Jean de La Fontaine

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Jean de La Fontaine Signature La Fontaine (cropped) .jpg

Jean de La Fontaine (born July 8, 1621 in Château-Thierry , † April 13, 1695 in Paris ) was a French writer . The French consider it one of their greatest classics and some of its fables are still known to every French schoolchild to this day.

Voltaire wrote of La Fontaine that he was not an original or sublime writer and that he had a notable flaw, namely not speaking his own language properly. But he is a man who is unique in the excellent pieces he has left behind. They will be preserved for posterity, they are suitable for all people and for all times. His fables are very numerous and even contributed to the formation of respectable personalities.

La Fontaine's fables had several advantages over the Latin texts traditionally used for reading, writing and rhetoric lessons: They were short, gritty, dramatic and amusing, full of exciting plot, easy and entertaining to read and recite, and the Rhythm and flexible verse form were seen as excellent examples of style and taste in the use of colloquial language. In La Fontaine's animal fables it is often the small creatures from whose mistakes the reader draws a lesson . The larger animals are hardly portrayed as good or admirable figures, but are merely symbols of the powerful and the rich. You never hear their opinions or make their acquaintance. In contrast, the little ones, such as B. the frog or the rat, comradely, talkative little creatures with whom the reader can get along well. They are not evil monsters or allegorical portraits of vices to avoid, but rather examples of how easy it is for the unwary to incur disaster.

His patroness, Madame de la Sablière , who had hosted him for twenty years, called La Fontaine a fabulist who carried fables as naturally as a plum tree bears plums.

Life and work


Jean de La Fontaine was the son of a bourgeois, but with his work to the lower official nobility counting Royal Council as well as hunting and fishing overseer, whose office he inherited in 1658, but never exercised regularly and sold in 1670. In 1637 he went to Paris to complete his school years there.

In 1641 he began to study theology, but left the order at the end of the probationary period in 1643. After two more purposeful, albeit with a lot of reading at home in Château-Thierry, he studied law in Paris from 1645 to 1647.

In 1647 he got married to the fourteen-year-old Marie Héricart, who also came from a middle-class noble family and with whom he was supposed to have a son in 1653, but apparently never had a closer relationship. After the marriage, the couple lived mostly in Paris, in the house of an uncle of the wife.

Nothing is known of La Fontaine’s professional activity at this time, except that he was mentioned in 1659 as a lawyer admitted to the Supreme Court, the Parlement . But even as an author he was apparently not very active, although he frequented literary circles. In any case, only the broadcast of a comedy by Terence , written in 1654, has survived .

First works

It was not until 1658 that he was able to present a finished work of his own, the little epic Adonis , which he dedicated to the rich and powerful finance minister Nicolas Fouquet , to whose splendid little court he had gained access through his wife's uncle. In the next few years (1659 to 1661) he wrote occasional poems on behalf of Fouquet and worked on an idyllic poem, Le Songe de Vaux ("The Dream of Vaux"), the scene of which was Fouquet's newly built Vaux-le-Vicomte castle . Presumably the first of the fables that should make him famous date from this time.

In 1662 La Fontaine was drawn into the vortex that arose around Fouquet when he suddenly fell out of favor with Louis XIV and was imprisoned. After unsuccessfully addressing an intercession ode for Fouquet to the king, he and his wife's uncle, who also felt himself at risk, moved to Limoges for a few months as a precaution in 1663 . Here he completed the Nouvelles tirées de Boccace et d'Arioste : cheerful, gallant, sometimes daring erotic verse narratives based on novellas by Boccaccio and Ariosto , which he published in 1664 and in 1665 and 1666, expanded several times, as Contes et nouvelles en vers (“Verserzählungen and novellas ”).

Also in 1664 he made contact with Marguerite de Lorraine, the widow of the younger brother of Louis XIII. , Gaston of Orléans . He was appointed by her to one of her gentilshommes ordinaires (a kind of noble domestics ) and lived in the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris until her death in 1672 - without his wife, who had returned to Château-Thierry with their son. In 1672 he was accepted by Mme. De La Sablière , whose influence on La Fontaine was comparable to that of Fouquets, but lasted longer; under her roof he had his best creative period. It's pretty sure he loved her, but she was devoted to an inexperienced poet. Her piety moved La Fontaine to write the poem De la captivité de Saint Malc (The captivity of Saint Malchus - On the resistance of the saint against the temptations of the flesh) in 1673 .

Time of fables

In these years around 1665, borne by the economic boom under Minister Colbert and the openness of the young Louis XIV., Which were initially not clouded by the initially successful series of expansion wars against Spain, Holland and the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation that began in 1667 La Fontaine mainly fables. The materials and motifs for them, which were to become his main work, he obtained from a variety of ancient and contemporary sources. A first edition in two volumes appeared in 1668 under the title Fables choisies, mises en vers par M. de La Fontaine ("Selected fables, brought into verse by Mr. (Mr.) de La Fontaine"). It contains most of his cheerfully ironic pieces known from anthologies today .

In 1669 his little novel Les amours de Psyché et de Cupidon ("The love of Psyches and Cupidos") appeared.

In 1674 he wrote the libretto for the opera Daphné , which Jean-Baptiste Lully set to music.

In 1675 he felt that the wind was beginning to turn in France: A selection of the Contes et nouvelles that preferred the daring pieces was banned after publication. Volumes III and IV of the Fables, printed in 1677 and 1679, show the author's considerably more skeptical view of the world, especially of the relationship between above and below.

Late years

In 1683 the young Comédie-Française staged his play Le Rendez-vous , but it was only performed four times and has not survived. Also in 1683, La Fontaine was elected to the Académie française , but Louis XIV, who was meanwhile under the influence of the pious Madame de Maintenon , confirmed the choice only after a long hesitation. When in 1687 the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes split the Académie, La Fontaine belonged to the party of the "ancients". They took the view that the culture of Greco-Roman antiquity was and will remain unsurpassed.

In 1691 he tried again as a librettist for the tragedy lyrique Astrée set to music by Pascal Collasse , but it was a failure.

In 1692 he brought out a revised complete edition of the fables.

At the end of 1692 La Fontaine fell seriously ill and became pious afterwards. In 1693 Mme. De La Sablière, who had become pious before him, died. Thereupon he moved into the house of one of the last benefactors, the banker d'Hervart. Here he died in 1695 at the age of 73, not without first publicly dissociating himself from his very outmoded contes .

La Fontaine was buried in the Cimetière des Innocents cemetery. When the cemetery was closed, the exhumed bones were transferred to the Paris catacombs . The honorary grave with the inscription La Fontaine , which was later erected on the Cimetière du Père Lachaise , is empty.



see also : List of Fables by La Fontaine

  • Adonis (1658)
  • Élégie aux nymphes de Vaux (1660)
  • Contes et nouvelles (1665)
  • Fables (Premier Recueil) (1668)
  • Amours de Psyché et de Cupidon (1669)
  • Recueil de poésies chrétiennes et diverses (1671)
  • Poème de la captivité de saint Malc (1673)
  • Daphné (1674)

The most famous fables of La Fontaine in German-speaking countries are:

Collective edition in German translation:

Jean de La Fontaine: Hundred Fables , translated by Hannelise Hinderberger and NO Scarpi , afterword by Theophil Spoerri , 100 illustrations by Gustave Doré , Manesse Verlag, Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-7175-1238-2


D. Jouaust: Fables de La Fontaine , Tome Premier, Librairie des Bibliophiles, Paris 1892
  • Jürgen Grimm : La Fontaine's fables . Series: Research yields, 57th WBG , Darmstadt 1976 ISBN 3-534-07128-X
  • Hermann Lindner : Didactic genre structure and narrative play. Studies of the narrative technique in La Fontaine's fables. Wilh. Fink, Munich 1975, (= Romanica Monacensia; 10), ISBN 3-7705-1236-7
  • Jean de La Fontaine: Fables . Bilingual. Selection, transl. And comment. Jürgen Grimm. Reclam, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-15-001718-1
  • D. Jouaust: Fables de La Fontaine , Tome Premier, Librairie des Bibliophiles, Paris 1892
  • Gero Schäfer: optimist and pessimist at the bedside. To the fables of Jean de La Fontaine. Series: Cologne medical-historical contributions, 61. Tenner, Feuchtwangen 1993 ISBN 3-925341-60-9
  • Marie-Odile Sweetser: Parcours lafontainien. D'Adonis au livre XII des Fables. Narr, Tübingen 2004, (= Biblio 17; 150), ISBN 3-8233-6014-0
  • Sainte-Beuve : Jean de La Fontaine, in Literary Portraits. Übers. And explanations. Rolf Müller, Ausw. And Einl. Katharina Scheinfuß. Dieterich'sche Verlagbuchhandlung , Leipzig 1958; WBG, Darmstadt 1958 pp. 3–24 Frz. Version


  1. ^ A b Voltaire: A Philosophical Dictionary from the French of M. de Voltaire . W. Dugdale, 1843, p. 469 ( [accessed on April 21, 2020]).
  2. ^ Penelope E. Brown: A Critical History of French Children's Literature: Volume One: 1600-1830 . Routledge, 2008, ISBN 978-1-135-87201-4 , pp. 61 ( [accessed on July 4, 2020]).
  3. Andrew Calder: The Fables of La Fontaine: Wisdom Brought Down to Earth . Librairie Droz, 2001, ISBN 978-2-600-00464-0 , pp. 127 ( [accessed on July 7, 2020]).
  4. ^ Names, titles and dates of the French literature by Gert Pinkernell
  5. a b Betts, Christopher: Selected fables - A new translation . Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-965072-9 .
  6. Jean-François de La Harpe : Eulogium on Fontaine . In: The Literary Panorama, and National Register . Cox, Son, and Baylis, 1809, pp. 291 ( [accessed on May 2, 2020]).
  7. The death register of the parish church of St-Eustache de Paris specifies: Le jeudi 14 avril 1695, deffunt Jean de La Fontaine, un des quarante de l'Académie Française, âgé de soixante-seize ans, demeurant rue Plâtrière, à l'hôtel Derval, décédé le 13 du présent mois, a été inhumé au cimetière des Saints-Innocents. Reçu 64 livres 40 sols… (Maurice Levaillant: Les tombes célèbres , 1926, Paris, Hachette). English: “On Thursday, April 14th, 1695, Jean de La Fontaine, one of the forty of the Académie Française, seventy-six years old, resided rue Plâtrière, à l'hôtel Derval, died on the 13th of the current month was buried in the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents. Received 64 livres , 40 sols  … ”The clerk was mistaken in age (La Fontaine was 73) and in the spelling of the name: he wrote Derval instead of d'Hervart .
  8. Asteroid Lafontaine in the Small-Body Database of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (English)

Web links

Commons : Jean de La Fontaine  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Jean de La Fontaine  - Sources and full texts (French)