Jean De La Fontaine Essay, Research Paper
La Fontaine, the most versatile and most widely celebrated nondramatic poet in seventeenth ?century France. He has often experienced the misfortune of having the artistry of his works obscured by a host of myths, half-truths, prejudices, and nonaesthetic issues. This great poet, has become a "classic". His fables, on which his Reputations rests, are part of the literary canon of French writers and are studied in schools. His other works, however, have been rediscovered and are the object of quite a few recent studies. (Carter, pg.46)
Very little is known about the early part of La Fontaine?s life. He was born in Château-Thierry, a small town in the province of Champagne some fifty miles northeast of Paris. His baptism was entered in the parish of Saint-Crépin register on July 8, 1621. Most take this as his actual birth date, but according to the custom of the period, it probably means that La Fontaine was born a day or two earlier. (Mackay, pg.4) He was the son of Charles de la Fontaine, a royal government official who inspected forests and waterways. His mother Françoise Pidoux, who came from a nobler family from Poitou. He also had a younger brother who was born two years after La Fontaine. He also had an older step sister named Anne de Jouy on his mothers side of the family. (Carter, pg. 46)
The education and formative years of young la Fontaine are not documented.
Most biographers state that, in all likelihood, he attended château-thierry
"college”. This is a secondary institution where humanities were taught
to the sons of the middle class. (Encarta n.pag.) He then attended a school
at Reims. From there he went to Paris to study medicine and theology, but was
drawn into the whirls of social life. During that time he became qualified as
a lawyer, but never perused it.
In 1641 he went to the Oratory of Saint Magloire in Paris, intending to become a priest and was soon joined by his brother who later dropped out as did La Fontaine. (Http//localhost, pg. 3) After he left the Oratory he went home and started to work for his dad and eventually took over in 1647. The same year he married Marie Héricart, who was an heiress. In 1653 Marie and La Fontaine had a son, (his name was not found in any of my sources). However the marriage was unhappy and they ended up separating in the year 1658. (Carter, pg.47) From his childhood he had shown a strong fondness for poetry and he used to write verses for his own pleasure, but it wasn?t until after he separated with his wife that he decided to become a famous writer. Because of La Fontaine’s decision to become a famous writer he spent most of his time in literary circles with Molière and others. In 1658 he left his family and moved to Paris, where he spent most of his productive years, devoting himself to writing. (Mackay, pg. 16)
Before he left to Paris he was introduced to Fouquet, who granted him a pension
with the understanding that the poet should send every month, as a receipt to
the financier, some little piece of poetry ? ode, madrigal, or Rondeau. In 1664
Fouquet died and he turned to Marguerite de Lorraine, the Dowager Duchess of
Orleans. La Fontaine joined her entourage in the Luxembourg palace, and was
sworn in as gentleman in waiting to the Dowager Duchess. It was at this time
that he made the acquaintance of Moliere, Racine, Boileau, and Chapelle. (Sweetser,
pg. 32) Not long after this patroness died in 1672, the poet gained the protection
of Marguerite Hessein, Madame de La Sablière, who lived in Paris apart
from he husband. For nearly twenty years she provided La Fontaine with lodging.
In he salon, La Fontaine gained access to a distinguished society of littérateurs,
scientists, and philosophers. His protectress helped secure for him the leisure
needed to develop his poetic craft. This however did not make La Fontaine wealthy,
his fathers debts were to remain a burden for many years; in 1676 he would even
sell the family home in Château-Thierry in order to Seattle with creditors.
In 1684 La Fontaine was elected into the Académie Française (a
society of forty "immortals" that still exists). (Encarta n. pag.)
In 1693, after the death of Madame de La Sablière, La Fontaine resided
in the Paris home of a high judicial court magistrate and his wife, Monsieur
and Madame d?Hervart, his last patrons.
During his life in Paris La Fontaine?s compositional habits revealed a characteristic
restlessness period. He tried his hand at a spectrum of genres, themes, and
styles. "Diversity is my motto," he declared in a tale first published
in 1674. La Fontaine?s most prolific years as a writer, the 1660?s and the 1672?s,
were the richest decades of what is often termed as the classical period of
French literature he published his first six books of the Fables in 1668. The
collection was deticated to the dauphin, the six-year-old son of Louis XIV.
The final book of the fables was dedicated to the king?s grandson, the twelve-year-old
duc de Bourgogne. Books seven to eleven, which appeared from 1678 to 1679, were
addressed to an adult, the monarch?s long time mistress, Madame de Montespan.
The poet was in full possession of his genius and had acquired a great reputation.
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La Fontaine loved to read other peoples works. When he was younger he admired such writers as François Rabelais, François de Malherbe, and Honoré d?Urfé, but as he grew older he fell in love with Greek literature namely such ancient masters as Terence, Horace, and Virgil. Although he liked many, his favorite was Homer, but he did not follow the same writing style as Homer, were as Homers writings were extremely lengthy La Fontaine stated "long works frighten me. Far from exhausting a subject, one must only take its flower". (Mackay, pg. 34) La Fontaine also had to frequently change pace, which meant keeping his works reality short. Although theatrical modes perpetually fascinated him, he never achieved renown as a dramatist.
One advantages la Fontaine enjoyed by writing fables and tales was his freedom
from strict rules of composition, such as those prescribed for the classical
tragedy and for fixed poetic forms like the sonnet. La Fontaine used Fables
to educate people to know right from wrong and other basic morals. All of his
Fableshad animal characters involved not only to keep them more interesting,
but also because of his love for nature. He once said, "I use Animals to
instruct men". (Carter. pg.47)
Among La Fontaine?s major works are Contes et Nouvelles en Vers (1664), collection of tales borrowed from Italian sources, form the bawdy tales of Boccaccio, Rablais, and other medieval an renaissance masters, and Les Amours de Psyché et de Cupidon (1669). (Carter. pg.47) In quite a different key from the more innocent "Fables," the "Contes" often threatened to get La Fontaine in trouble with both Church and Academie. Marital misdemeanors and love affairs proved the inspiration for some rich, inventive plotting in the stories that were not written for all readers. They went through four editions during La Fontaine?s lifetime, but the authorities banned the last edition because it was considered too obscene. In later life La Fontaine regretted ever having written them. (Encarta n.pag.)
In the years just before La Fontaine?s death he returned to his Catholic religion.
Pious thoughts appear to have occupied much of his time in the waning years.
Though fleeting signs of authorial brilliance had appeared in the twilight of
his career, the days of literary glory for which he would be cheerfully remembered
were now far behind. He spent his final days residing in the home of his last
patron died on April 13, 1695, after falling gravely ill while returning home
from an assembly of the Académie Française. (Sweetser. pg. 58)
Carter, Hodding, The New Book of Knowledge volume 11 1994, Grolier Inc. Danbury,
"La Fontaine", Encarta Encyclopedia, Encarta Publishing 1995, IBM,
Mackay, Agnes Ethel, La Fontaine and His Friends 1972, George Braziller, New
Sweetser, Marie-Odile, La Fontaine 1987, Twayne Publishers, Boston
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