Le Diable boiteux, 1707 (The Devil upon Two Sticks, 1708, 1726)
Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, 1715-1735 (4 volumes; The History of Gil Blas of Santillane, 1716, 1735; better known as Gil Blas, 1749, 1962)
Les Aventures de M. Robert Chevalier dit de Beauchêne, 1732 (The Adventures of Robert Chevalier, 1745)
Histoire de Don Guzman d’Alfarache, 1732 (The Pleasant Adventures of Gusman of Alfarache, 1812)
Histoire d’Estévanille Gonzalès, 1734 (The Comical History of Estévanille Gonzalez, 1735; also known as The History of Vanillo Gonzales, Surnamed the Merry Bachelor, 1821-1824)
Le Bachelier de Salamanque, 1736 (The Bachelor of Salamanca, 1737-1739)
Une Journée des Parques, 1735 (A Day of the Fates, 1922)
La Valise trouvée, 1740 (2 volumes)
Crispin, rival de son maître, pr., pb. 1707 (Crispin, Rival of His Master, 1766)
Turcaret: Comédie en cinq actes, pr., pb. 1709 (English translation, 1923)
Le Théâtre de la Foire: Ou, L’Opéra comique, pr. 1712-1738 (10 volumes; with d’Orneval, Louis Fuzilier, and others)
Œuvres de Lesage, 1821 (12 volumes)
Bibliothèque amusante, 1865 (4 volumes; includes Le Diable boiteux, Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, Histoire de Don Guzman d’Alfarache, and Histoire d’Estévanille Gonzalès)
Alain-René Lesage (leh-sahzh), sometimes spelled Le Sage, was educated at Jesuit schools in Brittany. His parents died when he was young, and his guardians squandered the family finances. Lesage, like his father, pursued a career in law. In the 1690’s, however, while working as an attorney in Paris, he was influenced by the Abbé de Lionne to become a translator of Spanish works from the sixteenth century Golden Age. At this time he married Marie-Elisabeth Huyard, the daughter of a cabinet maker.
Lesage established himself as a prolific author of comedies written for the Théâtre de la Foire and for the Théâtre Forain. These plays were performed during holiday festivals, and all the manuscripts have disappeared. In 1707, his one-act farce Crispin, Rival of His Master was staged by the Comédie Française. Turcaret, based on an earlier comedy about tax collectors and financiers, was also well received.
Lesage’s greatest imprint on French literature came from two novels, The Devil upon Two Sticks and Gil Blas, both of which were revived and expanded in subsequent editions. The Devil upon Two Sticks is based on the popular Spanish novel El Diablo cojuelo, by Luis Vélez Guevara. In this satiric fable, a genie named Asmodée removes the rooftops of Madrid in order to expose the intimacies and absurdities of bourgeois life. Gil Blas–a sprawling picaresque novel also indebted to Spanish sources–represents in disguise the vivid panorama of early eighteenth century French culture. This work offers a compelling character study of the protagonist as an adaptable Everyman whose single fault, like Don Quixote’s, is that he does not learn from experience. The many interconnected stories that flow from the plot provide a series of literary portraits in a colorful style that is alternately ironic, astringent, and racy.
In order to support (without a literary patron) his family of three sons and a daughter, Lesage continued to borrow from Spanish authors in three other sensationalist novels: The Pleasant Adventures of Gusman of Alfarche, The Comical History of Estévanille Gonzalez, and The Bachelor of Salamanca. In a similar vein, The Adventures of Robert Chevalier offers exotic locales and improbable events. Lesage’s contributions to the development of the novel were widely appreciated by the British writers Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Tobias Smollett. Like Molière, Lesage trained his skeptical eye on the foibles and eccentricities of human nature while reserving moral judgment.