Madame de Lafayette

Baroque period author of The Princess of Clèves

Portrait of Madame de LafayetteMadame de Lafayette

Madame de Lafayette

Madame de La Fayette (1634–1693) was born into a wealthy family of minor nobility in Paris. While being educated, she attended all of the fashionable salons of her day. In 1655, she married François Motier, comte de La Fayette, and later became acquainted with many of the major literary luminaries of the period, including Racine and Boileau.

cover image of the book The Princess of Clèves

The Princess of Clèves

Perhaps one of the greatest works of French literature is Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Clèves, often described as the first of all “modern” novels. This classic translation, with an introduction, by the late English novelist and biographer Nancy Mitford, was first brought out in 1951 by New Directions. It is now available as a New Directions Paperbook. Published in 1678 and written by Marie Madeleine Roche de la Vergne, Countess de Lafayette––a Parisian lady of fashion and great wit––it recreates with matchless vitality the lives and loves of the sixteenth-century courtiers of King Henry II of France. In her exquisite tapestry, we encounter such historic figures as Diane de Poitiers, the kings mistress; Catherine de Médicis, his queen; the doomed Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. It tells the story of the consuming passion of the young Duc de Nemours for the beautiful wife of his friend the Prince of Clèves. Madame de Sévigne, the great letter writer and life-long friend of Madame de Lafayette, called The Princess of Clèves “one of the most charming things.” It is still that––and it is also one of the truly great love stories of all literature.

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