illustrated portrait of main character Manon Lescaut sitting in an elegant dress and fanning herself

Manon Lescaut

by Abbé Prévost

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The young Chevalier des Grieux, a student of philosophy in Amiens, becomes friendly with a fellow student named Tiberge. One day, he stands idly with his friend and watches the arrival of the Arras coach. Among the passengers is a beautiful young woman, who attracts the chevalier’s attention. Politely introducing himself, he learns that her name is Manon Lescaut and that she has come to Amiens under the protection of an elderly man. Against her will, she is to enter a convent. She accepts the chevalier’s offer to set her free from that fate, and after skillfully and untruthfully disposing of her escort, she accompanies the young student to an inn. They plan to flee to Paris the next day. Tiberge argues with his friend against this folly, but the chevalier is hopelessly infatuated. In Paris, he and Manon take a furnished apartment, where for three weeks they are absorbed in each other.

The idyll ends when the young lover discovers that his mistress has also bestowed her affections on Monsieur de B——. The chevalier’s love for Manon is so great, however, that he forgives her. Then three lackeys, sent by the chevalier’s father, come to the apartment and take the young man home. There his father tries in vain to persuade him that Manon has behaved treacherously. Finally, the father locks his son in his room for six weeks. During this time, Tiberge visits him, bringing him news that Manon is being kept at the expense of Monsieur de B——. Tiberge persuades the young man to enroll at the Seminary of Saint-Supplice as a student of theology. With his father’s permission, he enters the school and becomes an outstanding student. Manon is present to hear his declamation at the public disputation at the Sorbonne, and after the ceremonies she visits him. A single passionate embrace makes him forget his future in the Church. The chevalier escapes from his school without money, and Manon furnishes the funds for them to set up quarters at Chaillot, outside Paris.

Then begins a life of extravagance and riotous living far beyond their slender means. In Paris, they meet Manon’s brother, Monsieur Lescaut, of the Royal Guards, who does not scruple to install himself in their house. When a fire destroys all of their money and possessions, the brother suggests that Manon sell her charms to some freehanded nobleman. The chevalier rejects this proposal but consents to become a professional gambler to support Manon. He borrows enough money from Tiberge to begin his career as a card cheat. For a time his luck holds, but their period of prosperity ends when a maid and a valet flee with all the valuable possessions of the new household. Urged by her brother, Manon consents to become the mistress of the old and wealthy Monsieur de G—— M——, who had promised her a house, servants, and a large sum of money.

The young couple decide to play on Manon’s protector by introducing the chevalier into the household as her brother. Having duped the man to make his settlement on Manon, they run away with the jewels and money he had given her. They are followed by the police, apprehended, and imprisoned, Manon at the Hôpital Général and the chevalier at Saint-Lazare.

Once lodged at Saint-Lazare, the chevalier begins to plan his escape. He cultivates his superiors and makes a show of reading theology. M. de G—— M——, hearing of the chevalier’s studious habits, visits him; but when the young man hears, for the first time, that Manon also is imprisoned, he seizes the old man by the...

(This entire section contains 1138 words.)

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throat. The monks stop the fight and save the old man’s life.

The chevalier now writes to Tiberge, asking his old friend to visit Saint-Lazare. He entrusts to Tiberge a note addressed to M. Lescaut. Using a pistol that Manon’s brother brought him soon afterward, the chevalier escapes, killing a turnkey in his flight. Later, by bribing the attendants at the hospital, he arranges for Manon’s escape. Wearing men’s clothing, Manon is safely conveyed to her brother’s house, but just as the happy pair descend from the carriage, M. Lescaut is shot by a man whose fortune the guardsman had won at cards. Manon and the chevalier flee to the inn at Chaillot to escape apprehension for the murder.

In Paris the next day the chevalier borrows a hundred pistoles from Tiberge. He also meets M. de T——, a friend, whom he invites to Chaillot for supper. During the meal the son of old M. de G—— M—— arrives at the inn. The impetuous young chevalier wants to kill him at once to get revenge on the father, but M. de T—— persuades him rather to meet young de G—— M—— in a friendly manner over the supper table. The young man is charmed with Manon; like his father, he offers to maintain her handsomely. Manon accepts his rich presents, but she and her lover plan to deceive the gullible young man and avenge themselves on his father. The chevalier plans to have street ruffians capture and hold the infatuated young man while Manon and the chevalier enjoy the supper and the bed de G—— M—— has arranged for himself and his mistress. The young man’s father learns of the scheme, however, and Manon and the chevalier are surprised by the police, who hurry them off to the Chatelet.

The young chevalier now appeals to his father, whose influence is great enough to secure his son’s release. He refuses to interest himself in Manon, however, and she is sentenced to exile on the next shipload of convicts to be sent to the penal colony in Louisiana. After a bungled attempt to rescue her from the prison guards, the chevalier accompanies his mistress on the trip from the prison to Havre-de-Grace. He also gains permission to accompany her on the voyage to America. On board ship and on their arrival in New Orleans, they pass as husband and wife.

In New Orleans, they settle in a rude shelter. After the chevalier secures honorable employment, Manon desires above all things that they become legally husband and wife. The chevalier appeals to the governor for permission to marry and admits his earlier deceit. The governor refuses, for his nephew, M. Synnelet, has fallen in love with Manon. As a result, the chevalier fights a duel with Synnelet. Thinking that he has killed his opponent, he and Manon leave the colony, but on the journey Manon, ill from fatigue, dies in the middle of a vast plain. The chevalier is heartbroken. Tiberge, who followed his friend to America, persuades him to return to France. There the chevalier resolves to turn to God in penance.