La Fayette, Marie Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, comtesse de (märēˈ mädəlĕnˈ pyôsh də lä vĕrˈnyə, kôntĕsˈ də läfāĕtˈ) [key], 1634–92, French novelist of the classical period, whose chief work, La Princesse de Clèves (1678), is the first great French novel. The psychological realism of this story of a woman's renunciation of an illicit love, treated with chaste simplicity and quiet wit, has given the novel enduring appeal. Mme de La Fayette's friendship with the duc de La Rochefoucauld has led to unfounded theories that he appears in her novel as the unhappy lover and that he collaborated on the work.
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