From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alain-René Lesage (6 May 1668 – 17 November 1747; older spelling Le Sage) was a French novelist and playwright. Lesage is best known for his comic novel The Devil upon Two Sticks (1707, Le Diable boiteux), his comedy Turcaret (1709), and his picaresque novel Gil Blas (1715–1735).
Youth and education
Claude Lesage, the father of the novelist, held the united positions of advocate, notary and registrar of the royal court in Rhuys. His mother's name was Jeanne Brenugat. Both Lesage's father and mother died when Lesage was very young, and his property was wasted or embezzled by his guardians. Little is known of his youth except that he went to school with the Jesuits at Vannes until he was eighteen. Conjecture has it that he continued his studies at Paris, and he was called to the bar at the capital in 1692. In August 1694 he married the daughter of a joiner, Marie Elizabeth Huyard. She was beautiful but had no fortune, and Lesage had little practice. About this time he encountered an old schoolfellow, the dramatist Antoine Danchet, who is said to have advised him to take up literature. He began as a translator, and published in 1695 a French version of the Epistles of Aristaenetus, which was not successful. Shortly afterwards he found a valuable patron and adviser in the abbe de Lyonne, who bestowed on him an annuity of 600 livres, and recommended him to exchange the classics for Spanish literature, of which he was himself a student and collector.
First literary efforts
Lesage began by translating plays chiefly from Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla and Lope de Vega. Le Traitre puni and Le Point d'honneur from the former and Don Felix de Mendoce from the latter were acted or published in the first two or three years of the 18th century. In 1704 he translated the continuation of Don Quixote by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, and soon afterwards adapted a play from Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Don Cesar Ursin, which was successful at court and damned in the city. Lesage was, however, nearly forty before he obtained decided success. In 1707 his farce, Crispin rival de son maitre, was well received, and Le Diable boiteux was published and ran to several editions. Lesage altered and improved this play in 1725, giving it its present form. Notwithstanding the success of Crispin, the actors did not like Lesage, and refused a small piece of his called Les Etrennes (1707). He thereupon altered it into Turcaret (1709), considered his theatrical masterpiece.
Some years passed before he again attempted romance writing, and then the first two parts of Gil Blas de Santillane were published in 1715, without the popularity of Le Diable boiteux. Lesage worked at it for a long time, and did not bring out the third part till 1724, nor the fourth till 1735. During these twenty years he was, however, continually busy. Notwithstanding the great merit and success of Turcaret and Crispin, the Théâtre Français did not welcome him, and in 1715 he began to write for the Théâtre de la Foire, the comic opera held in booths at festival time. According to one computation he produced, either alone or with others, about a hundred pieces, varying from strings of songs with no regular dialogues, to comediettas only distinguished from regular plays by the introduction of music. He was also industrious in prose fiction. Besides finishing Gil Blas he translated the Orlando innamorato (1721), rearranged Guzman d'Alfarache (1732), published two more or less original novels, Le Bachelier de Salamanque and Estevanitte Gonzales, and in 1733 produced the Vie et aventures de M. de Beauchesne, which resembles certain works of Daniel Defoe. Besides all this, Lesage was also the author of La Valise trouvee, a collection of imaginary letters, and of some minor pieces including Une journee des parques. He did not retire until 1740, when he was more than seventy years of age; he and his wife went to live with his second son, who was a canon at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Lesage's eldest son, Louis-André, had become an actor, and Lesage had disowned him. Lesage's last work, 'Melange amusant de saitties d'esprit et de traits historiques les plus frappants, appeared in 1743. He died on November 17, 1747.
Very little is known of Lesage's life and personality. The few anecdotes which we have of him represent him as a very independent man, declining to accept the literary patronage required to survive. One story says that after being criticized for an unavoidable delay in appearing at the Duchess of Bouillon's house to read Turcaret, he put the play in his pocket and left, refusing to return.
- "Pride and conceit were the original sins of man."
- "Facts are stubborn things."
Translations and adaptions
- Le Traitre puni
- Point d'honneur (French version)
- Don Felix de Mendoce
- Second Book of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha
- Orlando innamorato, 1721
- Guzman d'Alfarache, 1732 (French version)
- Don Cesar Ursin (French version)
- Les Etrennes, 1707
- Crispin rival de son maitre, 1707 (French version)
- Turcaret, 1709
- Arlequin roi de Serendib, 1713
- La Foire de Guibray, 1714
- Arlequin Mahomet, 1714
- Le Diable boiteux, 1707. (French version)
- Gil Blas (English version, French)
- Vie et aventures de M. de Beauchesne, 1733 (French version
- Le Bachelier de Salamanque, 1736. (French version)
- Estevanitte Gonzales, 1732
- La Valise trouvee (French version)
- Melange amusant de saitties d'esprit et de traits historiques les plus frappants, 1743
- Francis Assaf - Lesage et le picaresque (A.-G. Nizet, 1983) ISBN 2707810320
- Christelle Bahier-Porte - La Poétique d’Alain-René Lesage (Champion, 2006) ISBN 9782745314062
- V. Barberet - Lesage et le théâtre de la foire (Slatkine Reprints, 1970)
- Roger Laufer - Lesage ; ou, Le métier de romancier (Gallimard, 1971)