Dangerous Liaisons

Title: Dangerous Liaisons
Author: Choderlos de Laclos
Genre: Epistolary novel
Publish date: 1782
Page length: 394 (Penguin Classics edition)


Dangerous Liaisons is an epistolary novel by French author Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782. The story is set in aristocratic society in France in the late 18th century, and revolves around the lives of two manipulative, seductive, and amoral characters: the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont.

The novel is divided into four parts, with each part corresponding to a significant stage in the relationship between the Marquise and the Vicomte. The first part introduces the main characters and sets the stage for their dangerous game of intrigue. The Marquise and the Vicomte have a long-standing relationship based on mutual desire and a shared love of manipulation. They are both notorious for their affairs and their disregard for social conventions, and they take pleasure in corrupting those around them.

At the beginning of the novel, the Marquise seeks revenge against an ex-lover who has betrayed her, and she enlists the help of the Vicomte to carry out her plan. The victim of their scheme is the young and innocent Cécile Volanges, who is betrothed to the Comte de Gercourt. The Marquise and the Vicomte make a wager over whether the Vicomte can seduce Cécile before her marriage, and they each choose a different target for their own pleasure.

The second part of the novel focuses on the Vicomte’s pursuit of Cécile, which he achieves through deceit and manipulation. His ultimate goal is to seduce Madame de Tourvel, a married woman known for her virtue and piety, whom he regards as the ultimate conquest. However, he becomes genuinely enamored with Madame de Tourvel and struggles with his feelings for her. Meanwhile, the Marquise continues to manipulate those around her, including her former lover, who she exposes as a pedophile.

In the third part of the novel, the Marquise and the Vicomte’s relationship begins to unravel as their schemes become increasingly complex and dangerous. The Vicomte’s obsession with Madame de Tourvel ultimately leads to his downfall, as she refuses to be manipulated and rejects him. The Marquise’s own machinations also come back to haunt her, as her schemes are exposed and she loses her place in society.

The final part of the novel deals with the aftermath of the Marquise and the Vicomte’s manipulations, as their actions have far-reaching consequences that affect the lives of those around them. The novel concludes on a ambiguous note, with the Marquise and the Vicomte each facing their own moral reckoning.

Throughout the novel, Laclos explores themes of power, sexuality, gender, and morality. The Marquise and the Vicomte represent a world in which personal pleasure and manipulation are valued over social norms and moral values. Their games of seduction are not just a matter of personal pleasure, but a means of exerting power over those around them. The novel raises questions about the nature of morality, the role of women in society, and the corrupting influence of power and privilege.

Overall, Dangerous Liaisons is a provocative and disturbing novel that offers a scathing critique of aristocratic society in 18th-century France. Its exploration of power, sexuality, and morality still resonates with readers today, making it a classic of French literature and a must-read for anyone interested in the history of European society. Despite its challenging subject matter and complex plot, Dangerous Liaisons is a compelling and gripping novel that rewards careful reading and attention to detail.