The esthetics of negligence : La Fontaine's Contes


The esthetics of negligence : La Fontaine's Contes

John C. Lapp

University Press, 1971

  • : hbk
  • : pbk

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Description based on 2009 printing

Bibliography: p. 174-177

Includes index



A collection of traditional humorous verse tales about the relationships between the sexes, La Fontaine's Contes have tended to be dismissed as merely scabrous, although they were favourably regarded by his contemporaries. In this book devoted to the Contes, Professor Lapp re-establishes them as repaying serious study, as examples of La Fontaine's skill in 'the esthetics of negligence'. This he defines in a striking opening chapter comparing La Fontaine with Rabelais and Montaigne, both of whom made an art of writing naturally yet seemingly without art. Montaigne in particular explored the problem of writing naturally about sex. Professor Lapp shows that La Fontaine writes in the tradition of easy relationships with the reader which these writers initiated, and in a tradition of folk-tale material put into earlier literary form by Boccaccio and Marguerite de Navarre, with narrative devices borrowed from Ariosto. Finally, La Fontaine's own verse style is analysed, as a medium that allowed the poet to maintain a varied range of easy conversational tones, and to bring the sophisticated resources of seventeenth-century poetry into play as a 'veil' that both shadows and reveals what would be merely crude in its nakedness.


  • 1. The Esthetics of Negligence
  • 2. The Inspiration of Boccaccio
  • 3. Ariosto and La Fontaine: a literary affinity
  • 4. The Gallic Tradition
  • 5. The Esthetic of Beauty
  • 6. Poetic Techniques: a 'nonchalance savante'.

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