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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part Four, Exchange Thirteen: Letters 138–149

Part Four, Exchange Twelve: Letters 125–137

Part Four, Exchange Fourteen: Letters 150–164

Summary

In Letter One Hundred and Thirty-eight, Valmont assures the Marquise de Merteuil again that he is not in love. He relates the story of how he snubbed Tourvel while in his carriage with the courtesan, Emilie. He adds that he has also taken care to send Tourvel a saccharine note explaining, but not apologizing for, his behavior.

Having received said saccharine note, the Présidente de Tourvel writes to Madame de Rosemonde (Letter One Hundred and Thirty-nine) to tell her that she was misled about Valmont's actions. He is innocent and she was too hasty to blame him.

Valmont composes another letter to the Marquise (Letter One Hundred and Forty) in which he recounts an episode with Cécile. One night, after he and Cécile had been making love, the wind blew the door of his room open. As he rushed up to see if someone was intruding on them, Cécile fell off the bed in fright. When Valmont returned, she was having seizures on the floor. Valmont promptly diagnosed her attack as a miscarriage and set about explaining to the girl what a pregnancy was and then he recommended she go see a doctor.

The Marquise is not phased by Valmont's description of Cécile's miscarriage. Her only interest is in ending his affair with Tourvel as quickly as possible. To that end, in Letter One Hundred and Forty-one, she tells him the exemplary story of a man who had gotten involved with a woman he needed to be rid of. When this woman blamed him or begged him not to leave her, the man simply said, "It is not my fault" ("Ce n'est pas ma faute"). Thus he was finally rid of her.

Valmont thanks the Marquise for her letter-writing advice (Letter One Hundred and Forty-two) and tells her cheerfully that he has sent a copy of the sample epistle to the Présidente. He challenges Merteuil to tell him now that he is still in love with Tourvel.

Meanwhile, Tourvel is devastated. She tells Madame de Rosemonde (Letter One Hundred and Forty-three) that the only thing she has to look forward to now is death.

Not having heard from his tortured Présidente, Valmont does a little research and finds out that she has retired to the convent. In Letter One Hundred and Forty-four, he proclaims his victory to Merteuil and looks forward to the splash he will soon make in society. He also reports that Cécile seems to be getting over her miscarriage very well, and that he plans to test her recovery out as soon as he can. In the mean time, he plans to help Danceny out in his courtship a little more.

Merteuil is not to be placated, however. She writes (Letter One Hundred and Forty-five) that she is flattered that Valmont should have ruined his true love simply because she made fun of him, but she says that she still cannot consent to their reunion. Her one suggestion is that Valmont should continue his affair with Cécile even after her marriage, and found a new line of Valmonts under the name of Gercourt.

The Marquise next writes to Danceny (Letter One Hundred and Forty-six) to tell him that she looks forward to seeing him.

In Letter One Hundred and Forty-seven, Madame Volanges writes to Madame de Rosemonde to tell her that the Présidente de Tourvel is seriously ill.

In Letter One Hundred and Forty-eight, the Chevalier Danceny confesses his new love for the Marquise de Merteuil to her.

Madame Volanges writes again to Madame de Rosemonde (Letter One Hundred and Forty-nine) to say that the Présidente is only getting worse.

Summary

"'I am dying because I did not believe you'" ("'Je meurs pour ne vous avoir pas crue'"), the Présidente de Tourvel cries out to Madame Volanges in Letter One Hundred and Forty-seven. The importance of faith as an aspect of moral conduct is emphasized in this section. The Présidente de Tourvel is ruined by her inability to believe the advice provided by other women. Her pleasure in love ruins her faith and interest in other women's experiences. The Vicomte de Valmont's pride, and his inability to take a joke, essentially, an inability to have faith in himself, renders him incapable of continuing his affair with Tourvel.

Faith is equated with selflessness here, though this kind of faith does not always rest on the same side of the moral dilemma as religion. It is a kind of trueness to oneself, a confidence not easily attained by those who prefer to live their lives in intrigues and literary games.

This confusion of faith with sense of self leads us to the heart of the Présidente de Tourvel's sickness. Here, a sadness of the soul causes the destruction of the body. The metaphor of lost faith and lost chastity casts itself over Tourvel's entire physical being, so that what she feels in her mind becomes manifest in her body. Just as Cécile decides to become a nun and wear a veil to repent for her adultery with Valmont, the Présidente must let her body die in order to expiate her misdeeds (Letter One Hundred and Forty- nine), "I was quite sure that I would die, and I had the courage to do so: what I cannot endure is that I should survive in misery and shame." ("Je me croyais bien sûr d'en mourir, et j'en avais le courage; mais de survivre à mon malheur et à ma honte, c'est ce qui m'est impossible.")

The Présidente de Tourvel's disease is, in itself, literary. Or rather, it is the transference of a literary technique, metaphor, into the space of the body. So involved is she by now in Valmont's sense of the world, that she cannot help dying by that same method he used to seduce her. Where he took the metaphors of her religion and made them apply to his love, she takes the metaphors of her religion and makes them apply to her body. As one might renounce a vice, so Tourvel literally renounces life.

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