Manon Lescaut

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Manon Lescaut (L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is a short novel by French author Antoine François Prévost (the 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.


Plot summary

Set in France and Louisiana 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, 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.

Operas and Ballets

The story has influenced a number of ballets and operas, such as Manon Lescaut (1856) by French composer Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, Manon (1884) by French composer Jules Massenet, Manon Lescaut (1893) by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, Boulevard Solitude by German composer Hans Werner Henze, the ballet L'histoire de Manon, and Manon Lescaut (1940) by Czech poet and playwright Vítězslav Nezval.

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