Prévost d'Exiles, Antoine François

Prévost d'Exiles, Antoine François äbāˈ prāvōˈ [key], 1697–1763, French novelist, journalist, and cleric. After a dissolute youth he entered (1720) the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Maur. He later had himself transferred to the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in Paris, but in 1728 he grew weary of monastic discipline and fled to England. Even before leaving the order, he had begun to write the first of a long series of novels, Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité (7 vol., 1728–32). He led an adventurous life in England, Holland, and Germany, but he later returned to France, was received back into the order, and was made head (1754) of a priory by the pope. Only one of Prévost's innumerable writings is still widely read, but that one book ranks among the masterpieces of world literature: The Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, popularly known as Manon Lescaut (Vol. VII of the Mémoires) is the moving account of the passion of a likeable but weak young man for an amoral woman whose frivolity leads him to crime and her to death as a deportee in America. The novel is admired for its lucid, realistic style and for its psychological insight into moral weakness. Two well-known operas, Manon, by Massenet (1884), and Manon Lescaut, by Puccini (1893), are based on the novel. Other works by Prévost include Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland (4 vol., 1731–32) and a literary journal, published at London and later at Paris, Le Pour et le Contre, which popularized English literature in France.

See study by G. R. Havens (1921, repr. 1969); P. Tremewan, Prévost: An Analytical Bibliography of Criticism to 1981 (1984).

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