Prévost, Abbé

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Prévost, Abbé (1697-1763): French Novelist.

Antoine-François Prévost d’Exiles, known as Abbé Prévost, is remembered as the author of Manon Lescaut (1731), a landmark novel with great psychological insight.

Born in Hesdin, France, on 1 April 1697, Prévost received a Jesuit education, becoming a Benedictine monk in 1721 and a priest in 1726. His religious studies were interrupted by two separate tours of army duty. Prévost failed both as cleric and soldier, fleeing France for Holland and England to escape creditors and scandals resulting from love affairs. He also became a tutor and an acclaimed translator of Richardson, Samuel’s novels.

Prévost authored a seven-volume novel, Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality. The last volume, The Story of Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut, is the narrative of a morally corrupt yet likeable young nobleman who falls prey to a manipulative courtesan of irresistible charms who leads him into scandalous ruin.

Prévost absorbed much Protestant and Jansenist thought while abroad, and the primary lasting interest of Manon Lescaut is the novel’s exploration of the themes of personal responsibility and Predestination. Des Grieux weepingly claims that none of his misdeeds are his fault, choosing instead to blame fate, other people, and the mysterious way that circumstances play upon our hidden inclinations.

Prévost died at Chantilly on 25 November 1763. His artistic legacy included inspiring two nineteenth-century operas, a French Manon by Massenet and an Italian one by Puccini.

Further Reading:

Carol Lazzaro-Weis, Confused Epiphanies: l’Abbé Prévost and the Romance Tradition, 1991.

Kenneth T. Rivers

Lamar University

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