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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part Three, Exchange Ten: Letters 100–111

Part Three, Exchange Nine: Letters 88–99

Part Three, Exchange Eleven: Letters 112–124

Summary

Valmont has made an unpleasant discovery. The Présidente de Tourvel has left Madame de Rosemonde's estate without informing him of her intention to leave, or even saying goodbye. In a letter to the Marquise de Merteuil (Letter One Hundred), he rails, ironically enough, against the deceitful ways of women. Valmont spares no time in berating his valet, Azolan, for letting the Présidente slip away. In Letter One Hundred, he orders him to follow Tourvel to her estate and renew his affair with her maidservant to obtain information.

Meanwhile, the Présidente has written to Madame de Rosemonde (Letter One Hundred and Two) to excuse herself and explain, as best she can, her reason for going away. Her reason is, she says, that she is in love. Her guilt and her sense of duty to her husband require her to flee from her beloved, whom she leaves unnamed.

Madame de Rosemonde is both understanding and admiring of Tourvel's choice to flee. In Letter One Hundred and Three she offers the Présidente both her friendship and her protection.

The Marquise de Merteuil is dishing out her own share of advice. In response to Madame Volanges's queries, she writes (Letter One Hundred and Four) that Madame should not rush to grant her daughter's wishes when it comes to marriage. Though she might seek her daughter's opinion on the matter, as a mother, she is best suited to choose her daughter's future husband. A love match, she counsels, will inevitably set Cécile at a disadvantage. The Marquise then writes to Cécile herself (Letter One Hundred and Five), advising her not to be too honest with her mother if she asks her opinion on marriage. Merteuil also writes to Valmont (Letter One Hundred and Six) to mock him for not taking advantage of Tourvel when he had the chance and to inform that she has tired of trying to teach Cécile.

In Letter One Hundred and Seven, Azolan replies to his master. He informs him that he has been doing a little spying at the Présidente de Tourvel's house and that she has been doing nothing but reading and sighing all day.

The Présidente, meanwhile, continues to correspond with Madame de Rosemonde (Letter One Hundred and Eight). In this letter, she reveals the name of her beloved, the Vicomte de Valmont.

Cécile reports to the Marquise (Letter One Hundred and Nine) that she sees Valmont nightly, and that though she does not understand what is happening, the Marquise must know best, so she puts her trust in her advice.

At his fourth rejected letter to the Présidente, Valmont writes to the Marquise (Letter One Hundred and Ten) to bemoan his fate. He writes that the only pleasure remaining him is his nightly instruction of Cécile.

Finally, the Comte de Gercourt, writes to Madame Volanges (Letter One Hundred and Eleven) to ask her if it will be possible to postpone the wedding another few months while he takes a vacation in Italy.

Analysis

In this exchange we see the introduction of actual plot elements. The choices of Madame Volanges suddenly become central to the outcome of the novel. We wonder whether she will she allow Cécile to marry Danceny, and whether she will summon Gercourt back from Italy to marry Cécile before Valmont can finish debauching her. A certain amount of suspense enters along with these uncertainties, since we can visualize a "happy ending" (Cécile's marriage to Danceny). It is then also interesting to see how the Marquise seizes on this possibility (Letters One Hundred and Four and One Hundred and Five) and immediately takes action to prevent this kind of good fortune. We learn later that the Marquise has intentions of her own for Danceny, but there is another possible explanation for her preventative measures. The thought of accord between two people in life, and just not for sake of momentary mutual advantage, is repulsive to her.

This brings us to the issue of education, another theme very close to the Marquise's heart. It is unclear whether her frequent referral to the seduction of Cécile as the girl's "education" is entirely an unkind joke. Valmont seems to participate in this unusual view of education as well. In Letter One Hundred and Ten, he describes Cécile's recent anatomy lessons, in which he has taught her "a sort of debauchee's catechism" ("une espèce de catéchisme à débauche") to help her remember the names of all the parts. Indeed, Merteuil seems to have had a place in her company all picked out for Cécile, once she had undergone a few tests and trials (Letter One Hundred and Six). Marquise refers to an education for the stage. In Merteuil's opinion, a woman is made, and not born, and she is a character she herself creates or writes. The right "material" is absolutely essential for the creation of a proper character; without it, a woman cannot control her own fate or her own person.

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