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Alain-René Lesage

The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane

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Gil Blas is one of the great picaresque novels — a literary genre that dates back to classical Rome, but has its modern origins in 16th and 17th century Spain. Entertainment, drama, satire, an exuberant delight in fabulating, a lighthearted mood even in the face of troubles and losses, and a happy ending, these are what the reader can expect. Glis Blas is set in Spain, is a thoroughly French novel, and, also thanks to Tobias Smollett’s English translation, has had considerable influence on (among others) English and American authors from the 18th to the 20th century, and probably beyond.

Three hundred years after it was written, Gil Blas still entertains, and offers to take you on a highly enjoyable tour through early 18th century Spain and France.


About the Author

Alain-René Lesage was born 1668 in Brittany in north-western France as the son of a prosperous lawyer, but both his parents died when he was very young, and his uncle squandered his fortune. He attended a school of the Jesuits, then studied law in Paris, returned to Brittany where he was not successful as a lawyer, and in 1698 went back to Paris. 1694 he married the daughter of a joiner, Marie Elizabeth Huyard, who is said to have been beautiful, but was without a fortune. Lesage began working as a translator; in 1695 he published a French version of the erotic Epistles of Aristaenetus, but it was not a success. He found a patron and adviser, though, the Abbé de Lyonne, who bestowed on him a generous annuity, and advised him to interest himself with Spanish literature.

Lesage translated major Spanish works of literature, and was almost forty when, in 1707, he had his first successes with his own works, the farce Crispin rival de son maître (Crispin, his Master’s Rival) and the novel Le Diable boiteux (The Devil upon Two Sticks). Like his most important and influential work, the picaresque novel Gil Blas which was published between 1715 and 1735, that novel too was set in Spain, but both actually reflected contemporary French conditions.

Lesage was prolific as a translator, playwright and novelist. Little is known about his private life, but his life and his marriage seem to have been happy. They had a daughter and three sons, two of whom became successful actors, while the third became a Canon of the Cathedral of Boulogne — at his house Lesage and his wife spent their old age. Lesage died in 1747 at the age of 80.


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