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definition - Les Liaisons Dangereuses

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Les Liaisons dangereuses

                   
The Dangerous Liaisons  
LiaisonsDangereuses X.jpg
Illustration from 1796 edition
Author(s) Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Original title Les Liaisons dangereuses
Translator P. W. K. Stone
Illustrator Fragonard
Country France
Language French
Genre(s) Epistolary novel, Libertine novel
Publisher Durand Neveu
Publication date March 23, 1782
Published in
English
30 November 1961
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 400
ISBN 978-0-14-044116-1
OCLC Number 52565525

Les Liaisons dangereuses (French pronunciation: [le ljɛ.zɔ̃ dɑ̃.ʒə.ʁøz]; The Dangerous Liaisons) is a French epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782.

It is the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals (and ex-lovers) who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. It has been claimed to depict the decadence of the French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution, thereby exposing the perversions of the so-called Ancien Régime. However, it has also been described as a vague, amoral story.

The book is composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other (see epistolary novel). In particular, the letters between Valmont and the Marquise drive the plot, with those of other characters serving as illustrations to give the story its depth.

It is often claimed to be the source of the saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold", a paraphrased translation of "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" (more literally, "Revenge is a dish that is eaten cold"). However the expression does not actually occur in the original novel.

Contents

  Plot summary

The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel, who is living with Valmont's aunt while Monsieur de Tourvel, a magistrate, is away on a court case. At the same time, the Marquise de Merteuil is determined to corrupt the young Cécile de Volanges, whose mother has only recently brought her out of a convent to be married – to Merteuil's recent lover, who has become bored with her and discarded her. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her music tutor) and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to want to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust, so that they can use them later in their own schemes.

Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte seduce Cécile in order to exact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the task too easy, and preferring to devote himself to seducing Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. He expects rapid success, but does not find it as easy as his many other conquests. During the course of his pursuit, he discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself in seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. In the meantime, Merteuil takes Danceny as a lover.

By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, it is suggested that he might have fallen in love with her. Jealous, Merteuil tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel – and reneges on her promise of spending the night with him. In response Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, leaving Merteuil abandoned yet again. Merteuil declares war on Valmont, and in revenge she reveals to Danceny that Valmont has seduced Cécile. Danceny and Valmont duel, and Valmont is fatally wounded. Before he dies he is reconciled with Danceny, giving him the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement. These letters are sufficient to ruin her reputation and she flees to the countryside, where she contracts smallpox. Her face is left permanently scarred and she is rendered blind in one eye, so she loses her greatest asset: her beauty. But the innocent also suffer from the protagonist's schemes: hearing of Valmont's death, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever and dies, while Cécile returns to the convent.

  Illustration by Fragonard for Letter XLIV, 1796.

  Literary significance and criticism

Les Liaisons dangereuses is celebrated for its exploration of seduction, revenge, and human malice, presented in the form of fictional letters collected and published by a fictional author. The book was viewed as scandalous at the time of its initial publication, though the real intentions of the author remain unknown. It has been suggested that Laclos's intention was the same as that of his fictional author in the novel; to write a morality tale about the corrupt, squalid nobility of the Ancien Régime. However, this theory has been questioned on several grounds. In the first place, Laclos enjoyed the patronage of France's most senior aristocrat – the duc d'Orléans. Secondly, all the characters in the story are aristocrats, including the virtuous heroines – Madame de Tourvel and Madame de Rosemonde. Finally, many ultra-royalist and conservative figures enjoyed the book, including Queen Marie-Antoinette, which suggests that – despite its scandalous reputation – it was not viewed as a political work until the events of the French Revolution years later made it appear as such, with the benefit of hindsight.

Wayland Young notes that most critics have viewed the work as

... a sort of celebration, or at least a neutral statement, of libertinism... pernicious and damnable... Almost everyone who has written about it has noted how perfunctory are the wages of sin..."[1]

He argues, however, that

... the mere analysis of libertinism… carried out by a novelist with such a prodigious command of his medium... was enough to condemn it and play a large part in its destruction.[1]

  Adaptations

The novel has been adapted into various media, under many different names.

  Stage

  Film

  Television

  Radio

  • An eight-part adaptation of the novel was broadcast as BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour Drama" (20–30 July 1992). It starred Juliet Stevenson, Samuel West, Melinda Walker, Diana Rigg, and Roger Allam.
  • A two-part presentation of Christopher Hampton's play by BBC World Service in 1998. It starred Ciaran Hinds (Vicomte de Valmont), Lindsay Duncan (Marquise de Merteuil), and Emma Fielding (Mme. de Tourvel). It won the Grand Award for Best Entertainment Program at the New York Radio Festival.

  Opera

Piet Swerts: Les Liaisons dangereuses. 17.12.1996.Gent (Wordpremiere) .Marilyn Schmiege (soprano).Francois Le Roux (bar). Lyne Fortin (sopr). Jocelyne Taillon (mezzo).Mireille Capelle (mezzo).Marie-Noelle de Callatay (sopr). Cecile de Volanges.Marc Tucker (ten) Romain Bisschoff (bar). Petra van Tendeloo (sopr). Piet Vansichen (bajo). Dir.: Patrick Davin

  Ballet

  • David Nixon, currently Artistic Director of Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, choreographed a ballet version of Dangerous Laisons, with music by Vivaldi. It was first performed as part of a mixed program entitled "David Nixon’s Liaisons" - at the Hebbel Theatre, Berlin in 1990. He subsequently reworked it for BalletMet, with the premier taking place in the Ohio Theatre on May 2, 1996.
  • In 2008, the Alberta Ballet performed a ballet version of Dangerous Liaisons. [7]

  Sequel

  • A Factory of Cunning (2005) a fictionalized sequel by Philippa Stockley, tells how the Marquise de Merteuil faked her death of smallpox and escaped to England with a new identity.

  References

  Sources

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

  • Young, Wayland (1964). Eros Denied: Sex in Western Society. New York: Grove. ISBN 1-125-40416-7. 
  • Diaconoff, Suellen (1979). Eros and power in Les Liaisons dangereuses: a study in evil. Geneva: Droz. 
   
               

 

All translations of Les Liaisons Dangereuses


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