Abbé Prévost – “Manon Lescaut” (1731)

The key word in Manon Lescaut seems to be passion, both in the sense of intense love, and in the sense of intense suffering. That’s because great love, in this case at least, causes great suffering. The Chevalier des Grieux falls deeply, madly in love with Manon Lescaut. It was an immediate coup-de-foudre. In fact, it seems that Manon has the same effect on almost every man she encounters. Almost every man in this novel seems to be quite obsessed with her. Des Grieux himself is not far from mad obsession. Prévost sees love here almost as a terrible affliction that gets a hold of you, almost dooming you to a life of suffering and pain.

On the other hand, there is a certain innocence, and maybe naïveté in the way in which the Chevalier des Grieux falls in love. The feeling envelopes him completely, the young man losing his reason without any chance of ever recovering it. He becomes infatuated with Manon Lescaut like a little boy, almost. Des Grieux suffers, but he does it almost enthusiastically.

His passion blinds him completely, but he does nothing to actually get rid of it. He enjoys his suffering in an almost masochistic manner. He feels somehow that true love must be painful, that without suffering he would not be truly worthy of his beloved Manon.

The type of relationship that we see here is one that is doomed from the start. There is too much passion, in every sense of the word, for it to succeed. A love that is lived at a such high intensity can only burn out in the end, one way or another. But we, as readers, can still feel the extreme feelings of the characters. And, maybe, learn from this fiction how to better manage our relationships.

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Abbé Prévost – Manon LescautFrench version (original); English version (translation)

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