Portrait of La Fontaine attributed to François de Troy
Jean was educated at the collège (grammar school) of Château-Thierry, and at the end of his school days he entered the Oratory in May 1641, and the seminary of Saint-Magloire in October of the same year; but a very short sojourn proved to him that he had mistaken his vocation. He then apparently studied law, and is said to have been admitted as a lawyer.
De La Fontaine purchased a post as master of waters and forests in 1652. In 1654 appeared his first publication, an imitation of Terence's Eunuch. In 1657 Jean found a protector in the minister Fouquet, for whom he wrote several poems, including the well-known Elégie aux nymphes de Vaux. This piece was composed after Fouquet's disgrace in 1661 and testifies to De La Fontaine's faithfulness to the banished minister, despite the latter's embezzlement of Louis XIV's funds.
Finding in 1667 a new patroness, the Duchesse de Bouillon, La Fontaine continued to produce his somewhat licentious tales. The first collection of these, entitled Nouvelles en vers, appeared in 1665, and it was followed by the Contes et nouvelles (1664-1671) and Psyché (1669). Until 1672 La Fontaine remained the protégé of the Duchesse de Bouillon, beginning, largely for her pleasure, the series of Fables of which the first six books appeared in 1668. Under the protection finally of the Marquise de la Sablière, the delights of whose conversation and society La Fontaine has described in a Discours, the poet completed the twelve books of the Fables (1680).
De La Fontaine was devastated by the death of his guardian Madame de La Sablière in 1693, and he had found sanctuary in the Church. He announced that he has to continue with writing, because he would himself die just like Madame de La Sablière, but that he would die of boredom. The last collection of fables appeared in 1694, and De La Fontaine died on April 13, 1695.
Throughout his early life, de La Fontaine was not religious. He became religious after the death of his close friend and protége, Madame de La Sablière. He devoted himself to Roman Catholicism after her death and found sanctuary in the French Church.
Jean de La Fontaine was never the part of any French political party, nor he was incolved in politics. He was once arrested for mocking up the French King and French noblemen in several of his literary works. Also, he had many friends from the French political circles.
The tales and minor poems of de La Fontaine, though witty and charming specimens of an interesting Classical genre, are rarely read today, and at first glance their immorality, or rather lack of moral preaching, seems in opposition to the moralizing air commonly associated with the fable since the days of Aesop. Under closer scrutiny, however, the traditional moral lessons of many of the fables adapted by Jean from Aesop, Phaedrus, Nevelet, and others are found to have undergone a subtle change at the poet's hands, with the result that we sense behind the usual moral another less orthodox.
De La Fontaine's Fables are remarkable for their diversity, ingenious rhymes, clever archaisms, realistic observation, and profound naturalness. Each fable seems a little self-contained world, where, beneath the apparent naïveté of talking animals, philosophizing oak trees, long-suffering woodcutters and millers, and the like, the voice of classical French clarity and good sense speaks in unmistakable accents.
The true nature and personality of Jean de La Fontaine were enigmatic. He was described as intensely and naively selfish; his behavior was unconventional. He had also been described as a parasite without servility, and as a sinner whose sins were full of wisdom.
He was of average height, and his trademarks were his crooked nose and his serious look from his eyes. He wore long wigs like all of the men from the 17th century.
Jean de La Fontaine got married in 1647 to Marie Héricart, who was fourteen years old when the couple got married. Although Marie was a beautiful young woman and also a very intelligent person, de La Fontaine didn't like her. From his marriage he had one son - Charles.