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Short biography - Jean de La Fontaine is universally known for his Fables. But he was also the author of Tales, Poems, Comedy, Epistles and Speeches, which did not always earn him admiration and friendships. Writer, slightly libertine poet, he will accede to the chair of the French Academy, his dearest ambition at the end of his life, but he will have to renounce his first tales and will thus be "in order" with God!
BIOGRAPHY OF JEAN DE LA FONTAINE(complete):
The beginnings of Jean de la Fontaine
Jean de la Fontaine was born in July 1621 in Château Thierry, to a father who was a master of Water and Forests, Captains of Chasses and a mother from Poitou. Beginning his education in his region by learning Latin, but not Greek - perhaps for lack of desire, he entered the Oratory of Paris at the age of twenty but left this school eighteen months later. . However, he appreciates the peace and quiet of the place, spends his time reading, unfortunately these are not the readings advocated by his teachers.
After an unhappy marriage of convenience in 1647 with Marie Héricart during which a child was born in 1653, La Fontaine began studying law and in 1649 obtained a diploma in law from the Parliament of Paris. Inheriting the office of Master of Water and Forests upon the death of his father in 1652 (which he sold in 1672), and despite the hard work, the future famous fabulist began to write. He met old friends in Paris like Maucroix, then new ones like Furetière, the Tallemant de Réaux brothers. He then frequents "The Round Table", a literary association.
Attracted by the writings of Malherbe, Benserade and Automobile, he first practiced verses, epistles and ballads, then wrote the Eunuch in 1654, a comedy Clymène in 1659 and a poem Adonis which earned him the protection of Nicolas Fouquet. , Superintendent of Finance. To thank him, La Fontaine dedicated "Le Songe de Vaux", "Ode to the King" and "Elegy to the Nymphs of Vaux" to him. But ... Fouquet is disgraced, La Fontaine remains loyal to him and Colbert shows his hatred to him, even leading to that of Louis XIV. Losing his protector, he is forgotten for a time in Limousin.
The Tales and Fables of the Fountain
Returning to Paris in 1664, he befriended Molière, Boileau and Racine. He took the opportunity to publish until 1674 his collections of Tales and News (with a libertine tendency) written for the Duchess of Bouillon, who had become his protector, drawing inspiration from Boccaccio and Ariosto, then his books of Fables from from 1668. Based on Aesop, Epicurus and Phaedrus, Jean de La Fontaine reworked these numerous Fables representing twelve thousand verses… He established the popular and rustic genre by saying "I use animals to instruct men". After the Duchess of Bouillon, he went to the Duchess of Orleans until 1673, then to Mme de la Sablière for twenty years. In 1678 he published aSecond Book of Fables, which is added to the first in an illustrated edition in four volumes
Borrowing the minor and popular form of the fable from an ancient tradition, La Fontaine makes it a refined yet natural piece. Thus "The frog who wants to be as big as the ox", a fable in mixed verses, taken from the first book of Fables, is traditional in certain aspects (animal characters embodying human faults, simple lexicon, dialogue form, distribution between exemplary and moral story explained), but innovative, despite its brevity, by its narrative quality (liveliness, irony, work on the rhythm). As for the morality, rather banal, it is worth especially by the humorous comparison between the frog of the narrative and important characters of the society of the time.
His chair at the Academy
Finally Jean de La Fontaine was elected to the Academy in 1684, in the chair of Colbert! Three years earlier, he had already applied, without result. When Colbert died in September 1683, two suitors were in the running: Boileau and La Fontaine. Arriving at the age of sixty-two, this is the ambition of his life. But to take a chair, you have to praise the previous holder: what if "you have a grudge against a man"? The Academicians find better qualities in Jean de La Fontaine compared to Boileau, the first votes are in favor of La Fontaine, but King Louis XIV does not like him.
Suddenly, he does not agree to this election. The king had decided, however, that they would both enter the Academy at the same time, but how do we get there? Fortunately for all, a new chair was vacant in April 1684. Boileau and La Fontaine entered the Academy. Colbert’s praise was quick! On this same occasion, he is obliged to deny his licentious tales and works before the assembly, admitting to having gone a little too far. He takes this new function to heart, present at all the sessions… a good student. In this environment he found Boileau, Perrault, Furetière and frequented salons and renowned writers such as Mme de Sévigné, Mme de La Fayette. He also participates very actively in the Quarrels of the Ancients and the Moderns, fiercely defending the Ancients.
The end of Jean de la Fontaine's life
He was only seventy-one years old when the disease struck him. With the death of the Duchess de la Sablière in January 1693, he lost his most precious friend. His morale is at its lowest, he loses the taste for pleasures but especially the taste for life. He spent his time reading, immersed himself in the Gospels and began discussions with the priests. Father Pouget, by dint of persuasion, managed to get La Fontaine to confess. He also insists on a public confession and denial of his tales ... which he does in his room in the presence of academics. The abbot makes him promise to write only religious and pious texts. He can finally receive the Extreme Anointing.
Getting better, he again attended the sessions of the Academy and in 1694 published Book XII of the Fables. But one evening in February 1695, he became ill and passed away on April 13, 1695.
- La Fontaine: Fables by Jean de La Fontaine. Pocket, 2002.
- Power and words in the Fables of La Fontaine by Olivier Leplâtre. Pul, 2002.