Bruce's Reviews > Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
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Nov 08, 11

Read in November, 2011

This epistolary novel is probably more familiar to movie viewers, a number of films having been based upon it, than it is to readers. Yet, as is often the case, the book is far richer and more profound than any film of which I am aware. The work is fascinating and addresses a number of issues important to modern readers, even if the art of traditional letter writing has given way, by and large, to emails, text messaging, and other electronic media. Of enduring importance are the issues of veracity in communication, the “truthfulness” of what we communicate even as we try to selectively edit the personae we project. Equally important is the ambiguous nature of written language, requiring as it does assumptions on the part of both writers and readers about connotations and hidden meanings. Written language conceals as much as it reveals, and it always contains meanings that the writer does not intend or recognize.

The novel also deals with power and mastery, including rational manipulation and the elevation of reason above feelings and moral values. In this sense, it presents a quintessentially Enlightenment perspective, and the degree to which this perspective fails is a measure of its refutation of the Enlightenment agenda. Just as characters in the novel are required to “read” not only their letters but the behavior, especially body language, of each other, so the reader of the narrative is required to read the ambiguities and implications of the novel itself. Polarities explored herein include calculation vs spontaneity, materialism vs romanticism, and Skinnerian behavioralism vs Heisenbergian uncertainty. More than an exploration of love, sensuality, and sex, this narrative focuses on seduction as a means of personal power and manipulation.

Ultimately, things fall apart, events and characters are turned upside down, and the “heroes” of the narrative, the manipulators themselves, fail. The puppet-masters themselves are undone. Why? Does this finally represent a triumph of goodness over intellect? But who, if anyone, finally is triumphant in this fascinating narrative? As fascinating as the evolving interpersonal relationships are in the novel, even more interesting are the changes that occur within the psyches of the primary characters, each evolving from beginning to end.
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message 1: by Furqan (new) - added it

Furqan Now, I am tempted to pick this book again. It's been collecting dust on my "unfinished books" shelf for ages...


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