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Gil Blas

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Wikipedia article

'Gil Blas' is a picaresque novel by Alain-Ren Lesage published between 1715 and 1735. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of the picaresque genre.

Plot summary

Gil Blas is born in misery to a stablehand and a chambermaid of Santillana in Cantabria, and is educated by his uncle. He leaves Oviedo at the age of seventeen to attend the University of Salamanca. His bright future is suddenly interrupted when he is forced to help robbers along the route and is faced with jail. He becomes a valet and, over the course of several years, is able to observe many different classes of society, both lay and clerical. Because of his occupation, he meets many disreputable people and is able to adjust to many situations, thanks to his adaptability and quick wit.

He finally finds himself at the court as a favorite of the king and secretary to the prime minister. Working his way up though hard work and intelligence, Gil is able to retire to a castle to enjoy a fortune and a hard-earned honest life.

Literary significance and reception

'Gil Blas' is related to Lesage's play 'Turcaret' (1709). In both works, Lesage uses witty valets in the service of thieving masters, women of questionable morals, cuckolded yet happy husbands, gourmands, ridiculous poets, false savants, and dangerously ignorant doctors to make his point. Each class and each occupation becomes an archetype.

This work is both universal and French within a Spanish context. However, its originality was questioned. Voltaire was among the first to point out similarities between 'Gil Blas' and 'Marcos de Obregn' by Vicente Espinel, from which Lesage had borrowed several details. Considering 'Gil Blas' is essentially Spanish, Jos Francisco de Isla claimed to translate the work from French into Spanish in order to return it to its natural state. Juan Antonio Llorente suggested that 'Gil Blas' was written by the historian Antonio de Sols y Ribadeneyra by arguing that no contemporary writer could have possibly written a work of such detail and accuracy.

Allusions in other works

'Gil Blas' is referred to by Jonathan Swift in 'Directions to Servants', a satirical piece, dated 1731, with recommendations for the servants of rich masters to take the most advantage and have the least trouble in their daily tasks. In the chapter aimed at "the intendent and the administrator", Swift specifically instructs the reader to look up what Gil Blas has to say on the matter, as a more qualified source thus acknowledged.

Vasily Narezhny imitated Lesage in his 1814 novel 'A Russian Gil Blas' .

"Gil Blas" is alluded to in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 'Venus in Furs'. The character Wanda von Dunajew describes the cause of her own free thinking to come from the early introduction to classical works, among these is reading Gil Blas at the age of ten.

'Gil Blas' was the title of a five-act farcical opera adapting Lesage's novel by John Hamilton Reynolds, perhaps assisted by Thomas Hood, and first performed on 1 August 1822. It was famously five hours long on its first night at the Theatre Royal on the Strand and was then cut to three acts and the title changed to 'The Youthful Days of Gil Blas'. According to Reynolds's biographer, Leonidas M. Jones, no text of the play survives.Leonidas M. Jones, 'The Life of John Hamilton Reynolds' (University of New England Press, 1984), p. 243.

In a letter to William Dean Howells (July 5, 1875), Mark Twain tells of just completing the manuscript for 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' (written in third-person) and deciding against taking Tom into adulthood: to do so, he says, "would be fatal . . . in any shape but autobiographicallylike Gil Blas." Walter Blair ('Mark Twain and Huck Finn') thus concludes that Twain's new novel, 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', which, picaresque-like, "would run its protagonist through life,' had to be written in the first person; 'Gil Blas' was the model."

In his plan for the novel 'The Life of a Great Sinner', Dostoyevsky notes that the concision of this work will at times mirror that of 'Gil Blas'.

In 'A Rogue's Life' by Wilkie Collins the rogue declares '...I am as even-tempered a rogue as you have met with anywhere since the days of Gil Blas.'

Edgar Allan Poe mentions the archbishop in 'Gil-Blas' in the short story 'The Angel of the Odd'. The angel makes a low bow and departs, wishing, in the language of the archbishop, "beaucoup de bonheur et un peu plus de bon sens."

Italo Calvino's main character in The Baron in the Trees reads the book and lends it to a brigand.

'Gil Blas' is also mentioned in Thomas Flanagan's 'The Year of the French', in which poet Owen MacCarthy mentions having it with him "on [his] ramblings, years ago." Flanagan uses 'Gil Blas' to connect the poor Irish citizens and their French allies in the 1798 Rebellion, illustrating that the Irish may not all be as simple as Arthur Vincent Broome, the loyalist narrator, presumes. This allusion to 'Gil Blas' also connects the somewhat roguish MacCarthy to the picaresque protagonist Gil Blas.

Operatic adaptations

Thophile Semet composed a comic opera on 'Gil Blas' in five acts (1860).'Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians', 1908. Alphons Czibulka composed 'Gil Blas von Santillana', with libretto by F. Zell and Moritz West. It was first performed in 1889.http://musicaltheatreguide.com/composers/czibulka/alphons_czibilka.htm

Publication history

*'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane', Books 1-6 (1715)

*'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane', Books 7-9 (1724)

*'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane', Books 10-12 (1735)


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