The Style of La Fontaine's Fables
Biard, J. D
. Basil Blackwell . Oxford
Jean de La Fontaine
PQ1808.B5 1966 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
Jean de La Fontaine
MetadataShow full item record
This is, in one respect, a strange book. It is on the one hand immensely helpful to someone like me. It will be a rich resource on any number of stylistic questions about La Fontaine's fables the next time I can teach them. It is unusual to have such a helpful book published in English. That is the other side of the conundrum here. A reader of this book needs good French; that is not an unusual demand, since the reader will need good French to understand La Fontaine's style in the fables in the first place. Why, then, was this book written in English? Any number of stylistic devices are considered here. Biard's introduction puts the case for the book well: the almost unanimous acknowledgment of La Fontaine's stylistic merits has given rise to a relatively small number of serious studies of his style (xi). His conclusion has this simple affirmation: The rich and intriguing style of the 'Fables' constitutes their most durable merit (184). For Biard, what others have seen as stylistic failures in La Fontaine are often, even regularly, misunderstandings where the fault lies with the critic's ignorance of seventeenth-century language and syntax, or his lack of appreciation of imagery, or his rigid conformity to the letter of the rules of composition. The flyleaf's overview of the book is not bad: The aim of this study is to give a general and comprehensive assessment of La Fontaine's style in the Fables. Chapters are devoted to each of the most striking aspects of this style: richness, vigour and freedom; familiarity; humour; elegance; poetry. Reconstruction of seventeenth-century stylistic values has been attempted with reference to the theorists of the time. This method has proved rewarding since it reveals, in the language of the Fables, implications and ambiguities, sometimes lost for the modern reader but probably obvious to the poet's contemporaries, and used for a variety of effects: humour, poetry, etc. These implications and ambiguities fit in well with what is known of La Fontaine's taste and skill, and represent yet another aspect of his tendency to combine fullness and diversity of meaning with exacting relevance, which is one of the most pleasurable features of his style.