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Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut

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Manon Lescaut is a short novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by French
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...

An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 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
Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion. The word was coined from the Latin controversia, as a composite of controversus – "turned in an opposite direction," from contra – "against" – and vertere – to turn, or versus , hence, "to turn...

 in its time and was ban
Ban (law)
A ban is, generally, any decree that prohibits something.Bans are formed for the prohibition of activities within a certain political territory. Some see this as a negative act and others see it as maintaining the "status quo"...

ned in 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...

 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
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...

 and Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 in the early 18th century, the story follows the hero le 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
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, 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 from 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 settle down in New Orleans, where the virtual absence of class differences allows them to 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 flees New Orleans and venture into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to reach a neighbouring English settlement. Manon dies of exposure and exhaustion the following morning, and Des Grieux returns to France to become a cleric after burying his beloved.

Operas and Ballets

The story has influenced a number of ballets and operas, such as:
  • Manon Lescaut
    Manon Lescaut (Auber)
    Manon Lescaut is an opera or opéra comique in 3 acts by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber to a libretto by Eugène Scribe, and, like Puccini's Manon Lescaut and Massenet's Manon, is based on the Abbé Prévost's story Manon Lescaut...

    (1856), an opera by French composer Daniel Auber
    Daniel Auber
    Daniel François Esprit Auber was a French composer.-Biography:The son of a Paris print-seller, Auber was born in Caen in Normandy. Though his father expected him to continue in the print-selling business, he also allowed his son to learn how to play several musical instruments...

  • Manon
    Manon is an opéra comique in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost...

    (1884), an opera by French composer Jules Massenet
    Jules Massenet
    Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer best known for his operas. His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet's style went out of fashion, and many of his operas...

  • Manon Lescaut
    Manon Lescaut (Puccini)
    Manon Lescaut is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini. The story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost....

    (1893), an opera by Italian
    Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

     composer Giacomo Puccini
    Giacomo Puccini
    Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire...

  • Boulevard Solitude
    Boulevard Solitude
    Boulevard Solitutde is a Lyrisches Drama or opera in one act by Hans Werner Henze to a German libretto by Grete Weil after the play by Walter Jockisch, in its turn a modern telling of François Prévost's Manon Lescaut. The premiere was on February 17, 1952 at the Landestheater, Hanover...

    "Lyrisches Drama" (lyric drama) or opera by German
    Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

     composer Hans Werner Henze
    Hans Werner Henze
    Hans Werner Henze is a German composer of prodigious output best known for "his consistent cultivation of music for the theatre throughout his life"...

  • L'histoire de Manon
    L'histoire de Manon
    L'histoire de Manon is a ballet comprising the music of Jules Massenet, arranged and partially orchestrated by British composer Leighton Lucas, re-orchestrated entirely by conductor Martin Yates in 2011...

    (1974), a ballet with music by Jules Massenet
    Jules Massenet
    Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet was a French composer best known for his operas. His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet's style went out of fashion, and many of his operas...

  • Manon Lescaut (1830), a ballet by Jean-Louis Aumer.

Works that cite Manon Lescaut

In the novel The Lady of the Camellias
The Lady of the Camellias
The Lady of the Camellias is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, first published in 1848, and subsequently adapted for the stage. The Lady of the Camellias premiered at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris, France on February 2, 1852. The play was an instant success, and Giuseppe Verdi immediately set...

by Alexandre Dumas, fils
Alexandre Dumas, fils
Alexandre Dumas, fils was a French author and dramatist. He was the son of Alexandre Dumas, père, also a writer and playwright.-Biography:...

, Manon Lescaut is an all-important model and point of comparison for Marguerite's life, loves and death and is extensively discussed. In the opening pages, the narrator encounters a copy of Manon Lescaut in the auction of Marguerite Gautier's estate, and buys it. The narrator reflects that while Marguerite died in a "sumptuous bed" and Manon died in the desert, in her lovers arms, Marguerite's death was nevertheless worse, for she 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 tells him that Marguerite read the story of Manon Lescaut "over and over again" making notes in the margins, and she "always declared 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 4 of Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine...

, Dorian leafs through a copy of Manon Lescaut while waiting for Lord Henry.

In Book II chapter 28 of Stendhal
Marie-Henri Beyle , better known by his pen name Stendhal, was a 19th-century French writer. Known for his acute analysis of his characters' psychology, he is considered one of the earliest and foremost practitioners of realism in his two novels Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme...

's novel Le Rouge et le Noir, 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 controversial novel Sinister Street
Sinister Street
Sinister Street is a 1913-14 novel by Compton Mackenzie. It is a kind of bildungsroman or novel about growing up, and concerns two children, Michael Fane and his sister Stella...

, reads Manon Lescaut just before plunging into his own hopeless pursuit of a 'fallen woman'.

In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch was an Austrian writer and journalist, who gained renown for his romantic stories of Galician life. The term masochism is derived from his name....

's Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs
Venus in Furs
Venus in Furs is a novella by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the best known of his works. The novel was part of an epic series that Sacher-Masoch envisioned called Legacy of Cain. Venus in Furs was part of Love, the first volume of the series...

), the masochistic hero Severin refers approvingly to the Chevalier's love for Manon even after she has left him for another man.

In the mystery novel Clouds of Witness
Clouds of Witness
Clouds of Witness is a 1926 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, the second in her series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.It was adapted for television in 1972, as part of a series starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.-Plot introduction:...

by Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages...

, Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a bon vivant amateur sleuth in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries; usually, but not always, murders...

 solves the case by reference to Manon Lescaut.

Manon Lescaut is mentioned in a novel written by an important Romanian writer, Mihail Drumes.

In the novel, entitled Invitatie la vals, referring to Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria von Weber
Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

's "Invitation to the Dance
Invitation to the Dance (Weber)
Invitation to the Dance , Op. 65, J. 260, is a piano piece in rondo form written by Carl Maria von Weber in 1819. It is also well known in the 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz...

" (later orchestrated by Berlioz), a comparison is made between the novel's main character and Manon Lescaut.

Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval
Vítezslav Nezval
Vítězslav Nezval was one of the most prolific avant-garde Czech writers in the first half of the twentieth century and a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Czechoslovakia....

 wrote an adaptation of Manon Lescaut in form of verse drama. Nezval's version was written in year 1940 for theatre of Emil František Burian
Emil František Burian
Emil František Burian was a Czech poet, journalist, singer, actor, musician, composer, dramatic adviser, playwright and director. He was also active in Communist Party of Czechoslovakia politics.- Life :...

. 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, centre of each act is a ballade
The ballade is a form of French poetry. It was one of the three formes fixes and one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries....

. 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 de Grieux). In similar way Nezval adapted The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first serialized in March–July 1844. Set in the 17th century, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan after he leaves home to travel to Paris, to join the Musketeers of the Guard...


The novel is mentioned at the very end of Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

's Life of infamous men.

Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

 refers to Puccini's Des Grieux a number of times in his early short story "Under the Rose," found in his Slow Learner
Slow Learner
Slow Learner is the 1984 published collection of six early novellas by the American novelist Thomas Pynchon, originally published in various sources between 1959 and 1964.The book is also notable for its introduction, written by Pynchon...

collection, as well as in V.

North Gladiola, a 1985 novel by James Wilcox
James Wilcox
James Wilcox is an American novelist and a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge. James Wilcox worked at Random House and Doubleday in New York after graduating from Yale...

, 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
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

's Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake is a novel by Irish author James Joyce, significant for its experimental style and resulting reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years, and published in 1939, two years before the author's...

at 203.21 as "Nanon L'Escaut", which also refers to the 17th-century French courtesan Ninon de l'Enclos
Ninon de l'Enclos
Anne "Ninon" de l'Enclos also spelled Ninon de Lenclos and Ninon de Lanclos was a French author, courtesan and patron of the arts.-Early life:...

 and to the Escaut River.

Manon is also referenced in the films Manon des Sources (1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri) and Jean de Florette
Jean de Florette
Jean de Florette is a 1986 French historical drama film directed by Claude Berri, based on a novel by Marcel Pagnol. It is part of a duology, and is followed by Manon des Sources. The film takes place in rural Provence, where two local farmers scheme to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited...

(entitled Ugolin in 1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri). Pagnol's 1962-1964 novels were derived from his movie. Beyond the name of the heroine, her grandmother was referenced as having sung Manon.

The film Lady of the Tropics (1939), directed by Jack Conway, with Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress celebrated for her great beauty who was a major contract star of MGM's "Golden Age".Lamarr also co-invented – with composer George Antheil – an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping, necessary to wireless...

 and Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor (actor)
Robert Taylor was an American film and television actor.-Early life:Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, he was the son of Ruth Adaline and Spangler Andrew Brugh, who was a farmer turned doctor...

 is said to be inspired by the novel.


Some films and TV series have been based on the novel. The most prominent are:
  • Manon Lescaut (1926), directed by Arthur Robison
    Arthur Robison
    Arthur Robison was a German film director and screenwriter of the silent era. He directed 20 films between 1916 and 1935.-Selected filmography:* A Night of Horror...

    , with Lya de Putti
    Lya De Putti
    Lya De Putti was a Hungarian film actress of the silent era, noted for her portrayal of vamp characters.-Early life and career:...

  • When a Man Loves
    When a Man Loves
    Manon Lescaut is a 1926 silent German feature film based on the oft-filmed novel by Abbe Prevost. It stars Lya De Putti and was directed by Arthur Robison. It was produced and distributed by renown German film company Universum Film AG better known as UFA. A young actress named Marlene Dietrich had...

    (1927), directed by Alan Crosland
    Alan Crosland
    Alan Crosland was an American stage actor and film director.-Early life and career:Born in New York City, New York to a well-to-do family, Alan Crosland attended Dartmouth College. After graduation he took a job as a writer with the New York Globe magazine...

    , with John Barrymore
    John Barrymore
    John Sidney Blyth , better known as John Barrymore, was an acclaimed American actor. He first gained fame as a handsome stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III...

     and Dolores Costello
    Dolores Costello
    Dolores Costello was an American film actress who achieved her greatest success during the era of silent movies. She was nicknamed "The Goddess of the Silent Screen"...

  • Manon Lescaut (1940), directed by Carmine Gallone
    Carmine Gallone
    Carmine Gallone was an early acclaimed Italian film director, screenwriter, and film producer. Considered one of Italian cinema's top early directors, he directed over 120 films in his fifty year career between 1913 and 1963.-Filmography:*Il bacio di Cirano *La donna nuda *Senza colpa! *Fior di...

    , with Vittorio de Sica
    Vittorio de Sica
    Vittorio De Sica was an Italian director and actor, a leading figure in the neorealist movement....

     and Alida Valli
    Alida Valli
    Alida Valli , sometimes simply credited as Valli, was an Italian actress who appeared in more than 100 films, including Mario Soldati's Piccolo mondo antico, Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, Carol Reed's The Third Man, Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido, Luchino Visconti's Senso, Bernardo...

  • Manon
    Manon (film)
    Manon is a 1949 French film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. It is an adaptation of the 1731 novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost. Clouzot updates the setting to World War II, making the story about a French Resistance fighter who rescues a woman from villagers convinced she is a Nazi...

    (1949), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Henri-Georges Clouzot was a French film director, screenwriter and producer. He is best remembered for his work in the thriller film genre, having directed The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, which are critically recognized to be among the greatest films from the 1950s...

    , with Michel Auclair
    Michel Auclair
    Michel Auclair was an actor of Serbian and French ancestry, known best for his roles in French cinema.Auclair was born Vladimir Vujović to a Serbian father and a French mother in Koblenz. His father was Vojislav Vujović, prominent Yugoslav Communist and secretary of the Communist Youth...

     and Cécile Aubry
    Cécile Aubry
    Cécile Aubry was a French film actress, author, television screenwriter and director.Born Anne-José Madeleine Henriette Bénard, Aubry began her career as a dancer...

  • Manon 70
    Manon 70
    Manon 70 is a 1968 French film starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Claude Brialy and Sammy Frey. The screenplay was written by Jean Aurel with Cécil Saint-Laurent and directed by Jean Aurel....

    , directed by Jean Aurel
    Jean Aurel
    Jean Aurel was a French film director and scriptwriter.-Selected filmography:* 14-18 * De l'amour * Lamiel * Manon 70 * Les femmes...

    , released in 1968 and starring Catherine Deneuve
    Catherine Deneuve
    Catherine Deneuve is a French actress. She gained recognition for her portrayal of aloof and mysterious beauties in films such as Repulsion and Belle de jour . Deneuve was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1993 for her performance in Indochine; she also won César Awards for that...


Popular music

Yoshimi Iwasaki
Yoshimi Iwasaki
Yoshimi Iwasaki is a singer and actress. She is notable for singing various theme songs for the TV anime series Touch. In 2008, she joined the fantasy band Sound Horizon for the release of their 6th story CD Moira...

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

English translations

For the original 1731 version of the novel, Helen Waddell's (1931) is considered the best. 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
Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer is an Australian writer, academic, journalist and scholar of early modern English literature, widely regarded as one of the most significant feminist voices of the later 20th century....


External links