Les Liaisons Dangereuses,
by Peirre Choderlos de Laclos
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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, C?cile 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.