Manon Lescaut was written a full 100 years prior to The Red and the Black by Stendhal (1830), but only another 50 years prior to The Ladies’ Paradise by Emil Zola. Oh, the changes in French society and literature during that time! To say nothing of Madam Bovary (Flaubert – 1856) and Pere Goriot (Balzac – 1835) and The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas – 1836) which were somewhere in between.
They all have to do primarily with money and status along with love. For what it’s worth, Manon Lescaut was banned in France, read surreptitiously, and Prévost toned it down in a later edition. (No wonder women who read “novels” were looked at askance – lol.)
There seems to be an overarching national theme there. Even The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barberry – 2008 and read then) has a shadow of that idea.
This novel is a kind of melodrama, a passionate telling of the young and noble Chevalier de Grieux’ addiction to Manon Lescaut, a beautiful young woman with no moral underpinnings whatsoever, who is in turn addicted to the good times, trinkets and fun – costly things. Young man does everything in his power to keep Manon supplied with her goodies but his means are limited so he gets involved in criminal-type behavior, cheating at cards, kidnapping, etc. This is all for the sake of loyalty (a very highly regarded virtue) to his beloved. And Manon does a bit of conning on the side, too – but she’s always looking for a better time when Gascion can’t provide it. Meanwhile his good friend Tiberge as well as Chevalier’s father and brother are playing the roles of good enablers – loaning or giving money as needed – highly moral actions here.
I suspect the real value of this book is the classic element, the history – how did writers write in 18th century, what kind of a setting did they portray for their contemporary readers, what were the values and interests of their readers, and so on. If that interests you I recommend it, if not I wouldn’t bother.