Illustration from 1796 edition
|Author||Pierre Choderlos de Laclos|
|Original title||Les Liaisons dangereuses|
|Translator||P. W. K. Stone|
|Genre||Epistolary novel, libertine novel|
|March 23, 1782|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Les Liaisons dangereuses (French: [le ljɛzɔ̃ dɑ̃ʒəʁøz]; English: Dangerous Liaisons) is a French epistolary novel by Pierre 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 narcissistic rivals (and ex-lovers) who use seduction as a weapon to socially control and exploit others, all the while enjoying their cruel games and boasting about their manipulative talents. It has been seen as depicting 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 an amoral story.
As an epistolary novel, the book is composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other. In particular, the letters between Valmont and the Marquise drive the plot, with those of their victims and other characters serving as contrasting figures to give the story its depth.
The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous, married, and therefore inaccessible Madame de Tourvel, who is staying with Valmont's aunt while her husband 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 previous lover, who has rudely discarded her. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her young music tutor), and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust and manipulate them later to benefit their own schemes.
Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte should seduce Cécile in order to enact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the challenge 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 of seduction, 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, Valmont discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself by seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. Meanwhile, Merteuil takes Danceny as her lover.
By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, he seems to 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 retaliation, Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, leaving Merteuil abandoned yet again. Merteuil declares war on Valmont and reveals to Danceny that Valmont has seduced Cécile.
Danceny and Valmont duel, and Valmont is fatally wounded. Before he dies, he gives Danceny the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement. These letters are sufficient to ruin her reputation so 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: desperate with guilt and grief, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever and dies, while Cécile returns to the convent, dishonoured.
Literary significance and criticism
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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—Louis Philippe II, Duke of 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
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.
In a well-known essay on Les Liaisons dangereuses, which has often been used as a preface to French editions of the novel, André Malraux argues that, despite its debt to the libertine tradition, Les Liaisons dangereuses is more significant as the introduction of a new kind of character in French fiction. Malraux writes that the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are creations "without precedent"; they are "the first [in European literature] whose acts are determined by an ideology".
In a manner, Les Liaisons dangereuses is a literary counterthesis to the epistolary novel as exemplified by Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. Whereas Richardson uses the technique of letters to provide the reader with a feeling of knowing the protagonist's true and intimate thoughts, Laclos' use of this literary device is exactly opposite: by presenting the reader with grossly conflicting views from the same writer when addressing different recipients, it is left to the reader to reconcile story, intentions and characters behind the letters. The use of duplicitous characters with one virtuous face can be viewed as a complex criticism of the immensely popular naïve moral epistolary novel.
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The novel has been adapted into various media, under many different names.
- German playwright Heiner Müller adapted the story in 1981, entitling it Quartet.
- Christopher Hampton's 1985 adaptation, Les liaisons dangereuses, opened in London's West End and in 1987 crossed over to Broadway with Alan Rickman originating the role of the Vicomte de Valmont, Lindsay Duncan as Marquise de Merteuil, and Juliet Stevenson as Madame de Tourvel. In 2012 the Sydney Theatre Company staged Hampton's adaptation with Hugo Weaving as the Vicomte, and Pamela Rabe as the Marquise.
- In 2012, John Malkovich directed a version of the play with Paris' Théâtre de l'Atelier.
- Las Relaciones Peligrosas, a musical adaptation penned by Marcelo Caballero (book and lyrics) and Steban Ghorghor (music), had a world premiere in 2012 at El Cubo Theatre, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- In 2015, Josie Rourke directed a revival of the Christopher Hampton version at the Donmar Warehouse in London with Dominic West as the Vicomte and Janet McTeer as the Marquise. The production was broadcast on National Theatre Live and later ran at the Booth Theatre on Broadway with Liev Schreiber replacing West.
- The Dangerous Liaisons (1994), by the American composer Conrad Susa, commissioned by the San Francisco Opera. The opera was also aired on television in 1994 under the direction of Gary Halvorson and starring Frederica von Stade, Thomas Hampson, and Renée Fleming
- Les liaisons dangereuses (1996) by Belgian composer Piet Swerts
- Quartett (2011), by Italian composer Luca Francesconi, commissioned by La Scala
- David Nixon, currently artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, choreographed a ballet version of Dangerous Liaisons, 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 2003, English National Ballet commissioned choreographer Michael Corder and composer Julian Philips to create a new full-length ballet based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The project was cancelled before it came to the stage, and the full score has yet to be premiered. Julian Philips later adapted a section of the ballet as his chamber orchestral work Divertissement (2004).
- In 2008, the Alberta Ballet performed a ballet version of Dangerous Liaisons.
- In 2014, the Czech National Theatre Ballet produced Valmont, choreographer Libor Vaculík's adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, featuring music by Schubert and Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks.
- In 2019, Queensland Ballet premiered their new production of Dangerous Liaisons, choreographed by Liam Scarlett and featuring music by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Recorded and printed media
- Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959), directed by Roger Vadim and starring Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Philipe and Annette Vadim. In this version, Vadim updated the story to a late-1950s French bourgeois milieu.
- Une femme fidèle (1976). A loose retelling also directed by Roger Vadim and set in 1870.
- Dangerous Liaisons (1988), directed by Stephen Frears and starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman (based on Hampton's play). This version uses 18th-century costumes and dazzling shots of the Île-de-France region around Paris. It was nominated for multiple Academy Awards including Best Picture.
- Valmont (1989), directed by Miloš Forman and starring Annette Bening, Colin Firth and Meg Tilly.
- Cruel Intentions (1999), directed by Roger Kumble and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Selma Blair and Reese Witherspoon relocates the story to modern-day New York and is set amongst upper-class high school teens. This film spawned both a prequel in 2001 and a sequel in 2004.
- Untold Scandal (2003), directed by E J-yong and starring Lee Mi-sook, Jeon Do-yeon and Bae Yong-joon, transposes the setting to 18th-century Korea.
- Dangerous Liaisons (2012), directed by Hur Jin-ho and starring Zhang Ziyi, Jang Dong-gun and Cecilia Cheung, is set in 1930s China.
- A Factory of Cunning (2005), a fictionalized sequel by Philippa Stockley. It tells how the Marquise de Merteuil faked her death of smallpox and escaped to England with a new identity.
- Dangerous Tweets (2013), the entire novel adapted into tweets (one tweet per letter) in English as an iBook.
- Unforgivable Love (2017), a novel by Sophfronia Scott, and a retelling of the story set in 1940s Harlem with an African-American cast of characters.
- Les Liaisons dangereuses (1980), a French television film directed by Claude Barma, starring Claude Degliame, Jean-Pierre Bouvier and Maïa Simon.
- Les Liaisons dangereuses (2003), a French television miniseries directed by Josée Dayan and starring Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, Leelee Sobieski and Nastassja Kinski, which relocates the story to the 1960s.
- Ligações Perigosas (2016), a Brazilian television miniseries starring Patrícia Pillar, Selton Mello and Marjorie Estiano. It sets the story in the 1920s and includes many aspects not previous presented in other adaptions.
- The Great Seducer (2018), a South Korean television series starring Woo Do-hwan, Joy, Moon Ga-young and Kim Min-jae. It sets the story in the 2010s and is said to be a loose remake.
- 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 Ciarán 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.
- Les Liaisons Dangereuses: an Audible Original is a 2016 radio play starring the cast of that year’s London Stage production.
|French Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Les Liaisons Dangereuses.|
- Young, 1966, p. 246
- See the discussion in Derek Allan, 'Les Liaisons dangereuses through the eyes of André Malraux', Journal of European Studies. Vol. 42 (2), June 2012 Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine.
- Brantley, Ben (30 October 2016). "Review: 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' Uses Sex as a Weapon". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
- "Dangerous Liaisons". albertaballet.com. Alberta Ballet. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16.
- National Theatre Ballet (Prague), Valmont Archived 2016-07-01 at the Wayback Machine, 2014.
- 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.