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Let the Critics have their say...


quote The same method has been practised by other Spanish and French authors, and by none more successfully than by Monsieur Le Sage, who, in his Adventures of Gil Blas, has described the knavery and foibles of life, with infinite humour and sagacity."
Tobias Smollett in his Preface to The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748)

quote Bonn. November 21, 1888. Wednesday.
Finished Petronius; I know few books that are so immoral and few that are more instructive as to the daily life and customs of Rome; I have learned more out of Petronius’s hundred pages than I should have done out of ten fat volumes of facts and dissertations… he is most undoubtedly a man of great genius; you have to come down as far as Cervantes, Grimmelshausen, and Lesage, full sixteen centuries, to find anything to be compared to him in prose fiction…"
From the diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937) German aesthete, writer and diplomat (extract from Journey to the Abyss, the Kessler Diaries translated by Laird M. Easton, Knopf, New York, 2011.)


quote Lesage is a realist, but in the widest sense of the term, for, while he has all the objectivity of the nineteenth-century school, he retains the seventeenth-century preference for the bold suggestive trait, as opposed to the minute brushwork of the moderns. Like them he is a picturesque realist, but to a lesser degree, since he lacks their colour and insistence on atmosphere. He is an etcher, not a painter. Occasionally it is true he will linger over the description of a banquet, for he loves good cheer, but usually he impatiently breaks with descriptive writing in order to pursue the narrative of adventures… On the other hand, neither is he a psychological realist. He faithfully observes the actions and retails the sayings and reflections of his characters. In his inimitable fashion he comments and moralises on their adventures, but makes little attempt to examine their origins. In other words, he is a moralist, not a psychologist… He has the moralist’s love for the sententious generalisation… epigrammatic phrases which remind us we have just left the century which produced a La Rochefoucauld and a La Bruyère. Lesage’s realism is that of the observer whose eyes are ruthlessly riveted on the foibles and eccentricities of mankind. His picture of society affects the critic in strangely different ways. One’s estimate of Gil Blas varies according to one’s own experience of the world. The idealist may dismiss the novel impatiently as a calumny on human nature, but on reflection he cannot deny that Lesage’s picture of the average man is a true one. The author, like Molière, utters no great philosophical truths. He has no profound lesson to offer save that which teaches us not to make fools of ourselves, and that, as some critic of Molière once pertinently remarked, is no morality at all. The object of Lesage is that of the comic author, to amuse and instruct. His motto is “ridendo castigo.” Possibly Gil Blas is losing its appeal. We live in an age which has a passion for “improving” literature. We tend to become impatient of a book which does not convey the message of some new gospel or the promise of some dazzling Utopia. But some day we shall recover our lost sense of perspective and at the same time our sense of humour. Then Gil Blas will come back into its own."
Professor F C Green in French Novelists Manners and Ideas (1928)

quote … he continued to publish translations, adaptations of yet more Spanish models and his own original fiction, including, especially, the work on which his literary reputation now largely rests and which spans virtually the whole of the most productive period of his career, Gil Blas of Santillana. This… related a young man’s rise from poor but honest beginnings to the highest levels of society and his eventual retreat to rural bliss.”

George Evans in ‘Lesage: Crispin Rival de son Maître and Turcaret’, Grant & Cutler, London (1987).

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