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Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part One, Exchange One: Letters I–IX

Summary Part One, Exchange One: Letters I–IX

In letter VII Cécile informs Sophie that she has a very nice new singing and harp teacher, the Chevalier Danceny.

Tourvel writes to Madame Volanges in letter VIII to wish Cécile luck on her upcoming marriage, about which Cécile is still ignorant. She also mentions that she has met Valmont, and that the regretful confessions he makes to her do not correspond with his reputation as an unrepentant, oversexed scoundrel.

Volanges's response, Letter IX, contains a strong warning about Valmont's true, naughty nature. Tourvel should not let herself be deceived. Volanges also announces that Cécile's marriage will be postponed, since her husband-to- be has been called away to war.

Analysis

Read on their own, letters one through nine already provide a full portrait of the aggressive and disingenuous nature of 18th-century French society. Cécile is seen as fresh prey even as she is seen as a fresh young girl. It is not just the Marquise de Merteuil, but also all of society, who inspects her to see if she is ready to be picked like a fruit (Letter III) or caught in a trap.

Language is often the means of entrapment. Cécile's letters reveal her innocence and ignorance, and they are also extremely boring. Style clearly has its place in this novel: both as entertainment and as a kind of snare. Though we know that the projects motivating them are not particularly admirable, the most interesting, well-written, and pleasurable letters are composed by the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. The double meanings and puns contained in these missives are second in their craftiness only to the overstatement (hyperbole) and understatement (litotes) for effect, in which the Marquise and Vicomte indulge. Letter V, Merteuil's insult-register against Tourvel, for example, is full of this sort of creative self-expression. But Merteuil and Valmont are clearly willing to go beyond puns to get what they want. Whether they are lying to each other in their letters, they seem to deceive others quite frequently in their daily lives. The best example of this sort of deception is Valmont's practice of confessing to the Présidente de Tourvel to win her trust. But then again, another question one might ask is whether he may truly be confessing to Tourvel and, in fact, deceiving Merteuil and himself when he claims to be lying.

The first nine letters also provide a glimpse of the love-as-war theme that will be played out in the rest of the novel. "What a delight to be at the same time the object and the conqueror of her remorse!" ("Quel délice d'être tour à tour l'objet et le vainqueur de ses remords!" letter VI) exclaims Valmont in reference to the Présidente de Tourvel. With a war going on in the distance that summons various men to fight (the Président de Tourvel, the Comte de Gercourt), one expects to find peace at home. However, even in the bedroom, conquests are being made.