Edith Wharton's unpublished Manon Lescaut, A Play in Five Acts, has been overlooked as a significant work in Wharton's early career. Reduced to the term “adaptation,” which diminishes its importance, Wharton, in fact, revised Abbé Prévost's treatment of the fallen woman stereotype as she explored literary and dramatic form. New materials from the Paul Kester Papers at the New York Public Library, period newspaper articles, letters from Walter Berry to Wharton, and a second copy of the manuscript itself offer a new history of this drama. Composed in 1900, the play almost made it to the New York stage starring Julia Marlowe after the actress Marie Tempest withdrew. But a fall 1900 dispute with Marlowe's manager, C. B. Dillingham, regarding Manon's moral character and the length of the play resulted in Wharton's defense of her creative choices in three letters and five pages of Notes. Additionally, letters by Walter Berry to Wharton discuss the possibility of replacing Marlowe with Olga Nethersole, the actress who was indicted on indecency charges for her performance in Clyde Fitch's Sapho. The context of Wharton's Manon Lescaut shows a playwright in charge of her craft, navigating the complicated theatrical world, and defending her creative vision.

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