Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mrs. Parker and La Rochefoucauld

September 20, Later in the morning

I wanted to check what I wrote earlier about Dorothy Parker's quote from La Rochefoucauld. I was almost right (and when I looked it up I found the correct spelling of the 17th Century epigrammist). Mrs. Parker wrote, in a short piece called "The Little Hours" about a woman agonizing with insomnia:"[La Rochefoucauld] said that if nobody had ever learned to read, very few people would be in love." Just a word or two different, but that was so much better I just had to share it.

Then I decided to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica (yes, there resources besides the Internet!) to find out exactly who La Rochefoucauld was. I was not disappointed. He was exactly the kind of dude Dorothy Parker would have loved. It seems that in Paris in those days, the intellectuals who met in salons had a sort of game to create what they called maximes. They would gather and bounce clever lines off each other, refining them until they felt they got it right, with someone transcribing with quill in hand all the time. At the end of a session they selected the best maxime and attributed it to its author, or at least whoever contributed the most to the creation. Then they would have books of their maximes published. La Rochefoucauld had several books published, but some he disclaimed, apparently out of modesty. At any rate, and also because the name is so much fun to pronounce in French, La Rochefoucauld is worth knowing about.

And so is Dorothy Parker.

3 comments:

John Sweden said...

Something to ponder in this cyber world of pseudo-names, assumed and exhumed identities.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

huckleberry said...

Could it be that the modern vesion of the gatherings might be the "ghetto slam" talk or "you know you're a red neck if.." talk?
Phrases and ideas combined to create lasting mental impressions is their result, even though their exact wording, which makes them, is difficult to recall. I doubt that anyone writes the new version down unless some script or lyric is involved, even yet that there are unheralded individuals out there who produce these things on a regular basis as part of who they are. The satisfaction from using a known maxim at the right time seems common to me, but stated correctly and aptly one might generate mental processes in a short cut by the use. I like Andy Griffith's the best.

Finding Fair Hope said...

One of the early writers of Saturday Night Live was so impressed with her colleagues' one-liners, tossed off so casually in daily conversation, that she made the statement that they lay awake nights thinking of them...then she found out that most of them actually did!

Whatever floats your boat. I wouldn't compare Jeff Foxworthy with La Rochefoucauld, or even with Dorothy Parker, but he's a witty guy with a good act.