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Alain-René Lesage

Alain-René Lesage

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Alain-René Lesage was a French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 novelist and playwright
Playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks (1707, Le Diable boiteux), his comedy Turcaret
Turcaret
Turcaret is a comedy by Alain-René Lesage, first produced on 14 February 1709 at the Comédie-Française. It is considered one of Lesage's most important works....

(1709), and his picaresque novel Gil Blas
Gil Blas
Gil Blas is a picaresque novel by Alain-René Lesage published between 1715 and 1735. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of the picaresque genre.-Plot summary:...

(1715–1735).

Youth and education


Claude Lesage, the father of the novelist, held the united positions of advocate, notary and registrar of the royal court in Rhuys. His mother's name was Jeanne Brenugat. Both Lesage's father and mother died when Lesage was very young, and he was left in the care of his uncle who wasted his education and fortune. Père Bochard, of the Order of the Jesuits, Principal of the College in Vannes
Vannes
Vannes is a commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France. It was founded over 2000 years ago.-Geography:Vannes is located on the Gulf of Morbihan at the mouth of two rivers, the Marle and the Vincin. It is around 100 km northwest of Nantes and 450 km south west...

, became interested in the boy on account of his natural talents. Bochard cultivated Lesage's taste for literature. At age 25, Lesage went to Paris in 1693 "to pursue his philosophical studies".

In August 1694, he married the daughter of a joiner, Marie Elizabeth Huyard. She was beautiful but had no fortune, and Lesage had little practice. About this time he encountered an old schoolfellow, the dramatist Antoine Danchet
Antoine Danchet
Antoine Danchet was a French playwright, librettist and dramatic poet.-Biography:Danchet was born in Riom, in the Auvergne, France. Having been a professor of rhetoric at Chartres and then a tutor at Paris, Danchet gaveup teaching to write for the theatre. He wrote some opera libretti which, set...

, who is said to have advised him to take up literature. He began as a translator, and published in 1695 a French version of the Epistles of Aristaenetus
Aristaenetus
Aristaenetus was an ancient Greek epistolographer who flourished in the 5th or 6th century AD. He was formerly identified with Aristaenetus of Nicaea , who perished in an earthquake at Nicomedia, 358, but internal evidence points to a much later date...

, which was not successful. Shortly afterwards he found a valuable patron and adviser in the Abbé de Lyonne, who bestowed on him an annuity of 600 livres, and recommended him to exchange the classics for Spanish literature
Spanish literature
Spanish literature generally refers to literature written in the Spanish language within the territory that presently constitutes the state of Spain...

, of which he was himself a student and collector. Spanish literature was once very popular in France when the queens of the house of Austria sat upon the throne, but had become neglected by Lesage's time.

First literary efforts



Lesage began by translating plays chiefly from Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla
Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla
Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla was a Spanish dramatist. The main pieces of Rojas Zorrilla are Del rey abajo ninguno and No hay padre siendo rey .-Biography:...

 and Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega
Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright and poet. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century Baroque literature...

. Le Traître puni and Le Point d'honneur from the former and Don Félix de Mendoce from the latter were acted or published in the first two or three years of the 18th century. In 1704, he translated the continuation of Don Quixote by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda
Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda
In 1614 a sequel to Cervantes' Don Quixote was published under the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. The identity of Fernández de Avellaneda has been the subject of many theories, but there is no consensus on who he was...

, and soon afterwards adapted a play from Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño usually referred as Pedro Calderón de la Barca , was a dramatist, poet and writer of the Spanish Golden Age. During certain periods of his life he was also a soldier and a Roman Catholic priest...

, Don César Ursin, which was successful at court and damned in the city. Lesage was, however, nearly forty before he obtained decided success. In 1707, his farce, Crispin rival de son maître
Crispin rival de son maitre
Crispin rival de son maître is a farce in one act by Alain-René Lesage first produced in 1707. Its plot concerns the effort of a valet who, rather than try to further his masters interests as is typical of the period, tries to supplant that master in love and gain....

, was well received, and (with a frontispiece
Book frontispiece
A frontispiece is a decorative illustration facing a book's title page. The frontispiece is the verso opposite the recto title page. Elaborate engraved frontispieces were in frequent use, especially in Bibles and in scholarly books, and many are masterpieces of engraving...

 by Louise-Magdeleine Horthemels
Louise-Magdeleine Horthemels
Louise-Magdeleine Horthemels, or Louise-Madeleine Hortemels, also called Magdeleine Horthemels , was a French engraver, the mother of Charles-Nicolas Cochin...

) was published and ran to several editions. Lesage altered and improved this play in 1725, giving it its present form. Notwithstanding the success of Crispin, the actors did not like Lesage, and refused a small piece of his called Les Étrennes (1707). He thereupon altered it into Turcaret
Turcaret
Turcaret is a comedy by Alain-René Lesage, first produced on 14 February 1709 at the Comédie-Française. It is considered one of Lesage's most important works....

(1709), considered his theatrical masterpiece.

Prose writings


Some years passed before he again attempted romance writing, and then the first two parts of Gil Blas de Santillane were published in 1715, without the popularity of Le Diable boiteux. Lesage worked at it for a long time, and did not bring out the third part till 1724, nor the fourth till 1735. During these twenty years he was, however, continually busy. Notwithstanding the great merit and success of Turcaret and Crispin, the Théâtre Français did not welcome him, and in 1715 he began to write for the Théâtre de la foire
Théâtre de la foire
Théâtre de la foire is the collective name given to the theatre put on at the annual fairs at Saint-Germain and Saint-Laurent in Paris.-Foire Saint-Germain:The earliest references to the annual fair date to 1176...

, the comic opera held in booths at festival time. According to one computation he produced, either alone or with others, about a hundred pieces, varying from strings of songs with no regular dialogues, to comediettas only distinguished from regular plays by the introduction of music. He was also industrious in prose fiction. Besides finishing Gil Blas
Gil Blas
Gil Blas is a picaresque novel by Alain-René Lesage published between 1715 and 1735. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of the picaresque genre.-Plot summary:...

he translated the Orlando innamorato (1721), rearranged Guzman d'Alfarache (1732), published two more or less original novels, Le Bachelier de Salamanque and Estevanille Gonzalez, and in 1733 produced the Vie et aventures de M. de Beauchesne, which resembles certain works of Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe , born Daniel Foe, was an English trader, writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain and along with others such as Richardson,...

. Besides all this, Lesage was also the author of La Valise trouvée, a collection of imaginary letters, and of some minor pieces including Une journée des Parques. He did not retire until 1740, when he was more than seventy years of age; he and his wife went to live with his second son, who was a canon at Boulogne-sur-Mer
Boulogne-sur-Mer
-Road:* Metropolitan bus services are operated by the TCRB* Coach services to Calais and Dunkerque* A16 motorway-Rail:* The main railway station is Gare de Boulogne-Ville and located in the south of the city....

. Lesage's eldest son, Louis-André, had become an actor, and Lesage had disowned him. Lesage's last work, Mélange amusant de saillies d'esprit et de traits historiques les plus frappants, appeared in 1743.

Retirement


To his wife, he had three sons and a daughter whose filial piety made her devote her entire life to serving her genius father. Though he lived happily, one event embittered Lesage for years. His eldest son had been educated for the bar, but insisted going on stage. Lesage, who had often painted the life of the actor in the most ridiculous and hateful aspect, was pained by his son's career choice, especially when his son joined the Theater Français, against which Lesage had long waged a satirical war. Probably out of deference to his father, the son took the name Montménil, and by the merit of his talents and private character, soon entered the upper society of Paris. Lesage reconciled with his son many years later and became so devoted to Montménil that he could barely leave his side.

Montménil caught cold during a hunting party and died on 8 September 1743. This was such a severe blow to Lesage, that he retired forever from Paris and the world. Lesage's youngest son had also become an actor under the name Pittenec, so Lesage and his wife saw out their old age in the home of their second son who had become the Abbé Lesage (Abbott Lesage). This son had been made a Canon of the Cathedral of Boulogne, through the patronage of the queen, and been bestowed a fair pension.

Lesage lived beyond 80 years of age, but was afflicted with deafness and had to use an ear trumpet. However, his conversation was so delightful that when he ventured into the world and frequented his favourite coffee house in Rue St. Jacques in Paris, guests would gather around him, climbing onto tables and chairs, to hear his famous words of wit and wisdom.

Alain-René Lesage died on 17 November 1747.

Personality


Very little is known of Lesage's life and personality. The few anecdotes which we have of him represent him as a very independent man, declining to accept the literary patronage required to survive. One story tells of the time he had been entreated to read his manuscript (according the fashion of the day) at the Hôtel de Bouillon by the Duchess. The hour appointed for the reading was noon, but the dramatist was still very interested in legal matters and was detained until 1 o'clock attending the decision of a lawsuit. When he finally appeared at the Hôtel
Hotel
A hotel is an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short-term basis. The provision of basic accommodation, in times past, consisting only of a room with a bed, a cupboard, a small table and a washstand has largely been replaced by rooms with modern facilities, including en-suite bathrooms...

 and attempted to apologise, the Duchess of Bouillon
Duchess of Bouillon
-Ardennes-Bouillon dynasty, ?-1100:-House of La Marck, ?-1588 :-House of La Tour d'Auvergne, 1594-1794 :-House of La Tour d'Auvergne, 1794-1802 :-House of Rohan, since 1816 :...

 was so cold and haughty, observing that he had made her guests lose one hour waiting for his arrival. "It is easy to make up the loss madame", replied Lesage; "I will not read my comedy, and thus you will gain two hours." With that, he left the Hôtel and could never be persuaded to go to the Duchess's house again.

Works


Translations and adaptions
  • Le Traître puni, 1700
  • Don Félix de Mendoce, 1700
  • Point d'honneur, 1702 (French version)
  • Second Book of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, 1704
  • Orlando innamorato, 1721
  • Guzman d'Alfarache, 1732 (French version)


Plays
  • Don César Ursin, 1707 (French version)
  • Les Étrennes, 1707
  • Crispin rival de son maître
    Crispin rival de son maitre
    Crispin rival de son maître is a farce in one act by Alain-René Lesage first produced in 1707. Its plot concerns the effort of a valet who, rather than try to further his masters interests as is typical of the period, tries to supplant that master in love and gain....

    , 1707 (French version)
  • Turcaret
    Turcaret
    Turcaret is a comedy by Alain-René Lesage, first produced on 14 February 1709 at the Comédie-Française. It is considered one of Lesage's most important works....

    , 1709
  • Arlequin roi de Serendib
    Arlequin roi de Serendib
    Arlequin roi de Serendib is a three-act farce by Alain-René Lesage. It was first performed at the Foire Saint-Germain in 1713.-Plot summary:After being marooned on the island of Serendib, Pierrot and Mezzetin are separated from Arlequin...

    , 1713
  • La Foire de Guibray
    La Foire de Guibray
    La Foire de Guibray is a one act farce by Alain-René Lesage. It was first performed at the Foire de Saint Laurent in 1714. La Foire de Guibray is actually a prologue to two other one act farces, Arlequin Mahomet and Le Tombeau de Nostradamus...

    , 1714
  • Arlequin Mahomet
    Arlequin Mahomet
    Arlequin Mahomet is a one act farce by Alain-René Lesage. It was first performed at the Foire de Saint Laurent in 1714. Arlequin Mahomet was performed as the second play in a series consisting of La Foire de Guibray and Le Tombeau de Nostradamus...

    , 1714
  • La Statue merveilleuse (fair play, with d'Orneval), 1720 (French version)


Novels, 1707. (French version) (tr. The Devil upon Two Sticks, The Devil on Two Sticks; English version)
  • Gil Blas
    Gil Blas
    Gil Blas is a picaresque novel by Alain-René Lesage published between 1715 and 1735. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of the picaresque genre.-Plot summary:...

    (English version, French)
    • Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, (Livres I-VI), 1715. (French version)
    • Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, (Livres VII-IX), 1724. (French version)
    • Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, (Livres X-XII), 1735. (French version)
    • Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, 1747. -
  • Vie et aventures de M. de Beauchesne, 1733 (French version)
  • Le Bachelier de Salamanque, 1736. (French version)
  • Estevanille Gonzalez, 1732
  • La Valise trouvée, 1740 (French version)
  • Mélange amusant de saillies d'esprit et de traits historiques les plus frappants, 1743

External links


Attribution