The Marquise de Merteuil is a self-described, self-made woman. 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. Since then, she has remained at the top of the heap through careful manipulation, never once letting her guard down.

The Marquise is not particularly interested in love, nor does she seem to believe that love exists except as that capacity men and women have to enslave each other. Though she admits that it is possible that she and the Vicomte de Valmont once loved each other, she seems to have no interest in renewing that affair even when the opportunity presents itself.

As a letter writer, she is shrewd, with a particular gift for lifting phrases out of other people's letters and using their words as if they were her own. This nasty side of her self-protective instinct is reflected in her downfall. The disease that disfigures her has an interesting result: other people's true opinions of her are, metaphorically, written on her face.