Part Two, Exchange Eight: Letters 76–87
Valmont spends most of Letter Seventy-six complaining about Prévan's hold over the Marquise de Merteuil and the rest of the women in the social circles of Paris. He also relates his recent arrival to the estate of Madame de Rosemonde, how the Présidente de Tourvel had to hide her excitement, and how he has already started aiding Cécile and Danceny with their romance.
Valmont next writes to Tourvel (Letter Seventy-seven), as usual demanding the reasons for her continuing cruel treatment of him, especially since she has just pledged her friendship to him. Does she want him to deceive her, he asks. If he were to stop writing to her of his love it would only be a lie.
Tourvel replies to Valmont (Letter Seventy-eight) to beg him to accept her professed indifference toward him as what it is: indifference.
In letter seventy-nine Valmont has an important story to tell the Marquise de Merteuil. Prévan's reputation in society was made by a triple seduction he performed on three inseparable female friends. This affair culminated in the ruin of all three of their reputations. Valmont intends this as a serious warning to the Marquise, if she intends to continue her own relationship with Prévan.
Letter Eighty is a new expression of the Chevalier Danceny's grief at being separated so long from Cécile.
Letter Eighty-one is a remarkable account by the Marquise de Merteuil of how she became the woman she is. She claims to have created herself. This comes in response to Valmont's worries or assumptions that she would not be able to take care of herself when it came to Prévan.
In Letter Eighty-two, Cécile worries that because it has become so painful for Danceny to be in love with her, he will stop loving her.
Valmont continues to try to corner Merteuil in Letter Eighty-three.
Valmont also writes to Cécile (Letter Eighty-four) to apologize for the difficulty he has had recently getting Danceny's correspondence to her. He explains that it will be easier for him to bring her the Chevalier's mail if she gets him the key to her room.
Merteuil has conquered her Prévan. She informs Valmont (Letter Eighty- five) that by convincing Prévan that he had defeated her, she was able to convince him to come to her bedroom. Once he was there with his pants down, she cried rape and summoned all the servants. Prévan was ruined. To her own letter she attaches a note from the Maréchale de __ expressing her shock at what Prévan did.
The Marquise also relates the incident to Madame Volanges (Letter Eighty-seven), but in terms more appropriate for company.
At long last Valmont (Letter Seventy-six) lets the reader gauge how much love, in his society, is really a game. Valmont's descriptions of affairs are in terms of triumphs, defeats, and episodes of love, as if this were some kind of soap opera. Prévan's genius, and, therefore, his danger, lies in his ability to convince women to admit their defeat in love to him in public. Perhaps in describing this talent of Prévan's, the Vicomte brings to light a little more information about his society than seems to be fashionable—this is to say, usually these kinds of things go without saying. Prévan has found a way to make women say what normally they would refuse to, meaning that he has found a way of overcoming, not only feminine wiles, but normal social conventions. Anyone who can flout the laws of society is a force to be reckoned with, "a menace to society."
Valmont also writes, "...any woman who permits herself to speak of love will end by acknowledging it, or at least behaving as though she did" ("...femme qui consent à parler d'amour, finit bientôt par en prendre, ou au moins par se conduir comme si elle en avait"). A question central to Dangerous Liaisons is how much talk about action counts for action, or how one can be betrayed by what one says even before one does anything compromising. The novel seems to claim that words do contain something dangerous, even more so than action.
The Marquise de Merteuil is herself a good example of how words can be made more real than any event in itself. In Letter Eighty-one, she writes that she is her own creator. As a young girl Merteuil refused to let fate or society describe or proscribe her, and began to compose herself. She wrote the book of her life as carefully as her letters.
Not only did the Marquise invent a story for herself, she invented a character to play. She tells Valmont of how she taught herself to control her facial expressions: looking happy when she was miserable, content when irritated, and so on. Thus she was able to convince the rest of society to play along in her drama with her, using even her own body as a prop in its staging. The next question we have to ask after learning all this is, at what point does the staging stop, where there is room left for love in this kind of a controlled existence. This is precisely what the Marquise means when she writes that she does not follow any rules or principles that may have existed in society before her entrance into it. Love and joy, except when they are acted, are excluded from her repertoire because she did not invent them.
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