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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part One, Exchange Five: Letters 37–50

Part One, Exchange Four: Letters 27–36

Part Two, Exchange Six: Letters 51–63

Summary

Now there seems to be real danger that Valmont's plans will fail. The Présidente de Tourvel writes to Madame Volanges (Letter Thirty- seven) to tell her that she has determined that the only way to end her predicament without a scandal is to ask the Vicomte to leave Madame de Rosemonde's estate.

Back in Paris, the Marquise de Merteuil has received a package of Tourvel's letters from Valmont, though she claims to be more interested in the eventual corruption of Cécile Volanges than the seduction of the Présidente. Her Letter Thirty-eight to Valmont contains some news about Merteuil's progress in educating Cécile about the ways of the world.

As for Cécile, she writes to Sophie (Letter Thirty-nine) to report on her latest tribulations with the Chevalier Danceny and her appreciation of the way the Marquise has taken her under her wing.

Letter Forty contains both the Vicomte's letter to the Marquise de Merteuil and a letter sent to him by the Présidente, which he wants the Marquise to read along with his own. His news is that Tourvel has asked him to leave her aunt's estate, and that he has been (as yet unsuccessfully) searching her rooms to try and find all her correspondence so that he can figure out what to do.

In Letter Forty-one the Présidente de Tourvel asks the Vicomte to leave Madame de Rosemonde's estate. She also mentions that, aside from the Vicomte's amorous harassment, advice from friends about the Vicomte's bad reputation has persuaded her that she should leave.

Letter Forty-two is the Vicomte's response to the Présidente's command. He says he will go, but on two conditions: that Tourvel tell him who it was who wrote to her about his bad reputation, and that she allow him to correspond with her while they are apart.

The Présidente is understandably annoyed by Valmont's conditions. She replies in Letter Forty-three that she will not reveal her sources, though she does give in to his second request that he be permitted to write to her.

This cold acceptance of his second request is good news to Valmont and he interprets it as a sign of Tourvel's secret love for him. He has finally succeeded in reading her mail, as he informs the Marquise in Letter Forty-four. Having forced the Présidente's maid into a compromising situation, he blackmails her into stealing her mistress's letters. He is pleasantly surprised to note that Tourvel has kept all of his letters and that she even pieced back together one that he had earlier seen her tear up. He also discovers that it was Madame Volanges who had been spreading nasty rumors about him. He resolves to seduce Cécile in revenge.

Letter Forty-five brings news of Valmont's departure, and the Présidente de Tourvel's relief, to Madame Volanges.

Letter forty-six is a saccharine love-note from the Chevalier Danceny to Cécile. As usual, he is begging her to prove her love to him.

Back to Valmont's activities: Letter Forty-seven is another letter within a letter, this time a message from Valmont to Tourvel, which will travel by way of the Marquise. In the portion of the letter addressed solely to the Marquise, Valmont recounts an exciting evening he spent at the house of a courtesan named Emilie. In fact, he announces, he is using her naked body as a writing desk at this very moment. Reading the letter to Tourvel, the Marquise will note several veiled references to the erotic manner in which it was composed.

Letter Forty-eight, written after passion, is full of passion and hyperbole. The Présidente, Valmont swears, should never have cause to doubt either the sincerity of his love or the depths of his suffering.

Cécile replies to the Chevalier's letter (Letter Forty-nine) to say that she cannot, in good faith, permit herself to love him.

Letter Fifty is the Présidente de Tourvel's final plea to Valmont. She begs him to remember his former indifference toward her and to forget about her now that he is in Paris.

Analysis

Valmont sends two important packages to the Marquise. These packages contain his letters from and to the Présidente: Letter Forty contains letters Forty- one and Forty-two; Letter Forty-seven contains Letter Forty-eight. In an interesting combination of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and the double entendre, the lines of correspondence of Dangerous Liaisons are crossed in even greater complexity here. We question why it not enough for the Vicomte to read Tourvel's letters and report their contents to the Marquise, but crucial that the Marquise have the physical letters in hand. We wonder why Valmont would send his own letter to Tourvel by way of the Marquise. One possible reply to these questions is that the Vicomte needs to back up his reading, both of the letters and of the situation with Tourvel. Since the Marquise believes unequivocally in the kind of same play in love that Valmont does, she is likely to confirm his interpretation of what is going on. There are two things Valmont needs to assure himself of: first, that Tourvel is in fact susceptible to his schemes; second, that he is only scheming when he writes to her of love and not, in fact, in love with her. The Marquise's presence as a reader reminds him of their contract. The seduction of Tourvel is not an end in itself, but it is means to Merteuil's bed.

The exchange between Tourvel and Valmont is worth exploring in itself. To gain some ground on Tourvel, he writes to her in terms to which she will be forced by her convictions to respond. These are religious terms: for example, Valmont accuses his Présidente of refusing to listen to his prayers, of punishing him unfairly for his misdeeds, of averting her eyes from him like some unfortunate person one has no intention of assisting. This could be called parody, but Valmont is not mocking, or even imitating, Tourvel's writing style. Rather, he is anticipating her reading style, and how much what she reads will reflect on her. Thus, he invents situations in which she could be responsible for his unhappiness, even though he was the one who started the whole affair. She can only believe what he says if she is sure that it pertains to her—and what better way to convince a devout woman, Valmont reasons, than to convince her that she is the one who has done wrong. She will supply the remedy on her own. Tourvel is much less likely to believe in Valmont's love than she to feel guilty for having turned him away, and this is revealed in her letters. Each of her replies to his accusations is based on trying to disprove what Valmont has claimed. It is only because she accepts his accusations as valid to begin with, that he traps her. Once she consents to argue with him, to enter into correspondence with him, he has the advantage.

Finally, a new and interesting theme appears in Valmont's Letter Forty-seven, in which he describes an evening with the courtesan Emilie: the theme of the class struggle between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Valmont describes how Emilie was bought so crudely by the bourgeois man, instead of being courted and convinced, as a member of the aristocracy would have done. It is interesting that even this struggle can be played out in the bedroom, with a prostitute as the mediator. Valmont demands the right to romance. He will not have his art replaced by capitalism, where the woman need not be seduced if she can be bought.

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