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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Study Questions

Key Facts

Quiz

How is the epistolary form significant to the plot of Dangerous Liaisons?

The action in the novel depends on two characteristics of letters: that they say something and that they can be read. The situations in Dangerous Liaisons are such that only letters can communicate them. It is not so much what the characters claim to have been doing in their letters, but how they make these claims, which furthers the plot. Each letter has a purpose: it must convey some desire on the part of one of the characters, for no one would bother writing if he or she did not want something. This is evident in each letter that, at the very least, has the desire to be read written into it.

How does the Marquise de Merteuil describe herself in Letter Eighty-one?

She writes that she is her own creator. As a young girl Merteuil refused to let fate or society describe her, and began to compose herself. After her husband died, she set about educating herself and creating a reputation for herself. Since then, she has remained at the top of the heap through careful manipulation, never once letting her guard down.

Describe the role of servants in Dangerous Liaisons.

Servants are used as spies by both Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. Valmont's valet, Azolan, is paid not only to get information for his master, but specifically to socialize with the help at other people's estates. The Marquise's maidservant, Victoire, often participates in the little romantic dramas the Marquise puts on with her lovers. Also, servants know everything that goes on in the house where they serve, but this knowledge seldom seems to work to their advantage. The Marquise de Merteuil, for example, secured the loyalty of Victoire by arranging for her to be sent to jail and then rescuing her. If Victoire ever does something to annoy the Marquise, she will very quickly find herself in the slammer again. Thus, one could say that the most personal and human aspects of servants in this society are purchased by the masters for their own personal use.

Suggested Essay Topics

Love is confused with war, with religion, and with illness in the course of Dangerous Liaisons. Compare and contrast two of these metaphors for love. Which characters use them? Why do you think a certain character is or is not prone to the use of this particular metaphor? Which of these metaphors seems more appropriate to describe love to you?

Dangerous Liaisons is primarily a novel about what people say to each other—but is there any place in the novel where what is unsaid seems more important to you than what is said? Where are there moments of silence? Or, where is something left unsaid? How is silence expressed in the writing?

Discuss the different roles played by women and men as writers in Dangerous Liaisons. Is one sex portrayed as more powerful or more skillful than the other? Do women use different techniques to get what they want than men, and vice versa? Using a pair of letters from the correspondence between the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, discuss which aspects of their writing, if any, seem particularly masculine or particularly feminine to you. What are the different ways each uses language to get what he or she wants?

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