Lescaut aloud to her, moving Liubka to tearfully threaten Manon for her lack of commitment to Des Grieux.

Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval wrote an adaptation of Manon Lescaut in the form of a verse drama. Nezval's version was written in the year 1940 for the theatre of Emil František Burian. In Czech literature it is traditionally considered as better than Prévost's original and as one of Nezval's masterpieces. Nezval's drama has seven acts, the centre of each of which is a ballade. Manon Lescaut is still widely read in Nezval's version. It was also adapted to film (1970, directed by Josef Henke, starring Jana Preissová as Manon, Petr Štěpánek as Des Grieux).

Thomas Pynchon refers to Puccini's Des Grieux a number of times in his early short story "Under the Rose", found in his Slow Learner collection, as well as in V.

North Gladiola, a 1985 novel by James Wilcox, opens with a reference to Manon Lescaut, and mentions the character again later in the text.

The title of the novel is paraphrased in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake at 203.21 as "Nanon L'Escaut", which also refers to the 17th-century French courtesan Ninon de l'Enclos and to the Escaut River.

In the novel Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood Miss Henderson was reading the book on the train when her mother was murdered.

In the novel Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers, the plot of Manon Lescaut provides the crucial clue that enables Lord Peter Wimsey to solve the mystery.

Manon is also referred to in the films Manon des Sources (1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri) and Jean de Florette (entitled Ugolin in 1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri). Pagnol's 1962-1964 novels were derived from his movie. Note the name of the heroine, and the report of her grandmother as having sung Manon.

The film Lady of the Tropics (1939), directed by Jack Conway, with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Taylor is said to be inspired by the novel.

The manga Shinigami no Aria by AKIO Mimi uses the story as its main theme.

Manon is mentioned early in the Japanese film series The Human Condition.

Yoshimi Iwasaki's (岩崎良美) 1980 hit song Anata iro no Manon (あなた色のマノン) is about Manon Lescaut.


Dramas, operas and ballets




For the original 1731 version of the novel, Helen Waddell's (1931) is considered the best of the English translations. For the 1753 revision, the best are by L. W. Tancock (Penguin, 1949—though he divides the 2-part novel into a number of chapters), Donald M. Frame (Signet, 1961—which notes differences between the 1731 and 1753 editions), Angela Scholar (Oxford, 2004, with extensive notes and commentary), and Andrew Brown (Hesperus, 2004, with a foreword by Germaine Greer).

Henri Valienne (1854-1908), a physician and author of the first novel in the constructed language Esperanto, translated Manon Lescaut into that language. His translation was published at Paris in 1908, and reissued by the British Esperanto Association in 1926.



External links

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