Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) by Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Peirre Choderlos de Laclos, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

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All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Love . . . sex . . . seduction. Of the three, only the last matters. Love is a meaningless word, and sex an ephemeral pleasure, but seduction is an amusing game in which victory means power and the ability to humiliate one’s enemies and revel with one’s friends. So it is for the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two supremely bored aristocrats during the final years before the French Revolution. Together they concoct a wildly wicked wager: If Valmont can successfully seduce the virtuous wife of a government official, Madame de Tourvel, then Madame Merteuil will sleep with him again. But Madame Merteuil also wants Valmont to conquer the young and innocent former convent schoolgirl, Cécile Volanges. Can he do both?

When Les Liaisons Dangereuses was first published in 1782, it both scandalized and titillated the aristocracy it was aimed against, who publicly denounced it and privately devoured it. Today we still recognize its relevance, for what could be more contemporary than its appalling image of everyday evil — small, selfish, manipulative, and mean.

Alfred Mac Adam, Professor at Barnard College–Columbia University, teaches Latin American and comparative literature. He is a translator of Latin American fiction and writes extensively on art.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082406
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 57,511
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Alfred Mac Adam’s Introduction to Les Liaisons Dangereuses

The French of the eighteenth century took themselves to be the paragons of intellect, art, fashion, and manners. Their language was the equivalent of what English is today, a language spoken around the world. We see French pride in the novel when Valmont expresses contempt for his mistress Émilie’s newest lover, who speaks “the French of Holland.” In this sense, it is no wonder Merteuil and Valmont behave as they do: They could feel superior to anyone in the world.

But it is this belief in their superiority that precipitates their catastrophe in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. They misdirect their energies in order to gratify their egos: Instead of seeking glory on the battlefield or in politics, Valmont and Merteuil use their powers to turn sensuality into a game. And like all games, the sport of seduction as conceived by Valmont and Merteuil has its own rules, even its own playing fields. Laclos, not a sportsman, was a military man, so his use of military metaphors throughout his novel reflects his professional training. But even in this there is irony or at least ambiguity: Why would a serious soldier, the inventor of a hollow projectile for the cannon, the author of treatises on strategy and critiques of fortification systems, seemingly demean his calling by having his villains speak the language of military strategy? He seems to mock himself.

Perhaps the military man, who must play to win in order to survive, influenced the literary man coordinating his characters. That Laclos himself was something of an opportunist is also the case, so the moral ambiguity in his novel may also reflect his ability to see what was ethically “right” and realize at the same time that contingency might foist uncomfortable or morally compromising decisions on an individual at any given moment. For example, Laclos was a member of the lesser nobility (only nobles could be officers in the pre-revolutionary French army), but with the Revolution of 1789, he became secretary to the slippery Philippe Égalité (1747–1793), who sided with the revolutionaries while apparently scheming to have himself named constitutional monarch. Philippe Ègalité was guillotined during the Reign of Terror, but by then Laclos had already established ties with the Jacobin Club, the most radical revolutionaries. He somehow survived the Reign of Terror to become an important supporter of Napoléon’s coup against the Directory on 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799). Napoléon rewarded him with a generalship in 1800. Laclos survived the Revolution and the Terror, and triumphed with the rise of Napoléon. But what was the moral cost?

Valmont and Merteuil do not have to suffer Laclos’s many political shifts; indeed, they are remarkably consistent in their erotic politics. But we should not assume that, because they engage in conquest and seduction, they are any less professional in their strategy than Laclos was when, in 1792, he participated as an artillery officer in the battle of Valmy, the first defensive victory of Revolutionary France against monarchic Prussian invaders. Far less glorious, attacking an enemy unaware that it is at war, Valmont and Merteuil move forward on several fronts simultaneously.

The pretext for this war is revenge: The Marquise de Merteuil has been abandoned by a former lover, the Comte de Gercourt. (Gercourt then steals a former lover of the Vicomte de Valmont, a lady referred to as the Intendante—that is, the wife of an important officer in the royal quartermaster corps. Merteuil learns that the mother of Cécile Volanges, a sixteen-year-old girl who has just left her convent school, has arranged for her daughter to be married to Gercourt. Merteuil, taking the role of field marshal, recruits Valmont: He will seduce Cécile Volanges and make Gercourt into “the joke of all Paris.”) Valmont’s credentials as a seducer are impeccable, and the list of his conquests long, so the project is child’s play for him, as he himself says:

To seduce a young girl, who has seen nothing, knows nothing, who would be, so to speak, delivered defenseless into my hands, whom a first compliment would not fail to intoxicate, and whom curiosity will perhaps more readily entice than love. Twenty others can succeed and these as well as I.

Merteuil must use every possible argument—Valmont’s getting even with Gercourt, Valmont’s reputation as a Don Juan, even a renewal of her sexual liaison with Valmont—to convince her hesitant ally.

In essence, Valmont is a mercenary soldier in the pay of Merteuil. He will carry out her orders even though he has other, more pressing interests—the seduction of the notoriously prudish and faithful Présidente de Tourvel. What he cannot realize is that Merteuil is governed by jealousy and will tolerate no rivals. If Gercourt left her for another woman, then Gercourt must be punished, even if that means destroying a girl’s life. If Valmont falls in love with Tourvel, he must be punished as well, by being commanded to abandon her after seducing her. Merteuil, meanwhile, will proffer examples of her own amorous adventures in order to titillate Valmont and make him jealous. What she does consciously, he does unconsciously by boasting; each succeeds, and disaster ensues. Or, as Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) puts it in notes for an unpublished article on Les Liaisons Dangereuses: L’amour de la guerre et la guerre de l’amour (“the love of war and the war of love”).

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so good, its written in episoltory form and its so much more intriguing than it would be had it been a regular narration. You may not think that you can fully understand a story through letters passed among characters, but you can and it almost seems easier to understand. The book becomes slow moving towards the middle, but once the three main characteristics are introduced the story takes off again. Simply put this book is a great read!
book-fan-attic More than 1 year ago
Love the book, Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Cruel Intentions (1999). All are wonderful tellings of this classic tale; and all make you think: Is everything really fair in love and war?
BiblioMicki More than 1 year ago
This was ten times better than the movie. The little intigues just draw the reader in. Another book I couldn't put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Starts off slowly, but you find yourself entirely engrossed by the hedonism of the aristocrats the story follows. The Marquise de Merteuil is a particularly enthralling character in her full embodyment of self serving cruelty.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Liaisons is about a wicked and satanically elegant Meretuil who was jilted by her lover Gercourt for the more innocent Cecile. She consults her malicious ex-lover and cohort Valmont to deflower the young bride, thus depriving Gercourt of the girl's innocence and piety. Feeling this is much to easy for the vindictive Casanova he makes Meretuil a much more complicated proposition. She is the virtuous Madame De Tourvel, who's beauty and goodness doom Valmont to violate his personal credo: Never Fall in Love. Suddenly the tables are turned on Meretuil, who will stop at absolutely nothing to make sure Valmont takes the hideous plunge headlong in a pit of unshakable destruction. It was a magnificent story about the complexities of love, seduction, and revenge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dangerous Liaisons is a marvelously thrilling work that drips with eroticism and entertainment. I really thought this was such an intelligent book that was written with such wit, style, and prose. The complex plot mirrors the world in which we live, and the demons in which we live amongst. A daring, original, inventive, clever, and smashingly sexy story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent book for those looking to escape unbelievable or inanely moral works of literature. This book is formatted in the chronology of letters, which creates very realistic characters and sweeps the reader through time and place to 18th century France. Laclos does well to make his book seem like an accurate documentation of an event that actually took place, and unbeknownst to him, the book also tells a tale of just how wickedly bored the French aristocracy was prior to the French Revolution. A few times the book dawdles on and, as is common in books written prior to the 20th century, the emotional health of the female characters becomes irritatingly melodramatic. When I finished, however, I was pleased at having read this work, and greatly amused at the humorous and surprising fate of the evil Madame de Merteuil.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book last night, and I only wish I hadn't seen the movie adaptations so that I'd be a little more intrigued. Written entirely in the format of letters sent between characters, Laclos gives each one his/her own identity. The subtle humour is fantastic; particularly with regards towards Madame de Merteuil at the end of the book. A bit tedious here and there, but most letters are.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not many people know this, but Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a basis for the movie, Cruel Intentions. I think that the book is better, as often books are. if you enjoyed the movie, which i did, you should get the book. It's plot twists and character development mentalities are a far cry better that some of the drivel writen today. Though short, it offers an alternative vantage point of the already popular teen flick. two thumbs up for the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You'll love this! This epistolary novel depicts the fascinating and rather creepy relationship of the Marquise de Mertuil and her former lover the Vicomte de Valmont. They amuse themselves by entangling with various members of the opposite sex, each trying to best the other. A compelling read, that as Andre Gide said, has 'much more instruction on morals than many a well-intentioned treatise.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is awseome! It beautifuly portrays the art of seduction and manipulation. No wonder such a great movie was made after i
MoiraStirling on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Excellent! Scrumptious characters all...ending is a bit rushed, though.
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