Alain René Lesage

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Lesage, Alain René

 

Born Dec. 13, 1668, in Sarzeau, present-day department of Morbihan; died Nov. 17, 1747, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, present-day department of Pas-de-Calais. French writer. Son of a notary.

Lesage’s plays in the collection Spanish Theater (1700) were free translations of Spanish comedies; they were slighted by the theoreticians of classicism in France for their alleged bad taste. Yet Lesage’s study of Spanish literature had a beneficial influence upon his work. His first original one-act comedy, Crispin, the Rival of His Master, was presented at the Comédie Française in 1707; following the traditions of P. Scarron and Moliére, Lesage created a clever rascally servant trying to make his way into the bourgeoisie.

In his satirical comedy Turcaret (1709), Lesage presented an all-powerful profiteering financier and exposed the moral degradation of the aristocracy. The controversy engendered by Turcaret (offended bankers tried to have the comedy banned) forced Lesage to move from the Comédie Française to the Theatre de la Foire, for which he wrote plays between 1712 and 1735. He used the commedia dell’arte masks from folk plays and a fairytale form to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment. Lesage adapted tales from The Thousand and One Nights and, with L. Fuzélier and Dorneval, wrote librettos for comic operas (published in The Marketplace Theater, or Comic Opera, vols. 1–10, 1721–37).

The title and plot of the novel The Devil Upon Two Sticks (1707; Russian translation, 1969) are borrowed from the Spanish writer L. Velez de Guevara; it continued the tradition of expose found in the French 17th-century genre novel (exemplified by C. Sorel, Scarron, and A. Furetiére). The novel The Story of Gil Blas of Santillane (1715–35; Russian translation, 1935), whose structure harks back to the Spanish picaresque novel, presents a broad picture of French society and its mores. In Gil Blas, Lesage became the precedessor of D. Diderot and the literature of the Enlightenment.

Lesage’s influence on the development of the Russian novel of everyday life and the satirical novel of the 18th and 19th centuries is evident in The Russian Gil Blas, or The Adventures of Prince G. S. Chistiakov (1814) by V. T. Narezhnyi and Ivan Vyzhigin (1829) by F. V. Bulgarin.

WORKS

Oeuvres, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1878–79.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch., vol. 1. Petrograd, 1920.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed. vol. 7. Page 285.
Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Etkind, E. “A. R. Lesazh.” In Pisateli Frantsii. Moscow, 1964.
Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957.
Laufer, R. Lesage ou le métier de romancier. [Paris, 1971.]
Cordier, H. Essai bibliographique sur les oeuvres d’A. R. Lesage. Paris, 1910.

V. S. LOZOVETSKII