Jean de La Fontaine

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La Fontaine, Jean de

(zhäN də), 1621–95, French poet, whose celebrated fables place him among the masters of world literature. He was born at Château-Thierry to a bourgeois family. A restless dilettante as a youth, he settled at last in Paris. His marriage (1647) terminated in 1658, and from 1673 to 1693 he lived in the household of Mme de La Sablière, one of his several patrons. La Fontaine's masterpiece is the collection of Fables choisies, mises en vers [selected fables versified] (1668–94), comprising 12 books of some 230 fables drawn largely from Aesop. Each fable is a short tale of beasts behaving like men; each serves as a comment on human behavior. Although their charm and simple facade have made them popular with children, many are sophisticated satires and serious commentaries on French society. Their wit, acumen, and brilliance of verse and narrative have assured their worldwide success; they ran into 37 editions before La Fontaine's death. Among his other works are Contes et nouvelles en vers (4 vol., 1664–74, tr. Tales and Novels in Verse, 1934), humorous and often ribald verse tales drawn from Boccaccio, Ariosto, and others. He also wrote comedies and librettos for opera, poems on classical themes, and long original poems, notably the Élégie aux nymphes de Vaux (1671), a complaint on the disgrace (1661) of his patron Fouquet.


See English translations of the fables by J. Auslander and J. Le Clercq (1930), E. Marsh (1933), M. Moore (1954), and J. Mitchie (1982); biography by A. E. Mackay (1973); study by P. A. Wadsworth (1952, repr. 1970).

La Fontaine, Jean de


Born July 8, 1621, in Château-Thierry, Champagne, present-day department of Aisne; died Apr. 13, 1695, in Paris. French poet. Elected to the Académie Française in 1684.

La Fontaine’s family belonged to the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. His first literary work was an adaptation of Terence’s comedy The Eunuch (1654). La Fontaine composed the narrative poem Adonis (1658), the dramatic eclogue Climène (c. 1658), the poetic fragments Dream in Vaux (1658–61), madrigals, epistles, and ballads in the précieux style. When the royal favorite, Fouquet, was arrested, La Fontaine expressed sympathy for him in the elegy “To the Nymphs in Vaux” (1662) and in the “Ode to the King . . .” (1663). As a result, the poet was sent away to Limoges.

Concessions to the précieux school are interspersed with pages of inspired poetry in the chivalrous novella The Love of Psyche and Cupid (1669; Russian translation, 1964). Of particular importance are the racy Tales and Stories in Verse (books 1–5, 1665–85) and the famous Fables (books 1–6, 1668; books 7–11, 1678–79). In these works, La Fontaine emerged as an outstanding satirist, freethinker (close to the materialist doctrines of P. Gassendi), and heir to Renaissance traditions in literature.

A new surge of creativity is evident in the narrative poem Philemon and Baucis (1685) and even more so in the Epistle to Huet, Bishop of Soissons (1687), in which La Fontaine actively entered into the dispute between “the ancients and the moderns” upholding the superiority of ancient over contemporary writers.

In 1694, La Fontaine published the last book of the Fables, to which he owes his fame as one of the greatest popular poets of France. The distinguishing features of his works, which won him a unique place among classicists, are revealed most clearly in the Fables: an interest in the “lower” genres, a reliance on popular wisdom and folklore, a profoundly national inspiration, and a proclivity for allegory and irony. Although he used classical models (Aesop and Phaedrus), the works of Indian fabulists, and folk traditions of the animal epos, La Fontaine overcame the didacticism of his predecessors. Displaying a splendid mastery of laconic composition and a virtuosity in free verse, La Fontaine dramatized the fable and, especially in the collections written in the 1670’s, greatly broadened its possibilities as a realistic descriptive form. Russian fabulists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, particularly I. A. Krylov, took advantage of the fable’s potential as a realistic literary form.


Oeuvres, vols. 1–11. Paris, 1883–92.
Fables, contes, et nouvelles [2nd ed.]. Paris, 1954. (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.)
Oeuvres choisis. [Compiled and with an article by N. P. Kozlova.] Moscow [1964].
In Russian translation:
Basni. St. Petersburg, 1897.
Basni (Poln. sobr.), vols. 1–2. Edited by A. Vvedenskii. St. Petersburg, 1901.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. (Article by S. S. Mokul’skii.)
Vipper, Iu. B., and R. M. Samarin. Kurs lektsii po istorii zarubezhnykh literatur XVII v. Moscow, 1954.
Tomashevskii, B. V. “Pushkin i Lafonten.” In his book Pushkin i Frantsiia. Leningrad, 1960.
Taine, H. La Fontaine et ses fables, 3rd ed. Paris, 1860.
Clarac, P. La Fontaine: L’homme et l’œuvre, new ed. Paris, 1959.
Kohn, R. Le Goût de La Fontaine. Paris, 1962.
Collinet, J.-P. Le Monde littéraire de La Fontaine. Paris, 1970.
Bibliographie des oeuvres de La Fontaine, par le comte de Rochambeau. Paris, 1911.


References in periodicals archive ?
Supporters of the ancients were Jean de La Fontaine and Jean de La Bruyere.
From Aesop to Jean de La Fontaine, and from the French Parnassians to the Surrealists, single portraits of animals have also served as central elements of many literary works outside of the strict context formed by the bestiary.
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Porque como ya lo decia Jean de La Fontaine, en su esplendida fabula sobre el pleito de los toros y las consecuencias que tuvo para las ranas.
The 17th-century fabulist Jean de La Fontaine was the last exponent of the chant royal before its eclipse.
Otros personajes historicos de trascendencia, como el Rey Sol, el no menos egoista y codicioso musico de la corte Jean-Baptiste Lully, el fabulista Jean de La Fontaine, Madeleine y Armande Bejart (la primera, companera y socia de Moliere en "El Ilustre Teatro", y la segunda, hija de la anterior y tambien amante del dramaturgo), el Arzobispo de Paris, etcetera, cierran el cuadro de epoca; en el reparto figuran ademas, entre otros, Juan Carlos Colombo, Hernan del Riego, Carlos Aragon, Cecilia Romo, Manuel Blejerman, Claudia Lobo, Patricia Llaca, Diego Luna, Jorge Levy y Concepcion Marquez.
The shorter form reached its zenith in 17th-century France in the work of Jean de La Fontaine, whose theme was the folly of human vanity.
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Among the preservers of the Horatian tradition were Pierre de Ronsard, Nicolas Boileau, Jean de La Fontaine, Michael Drayton, and Andrew Marvell.
Contract notice: Demolition of 39 individual dwellings in rue jean de la fontaine - rue des bois and green alley at dammarie-les-lys 77190.
Mandeville's first works in English were burlesque paraphrases from the 17th-century French writers Jean de La Fontaine and Paul Scarron.
In order to secure the entrances, it is envisaged to install motorized gates at the entrance of the colleges Les mountains du Matin in Panissires, Robert Schuman in Noirtable, Jean de la Fontaine in Roanne, Les Etines au Coteau, La Cte Roannaise in Renaison And Marc Seguin in Saint-tienne.