La Fayette, Marie-Madeleine-Pioche de la Vergne, countess de

   A novelist whose book, La Princesse de Clèves (1678), is generally regarded as one of the most influential and the earliest French novels, Mme de La Fayette was born in Paris and, in her youth, studied Latin, Greek, and Italian. In 1659, she opened a salon in Paris and mingled with the best society, maintaining friendships with leading writers and thinkers, especially la Rochefoucauld. In her masterpiece, La Princesse de Clèves, she writes of a married noblewoman who falls in love with another man. She chooses to keep her love a secret, however, and even after her husband dies (having discovered the secret), she does not remarry. The novel is most notable for the level of psychological complexity revealed in it through the character's minds. This realism sets the work apart from other books of the period. Also, by focusing on emotions and thoughts, rather than on physical actions, Mme de La Fayette as a writer departed from traditional adventure prose. The book is significant, too, for its strict sense of historical detail in depicting 16th-century France. Mme de La Fayette's other works include the novels La Princesse de Montpensier (1662) and Zayde (1670), and a biography, Histoire de Madame Henriette d'Angleterre (posthumous, 1720). She also wrote her memoirs (Mémoires de la cour de France pour les annees 1688 et 1689, posthumous, 1731), in which she describes especially the later years of her life, during which she played a certain diplomatic role.

France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present . 1884.

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