Dangerous Liaisons

by: Pierre Ambroise Laclos

Part Two, Exchange Six: Letters 51–63

Summary Part Two, Exchange Six: Letters 51–63

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.