Skip over navigation

Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Important Quotes

About Letters

Key Facts

...there is nothing more difficult in love than expressing in writing what one does not feel...

[Il n'y a rien de si difficile en amour que d'écrire ce qu'on ne sent pas.]

In Letter Thirty-three, the Marquise de Merteuil comments on Valmont's seduction-strategy against the Présidente de Tourvel. She criticizes him for choosing to write to the Présidente instead of employing some other method. Valmont's writing, she says, will eventually reveal his true emotions.

This quote is especially important because it encapsulates one of the most important themes of Dangerous Liaisons, that of sincerity. As we know, the Marquise and the Vicomte are never intentionally sincere. Their concern is always whether they have the upper hand. There is no such thing as sincerity in their version of love. One might even claim that there is such thing as love where they are concerned, except if love is a combat zone, instead of an emotion. Love is an opportunity for competition, not togetherness. Therefore, if one writes of love, one must appear sincere only to lure the other person in, but one must remain insincere, so as not to be taken in oneself. This contradiction produces the difficulty of which the Marquise wants to warn Valmont.

Old ladies must never be crossed: in their hands lie the reputations of the young ones.

[Il ne faut pas fâcher les veilles femmes; ce sont elles qui font la réputation des jeunes.]

Letter Fifty-one, from the Marquise de Merteuil to the Vicomte de Valmont, contains the Marquise's latest strategies for the seduction of Cécile and the Présidente de Tourvel. Here she is describing an incident in which she accidentally offended a group of old ladies and subsequently had to spend a good deal of time complimenting them to prevent them from ruining her reputation with gossip.

This quotation touches on the theme of education in Dangerous Liaisons. Here, education does not take place in schools; rather it occurs in drawing rooms and at the opera. An older, experienced woman takes a younger woman in hand and introduces her to society. The older woman's particular place in society assures the younger woman a place. An older woman can teach a younger woman to be independent, to live on a good reputation and a good fortune without a husband. Essentially, an older woman can teach a younger woman how to live in society while, at the same time, breaking all of society's stated rules.

What you call happiness is nothing but a tumult in the mind, a tempest of passion, frightful to behold even for the spectator on the shore.

[Ce que vous appelez le bonheur, n'est qu'un tumulte des sens, un orage des passions dont le spectacle est effrayant, même à le regarder du rivage.]

Here, in Letter Fifty-six, the Présidente de Tourvel is explaining her perspective on Valmont's version of happiness: specifically, happiness in love or in passion. The difference she perceives in their perspectives on happiness is yet another proof, in her opinion, of why she and the Vicomte are incompatible.

The Présidente uses a metaphor of weather, a manifestation of nature to explain how love appears to her. Man's lack of control over nature is similar to Tourvel's sense of helplessness in the face of her own passions. The storm far out at sea, terrifying even if you are on the shore, is like love seen at a distance. To be in the boat, or in love, would be unbearable.

...open coqueterie can maintain a defense for longer than the most ascetic virtue.

[La franche coquetterie a plus de défense que l'austère vertu.]

In Letter Ninety-nine, the Vicomte de Valmont explains to the Marquise de Merteuil that his struggle with the Présidente de Tourvel has now begun to be a dispute over words. Where she says, "friendship," he says, "love." The Vicomte's hope is that eventually the Présidente's sympathy and honesty will force her to love him, in sympathy with his own tragic love for her, and that eventually she will be forced to admit this love. Tourvel's characteristic sympathy and honesty are produced by the "ascetic virtue" which Valmont ascribes to her. Whether he is just bragging about the cleverness of his strategy for the benefit of the Marquise de Merteuil is another question, but the irony of the situation is clear. According to Valmont, if Tourvel had been a well-traveled coquette, it would have been much more difficult for him to win her over. The Présidente's religious convictions only render her all the more vulnerable to seduction.

A man enjoys the happiness he feels, a woman the happiness she gives.

[L'homme jouit du bonheur qu'il ressent, et la femme de celui qu'elle procure.]

In Letter One Hundred and Thirty, Madame de Rosemonde attempts to instruct the Présidente de Tourvel on the differences between men and women. The most important difference between the two sexes seems to be the way in which they experience happiness, and, according to Madame de Rosemonde, a woman can only be happy by making a man happy. Conversely, a man can only be made happy by a woman, but the woman's happiness does not seem to be necessary for him to be happy. This is a warning to Tourvel as her affair progresses with the Vicomte de Valmont. Despite the seemingly unique way in which they became lovers, there are certain characteristics of the two sexes that remain.

...pleasure, which is undeniably the sole motive force behind the union of the sexes, is nevertheless not enough to form a bond between them...even if it is preceded by desire which impels, it is succeeded by disgust which repels. This is a law of nature which only love can change.

[Le plaisir, qui est bien en effet l'unique mobile de la réunion des deux sexes, ne suffit pourtant pas pour former une liaison entre eux..., s'il est précédé du désir qui rapproche, il n'est pas moins suivi du dégoût qui repousse. C'est une loi de la nature, que l'amour seul peut changer.]

In Letter One Hundred and Thirty-one, the Marquise de Merteuil writes to the Vicomte de Valmont to ask him to give up their plan for a reunion, since they cannot ever be honest to each other or happy together. But even though this is a kind of break-up letter from the Marquise, she makes an unusual show of optimism about relationships along the way. Judging from the majority of the Marquise's actions, one would assume that the only thing in life she is interested in is pleasure. However, this quotation shows that she believes that love exists, and that she believes that love is the one force that can grant a permanent truce between the embattled sexes.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us