Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost

Manon Lescaut

I’ve finished Manon Lescaut, surprise surprise! Remember last week I told you that I was delighted to be able to finish Animal Farm? I seem to have picked up a momentum and finish another book. Apparently short book and deadline are the key (the deadline is for The Fiction of Relationship coursera course which I also mentioned last time). Can’t be happier!

Manon Lescaut (original title: L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a French 18th century classic (published 1753), which is relatively unknown today, but it was a popular novel at the time, much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Somewhat comparable to R+J since it is also story of a couple, Manon Lescaut is different in a lot of ways. In fact I probably wouldn’t compare the two at all. For one, R+J is a play while Manon Lescaut was written as novel. The story is told purely from the side of the male lover. It injects controversial ideas for its time and was banned upon publication.

I have to say that it took me the entire book to warm up to the protagonist. Most of the time I wanted to slap him in the head and my eyes rolled to the back of my head at times by how dramatic he could be. The man is so passionately and foolishly in love with the woman, Manon, that he appears to be delusional. Manon is not on the higher ground, as she is the equivalent of a high-class prostitute or courtesan. The book felt high-charged erotically though nothing is ever explicit and everything is shown to be chaste (probably typical of works in that era).

Though short and with the incentive of the course coverage, I don’t think I’d be able to finish it if Manon Lescaut weren’t good in itself. The story has a nice pace, the language — dramatic and translation as it is — is interesting to read, and you do want to know what happens to the characters next. The last probably is the most important factor of them all to make you keep reading.

The complexity of the book, the layers, the human relationship, and the portrayed society would surely be discussed more in the class. But purely as a novel I thought Manon Lescaut delivers, and I quite like how it is ended.

Abbé Prévost
Abbé Prévost (1697-1763)

Now to finish Jane Eyre for the second week. I’ve been 80% in since last year…

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