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Manon Lescaut (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 26 Sep 1991
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When the young Chevalier des Grieux first sets eyes on the exquisitely beautiful and charming Manon Lescaut they fall passionately in love. But his happiness turns to bitter despair when he discovers that Manon is mercenary and immoral, and has taken a rich lover to pay for their life of pleasure. A broken man, he swears to stay away from her, but cannot. Just as the Chevalier is helpless to end their relationship, so Manon is incapable of giving up the source of her income, and the lovers enter a destructive cycle that can only end in tragedy. Manon Lescaut (1731) is a devastating depiction of obsessive love and a haunting portrait of a captivating but dangerous woman.
About the Author
Antoine-Francois Prevost was born in 1697. Educated by the Jesuits, he entered the army, later returning to the Jesuits, before becoming a Benedictine monk with the congregation of Saint-Maur. However, his taste for the wordly life led him to flee the cloister in 1728 after which he spent the next six years in exile in Holland. He began writing in 1728 and Mamon Lescaut casued a sensation on its publication in 1731. He died in 1763.
Leonard Tancock was a Fellow of University College, London until his death in 1986. He translated many works from French for the Penguin Classics.
Jean Sgard is a Professor of French Literature at the Stendhal University in Grenoble.
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This is a very modern read for a book that has been in print for approaching 300 years and has produced opera and ballet spin-offs together with numerous literary references. Don't imagine you will get bogged down in 'ye olde English'. It is short and the Dedalus translation was a pleasure.
A simple tale really, does Manon truly, madly, deeply love Chevalier des Grieux or is she a promiscuous jackdaw? Just to add yet more doubt there is a potentially unreliable male narrator (des Grieux), recounting the story to the male Man of Quality, written by the the male Abbe. I think a feminist might have something to say about those odds! A wonderful, deeply ambiguous book that was a joy to discover.
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.
As you would expect with this Penguin edition, there is a very good introduction, and notes.
She can't turn down her creature comforts, even when it means sacrificing her "true love," her Romeo, for an older, but more solvent, lover, in instance after instance.
Manon is one of the first unsympathetic heroines in literature (let's forget about Eve if we can) , a precursor of Emma Bovary in many respects. Let's also remember that she appears in during the , "golden age" of sentimental fiction in France and Europe generally (the ealry 1700s) . Women are depicted in this era as archetypically virtuous and angelic, or unambiguously sexual (thinking particularly of the late Restoration English stage). What we have in Manon is an amalgam, neither entirely saint, nor entirely sinner. She is the Madonna and the Magdaleine, part angel, part succubus, but an entirely new persona on the European literary stage. This is the reason that she had such an impression on the European artistic imagination. She represents a new dichotomy, a new figure that represents what Henry Adams would have suggested as a representation of the sacred and the profane, the mud and the cathedral.
The books writer was a man of deep culture and the use of the language: form and content makes it an enjoyable lecture.
This is a book that can satisfy both: the light reader (Manon's adventures are a joy to follow) and the earnest reader (with a deep knowledge of the period).
I would highly recommend this if you are interested in the flaws of human nature as the heroine of this short novel has so much to teach us and continues to shock us even in the 21st century.
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