Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. Capital city and center of all activity—political, social and cultural—in eighteenth century France. The Paris of Abbé Prévost’s novel is the real Paris of the period. At the time he was writing, the novel was not accepted as a literary genre. The novels of the seventeenth century had become so fantastic that the novelists of the eighteenth century were particularly concerned with portraying contemporary times as realistically as possible to avoid criticism of their works as frivolous, absurd, and unworthy of consideration. By setting the novel in Paris and in actual places and institutions found in the Paris of the time, Prévost created a sense of authenticity. By choosing Paris, Prévost also satisfied the interests of his readers because it was the city where everyone wanted to be and about which everyone wanted to read. The provinces and provincialism were not in vogue.

Paris contained all of the elements Prévost needed to develop his plot. The population was composed of people from all social classes, and Parisian society was one strictly controlled by class distinction. Inequality of class is one of the major problems faced by Manon Lescaut and her lover the Chevalier des Grieux. He is of noble birth and belongs to a social stratum that has no place for her. Paris has a social milieu eager to accept her, but unsuitable for him. The world of the demimonde offers Manon all of the materials things that she desires: jewels, money, elegant lodgings, and entertainment. Manon is well suited to this world, as she proves early in the novel. Once des Grieux joins her, everything turns to disaster.

*New Orleans

*New Orleans. Leading city of what was then France’s...

(The entire section is 714 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Translated by W. R. Trask. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1953. A legendary study of Prévost’s artistic technique, this essay uses Manon Lescaut as an intellectual springboard to evaluate a wide range of Enlightenment configurations. A vigorous, thought-provoking analysis of erotic sentimentality in literature.

Gilroy, James P. The Romantic Manon and Des Grieux: Images of Prévost’s Heroine and Hero in Nineteenth-Century French Literature. Sherbrooke, Québec: Éditions Naaman, 1980. A compelling and evocative study that celebrates Manon’s status as the enigmatic darling of French literature. Also traces the universality of Manon and des Grieux as archetypal lovers who transcend barriers of time and place.

Kory, Odile A. Subjectivity and Sensitivity in the Novels of the Abbé Prévost. Paris: Didier, 1972. Somewhat rambling and discursive, but points out the importance of Manon Lescaut as an arranging element in eighteenth century French fiction. Discusses the timeless dimensions of morality, psychology, and the quest for identity.

Rabine, Leslie W. Reading the Romantic Heroine: Text, History, Idelogy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985. A lively and engaging study that emphasizes the pivotal importance of Manon Lescaut in pre-Romantic fiction. Serves as a nice counterpoint to “over-reading” interpretations of the novel.

Segal, Naomi. The Unintended Reader: Feminism and “Manon Lescaut.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. A review of critical reactions to Manon Lescaut over a two-hundred-year period, with an emphasis on the phenomenon of seduction by language. The author attempts to apply Freudian Oedipal analogies to issues of female autonomy, identity, and self-esteem.