Abbe Prevost

Manon Lescaut

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Manon Lescaut Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Manon Lescaut” by Abbe Prevost includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Social Influence on the Ill-Fated Romance and Appearance Versus Reality.

Plot Summary

Manon Lescaut, written by Abbé Antoine Francois Prévost and published in 1731, is perhaps best described as a novella. Originally just a small piece of Prévost’s seven-volume work, Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality, it quickly became very popular and is now Prévost’s most well-known work. Memoirs is a fictional autobiography of Monsieur de Renoncour, who introduces Manon Lescaut, which is in turn narrated by the protagonist of the story, the Chevalier Des Grieux.

Des Grieux relates the story of his turbulent love affair with the title character, Manon Lescaut. Des Grieux explains how he met Manon, details their life together, and explains how his obsessive love for her ruined his life and led to Manon’s death. The story is generally told in four cycles in which Des Grieux and Manon find happiness only to be separated. The first section details their initial meeting, subsequent affair, and first separation, which lasts two years.

The second and third cycles follow Des Grieux and Manon as they are reunited only to be torn apart by their pursuit of happiness. They enact various financial schemes to support their lifestyle, and each time they are exposed and separated through imprisonment. The fourth section breaks the pattern. After the pair are once again separated on the cusp of true happiness, Manon dies, and Des Grieux turns to religion and education.

France banned the story for a time, as it did not sufficiently condemn Des Grieux and Manon’s immoral behavior. Prévost then revised the way he presented the story, proffering it as a warning against immorality and irrational behavior. Ultimately, the story was very influential, referenced by a variety of later authors, including Alexandre Dumas, Oscar Wilde, and Thomas Pynchon. It has also been revised for both the stage and screen.

Prévost was a Benedictine monk and prolific writer born in 1697. His life seemed to mirror that of his protagonist. He traveled a great deal, leaving the monastery without permission and moving to England, then the Netherlands, before returning to the Benedictines in 1734. In 1754, his fame and talent garnered him an appointment as the prior of an abbey in Chantilly, France, where he remained until his death in 1763.

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