manon lescaut: desire as the search for transcendence

Perfide Mnon and Abbe Prevost. She was the classic cocotte, he the classic dupe; first the Abbe wrote his famous story, Manon Lescaut, and then he set out to live it…

…Soon the Abbe Prevost stood on the edge of bankruptcy. No doubt he would have chosen to rescue himself by hard work and economy, and no doubt scornful Lenki counseled flight to befool the creditors. Prevost succeeded in wheedling 1,700 florins- a handsome sum for an author at any time- from his publishers, and the couple departed for England, probably, early in January, 1733. The Abbe’s debts accounted at 2,500 florins; his abandoned furniture and possessions were sold for 550 florins, leaving the creditors deep in the hole.

---Antoine Watteau, Le balançoire (The Swing) ---click image for source...

—Antoine Watteau,
Le balançoire (The Swing)
—click image for source…

In London, the Dutch florins were spent by summer, and pecunious friends were evasive. Prevost founded a magazine, Le Pour et Contre, to convey to Paris the literary news of London. The idea was a good one, but the returns negligible. It was perhaps Lenki who suggested a recourse. Prevost possessed a letter from his fomer pupil, Francis Eyles, son of Sir John Eyles, in which the careless youth had left a wide gap between “Your humble servant” and his signature. Prevost had only to clip off the letter’s text, write in the vacant space “Pay 50 pounds to M. Prevost or to his order,” and present the document at a bank for payment.

But retribution duly followed. On December 11, 1733, Prevost was jailed  in Gatehouse Prison on the complaint of Francis Eyles. The matter was serious; forgery was a hanging crime. But young Eyles, probably recoiling at sending his old tutor to a shameful death, withdrew his complaint, and the Abbe was discharged. One suspects that the father, Sir John, made it a condition of his release that he should get out of England and stay out.

Artist  [show]Louis de Moni (1698–1771---couple blowing soap bubbles...WIKI

Louis de Moni (1698–1771—couple blowing soap bubbles…WIKI

Never leave a blank space above your signature. ( to be continued)…


(see link at end) Eric Gans:In the 17th century, desire was identical to the search for transcendence, with the unfortunate result that as soon as the desire was consummated, the lover–Don Juan is the classic example–had to seek transcendence elsewhere. Once desire becomes a market transaction and the possession of its object is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition, transcendence can no longer be equated with mere inaccessibility. One transcends market relations by offering the other an irreversible good; not one’s money, but one’s life.

In the 19th century, this element too would be factored into the market relationship, with the result that the courtesan could supplement her “objective” market value by the manipulation of her lover’s “absolute” desire. No matter how much he pays, the lover only truly demonstrates his love when he has gone bankrupt. Emile Zola’s Nana exemplifies the functioning of this market.

In the prerevolutionary era of l’Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (first published in 1731), love was opposed to mere lust as the transcendent to the worldly. Yet were there no interference between these two domains, there would be no story. Manon’s penchant for luxury is not a mere psychological quirk; it is a recognition of her market value. If the evaluation of Manon’s beauty in the marketplace guarantees a love that transcends the marketplace, Manon herself shares this evaluation. The crux of the novel, and of Manon’s character, is the revelation that the Chevalier’s absolute love is dependent on the vulgar fact of his beloved’s market value. “Since his true love exists only in response to the sexual marketplace,” a more reflective Manon might say, “there is no real contradiction between true love and the market.” Read More:

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