sologdin's Reviews > Les Liaisons dangereuses

Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos d...
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Oct 09, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: of-best-sentence-and-moost-solaas, ruling-class-protagonist, sexology
Read from October 09, 2011 to August 01, 2013

Early modern French aristocratic sexual politics. Should be read in conjunction with 120 Days of Sodom, on the one hand, and Madame Bovary, on the other. There’s some overlap of Valmont with the four principals of the former and Boulanger of the latter, except here, with Valmont, the interior is present, rather than implicit. Thorough readers might benefit from a close and labor-intensive comparison.

No need for that here. Suffice to say that Valmont, even merely on the exterior, is a horrible rapist (see Epistles 96, 97, 98). Review of the interior, through his correspondence, reveals a nasty property ideology; Valmont refers to his planning of the rape as “it seemed to me only fair to get some return for all my efforts on her behalf; I also remembered that you’d offered her to me before [victim’s beau] had any lien on her and I felt it reasonable to claim some right on a property he owned by default purely because I’d turned it down” (Epistle 96). This all arises out of “the inalienable prerogative of the male” (id.). That’s all very tame in presentation, compared to de Sade--but the nexus of criminality and coarse economics is nevertheless manifest.

Master figure of the text arises in Epistle 110, of Madame de Merteuil: “I spend my time […] drawing up a sort of catechism of lechery for my pupil’s use. I’m enjoying spelling everything out in strictly technical terms and chuckling as I imagine the fascinating conversation which this will provide for her and [fiance] on their wedding night.” This is accordingly a techne of the instruction in lechery, the rhetoric of lechery, and of lechery itself.

Many great one-liners: “If, for instance, the extent of my love has exactly matched the extent of your virtue, it’s not surprising that they have both run out at the same time” (Epistle 141). (NB: “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” or any reasonable facsimile thereof, does not appear in this translation.)

Middle portions are a slow burn, but the final act cooks along quickly. Plenty more to be said as commentary, surely.

Recommended for those whom public opinion sees as reprobate, persons afflicted with smallpox of the confluent variety, and readers whose two favorite passions are a glorious resistance followed by a pleasurable defeat.
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