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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part Two, Exchange Six: Letters 51–63

Part One, Exchange Five: Letters 37–50

Part Two, Exchange Seven: Letters 64–75

Summary

In Letter Fifty-one, which opens Part Two of Dangerous Liaisons, the Marquise de Merteuil scolds Valmont for the lack of attention he has paid her and her schemes lately. She asks him to make up for his bad behavior by gaining the Chevalier Danceny's confidence in order to encourage him to make love to Cécile. The Marquise is annoyed by the slow pace at which Cécile and Danceny's affair is progressing.

Valmont, meanwhile, continues his amorous siege of the Présidente de Tourvel. Letter Fifty-two is written in his standard style. He begs her to take his entreaties seriously and tells her that she is cruel for refusing him.

Next, Valmont replies to the Marquise de Merteuil (Letter Fifty-three) and he lets her know that Danceny has begun to confess the details of his relationship with Cécile.

The Marquise responds at much greater length (Letter Fifty-four). She complains about Danceny's ineptitude when it comes to romance. Cécile deserves a better lover, she says.

In Letter Fifty-five, Cécile writes to Sophie about the recent developments in her affair with Danceny. Apparently, Cécile is no longer able to resist: she has admitted her feelings and now hides nothing from her chevalier. She also announces that her friendship with the Marquise is getting warmer, and that she would be completely happy if only she did not have to marry Gercourt.

The Présidente de Tourvel continues to resist Valmont. In Letter Fifty- six, she emphasizes the comfort and stability of her current life and writes that she would be foolish to give these things up for an uncertain love-affair. She asks the Vicomte again to stop writing to her and tells him that this is the final letter he will receive from her.

Letter Fifty-seven announces Valmont's success in securing Danceny's complete confidence. Now he and the Marquise will have full access to Cécile and the Chevalier's affair. Valmont also suggests that the Marquise should leave her current lover and try him out for a little while.

In the mean time, Valmont has not left off writing to the Présidente (Letter Fifty-eight). He resists her request that he break off their correspondence, claiming that it is his one last pleasure in life. His one wish, he says, is to devote himself to her and her happiness for the rest of time.

The Vicomte continues to entertain himself with Danceny's problems. He writes to Merteuil (Letter Fifty-nine) that the Chevalier has just reported some terrible tragedy in his love affair, but without specifying what this tragedy can be. The letter in which this is reported, Letter Sixty, is enclosed in Letter Fifty- nine. Valmont also announces that he is about to accept an invitation to travel to a friend's estate.

The Chevalier Danceny reports his distress in Letter Sixty and begs to be allowed to see Valmont to seek his advice.

Cécile explains the cause of her Chevalier's distress in Letter Sixty-one to Sophie: her mother has discovered the affair. Who made her mother suspect, Cécile does not know, but one night Madame Volanges barged into her room and demanded to see the contents of Cécile's writing-desk. The first drawer she opened contained all of Danceny's love-letters.

Madame Volanges spares no time in writing to Danceny (Letter Sixty-two) to demand that he cease and desist making love to her daughter. She also commands him to return all of Cécile's letters to her, as she is returning all of his to him.

The Marquise de Merteuil explains the cause of all these events in Letter Sixty- three to Valmont, as it was she who revealed Cécile's little secret to Madame Volanges. Merteuil was annoyed by Danceny's lack of ardor when it came to seducing Cécile. She decided to teach him the value of time by taking all his time with Cécile away. She has also arranged for Cécile to be sent to Madame de Rosemonde's estate. Now Valmont has an excuse to visit his aunt and permission to see Tourvel there—since they will not be alone.

Analysis

A new theme is introduced in the descriptions of the Marquise de Merteuil and Cécile Volanges's interactions. In Letter Fifty-four, the Marquise remarks about how suggestible Cécile is to her descriptions of what it would be like to make love to Danceny. Cécile is so easily excited, in fact, that the Marquise has to trail off in an ellipses. She cannot find the words to describe to Valmont what is happening between her and Cécile, except to tell him that she will make a good confidante once she has lost her virginity. In Letter Fifty-five, Cécile describes the nature of her affection for the Marquise to Sophie: "It seems to me that I love her more as I love Danceny than as I love you, and sometimes I wish she were he" ("Il me semble que je l'aime plus comme Danceny que comme toi, et quelquefois je voudrais qu'elle fût lui"). The appearance here of homo-eroticism in a novel which has so far been obsessed with heterosexual passion may also have something to do with the theme of education, which is to say, what Cécile may desire about the Marquise is her knowledge. The Marquise is the only one who can initiate Cécile into the world of coquetry; she represents a way out of the inevitable boredom of being married to the Comte de Gercourt. As for the Marquise, the ability to educate someone in her way of life means that something of hers will go on: it helps make sense of a life of intrigue and the pleasures of the moment.

Speaking of pleasure, Valmont makes an especially bawdy pun in Letter Fifty- nine. He announces that he plans on visiting the Comtesse de B-, whose husband "owns the finest woods" ("a le plus beau bois du monde"). In French, the word, bois, means both "woods" and "horns." If the Comtesse de B-'s husband owns the finest horns, perhaps the Comtesse is also likely to be unfaithful to him with Valmont (a cuckolded husband wears horns). This is not particularly subtle writing, especially for Valmont. We wonder if he is tired of hiding his desire in his letters. Perhaps this is proof that the Présidente's continuing rejection is finally wearing on him.

Finally, letters serve as proof of Cécile and Danceny's affair. Madame Volanges even goes so far as to demand that all the letters which passed been between the pair during the course of their little love-affair be destroyed, so that the whole incident can be obliterated (Letter Sixty-two). This will not erase the event, but appearances are what count, especially if Cécile is going to marry Gercourt. This helps to explain why Dangerous Liaisons had to be written as an epistolary novel: the letter is more than a record of reality, but it is a proof of reality. It does not matter what really happened; all that matters is what the letter says happened. The epistolary novel is the perfect form for a portrait of a society that values the word over the thing itself—for another example of these values, look at Valmont and Merteuil's relationship. Whatever love, the thing itself may be, they prefer to keep their affair, and many of their affairs with other people, at the level of the letter.

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