La Bruyère, Jean de

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La Bruyère, Jean de

(zhäN də lä brüyĕr`), 1645–96, French writer. He lived (1684–96) as tutor in the house of the prince de Condé. His great work, Les Caractères de Théophraste, traduits du grec; avec Les Caractères ou les mœurs de ce siècle, appeared in 1688 and subsequently in revised and augmented editions until the ninth (1696). The first, and least, part of this work is a translation of Theophrastus; the balance is a series of random character sketches, maxims, and literary discussions, written in a terse, ironic style. La Bruyère's strong moral views on the contemporary economy, on the widespread poverty, and on the idle life of the nobility gained lasting attention. He was less a reformer than a detached observer. A defender of classical writers in the "quarrel of the ancients and moderns," he was admitted to the French Academy in 1693.

La Bruyère, Jean de

 

Born Aug. 16, 1645, in Paris; died there May 10, 1696. French writer, satirist, and moralist. Member of the Académie Française (1693). Rose from bourgeois civil-service circles. Educated in the law.

His proximity to the upper circle of the aristocracy gave La Bruyère a wealth of material for observation of the morals and manners of the elite. These observations underlay his book The Characters or Manners of This Age (1688; reissued nine times during the author’s lifetime with many new essays and sketches added; Russian translations, 1889 and 1964). Following classical traditions, he used Characters by the ancient Greek moralist Theophrastus as a model, placing it at the beginning of his own book. However, this was merely a screen for the much longer appendage—original satirical descriptions of the manners and mores of the contemporary society of France. He depicted the servile status of the Third-Estate intelligentsia and the destitution of the peasants; to a degree, he anticipated the ideology of the Enlightenment.

La Bruyère was a consistent classicist: in the “controversy of old and new,” he took the side of the writers of antiquity, maintaining their superiority over contemporary ones.

WORKS

Oeuvres complètes. Paris, 1962.

REFERENCES

Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 571–75.
Michaut, G. M. A. La Bruyère. Paris, 1936.
Richard, P. La Bruyère et ses caractères. Paris, 1955.
Jasinski, R. Deux accès à La Bruyère. [Paris] 1971.

N. A. SIGAL