Manon Lescaut NOTES

1. Horace, Ars Poetica, lines 42–44:

Arrangement’s virtue and value reside, if I’m not wrong,

In this: to say right now what’s to be said right now,

Postponing and leaving out a great deal for the present.

The classical aesthetic here expressed claimed for its inspiration Horace and subsequently Boileau (Epistle VI). It is less the aesthetic of the Man of Quality than of Prévost himself, speaking here through his narrator.

2. This preamble refers us back to the beginning of volume III of the Mémoires d’un homme de qualité, whose departure for Spain dates from July 1715; the encounter at Pacy must therefore take place in February 1715. However, the internal chronology of the novel is not always exact: at the end of the narrative the departure for Le Havre ought properly to take place in the spring.

3. Passy, or Pacy-sur-Eure, not far from Evreux, was not on the direct route from Paris to Le Havre, though convoys of deportees would sometimes pass this way to avoid crowds. Numerous incidents had broken out during the deportation of prostitutes in 1720. Prévost seems here to be describing a minor incident of the kind; deportations of small groups to Louisiana had been taking place since the end of the 17th century.

4. This can be dated as early summer 1712; des Grieux completes his philosophical studies at college by taking part in publicly-held debates.

5. These coaches were heavy covered wagons, providing transport between Arras and Amiens; they were fitted with large baskets in front and behind for luggage.

6. The post-chaise was a light two-seater carriage harnessed to one or two horses. Leaving Amiens at 5.00 a.m., the lovers cover in one day the seventy-five miles to Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris. This particular trip was extremely rapid; on his return, des Grieux and his brother will take two days to cover approximately the same route.

7. Almost certainly the Rue Vivienne, very fashionable at the end of the 17th century and inhabited by the celebrated banker Melchior de Blair.

8. Des Grieux enrols in the Theological Faculty at the start of the academic year in October 1713. At the end of one year he makes his first public oration, as was usual for future seminarians.

9. Six thousand francs (two thousand écus) represented in the 18th century a very solid bourgeois income; but a carriage complete with two horses and a coachman would alone cost about three thousand six hundred francs. We can understand the Chevalier’s reflection, a little further on: ‘What worried me more than anything else was the upkeep of a carriage.’

10. From the 1680s a mania for gambling spread both at Court and in Paris. Card-sharpers and adventurers proliferated; the appearance of a fraternity of card-sharpers, the Ligue de l’Industrie, probably dates from the beginning of the Regency. Saint-Simon in his Mémoires, and Dancourt, Lesage and Regnard in their comedies, all make frequent allusion to this fashion.

11. The Prince de Transylvanie, François Rakokzy, took refuge in Paris after the failure of the revolt by the ‘Malcontents’ in 1713. He inhabited the Hôtel de Transylvanie, near to the present Académie Française, on the Quai de la Seine. His officers lived off the revenues of the gambling house which they had set up in the Hôtel. In 1714 the Prince retired to a monastery at Clagny. With the death of Louis XIV he was deprived of all protection in France.

12. Manon is brought to the Salpêtrière, the penal section of the Hôpital-Général. Reserved for prostitutes, the hospital was in fact a harsh and much-dreaded prison.

13. Incarceration in the monastery of Saint-Lazare, by lettre de cachet or by order of the Lieutenant of Police, provided a means of chastising the degeneracy of wealthy young men. Confinement was usually preceded by a spanking, and it is this humiliating punishment which des Grieux fears most.

14. At the age of twenty des Grieux has attained his legal majority, and can indeed claim his share of his mother’s property. But he will only attain complete majority and have the right to marry without parental consent at the age of twenty-five.

15. The episode of the Italian prince was added to the 1753 edition, ‘to fill out the character of one of the protagonists’, as Prévost explained in the Note to this edition. And Manon does appear in a more favourable light as a result: loving, seductive, high-spirited; the joke she plays on the Italian is moreover entirely disinterested.

16. A parody of Iphigénie, Act II, sc. v, lines 674–82.

17. The Rue Saint-André-des-Arts runs from the Place Saint-Michel to the Carrefour de Buci, very near the Comédie Française. The play would begin at 5.00 p.m. and end at 9.00 p.m.

18. In the 1731 edition, eight days elapse between des Grieux’s sending the letter to his father and the latter’s arrival in Paris. In the 1753 edition, Prévost extends to several weeks the period during which the lovers are together, at the beginning of Part Two, but he forgets to delay by as much the arrival of des Grieux’s father and continues to speak of ‘eight days’.

19. These asterisks may refer to actual people: the Duc de… is perhaps the Due d’Orleans, the future Regent; the man who lives faithfully with his mistress is perhaps the Marquis de Ferriol, who appears in Prévost’s Histoire d’une Grecque moderne (1740); the Duc de Gesvres and the Prince de Carignan were famous for amassing fortunes from gambling. But Prévost is too prudent to name such powerful figures, whose heirs might have taken up their defence.

20. In 1718 the Compagnie d’Occident called upon volunteers to colonize Louisiana. Faced with the lukewarm reception of this appeal, recourse was made, from 1719 onwards, to ‘unsatisfactory subjects’ who were sent out by force. New Orleans was only founded subsequently. The Père de Charlevoix, historian of ‘la Nouvelle-France’ and a friend of Prévost, went there in 1722 and saw ‘hundreds of hovels’.

21. Georgia did not as yet exist, and Florida still belonged to Spain. Des Grieux can only make for Carolina, to reach which he would have to cross the Appalachian mountains and cover over eight hundred miles.

22. The 1731 text is more explicitly Christian in inspiration: des Grieux, filled with ‘the light of grace’, turns back to God and practises penance. The 1753 version appeals only to a rather abstract religious impulse and to the Chevalier’s aristocratic honour.