Charles Perrault  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628May 16, 1703) was a French author who laid foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale.

His best-known tales include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty), Le Chat botté (Puss in Boots), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard), Le Petit Poucet (Hop o' My Thumb), Les Fées (Diamonds and Toads), la patience de Grisélidis (Patient Griselda),Les Souhaits (The Ridiculous Wishes), Peau d'Âne (Donkeyskin) and Ricquet à la houppe (Ricky of the Tuft). Perrault's most famous stories are still in print today and have been made into operas, ballets ( e.g., Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty), plays, musicals, and films, including the highly-successful animated features Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty by The Walt Disney Company.

Perrault's tales were famously illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Biography

Perrault was born in Paris to a wealthy bourgeois family, the seventh child of Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc. Charles attended the best schools and studied law before embarking on a career in government service, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother Jean. He took part in the creation of the Academy of Sciences as well as the restoration of the Academy of Painting. In 1654, he moved in with his brother Pierre, who had purchased a post as the principal tax collector of the city of Paris. When the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres was founded in 1663, Perrault was appointed its secretary and served under Jean Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to King Louis XIV. Jean Chapelain, Amable de Bourzeys, and Jacques Cassagne (the King's librarian) were also appointed. Due to his position as Colbert's administrative aide, he was able to get his his brother, Claude Perrault, rendition of the severe east range of the Louvre, built between 1665 and 1680, to be seen by Colbert. It was chosen over designs by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and François Mansart. One of the factors leading to this choice included the fear of high costs, for which other architects were infamous, and second was the personal antagonism between Louis XIV and Bernini.

He wrote La Peinture (Painting, 1668) to honor the king's first painter, Charles Le Brun. He also wrote Courses de testes et de bague (Head and Ring Races, 1670), written to commemorate the 1662 celebrations staged by Louis for his mistress, Louise-Françoise de La Baume le Blanc, duchesse de La Vallière.

He married Marie Guichon, age 19, in 1672, who died in 1678 after giving birth to a daughter. The couple also had three sons, Charles-Samuel (1675-?), Charles (1676-?), and Pierre (1678-?). Marie died in October of 1678, only months after Pierre's baptism.

Philippe Quinault, who was a longtime family friend of the Perraults, was gaining a quick reputation as the librettist for the new musical genre known as opera, collaborating with composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. After Alceste (1674) was denounced by traditionalists who rejected it for deviating from classical theater. In response, Perrault wrote Critique de l'Opéra (1674) and in it he praised the merits of Alceste over the tragedy of the same name by Euripides. His treatise was one of the first documents of the literary debate that was later to become known as the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns.

He was a major participant in the French Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns (Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes), which pitted supporters of the literature of Antiquity (the "Ancients") against supporters of the literature from the century of Louis XIV (the "Moderns"). He was on the side of the Moderns and wrote Le Siècle de Louis le Grand (The Century of Louis the Great, 1687) and Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes (Parallel between Ancients and Moderns, 1688–1692) where he attempted to prove the superiority of the literature of his century. Le Siècle de Louis le Grand was written in celebration of Louis XIV's recovery from a life-threatening operation. Perrault argued that because of Louis's enlightened rule, the present age was superior in every respect to ancient times. He also claimed that even modern French literature was superior to the works of antiquity, and that, after all, even Homer nods.

In 1682, Colbert gave his son, Jules-Armand, marquis d'Ormoy, the same tasks as Perrault and forced him into retirement at the age of fifty-six. Colbert would die the next year, and he stopped receiving the pension given to him as a writer. Colbert's successor, François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvoi, who was jealous of Colbert, quickly removed from the Little Academy.

After this, in 1686, he decided to write epic poetry and show his genuine devotion to Christianity, and wrote Saint Paulin, évêque de Nôle (St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, about Paulinus of Nola). Just like Jean Chapelain's La Pucelle, ou la France délivrée, an epic poem about Joan of Arc, Perrault became a target of mockery from Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux.

In 1695, when he was 67, he lost his post as secretary. He decided to dedicate himself to his children and published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé) (1697), with the subtitle: Tales of Mother Goose (Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie). Its publication made him suddenly widely-known beyond his own circles and marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale. He had actually published it under the name of his last son (born in 1678), Pierre (Perrault) Darmancourt ("Armancourt" being the name of a property he bought for him), probably fearful of criticism from the "Ancients". In the tales, he used images from around him, such as the Chateau Ussé for Sleeping Beauty and in Puss-in-Boots, the Marquis of the Château d'Oiron, and contrasted his folktale subject matter, with details and asides and subtext drawn from the world of fashion. He died in Paris in 1703 at age 75.

See also




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