Francois La Rochefoucauld
French classical author who is best known for his maximes, epigrams expressing a harsh or paradoxical truth in the briefest manner possible. La Rochefoucauld was a cynical observer of Louis XIV's court, who mostly saw selfishness, hypocrisy, and weakness in general in human behavior. In his pessimism La Rochefoucauld was very democratic - everybody is a sinner. His insights have influenced amongst others Lord Chesterfield, Thomas Hardy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stendhal, and André Gide.
"Our virtues are most frequently but vices in disguise." (from Reflections; or, Sentences and Moral Maxms)
François La Rochefoucauld was born in Paris. In 1628 he married Andrée de Vivonne (died 1670); they had eight children. He joined the army in his youth, serving in Italy, the Netherlands (1635-36), Rocroi (1643), and Gravelines (1644). In 1646 he was severely wounded at the battle of Mardick Supporting the cause of Marie de' Medici, he participated in a conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu (b. 1585 - d. 1642) and opposed Mazarin (b. 1602 - d.1661). He was imprisoned briefly by Richelieu for conspiracy against the court, and was forced to live in exile from 1639 to 1642. Eventually he won his way back into royal favour. In 1648-52 he participated in the Fronde - a rebellion against the ministry of Cardinal Mazarin in the reign of Louis XIV.
After being wounded and almost blinded in 1652 in a battle in Saint-Antoine, La Rochefoucauld fled to Luxembourg. After he was allowed to return to France, he retired from political life and devoted himself to literature. First he lived in Verteuil, and from 1656 he was allowed to live in Paris, making his home the meeting place of a small intellectual circle, including Mmes. de Sablé, de Sévigné, and de Lafayatte. In 1667-68 he took part in Louis XIV's Dutch campaign. In later age he suffered from gout. La Rochefoucauld died in Paris, on March 17, 1680.
Although La Rochefoucauld was very productive as a writer, he published only two works, MÉMOIRES (1664), and the RÉFLEXIONS, OU SENTENCES ET MAXIMES MORALE (1665), better known as the MAXIMES. Mémoires gained a wide audience but he denied its authorship. The manuscript of Maximes was circulated in 1663 among a select group of the guests of his friend, the Marquise de Sablé. A pirate edition was published in 1664, and an authentic edition late in 1664, but dated 1665. It became popular and appeared in five editions during La Rochefoucauld's lifetime.
Rochefoucauld's Maximes expressed the pessimism of the disillusioned nobility. In the salons and at the court everybody made mutual observations about the members of these circles, and cultivated intellectual competition at the expense of others. In a short sketch of himself La Rouchefoucauld mentions that he loves conversation, especially with women, but has found it hard to be other than "reserved".
"Mme de Sévigné says somewhere that she often had such sad conversations with Mme de Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld that probably the best thing they could have done would be to have had themselves buried." (from Arnold Hauser's Social History of Art, vol. 2, 1962)
As an 'essayist' La Rochefoucauld started probably with his self-portrait of 1658 included in Mme. de Montpensier's Divers Portraits. He also wrote other portraits, seven of which were published in 1731, and the other 12 not until 1863 in ŒUVRES (vol. 1). Between Montaigne and La Rochefoucauld the essay as a literary form had developed from formal letters and from short treatises. In his Réflexions La Rochefoucauld created a link from essay to a new literary genre, intelligent and sensitive society portraiture. His essays are marked by the same perceptiveness, wit, and restrained cynicism as are apparent in the Maximes.
La Rouchefoucauld was a close friend of Madame de La Fayette (1634-93, married to Comte de La Fayette in 1655), the novelist and reformer of French romance writing. Their liaison lasted until his death in 1680. Among La Fayette's best known works are Zaide (1670) and La Princesse de Cléves (1678).
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