Jean de La Fontaine was born in Château-Thierry, Champagne, in central France, the son of a government official. In his youth he read such writers as François Rabelais (1494?-1553), François deMalherbe (1555-1628), and Honoré d'Urfé (1568-1625). He went to Paris to study medicine and theology, but was drawn to the whirls of social life. It was not until the end of his life that he becameinterested in religion: religious rituals bored him. La Fontaine was qualified as a lawyer but he returned home in 1647 and assisted his father, a superintendent of forests. He held a number of governmentposts, but they did not pay much money. In 1647 he married Marie Héricart, an heiress, but the marriage was unhappy and they separated in 1658. La Fontaine had decided to become a famous writer. LaFontaine spent his time in literary circles with Molière (1622-1673) and others. In 1658 he left his family and moved to Paris, where he lived his most productive years, devoting himself to writing.La Fontaine had several patrons, among them Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680), an influential statesman and the superintendent of finance, who was later arrested in 1661, accused of embezzlement and treason,and sentenced to life imprisonment – the young King, Louis XIV, was in favor of a death sentence. With the help of Fouquet, Fontaine received a small pension with easy terms: he had to write onlyfour poems in a year. When Fouquet was imprisoned, La Fontaine wrote one of his most beautiful poems, asking mercy for his former patron. To avoid arrest, La Fontaine left Paris and spent some time inLimousin, from where he wrote letters to his wife.

From 1664 to 1672 La Fontaine served as a gentleman-in-waiting to the dowager duchess d'Orléans in Luxemburg, and from 1673 he was a member of thehousehold of Mme de La Sabliere. In 1683 he was elected to the Academie Française in recognition of his contribution to French literature. In his welcome speech the director of the Académie told La... [à continuer]

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