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La Fayette, Marie-Madeleine Pioche De La Vergne

LA FAYETTE, MARIE-MADELEINE PIOCHE DE LA VERGNE, COMTESSE DE (1634-1692), French novelist, was baptized in Paris, on the 18th of March 1634. Her father, Marc Pioche de la Vergne, commandant of Havre, died when she was sixteen, and her mother seems to have been more occupied with her own than her daughter's interests. Mme de la Vergne married in 1651 the chevalier de Sevigne, and Marie thus became connected with Mme de Sevigne, who was destined to be a lifelong friend. She studied Greek, Latin and Italian, and inspired in one of her tutors, Gilles de Menage, an enthusiastic admiration which he expressed in verse in three or four languages. Marie married in 1655 Francois Motier, comte de La Fayette. They lived on the count's estates in Auvergne, according to her own account (in a letter to Menage) quite happily; but after the birth of her two sons her husband disappeared so effectually that it was long supposed that he died about 1660, though he really lived until 1683. Mme de La Fayette had returned to Paris, and about 1665 contracted an intimacy with the due de la Rochefoucauld, then engaged on his Maximes. The constancy and affection that marked this liaison on both sides justified it in the eyes of society, and when in 1680 La Rochefoucauld died Mme de La Fayette received the sincerest sympathy. Her first novel, La Princesse de Montpensier, was published anonymously in 1662; Zayde appeared in 1670 under the name of J. R. de Segrais; and in 1678 her masterpiece, La Princesse de Cleves, also under the name of Segrais. The history of the modern novel of sentiment begins with the Princesse de Cleves. The interminable pages of Mile de Scudery with the Precieuses and their admirers masquerading as Persians or ancient Romans had already been discredited by the burlesques of Paul Scarron and Antoine Furetiere. It remained for Mme de La Fayette to achieve the more difficult task of substituting something more satisfactory than the disconnected episodes of the roman comique. This she accomplished in a story offering in its shortness and simplicity a complete contrast to the extravagant and lengthy romances of the time. The interest of the story depends not on incident but on the characters of the personages. They act in a perfectly reasonable wa.y and their motives are analysed with the finest discrimination. No doubt the semiautobiographical character of the material partially explains Mme de La Fayette's refusal to acknowledge the book. Contemporary critics, even Mme de Sevigne amongst them, found fault with the avowal made by Mme de Cleves to her husband. In answer to these criticisms, which her anonymity prevented her from answering directly, Mme de La Fayette wrote her last novel, the Comtesse de Tende.

The character of her work and her history have combined to give an impression of melancholy and sweetness that only represents one side of her character, for a correspondence brought to light comparatively recently showed her as the acute diplomatic agent of Jeanne de Nemours, duchess of Savoy, at the court of Louis XIV. She had from her early days also been intimate with Henrietta of England, duchess of Orleans, under whose immediate direction she wrote her Histoire de Madame Henrielle d' Angleterre, which only appeared in 1720. She wrote memoirs of the reign of Louis XIV., which, with the exception of two chapters, for the years 1688 and 1689 (published at Amsterdam, 1731), were lost through her son's carelessness. Madame de La Fayette died on the 25th of May 1692.

See Sainte-Beuve, Portraits de femmes; the comte d'Haussonville, Madame de La Fayette (1891), in the series of Grands ecrivains franc,ais; M. de Lescure's notice prefixed to an edition of the Princesse de Cleves (1881); and a critical edition of the historical memoirs by Eugene Asse (1890). See also L. Rea, Marie Madeleine, comtesse de La Fayette (1908).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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