Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Alain-René Lesage is chiefly remembered for his long picaresque novel, Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715-1735; Gil Blas, 1749, 1962), but his early publication of The Devil upon Two Sticks, with its extensive revision and enlargement in 1726, created far more excitement in his own day and is still an interesting example of the early realistic novel of manners. As he did in most of his prose fiction, Lesage worked from a Spanish original, borrowing his title and some of the early incidents from El Diablo Cojuelo (1641), by Luis Vélez de Guevara. Once started, however, the novel drew further and further away from its Spanish model and entertained Lesage’s contemporaries by introducing a wealth of anecdotes and reminiscences, portraits and sketches of some of the most prominent of Parisian personages, under the guise of Spanish names. Lesage’s satire is trenchant and ironical, though never gross or vulgar. Lesage sees humanity with a sharp and critical eye, and he is particularly successful in his witty portrayals of authors, actors, lawyers, the social world, and “persons of quality.” Like most picaresque fiction, the novel is loosely plotted; within a central narrative concerning the fortunes of Don Cleophas, a young Spanish cavalier, Lesage introduces scores of other tales, ranging from brief summaries of a few sentences to short stories running for several pages or chapters. The major plot remains in evidence throughout the book, however, and the author concludes his tale with a suitably romantic ending.

Although a satire on human nature, The Devil upon Two Sticks is an amiable, almost lighthearted work; the author attacks his victims...

(The entire section is 700 words.)