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Manon Lescaut (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 9 Oct 2008
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'an excellent new translation of Manon Lescaut, with a number of useful and welcome features' (MLR)
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Top Customer Reviews
The full title is actually 'The Story of the Chevalier Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut' (so as far as the author is concerned there's not one but two protagonists!), and originally it was part of a larger collection of works by Prévost, the 'Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality' in which the (fictional) Monsieur de Renoncour writes down his memoirs. And one of these memoirs is a tale told to him by the Chevalier des Grieux, whom Renoncour says to have met twice. So here's a first twist: what we get is not the story of the Chevalier des Grieux and Manon told by some omniscient author, but the Chevalier's version, as written down by Renoncour which means we're twice removed from the version Manon herself would have told had she been given the opportunity...
The story itself is easily summarized: the Chevalier des Grieux, a young man of noble birth, at a chance encounter falls head over heels in love with Manon, who is of lower class. Together they elope to Paris and after several adventures come to an unhappy end. Seems simple, doesn't it? And yet, old and short (a mere 146 pages in this edition) as it is, Prévost's tale keeps on fascinating readers, perhaps most of all because it is open to many different interpretations. Is Manon a calculating thief and a whore and the Chevalier her dupe? Or is she a thoroughly modern woman and he an egoistic nobleman? And just how reliable is the Chevalier as a witness? It's hard to tell a lot of the time, and Prévost leaves ample room for ambiguities.Read more ›
The tale itself is a simple one, the Chevalier des Grieux falls head over heels in love with Manon Lescaut. The only thing is that Manon loves pleasure, she loves presents and things that glitter, she loves being entertained, and that takes a lot of money. Des Grieux has to find ways to make money to keep his woman, otherwise, despite professing undying love for des Grieux she is off with another man. This tale takes us through their many trials and tribulations.
Why this works more than other books of the time is that this isn't about class so much, or even the greed for money, it is about what money can bring you and the fun you can have. Loved in the Romantic period, and up unto today this is short, a simple plot, but cleverly realised and very powerful to read.
I loved it all these years ago and I love it now. Interestingly, my response to the ending is very different now. As an easily moved 19 yr old I cried at the end. I must have grown cynical somewhere along the way, since I felt a lot less sympathy for the main characters this time. What we have here is a continuous cycle of boy meets girl, girl treats boy badly, boy forgives and trusts again, reader starts to lose patience with boy for his stupidity ..... yet somehow it makes for compelling reading, so why not buy and try?
The plot is simple. Chevalier Des Grieux defies his family to follow his heart when he meets a young girl from a less wealthy background. The course of true love does not run smooth for the young lovers and there are many obstacles in their way, including imprisonment. No matter what happens, Chevalier remains steadfast and in love. To say more would be to give away too much, but I can recommend this book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Des Grieux begins the story in seminary school, and leaves the holy life to become a cheat and a gambler, in hopes of earning the fortune that his expensive girlfriend would require to be faithful. The fatal flaw of Manon that leads to tragedy is this: she loves pleasure, and if her young boyfriend doesn't obtain it for her, she will find a sponsor who will. The fatal flaw of Des Grieux is that he loves Manon and will do anything to keep her faithful. The events in the novel resemble the scandalous adventures of their author.
Abbé Prevost lived a life of travel. He was religious novice who abandoned the church several times, for one reason or another (to become a professional soldier, to work in publishing, to get thrown in jail, etc.). He had a relationship with a courtesan in Holland, which may have been the model for this story. He wrote this book called "L'Histoire du chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut" and tried to smuggle copies into France, but it was caught at customs and refused entry. The book has since had an enormous influence on French literature, and the literature of the Western world.
Most critics put forth that Manon doesn't want to cheat, but that her love of pleasure forces her to, when her young boyfriend cannot afford to give her what she desires. I would put forth that Manon actually wants to cheat on Des Grieux, or at least, she has opposing wills within herself. First of all, she never asked for the relationship with Des Grieux. He came to her rescue when she was waiting to be condemned to a nunnery and he literally saved her. Then he astounded her with his perfect, unconditional, Christ-like love. Women, however, often fall for the bad boy, leaving the meek nice-guy behind. What Manon is uniting with in her affairs with wealthy, lecherous older men, is the corrupt masculine figure--while she leaves her weaker caregiver at home. The relationship is doomed from the beginning as Manon's nature doesn't correspond to her lover's vision of her. Des Grieux believes the face of an angel must possess the soul of an angel. We are reminded of Myshkin and Nastasia Fillipovna in Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." Alexander Dumas Fils works "Manon Lescaut" into the plot his novel "La Dame aux Camelias," which tells the story of another innocent-looking courtesan.
The ending is powerful, so I won't give it away, and reading the book, you will form your own idea of how much Manon loves Des Grieux. If you like "Manon Lescaut," you will probably also be interested in "Atala" by Chateaubriand; "Paul et Virginie" by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre; "Carmen" by Prosper Mérimée; and "Rooftop Soliloquy" by Roman Payne.
However, the digital version (the Kindle edition) could be better. When I read the samle I was impressed that all the notes in the introduction worked so well, (they are mostly source references), and therefore I assumed that the explanatory notes in the rest of the book also would be accessible at a click, but they are not.
I'm hoping that the edition will be updated and the that the notes will be made more accessible. However, in the meantime I'll provide some help: The explanatory notes for the novel are at location 2533. It is a bit bothersome to flip back and forth but it can be done, especially if you bookmark it to begin with, before starting to read.
The evil temptress draws him into her web of deceit by exhibiting a demure, shy, and vulnerable presence that is housed in a lovely, slight frame.
He experiences all of the humiliation and pain that being in love with an unchaste, unethical person can bring to a trusting boy.
I love the way that Jesuit trained Prevost uses words to bring the reader into the story and describe the complete destruction of the psyche of a young boy who had been so adored and protected by his father.
Written by Abbé Prévost and set against the backdrop of the urban lower class society of eighteenth century Paris, the story internalises the ecstasy and the agony of Des Grieux’s love for Manon Lescaut.
The intensity of his passion blinds him to his own sense of reason, even when confronted by Manon’s deceit. His conscience tells him that her conduct is wrong as the torment inflicted upon him by her actions tears him apart. But, despite everything, his love for her remains steadfast, untouched by the ravages of his raw suffering. This is characterised in the synopsis which beautifully describes the book as an 'mperishable story of the warfare between the flesh and the spirit common to all mankind'.
It’s hard to imagine a story so insightful could be written without drawing upon a degree of personal experience. Stylistically, the prose is measured, clear and economical with few digressions. It’s almost as though every word has earnt the right to be there with not a syllable wasted.
Manon Lescaut is a celebration of the ambiguities of love, its passion, its joy and its pain. For Des Grieux, his arduous emotional journey is nothing more than a mere consequence of his desire and enduring love for Manon Lescaut.