Abbé Prévost (pray-VOH) has been described as the first truly self-supporting man of letters in France. According to the Henry Harrisse edition, Prévost published more than 120 volumes during his career, including more than forty translations; histories of travel; moral and didactic tracts on various subjects of contemporary interest; and more than thirty volumes of prose fiction. He also founded the literary journal Le Pour et contre, which appeared from 1733 to 1740 and was designed as a forum for the discussion of European writers. Prévost’s work was highly esteemed by some of the most acute literary commentators of his own time, but aside from Manon Lescaut, more recent French critics have regarded his work as a part of literary history rather than living literature. Among those books that are of interest to the modern reader are the novels The Dean of Killerine, The History of a Fair Greek, and Le Monde moral.
Although Abbé Prévost was a very versatile writer who did significant work in several areas of literary endeavor, the novel Manon Lescaut is undoubtedly his masterwork and the primary reason for his reputation as an author of note. The book was an immediate success in Europe, and in spite of its suppression in France in 1733, it has always been available there, with new editions, featuring comments by popular writers, issued regularly. Manon Lescaut was translated into English the year after its publication in Amsterdam in 1733, and a new English translation has appeared every thirty years or so since then.
During the nineteenth century, the novel was the inspiration for three operas, the light and airy Manon Lecaut of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1856), the well-known Manon of Jules Massenet (1884), and the darkly powerful Manon Lescaut of Giacomo Puccini (1893), which is the most faithful rendition of Prévost’s work. As Alexandre Dumas, fils, remarked, “Manon is now exploited like steam or photography,” and Manon and the young Chevalier inhabit the same mythic landscape that features Romeo and Juliet and Héloïse and Abélard, among others. Guy de Maupassant’s assertion, referring to Manon Lescaut, that “no other woman was ever so completely evoked” is an example of the intensely emotional responses that the novel has drawn.
In addition to Manon Lescaut, Prévost’s other novels...
(The entire section is 603 words.)
Kory, Odile A. Subjectivity and Sensitivity in the Novels of the Abbé Prévost. Montreal: Didier, 1992. Explores the psychological and moral components in Prévost’s fiction.
Miller, Nancy K. The Heroine’s Text: Readings in the French and English Novel, 1722-1782. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Offers persuasive interpretations of Manon Lescaut as the lodestone of Prévost’s career.
Mylne, Vivienne. “Prévost: The New Realism.” In The Eighteenth Century French Novel: Techniques of Illusion. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1965. This thirty-page essay adds considerable luster to Prévost’s influential position as purveyor of the sentimental novel.
Segal, Naomi. The Unintended Reader: Feminism and “Manon Lescaut.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Appraises critical reactions to Prévost’s novel over a two-hundred-year period.