Authors: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

French novelist, nonfiction writer, and poet


Amiens, France

September 5, 1803

Taranto (now in Italy)


Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos (lah-kloh) was born into a family of Spanish descent that inherited a title from an attendant to Louis XIV. Although his relatives were financial administrators, Laclos chose a military career and entered La Fère Academy in 1759. By the time of graduation in 1763 he held the position of second lieutenant; in a span of fifteen years he was unable to advance beyond the rank of second captain during a time of relative peace in Europe. {$I[AN]9810000205} {$I[A]Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de} {$I[geo]FRANCE;Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de} {$I[tim]1741;Laclos, Pierre Choderlos de}

Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos.

By Joseph Ducreux, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While stationed in Grenoble between 1769 and 1775, Laclos apparently met several society figures who contributed to the formation of the principal characters in Les Liaisons dangereuses. The psychology behind this work is derived from Laclos’s reworking of Samuel Richardson’s History of Clarissa Harlowe (1748) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The New Héloïse (1761)—epistolary novels renowned for intense passion, social realism, and elevated language. As a military commander, Laclos was in a unique position to view the game of seduction as a series of maneuvers and strategies. Based on his political choices during the French Revolution, it is reasonable to conclude that Laclos meant to hold a mirror to the French ancien régime society of the 1770’s, noted for its excessive promiscuity, nefarious scheming, cynical worldliness, and blatant hypocrisy.

In the years before the fall of the Bastille, Laclos married (two years after the birth of a son) and served as a secretary to Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke of Orléans, before joining the Jacobin Party in 1790. From around November 1790 to September 1791 he reportedly edited the Jacobin weekly Journal des amis de la Constitution. During the Reign of Terror, he was imprisoned but later released on house arrest. He was reinstated into the army, supported Napoleon Bonaparte, and was subsequently appointed a general of the artillery in 1800. Three years later, during the Napoleonic Wars, he died in Taranto, probably from dysentery. In 1903, a collection of his writings—mostly speeches, treatises, letters, and poems—was published. Les Liaisons dangereuses, popularized in stage and film adaptations, remains a classic representation of diabolical subtlety and Machiavellian subterfuge.

Author Works Long Fiction: Les Liaisons dangereuses, 1782 (Dangerous Acquaintances, 1784; also known as Dangerous Liaisons) Nonfiction: De l’éducation des femmes, 1785 Lettre à MM. de l'Académie sur l'éloge de Vauban, 1786 Les grands hommes du jour, 1790–91 Lettres inédites de Choderlos de Laclos, 1904 Poetry: Poésies de Choderlos de Laclos, 1908 Miscellaneous: L'Oeuvre de Choderlos de Laclos, 1913 Bibliography Becker-Theye, Betty. The Seducer as Mythic Figure in Richardson, Laclos, and Kierkegaard. New York: Garland, 1988. Compares Laclos's work to that of Samuel Richardson and Søren Kierkegaard. Byrne, Patrick. “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”: A Study of Motive and Moral. Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1989. An analysis of the psychological motivations of the characters in Laclos's novel, the central moral problem, and Laclos's use of irony. Conroy, Peter V., Jr. Intimate, Intrusive, and Triumphant: Readers in the “Liaisons Dangereuses.” Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1987. Examines both the use of letter-writing in Liaisons dangereuses and the characters' ability to read and comprehend those letters appropriately. Davies, Simon. Laclos: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” Wolfboro, N.H.: Grant and Cutler, 1987. Examines the characters, form, theme of duplicity, and social commentary of Liaisons dangereuses. A basic introduction to the text. DeJean, Joan E. Literary Fortifications: Rousseau, Laclos, Sade. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. Interprets Liaisons dangereuses through the lens of military strategy. Michael, Collette Verger. Choderlos de Laclos, the Man, His Works, and His Critics. New York: Garland, 1982. An annotated bibliography. Roulston, Christine. Virtue, Gender, and the Authentic Self in Eighteenth Century Fiction: Richardson, Rousseau, and Laclos. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998. Explores the interplay between female characters' authenticity and the written form in several sentimental novels, including Liaisons dangereuses. Sol, Antoinette Marie. Textual Promiscuities: Eighteenth Century Critical Rewriting. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2002. Posits a relationship between Laclos and the women's novels of Marie-Jeane Riccoboni and Frances Burney. Interrogates issues of gender, moral authority, identity, and sensibility in works by all three.

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