Title: Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos
Summary: (off Goodreads.com) The Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise 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.
Review: The first time I read this book, I liked it more than I expected to. The second time, I adore it. It has manipulation, sex, secrets and scandal. The best part is that it was written in the 1700s, a time when all of these subjects were very taboo.
The Marquise de Merteuil wants to take revenge against a lover who scorned her. So she takes his new virgin wife-to-be and makes her not so pure. Vicomte de Valmont wants to conquer the moralistic Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil and Valmont ...more The first time I read this book, I liked it more than I expected to. The second time, I adore it. It has manipulation, sex, secrets and scandal. The best part is that it was written in the 1700s, a time when all of these subjects were very taboo.
The Marquise de Merteuil wants to take revenge against a lover who scorned her. So she takes his new virgin wife-to-be and makes her not so pure. Vicomte de Valmont wants to conquer the moralistic Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil and Valmont are considered libertines, sexually free aristocracy in France. It's an interesting paradox and view on the double standards that were so prevalent at the time. Merteuil had to keep her affairs a secret, making everyone believe that she was a pure widow who had not had relations with a man since her husband died. If it were to come out that she was so sexually liberal, she would never be able to do anything within high society. Valmont, on the other hand, is almost praised for his conquests. While most of society doesn't condone what he does, nor do they stop it. He at no point was shunned like Merteuil would have been if they knew her secrets.
Cecile is the girl that Merteuil is manipulating throughout the book. Her story is so tragic because she had been in a convent her entire life and knows nothing of the world. Merteuil puts different men in Cecile's line of sight until, eventually, she succumbs to Valmont. At the end of the day, she is still destroyed. She ends up resigning herself to a convent because she is so ashamed of what happens to her. She was manipulated into giving away what was then considered her only attribute with the possible exception of her money. This isn't a book where the victim lives happily ever after. She is actually victimized and remains that way.
I really enjoyed watching Merteuil and Valmont's relationship in this book. They're both libertines and manipulative. And they are in constant competition. It's interesting to read their correspondence because they manage to insult and compliment each other at the same time. They brag about all of their conquests and tell the other the things that they should and should not be doing. Yet all of their letters end with things like "I miss you" and "I value your friendship." It reminds me of preteens who tell you one thing to your face and something else behind your back. If you pay attention, the fact that the two end up fighting at the end is very unsurprising.
I like that Valmont ends up winning, in a way, at the end of the book. Even though he is killed thanks to Merteuil's scheming, she is utterly ruined by his. He gives all the letters she's written to the man who killed him, allowing them to be circulated. Merteuil's reputation was completely destroyed and she was shunned from any and all society. The lawsuit that she had been trying to win the whole book was suddenly lost because of it and everything that she had worked for was lost. She had to flee the country with her valuables to make any sort of living for herself.
LeClos approaches a lot of subjects that are considered taboo even today. In many ways, Valmont rapes Cecile. She doesn't want to do anything with Valmont and afterwards she is so ashamed. It is only when her "friend," Merteuil tells her that it was a good thing is she able to accept it. When, at the end, she finds herself betrayed by both Merteuil and Valmont, she feels she had to send herself into the convent.
The other interesting thing is that the whole book is written in letters. You don't actually see anything as it happens. Everything is the past tense and you only see it from one or two people's perspectives. You learn about Valmont's conquest from his letters to Merteuil. You learn about Merteuil's vindictiveness from her letters to Valmont. You see how two faced she can be because of the complete difference in her letters to Valmont and her letters to Cecile. You get some incredibly interesting perspectives. You only ever see events through the eyes of the two people which it involves. That's something that's not only hard to do but it's fascinating to see it happen as you read.
This is one of my favorite books because it deals with sexuality in a time period when no one did. These were all things that you didn't talk about in the 1700s but LeClos did. And now, three hundred years later, I still love reading about it. I recommend this book to everyone because it has a little bit of everything and is not like your normal classic. It's not about love and it doesn't have a happy ending. The situation ends up sucking for everyone and that's part of the appeal of the book. I like that it's a classic that shows how not all people are nice.
You can read this review and all others at im_writing or my Goodreads account.
Currently Reading: Liar by Justine Larbalestier