The theme for my historical fiction group is classic french literature, so we started this year with Dangerous Liaisons by Laclos. I was quite keen to read this having see this film when it was fisrt released at the cinema and then again recently in preparation of reading the novel.
Here is the blurb …
The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make “Dangerous Liaisons” (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Viscount de Valmont and the Marchioness de Merteuil — gifted, wealthy, and bored — form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game. And they play this game with such wit and style that it is impossible not to admire them, until they discover mysterious rules that they cannot understand. In the ensuing battle there can be no winners, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.
The Marchioness de Merteuil and the Viscount de Valmont are creations without precedent. They are the first [in European literature] whose acts are determined by an ideology. —André Malraux
One of the two greatest French novels. —André Gide
What really keeps “Dangerous Liaisons” potent after two hundred years is not so much its depiction of sex as its catalog of corruptions, including but not limited to the corruption of language by polite cant and the corruption of morals by manners. It implicates a whole society so founded on falsehood that a single act of emotional truth is tantamount to an act of subversion. —Luc Sante
In many respects, Laclos is the perfect author: he wrote, at around the age of 40, one piece of fiction, which was not merely a masterpiece, but the supreme example of its genre, the epistolary novel; and then he troubled the public no further. —Christopher Hampton
It is a long novel so don’t do what I did and leave it to the last week and not finish it in time!
It is epistolary and written in four parts – the third part dragged for me. This novel is suprisingly modern – it was published in 1782 – and very salacious. It was designed to highlight the depravity of the french aristocracy. Valmont and de Merteuil were amoral, bored and making life interesting by seducing and ruining people.
The writing is extraordinary, each writers’ letters have a distinct style from the naive teenager Cecile to scheming, cynical Valmont.
More reviews …