Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Author of translations, of dialogues, of varia, and of a great number of plays, Alain-René Lesage is best known as a novelist. His reputation as a novelist rests primarily on two works: Le Diable boiteux (1707; The Devil upon Two Sticks, 1708, 1726), loosely adapted from Luis Vélez de Guevara’s El diablo cojuelo (1641), and the highly original Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715-1735; The History of Gil Blas of Santillane, 1716, 1735; better known as Gil Blas). Both novels appear to deal with the Spain of the early seventeenth century, but in fact they are barely disguised satires of the mores of France a full century later. This was not a new procedure: It had been used as a basic ploy by the writers of imaginary voyages—of which Cyrano de Bergerac was perhaps the first to have achieved lasting renown. In fact, contrary to the claims of certain manuals of literary history, Lesage never saw Spain, and so a realistic description of the place and its mores would have been most difficult outside the realm of slavish imitation. In his two major novels—as in his Histoire de Don Guzman d’Alfarache (1732; The Pleasant Adventures of Gusman of Alfarache, 1812); Le Bachelier de Salamanque (1736; The Bachelor of Salamanca, 1737-1739), and La Valise trouvée (1740)—Lesage takes the basic plot from a Spanish author as well as many of his anecdotes, and adds a style and descriptions that, though somewhat derivative—owing more to French predecessors such as Jean de La Bruyère than to any Spanish influence—are highly original when the finished product is examined.

The Devil upon Two Sticks is a good case in point. Its first edition came out in mid-1707 and contained a fair number of anecdotes that can easily be traced to Guevara. Quickly and accurately judging the real source of its success, Lesage...

(The entire section is 788 words.)