Jean de La Fontaine, 1621 - 1695

portrait of Jean de La Fontaine
Oil on canvas by Hyacinthe Rigaud (18th century)

Born: 8 July 1621, Château-Thierry, Champagne
Died: 13 April 1695, Paris, France

La Fontaine, the most famous French fabulist and a widely read poet, was born to an upper middle class family; his father was deputy ranger for the Duchy of Champagne and reasonably well off. He entered a seminary in 1641 but soon found this didn't suit and studied law instead. In 1647 his father resigned his rangership in favor of the son, at the same time arranging a marriage for him. La Fontaine and his wife didn't hit it off, one biographer noted that Marie was "a negligent housewife and inveterate novel reader", she continued to live at their home while he mostly lived at Paris from then on; the occasional meetings required by his office were not a problem. Absent minded and indifferent to business, La Fontaine's finances were generally poor but his writings brought him generous patrons so despite having to sell all his property he probably missed few meals. In his forties he was part of a literary quartet known as the Rue du Vieux Columbier, comprising himself, Racine, Boileau, and Moliè're. La Fontaine is best known for his Fables choises, Flaubert maintained that he was the only French poet to master the texture of French before Victor Hugo.

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