FACTS AND FICTION

THE TRUE AND THE IMAGINATIVE TRUTH IN GIL BLAS

Beyond the Picaresque

facts & fictionLesage’s life covered a period when the writing of prose was being transformed from a hobby or calling into a trade or profession. At the end of the 17th century no one made much of a living just from writing fiction; it was an intellectual pastime, prestigious maybe, and often an opportunity for displays of wit and brilliance. Prose storytellers had to have an independent income or to be financed by a patron. This was not true of playwrights. The successful first-run of a play – exceeding thirty performances, that is -- could quickly build a lasting reputation (and a certain financial well-being). French authors were only paid for the initial Paris production of their plays; provincial performances and subsequent runs earned them nothing. Publishers, printers and booksellers, the three activities were often combined, paid an author an agreed royalty on a first edition, but nothing subsequently. Copyright did not exist; piracy and plagiarism were frequent. Successful books were quickly and freely translated, re-issued, copied and even bowdlerised by others (which explains how the Spanish picaresque novel and its variants spread like wildfire through European literature, infecting each national culture in turn). Books were expensive, so booksellers also operated subscription libraries, so the public could read without necessarily having to buy.

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