He is considered one of the most important French playwright of the 18th century, writing numerous comedies for the Comédie-Française and the Comédie-Italienne of Paris. His most important works are Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard and Les Fausses Confidences. He also published a number of essays and two important but unfinished novels, La Vie de Marianne and Le Paysan parvenu.
His father was a Norman financier whose real name was Carlet, but who assumed the surname of Chamblain, and then that of Marivaux. He brought up his family in Limoges and Riom, in the province of Auvergne, where he directed the mint.
Marivaux is said to have written his first play, the Père prudent et equitable, when he was only eighteen, but it was not published till 1712, when he was twenty-four. However, the young Marivaux concentrated more on writing novels than plays. In the three years from 1713 to 1715 he produced three novels--Effets surprenants de la sympathie; La Voiture embourbée, and a book which had three titles--Pharsamon, Les Folies romanesques, and Le Don Quichotte moderne. These books are very different from his later, more famous pieces: they are inspired by Spanish romances and the heroic novels of the preceding century, with a certain intermixture of the marvellous.
Then Marivaux's literary ardour took a new phase. He parodied Homer to serve the cause of Antoine Houdar de La Motte, (1672 - 1731) an ingenious paradoxer; he later, allegedly, did the same for François Fénelon. His friendship with Antoine Houdar de La Motte introduced him to the Mercure, the chief newspaper of France, and he started writing articles for it in 1717. His work was noted for its keen observation and literary skill. His work showed the first signs of "marivaudage," which now signifies the flirtatious bantering tone characteristic of Marivaux's dialogues.
Marivaux is reputed to have been a witty conversationalist, with a somewhat contradictory personality. He was extremely good-natured, but fond of saying very severe things, unhesitating in his acceptance of favours (he drew a regular annuity from Claude Adrien Helvétius), but exceedingly touchy if he thought himself in any way slighted. He was, though a great cultivator of sensibility and unsparingly criticized the rising Philosophes. Perhaps for this reason, Voltaire became his enemy and often disparaged him. Marivaux' friends included Helvétius, Claudine Guérin de Tencin, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle and even Madame de Pompadour (who allegedly provided him with a pension). Marivaux had one daughter, who became a nun; the duke of Orleans, the regents successor, furnished her with her dowry.
The early 1720s were very important for Marivaux; he wrote a comedy (now mostly lost) called L'Amour et la vérité, another comedy, Arlequin poli par l'amour, and an unsuccessful tragedy, Annibal (printed 1737). In about 1721, he married a Mlle Martin, but she died shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, he lost all of his inheritance money when he invested it in the Mississippi scheme. His pen now became almost his sole resource.
Marivaux had a connection with both the fashionable theatres: "Annibal" had played at the Comédie Française and Arlequin poli at the Comédie Italienne. He also endeavored to start a weekly newspaper, the Spectateur Français, to which he was the sole contributor. But his irregular work ethic killed the paper after less than two years. Thus, for nearly twenty years the theatre, especially the Comédie Italienne, was Marivaux's chief support. His plays were well-received by the actors of the Comédie Française, but were rarely successful there.
Marivaux wrote between 30 and 40 plays, the best of which are the Surprise de l'amour (1722), the Triomphe de Plutus (1728), the Jeu de l'amour et du hasard (1730), Les Fausses confidences (1737), all produced at the Italian theatre, and Le Legs (1736), produced at the French. At intervals, he returned to journalism: a periodical publication called L'Indigent philosophe appeared in 1727, and another called Le Cabinet du philosophe in 1734. But the same causes which had proved fatal to the Spectateur prevented these later efforts from succeeding.
In 1731 Marivaux published the first two parts of his great novel, Marianne. The eleven parts appeared at intervals over the next eleven years, but the novel was never finished. In 1735 another novel, Le Paysan parvenu, was begun, but this also was left unfinished. Marivaux was elected a member of the Académie française in 1742. For the next twenty years, he contributed occasionally to the Mercure, wrote plays and reflections (which were seldom of much worth), and so forth. He died on the 12th February 1763, aged seventy-five.
The so-called Marivaudage is the main point of importance about Marivaux's literary work, though the best of the comedies have great merits, and "Marianne" is an extremely important step in the development of the French novel. It, and "Le Paysan parvenu," have some connection to the work of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. In general, Marivaux's subject matter is the so-called "metaphysic of love-making." As Claude Prosper Jolyot Crébillon said, Marivaux's characters not only tell each other and the reader everything they have thought, but everything that they would like to persuade themselves that they have thought.
This style derives mainly from Fontenelle and the Précieuses, though there are traces of it even in Jean de La Bruyère. It abuses metaphor somewhat, and delights to turn off a metaphor in an unexpected and bizarre fashion. Sometimes a familiar phrase is used where dignified language would be expected; sometimes the reverse. Crébilllon also described Marivaux's style as an introduction to each other of words which have never made acquaintance, and which think that they will not get on together (this phrase is itself rather Marivaux-esque). This kind of writing, of course, recurs at several periods of literature, especially at the end of the 19th century. This fantastic embroidery of language has a certain charm, and suits the somewhat unreal gallantry and sensibility which it describes and exhibits. Marivaux possessed, moreover, both thought and observation, besides considerable command of pathos.
an "improvised" novel ("roman impromptu")
Marivaux' play Le Triomphe de l'Amour (1732) was filmed in English in 2001 as The Triumph of Love, starring Mira Sorvino, Ben Kingsley, and Fiona Shaw. It is, so far, the only one of Marivaux's plays to ever be filmed in English (there have been many French film and television adaptations of his plays). The film received modestly favorable reviews, but was not a box office success. A 1997 musical stage adaptation had a brief Broadway run. In the French film L'esquive (2003), directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, Arab-French adolescents in a Paris suburb prepare and perform Marivaux' play Le jeu de l’amour et de l’hazard.