BIOGRAPHY JEAN DE LA FONTAINE – Jean de la Fontaine marked history with his Fables. His work occupies a prominent place in the French cultural heritage and certain precepts have entered popular wisdom. But the man was a poor father and husband …
Short biography of Jean de La Fontaine – Born in Château-Thierry in the Picardy countryside, on July 8, 1621, Jean de La Fontaine grew up with a passion for reading ancient works. After college, he spent 18 months at the Oratory from 1641. However, not being interested in religious studies, he preferred to study law in Paris and obtained his law degree in 1649. At the same time as his studies , he attends a salon of young literature enthusiasts, the “knights of the round table” and composes his first verses. In 1653, his wife Marie Héricart, whom he had married in 1647, gave him a son, Charles. Madame de La Fontaine is a cultivated woman who, like her husband, frequents a literary salon.
In 1654, La Fontaine published his first comedy: theEunuch, adapted from the Latin poet Terence. The death of his father, in 1658, left him in an uncomfortable financial situation which led him to seek a protector. He then found it in the person of Nicolas Fouquet, superintendent of finances for whom he composed several works including ballads, sonnets and the heroic poem. Adonis in 1658. The poet then frequents precious societies and meets other great artists including Charles Perrault and Molière. He lives between Paris and Château-Thierry, his hometown, where he notably exercises the charge of private master of water and forests.
When Fouquet fell out of favor in 1661, La Fontaine remained loyal to him and defended him with his poetry in theElegy to the nymphs of Vaux in 1662 and theOde to the king the next year. Following these publications, the poet prefers to go into exile for a while in Limoges. During this trip, he wrote to his wife a series of letters which would be published in 1663 under the title La Relation of a trip from Paris to Limousin and which bring together descriptions of the landscapes and towns crossed. On his return to Château-Thierry a few months later, La Fontaine courted the Duchess of Bouillon and persuaded her to become his new protector. In 1664, it enabled him to obtain the post of gentleman in Paris serving with his new benefactress, the Duchess of Orleans. He was then successful in salons and published numerous works, including the three collections of Stories and tales in verse published in 1665, 1666 and 1671. He also tries his hand at the novel with The loves of Psyche and Cupid (1669).
In 1668, La Fontaine published his first collection of Fables which was hugely successful. It brings together 124 fables dedicated to the Dauphin, son of Louis XIV. The poet stages there animals to criticize men and denounce the great problems of his time. In 1678 and 1679 appear two other collections of Fables, containing 87 additional fables. His Fables, appreciated by young and old alike, remain current thanks to the simplicity of their language and their pictorial form. Indeed, even if nowadays censorship has disappeared, the narrative strategy adopted by La Fontaine – using animals to represent the broad moral traits of human beings – remains as clever and funny as ever. The fabulist often drew his inspiration from older fables, written by Aesop, Horace or even Pilpay, and he renewed this genre by totally reinventing its form: the short story then becomes an essential element, just like the is didactic morality which concludes it. The Fox and the Crow, The grasshopper and the ant, The lion and the rat, The wolf and the lamb are among the most famous of La Fontaine’s fables.
In total, almost 248 fables are attributed to Jean de la Fontaine, 243 of which are taken from the three collections he published between 1668 and 1694. For better understanding, the three collections were subsequently divided into 12 books (numbered in Roman numerals from I to XII). By virtue of his mastery of poetic art and his lack of interest in prose, Jean de la Fontaine wrote his fables in the form of verse. Several of them such as The grasshopper and the ant Where The Fox and the Crow have been taken from works of antiquity, and in particular from the Greek Aesop, considered by many to be the first fabulist. The last collection of Fables de la Fontaine was published in 1694, less than a year before the author’s death.
Jean de la Fontaine, aged 26, married Marie Héricart on November 10, 1647. She was only 14 and a half years old. In 1652, the couple had a child, Charles. Very quickly, La Fontaine is tired of his wife and abandons her. In his Historiettes, the writer Tallemant des Réaux writes: “His wife says that he is dreaming so much that it is sometimes three weeks without believing to be married. She is a coquette who has been rather badly governed for some time: he has never been married. They say to him: but such a cajole your wives – Faith! he replies that he does what he can; I do not care. He will tire of it as I did. . This indifference enraged this woman, she cuttlefish with grief.“
Famous libertine, the temptation of adultery is obviously too great for the man of letters. Jean de la Fontaine prefers to run the petticoats of Paris. In a verse from Mona Lisa, he writes: “Recently married: happy, I don’t know.” Fallen claimed, he likes to go from woman to woman without becoming attached, as pointed out by all biographers. “It is useless to describe to the good canon his ephemeral connections, even when he became a gray dog, his passion for the game, his flippancy towards his wife and his son, Charles, whom he let grow up far from him. He would not even recognize him if he happened to be in the same room, “writes Le Figaro, which describes the poet’s offhand behavior and the lack of consideration for his wife and son. Abandoned by his father, Charles is entrusted to his most faithful friend, François de Maucroix who manages his education. Lover of many women, La Fontaine separated from his wife in 1658.
After the death of the Duchess of Orleans in 1672, La Fontaine placed herself under the protection of Madame de La Sablière. He then published a variety of works, in particular a collection of licentious tales which was prohibited (the New Tales, 1674), religious poems (Daphne, 1674) and several plays. La Fontaine, celebrated poet, is then elected to the Académie française in 1683, succeeding Colbert. He defended Latin and Greek literature there in 1687, during the “Quarrel between the ancients and the moderns”. At the end of his life, La Fontaine was forced by his confessor to renounce his licentious writings. The poet died on April 13, 1695, in the house of Hervarts, a family of bankers who had taken him under their protection in 1693, on the death of Madame de la Sablière.
- July 8, 1621: Birth of La Fontaine
- Jean de La Fontaine was born in Château-Thierry in the Aisne. Her mother already has a daughter, Anne de Jouy, born from a first marriage of which she is a widow. In addition to his half-sister, Jean has a younger brother, Claude, who was born in 1623. The small family leads an easy life thanks to the personal fortune of the mother, Françoise, and thanks to the charge of Master of Water and Forests exercised by Charles, the father.
- 1647: Marriage with Marie Héricart
- When he was 26 years old, Jean’s father organized a marriage for him with Marie Héricart, who she was only 14 years old. This arranged marriage was a failure and the two spouses separated around 1664. Their breakup was due to their age difference, their lack of affinity and above all to the flighty behavior of the poet, whose amorous escapades were far from discreet.
- 1653: Birth of his son Charles
- Although his marriage to Marie Héricart was a failure, he still gave the poet an only son, Charles. However, La Fontaine, who then spent his life between Château-Thierry, where his wife and son lived, and the Parisian literary salons, abandoned his child. It is said later that one day he did not recognize him when he passed him in the street.
- 1662: La Fontaine defends Nicolas Fouquet
- In 1659, La Fontaine had signed a “poetic pension” contract with the superintendent of finance Nicolas Fouquet. He thus composed verses and works in prose for a regular pension. In 1662, its protector fell out of favor, probably because of a conspiracy between King Louis XIV and Colbert, who then took Fouquet’s place in finance. The poet however remained faithful to his patron and took up his defense in 1662 in the “Elegy to the Nymphs of Vaux” and the “Ode to the King” in 1663.
- 1668: Release of the first collection of Fables
- La Fontaine publishes his first collection of Fables, illustrated by François Chauveau. The work is dedicated to the dolphin, Louis de France, aged only 8 years. It contains 124 educational fables including “The Crow and the Fox”, “The Oak and the Reed”, or “The Hare and the Tortoise”. The collection was an immediate success.
- 1678: Release of the second collection of Fables
- Ten years after the publication of the first collection, La Fontaine presents to the public the second volume of his “Fables”. It brings together 87 fables dedicated to Madame de Montespan, the king’s mistress. The reception of the public is less good than for the first “Fables”, which had the charm of the novelty. However, this collection contains pieces that have remained famous such as “The animals sick with the plague” and “The Rat and the Oyster”. The last book of fables was published in 1693.
- May 2, 1684: La Fontaine enters the Académie française
- La Fontaine, who became very popular thanks to the publication of his Fables in 1668, was elected to the French Academy in 1683. He officially entered on May 2, 1684, occupying chair n ° 24, previously occupied by Colbert. Taking the place of the former Minister of Finance is also for the poet a little revenge on the plot that Colbert had orchestrated in 1662 against his protector, Nicolas Fouquet.
- January 27, 1687: The quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns
- On January 27, 1687, Charles Perrault presented to the French Academy his poem entitled “The Century of Louis the Great” which sparked a controversy in the literary world. From then on, two groups of writers are opposed on the direction to be taken in their works. The Ancients, including La Fontaine, Boileau and Racine, advocate the imitation and adaptation of ancient works in their works. The Moderns, led by Perrault, maintain that the works of Greek and Roman Antiquity can be surpassed in quality by new artistic forms.
- April 13, 1695: Death of the greatest of the fabulists
- Jean de La Fontaine died at the age of 74. He leaves behind a literary legacy of nearly 250 fables, many collections of stories and many other poems, texts in prose or in verse. He is recognized by generations to come as the greatest French fabulist.