Pierre-Claude Nivelle de LaChaussée Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born to a well-established and rich family in Paris, Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La Chaussée attended the Jesuit Collége Louis-le-Grand and received his training in rhetoric and philosophy at Plessis. His family’s fortune and connections apparently aided his entrée into Parisian society. A letter written in 1711 suggests ties with Voltaire. Letters full of obscenities and jokes to his friends during a stay in Amsterdam in 1720 offer insights into La Chaussée’s personality: Bored by Holland and the business matters that kept him there, La Chaussée reveals a deep interest in the stage and speaks of his love for writing poetry. Although he had lost most of his fortune in 1720 as a result of the collapse of the Law Bank, La Chaussée continued in the 1720’s to associate with the literate and libertine gens du monde of the Regency period. Long an amateur of letters, La Chaussée composed, mainly for his large circle of friends, obscene parades and short narrative poems (the Contes). It is ironic that the “moralistic” La Chaussée, who was praised later as “this zealous dramatic preacher, who has converted so many souls by his homelies, this pious orator of Parnassus who always put virtue in his plays,” created early works remarkable for their lack of morals. Elected to the French Academy in 1736, La Chaussée was forty-one years old when his first play, La Fausse Antipathie, appeared three years earlier: His work was immediately and consistently popular until the failure of Paméla in 1743.

La Chaussée died in March, 1754, apparently from a chill he had caught after working in the garden of his house on the outskirts of Paris.