Letters quoted in Prévost’s novels
What is the status of letters quoted in Abbé Prévost’s novels? Do they really, as it appears at first glance, reveal a truly feminine weakness of the male or female author of the epistle who writes to avoid confrontation with the protagonist-narrator? An analysis of several letters quoted in novels written in the first stage of the writer’s creative activity — Mémoires et aventures d’un Homme de qualité qui s’est retiré du monde (1728), Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731) — shows that this form, disappearing in the later novels in favour of a summary or quotation in (seemingly) reported speech, may be associated with a specific understanding of heroism as “everyday eschatology”. The situation of the protagonist receiving a letter (from a father entering a monastery or from an unfaithful lover) is defined by the paradoxical rhetoric of the letter. Concealment of the letter content or third-person accounts concern the events in which the intrigue — be it one dealing with family matters or politics — plays a crucial role, obscuring the original heroism, even in the ambiguous case of Manon’s “sacrifice”, which terrifies Des Grieux so much.