To an age in which "sophistication" may mean anything from talking like Noel Coward to owning a Diners' Club card, the plumed figure of La Rochefoucauld towers at an impressive altitude of worldliness. The eldest son (born in 1613) of an ancient and doughty French clan, François de la Rochefoucauld followed with vigor the customs of the royal court, which is to say he carried on a succession of tumultuous affairs with titled ladies, tangled in the incessant intrigues and wars of 17th century France, recovered twice from severe wounds, and at 66...

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