Jean de La Fontaine

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Jean de la Fontaine

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)

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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)

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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...
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