Thursday, June 24, 2010

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos - Book Review #41

Thursday, June 24, 2010
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Choderlos de Laclos

Love . . . sex . . . seduction. Of the three, only the last matters. Love is a meaningless word, and sex an ephemeral pleasure, but seduction is an amusing game in which victory means power and the ability to humiliate one’s enemies and revel with one’s friends. So it is for the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two supremely bored aristocrats during the final years before the French Revolution. Together they concoct a wildly wicked wager: If Valmont can successfully seduce the virtuous wife of a government official, Madame de Tourvel, then Madame Merteuil will sleep with him again. But Madame Merteuil also wants Valmont to conquer the young and innocent former convent schoolgirl, Cécile Volanges. Can he do both?

I saw and loved all three known to me movie adoptions of Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont and Cruel Intentions multiple times. However, I was really hesitant to read the book because of multiple reasons. First of all, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an epistolary novel and I never had a good experience with this type, they are simply not my cup of tea. Second, from movie adaptations I knew the story so well that I was simply afraid I will be bored. Nevertheless, I decided it was time to face this scandalous, marvelous and well know throughout centuries novel that Marie Antoinette kept under her bed.

I should probably start by saying that I always loved this story. I considered it to be one of the most beautiful and enigmatic stories, despite the fact that this novel doesn’t have any heroes (only anti-heroes) and there is no happy ending for anyone. The thing that I admired the most is intrigues created by Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont. They seemed to me like a spider web, almost invisible, but sticky and impossible to get out of. Or like a Venetian lace – stunning with its beauty and inconceivable to untwist.

Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont are both so deliciously sinful – it is impossible not to like them. In particularly, I like Valmont for refraining from using any types of violence in his seductions – he wants his victims to come to him willingly and with love. Cécile de Volanges is comically naïve. Chevalier Danceny always seemed to be annoying to me. Madame de Tourvel is fragile and also naïve, but not like Cécile in a childish way, but rather in sentimental way. Madame de Volanges – Cécile’s mother is completely clueless. From the movies I also considered her arrogant and evil, so I was surprised to find out from the novel that at some point she considered Danceny as a husband for her daughter and it changed my opinion about her. All these characters were masterfully created by Choderlos de Laclos with the level of psychological analyze. It is amazing how Choderlos de Laclos could see people to reproduce all the depths and complexity of the characters in letters.

Another astonishing thing is how Choderlos de Laclos managed the voices of the characters. Letters from different people did sounds actually different, even in translation. And these voices of the characters were a base on which reader could start building the impression of the personalities.

Undeniably, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a piece of art. Some readers consider the fact that this novel was written in 18th century to be a flaw of the novel, but I completely disagree, because I almost don’t know contemporary writers, who can manage, develop and illustrate the voices and the personality of the characters as well as it was done by Choderlos de Laclos in more than two centuries ago.


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