June 15, 2013
Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost
Author: Antoine François Prévost
First published: 1731
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Last week I started The Fiction of Relationship course (Check it out! It's great, and it's not late to join yet!) on Coursera, which requires reading a selected book each week and then watching wonderful lectures that analyse the current week material. The books are chosen to cover relationship not only in a narrow sense - love relationship in a pair, but also relationship in a wider perspective - relationship with the society, with oneself, etc.
Manon Lescaut is the first book on the course schedule, and it is also considered one of the first books of the romantic era in literature. It tells about passionate love of chevalier Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut, a lady of doubtful descent and behavior. Des Grieux is a bright student deemed to become an abbot, but when he meets Manon, she becomes the only important thing in his life, and he sinks lower and lower, becoming an idler and a gambler, always taking money from his friends, frequenting prisons and alienated from his family. He is ready to do anything to keep Manon, whatever the cost.
Manon, on the other hand, however strong she claims her love to Des Grieux to be, is more practical. She likes money and Paris nightlife, and the only way to get it all for her is to become a mistress of some rich gentleman. So not once does she leave Des Grieux for a new lover, and she doesn't see anything wrong with it. Her body is her currency, and what is important for her in her relationship with Des Grieux is "fidelity of the heart", not of the body. It's difficult for me not to think of her as a slut, but I try to look deeper. Anyway, she seems really devoted to Des Grieux in the end, and they even decide to marry.
The novel doesn't end happily, and it leaves more questions than answers. Like, was it really love? is it society that spoils pure feeling? how comes money is what sustains their love? This novel is very modern, as the "love triangle" between feelings, money and society still exists nowadays. After I watched the lectures and discussions I see that there is even more meat in this story, but a small review is definitely not enough for a big discussion. All in all, a very thought-provoking and interesting read, and a great beginning of the course!