Jean de La Fontaine Biography

Jean de la Fontaine Jean de La Fontaine was born in Chateau-Thierry, Champagne, in central France; he was the son of a government official. He went to Paris to study medicine and theology, but he was drawn to the whirls of social life. La Fontaine qualified as a lawyer but he returned home in 1647 and assisted his father, a superintendent of forests. He held a number of government posts, but they did not pay much money. In 1647 he married Marie Héricart, an heiress, but the marriage was unhappy and they separated in 1658. La Fontaine had decided to become a famous writer. In 1658 he left his family and moved to Paris, where he lived his most productive years, devoting himself to writing. He found many patrons.

One of his patrons Nicolas Fouquet, was arrested for embezzlement and treason and sentenced to death. La Fontaine wrote one of his most beautiful poems as an impassioned plea for mercy. He left Paris to avoid arrest and spent soem time in Limousin. From 1664 to 1672 La Fontaine served as a gentleman-in-waiting to the dowager duchess d'Orleans in Luxemburg, and from 1673 he was a member of the household of Mme de La Sabliere. In 1683, he was elected to the Academie Francaise in recognition of his contribution to French literature.

Among La Fontaine's major works are Contes et Nouvelle en Vers (1664), a collection of tales borrowed from Italian sources, tales of Boccaccio, Rabelais, and other medieval and renaissance masters, these were stories dealt with marital misdemeanors and love affairs and were not written for readers who blushed easily. They went through four editions during La Fontaine's lifetime, but the last edition was banned by the authorities because it was considered too obscene. Later La Fontaine regretted ever having written them. Another major work is Les Amours de Psyche et de Cupidon(1669).

His work Fables Choisies Mises en Vers, usually called La Fontaine Fables, and was published over the last 25 years of his life. The first volume appeared when the author was 47. The book includes some 240 poems and timeless stories of countryfolk, heroes from Greek mythology, and familiar beasts from the fables of Aesop, from which La Fontaine unhesitatingly borrowed his material. The last of his tales were published posthumously. Each tale has a moral - an instruction how to behave correctly or how life should be lived. In the second volume La Fontaine based his tales on stories from Asia and other places. They were widely translated and imitated during the 17th and 18th centuries all over Europe, and beyond.

At the age of 71 La Fontaine became ill, and he started to think seriously about his life. He translated the Psalms, wore a hair shirt, and again embraced Catholicism. La Fontaine died in Paris on April 13, 1695. Before his death La Fontaine was encouraged by his abbé to condemn publicly his indecent stories. La Fontaine obeyed the advice and also burned a comedy he had just composed.

Some of Jean de La Fontaine Poems

Alice Sick

SICK, Alice grown, and fearing dire event,
Some friend advised a servant should be sent
Her confessor to bring and ease her mind;--
Yes, she replied, to see him I'm inclined;
Let father Andrew instantly be sought:--
By him salvation usually I'm taught.

A MESSENGER was told, without delay,
To take, with rapid steps, the convent way;
He rang the bell--a monk enquired his name,
And asked for what, or whom, the fellow came.
I father Andrew want, the Wight replied,
Who's oft to Alice confessor and guide:
With Andrew, cried the other, would you speak?
If that's the case, he's far enough to seek;
Poor man! he's left us for the regions blessed,
And has in Paradise ten years confessed.

Jean de La Fontaine

An Imitation Of Anacreon

PAINTER in Paphos and Cythera famed
Depict, I pray, the absent Iris' face.
Thou hast not seen the lovely nymph I've named;
The better for thy peace.--Then will I trace
For thy instruction her transcendent grace.
Begin with lily white and blushing rose,
Take then the Loves and Graces... But what good
Words, idle words? for Beauty's Goddess could
By Iris be replaced, nor one suppose
The secret fraud--their grace so equal shows.
Thou at Cythera couldst, at Paphos too,
Of the same Iris Venus form anew.

Jean de La Fontaine




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