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For The Fiction of Relationship course that I took last summer, I wrote an essay about "Manon Lescaut". Here it is:

Interpreting Manon Lescaut's Integrity From The Perspective Of Nietzschean Ethics

In Abbé Prévost's novella "The Story of the Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut" first published in 1731 and revised in 1753, the character of Manon is revealed and obscured by the narration of her infatuated male lover. Nonetheless, there are enough echos and hints of her nature that we can focus in to catch a glimpse of a story of her character as guided by a moral integrity. Of the many, many theories of ethics devised by humans, one of the most interesting is Friederich Nietzsche's (Landy; Anderson; Taylor; Nietzsche). Although a bit of a characature, we can frame a Nietzschean morality as a story that affirms one's life as an artwork suffused with uniqueness (Landy). It is a sort of fiction of relationship.

Manon's character has a strong dramatic sense, her social charms and a proclivity to invent schemes for continual stimulation drive her and the plot as well. Her drama, charm, and scheming are powerfully seen in the scene with the Italian Prince where she contrives to refuse him with the concluding rebuke "all the princes in Italy are not worth a single one of these hairs I have in my hand" (Prévost Oxford, p. 89). Her enchanting character seems to require applying her arts theatrically.

The scene in which Manon explains her resourceful ad-libbing of the plan to defraud the younger G... M... provides more evidence of her agile mind's proclivity for stimulating drama. Manon's decision to take seriously M. de T...'s suggestion about spending the night together in G... M...'s house is pure chutzpah and panache! There was no financial benefit to spending the night with des Grieux in G... M...'s bed. Manon's character is indeed exquisitely dramatic. Later in that scene the integrity of her values and philosophy of life are explained to des Grieux when she says "for it is the fidelity of the heart alone that I value" (Prévost Guetenberg, p. 85; Weinstein). Manon is if anything a unique character!

The story of Manon's unique and dramatic nature that we can discern as readers of this text can provide a Nietzschean example of ethics par excellence. Prévost's tragic worldly refutation of her ethics reminds us that no matter the constitution of our integrity, our lives and our literature may clash violently with their setting. We can ascribe this problematic outcome to the foibles of youth and immaturity, or the class-stratified, sexist, and materialistic society of this novel and of 18th century France, or to the exigencies of fiction. Regardless, the stories we tell of the unique art that makes our lives and our literature is both a fiction of relationship and a Nietzschean ethics.

References

Joshua Landy, 2010 video lecture https://vimeo.com/21818183, accessed 16 June 2013.

R. Lanier Anderson, 2010 video lecture https://vimeo.com/22003558, accessed 16 June 2013.

Kenneth Taylor, 2010 video lecture https://vimeo.com/22148004, accessed 16 June 2013.

Abbé Prévost, Oxford World Classics edition, 2004.

Abbé Prévost, Project Gutenberg edition, 2008.

Arnold Weinstein, course videos, Part 6.

Friederich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882.
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