Antoine François Prévost (pray-voh), who called himself “Prévost d’Exiles” and is generally referred to as the Abbé Prévost, was born in 1697 at Hesdin, in Artois, Flanders. Influenced by Jesuits at the local school, he decided upon the novitiate, and in 1715 he entered the Collège de La Flèche. For unknown reasons, he left the seminary and enlisted as a soldier. After one tour of duty he decided to return to the seminary, but he was apparently tricked into re-enlisting. He subsequently deserted and traveled to Holland. On his way back to France, he may have met the young woman who was later transformed into one of the most enduring heroines of French sentimental fiction, Manon Lescaut; the factual basis for their encounter is obscure. By 1720 Prévost had returned to the monastic community at St. Maur. He was ordained as a Benedictine priest six years later.
While assigned to the abbey of St. Germain-des-Près in Paris, Prévost abandoned the order and traveled to London in 1728. With excellent connections in England, his productivity was enormous. Memoirs of a Man of Quality After His Retirement from the World, with Manon Lescaut as its seventh volume, was published in 1731. Much of the work on The Life and Entertaining Adventures of Mr. Cleveland, Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell, another episodic romance filled with philosophical speculation based on incidental mishaps, was apparently completed at this time....
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