Alain-René Lesage : biography
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 he was left in the care of his uncle who wasted his education and fortune. Père Bochard, of the Order of the Jesuits, Principal of the College in Vannes, became interested in the boy on account of his natural talents. Bochard cultivated Lesage's taste for literature. At age 25, Lesage went to Paris in 1693 "to pursue his philosophical studies".
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 Abbé 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. Spanish literature was once very popular in France when the queens of the house of Austria sat upon the throne, but had become neglected by Lesage's time.
First literary efforts
Lesage began by translating plays chiefly from Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla and Lope de Vega. Le Traître puni and Le Point d'honneur from the former and Don Félix 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 César 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 maître, was well received, and (with a frontispiece by Louise-Magdeleine Horthemels) 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 Étrennes (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 Estevanille Gonzalez, 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 trouvée, a collection of imaginary letters, and of some minor pieces including Une journée 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, Mélange amusant de saillies d'esprit et de traits historiques les plus frappants, appeared in 1743.
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