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Manon Lescaut

First page of the redacted 1753 edition of Manon Lescaut.

Manon Lescaut (L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a short novel by French author 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 in its time and was banned in 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. The novel has been adapted into a film, directed in 2013 by Gabriel Aghion. [1]


  • Plot summary 1
  • Dramas, operas and ballets 2
  • Works that cite Manon Lescaut 3
  • Films 4
  • Popular music 5
  • References 6
  • Translations 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10

Plot summary

Set in France and Louisiana in the early 18th century, the story follows the hero, the Chevalier des Grieux, and his lover, Manon Lescaut. Des Grieux comes from noble and landed family, but forfeits his hereditary wealth and incurs the disappointment of his father by running away with Manon. In Paris, 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 flee New Orleans and venture into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to reach a neighboring 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.

Dramas, operas and ballets

The story has influenced a number of ballets and operas, such as:

Works that cite Manon Lescaut

In the novel The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Manon Lescaut is an all-important model and point of comparison for Marguerite's life, loves, and death. In the opening pages, the narrator encounters a copy of Manon Lescaut in the auction of Marguerite Gautier's estate, and buys it. He reflects that Marguerite died alone in a "sumptuous bed" and Manon in the desert in her lover's arms, concluding that the former is worse, for Marguerite 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 telling him that she read the story "over and over again," making notes in the margins and "declar[ing] 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's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian leafs through a copy of Manon Lescaut while waiting for Lord Henry.

In Book II chapter 28 of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black, 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, reads Manon Lescaut just before plunging into his own hopeless pursuit of a "fallen woman".

In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs, the masochistic hero Severin refers approvingly to the Chevalier's love for Manon even after she has left him for another man.

Manon features in the first poem of the Czech Decadent Karel Hlaváček's classic Symbolist cycle, Mstivá kantiléna (1898). She is weak and weary, hungry perhaps for food, certainly for sexual fulfilment. The poet addresses her in a rough, hoarse voice, informing her that this is no longer her timid abbe speaking to her.

Alexandr Kuprin's 1915 Russian classic novel of prostitution, "Yama, the Pit" contains a section in which the students bringing culture to the reformed prostitute Liubka read Manon Lescaut aloud to her, moving Liubka to tearfully threaten Manon for her lack of commitment to De Grieux.

In the mystery novel Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers and its series adaptation by BBC Television, Lord Peter Wimsey solves the case by reference to Manon Lescaut.

Manon Lescaut is mentioned in a novel written by an important Romanian writer, Mihail Drumes. In one of his novels, entitled Invitatie la vals, referring to Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance (later orchestrated by Berlioz), a comparison is made between the novel's main character and Manon Lescaut.

Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval wrote an adaptation of Manon Lescaut in the form of a verse drama. Nezval's version was written in the year 1940 for the theatre of Emil František Burian. 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, the centre of each of which is a ballade. 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 Des Grieux). In a similar way Nezval adapted The Three Musketeers.

The novel is mentioned at the very end of Michel Foucault's Life of infamous men.

Thomas Pynchon refers to Puccini's Des Grieux a number of times in his early short story "Under the Rose", found in his Slow Learner collection, as well as in V.

North Gladiola, a 1985 novel by James Wilcox, 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's Finnegans Wake at 203.21 as "Nanon L'Escaut", which also refers to the 17th-century French courtesan Ninon de l'Enclos and to the Escaut River.

In the novel Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood Miss Henderson was reading the book on the train when her mother was murdered.

Manon is also referred to in the films Manon des Sources (1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri) and Jean de Florette (entitled Ugolin in 1953 by Marcel Pagnol and 1986 by Claude Berri). Pagnol's 1962-1964 novels were derived from his movie. Note the name of the heroine, and the report of her grandmother as having sung Manon.

The film Lady of the Tropics (1939), directed by Jack Conway, with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Taylor is said to be inspired by the novel.

The manga Shinigami no Aria by AKIO Mimi uses the story as its main theme.

Manon is mentioned early in The Human Condition (film series).


Some films and TV series have been based on the novel.[3][4] The most prominent are:

Popular music

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


  • "Prévost (d’Exiles, Antoine François), Abbé". Encarta (2004 ed.). 2003. 
  • "Prévost d'Exiles, Antoine-François, Abbé". Encyclopædia Britannica (2005 ed.). 2005. 
  • Brewer, E. Cobham (1898), Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,  
  • Kunitz, Stanley J. & Colby, Vineta (1967). François Prévost, Antoine in European Authors 1000-1900, pp. 743–4. H.W. Wilson Company, New York.


For the original 1731 version of the novel, Helen Waddell's (1931) is considered the best of the English translations. 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).

Henri Valienne (1854-1908), a physician and author of the first novel in the constructed language Esperanto, translated Manon Lescaut into that language. His translation was published at Paris in 1908, and reissued by the British Esperanto Association in 1926.


  • (French) Sylviane Albertan-Coppola, Abbé Prévost : Manon Lescaut, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995 ISBN 978-2-13-046704-5.
  • (French) André Billy, L’Abbé Prévost, Paris: Flammarion, 1969.
  • (French) René Démoris, Le Silence de Manon, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995 ISBN 978-2-13-046826-4.
  • Patrick Brady, Structuralist perspectives in criticism of fiction : essays on Manon Lescaut and La Vie de Marianne, P. Lang, Berne ; Las Vegas, 1978.
  • Patrick Coleman, Reparative realism : mourning and modernity in the French novel, 1730-1830, Geneva: Droz, 1998 ISBN 978-2-600-00286-8.
  • (French) Maurice Daumas, Le Syndrome des Grieux : la relation père/fils au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Seuil, 1990 ISBN 978-2-02-011397-7.
  • R. A. Francis, The abbé Prévost’s first-person narrators, Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1993.
  • (French) Eugène Lasserre, Manon Lescaut de l’abbé Prévost, Paris: Société Française d’Éditions Littéraires et Techniques, 1930.
  • (French) Paul Hazard, Études critiques sur Manon Lescaut, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1929.
  • (French) Pierre Heinrich, L’Abbé Prévost et la Louisiane ; étude sur la valeur historique de Manon Lescaut Paris: E. Guilmoto, 1907.
  • (French) Claudine Hunting, La Femme devant le “tribunal masculin” dans trois romans des Lumières : Challe, Prévost, Cazotte, New York: P. Lang, 1987 ISBN 978-0-8204-0361-8.
  • (French) Jean Luc Jaccard, Manon Lescaut, le personnage-romancier, Paris: A.-G. Nizet, 1975 ISBN 2-7078-0450-9.
  • (French) Eugène Lasserre, Manon Lescaut de l’abbé Prévost, Paris: Société française d'Éditions littéraires et techniques, 1930.
  • (French) Roger Laufer, Style rococo, style des Lumières, Paris: J. Corti, 1963.
  • (French) Vivienne Mylne, Prévost : Manon Lescaut, London: Edward Arnold, 1972.
  • (French) René Picard, Introduction à l’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, Paris: Garnier, 1965, p. CXXX-CXXXXVII.
  • Naomi Segal, The Unintended Reader : feminism and Manon Lescaut, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986 ISBN 978-0-521-30723-9.
  • (French) Alan Singerman, L’Abbé Prévost : L’amour et la morale, Geneva: Droz, 1987.
  • (French) Jean Sgard, L’Abbé Prévost : labyrinthes de la mémoire, Paris: PUF, 1986 ISBN 2-13-039282-2.
  • (French) Jean Sgard, Prévost romancier, Paris: José Corti, 1968 ISBN 2-7143-0315-3.
  • (French) Loïc Thommeret, La Mémoire créatrice. Essai sur l'écriture de soi au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006, ISBN 978-2-296-00826-7.
  • Arnold L. Weinstein, Fictions of the self, 1550-1800, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981 ISBN 978-0-691-06448-2.


  1. ^ Presentation of Manon Lescaut on Eurochannel
  2. ^ Vítězslav Nezval
  3. ^ Manon Lescaut (film and TV character) at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Abbé Prévost as writer for film and TV at the Internet Movie Database

External links

  • Full texts at Project Gutenberg in the original French and in an English translation
  • Manon Lescaut on World Wide School
  • Images from an illustrated 1885 French edition
  • (French) Manon Lescaut, audio version
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