Title: Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Author: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
Genre: Fiction, literature, romance, epistolary novels.
Publication Date: 1782.
Summary: The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make this novel one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil - gifted, wealthy, and bored - form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a Machiavellian game. And they play this game with such wit and style that it is impossible not to admire them, until they discover mysterious rules of humanity that they cannot understand. In the ensuing battle there can be no winners, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.
My rating: 9/10.
♥ I shall have this woman. I shall free her from a husband who profanes her. I shall carry her off from the very God that she adores. How enchanting to be in turn the cause and the cure of her remorse! Far be it from me to destroy the prejudices that possess her. They will add to my gratification and to my glory. Let her believe in virtue, but let her sacrifice it for my sake; let her be afraid of her sins, but let them not check her; and, when she is shaken by a thousand terrors, may it be in my arms that she is able to overcome them and forget them. Then, if she wishes, let her say: ‘I adore you’; she alone, of all women, will be worthy to utter those words. And I shall indeed be the god of her choice.
♥ He was determined at all costs to fix the day for our next meeting there, but I like him too much to exhaust him so quickly. One can allow oneself too much only of those one intends shortly to be rid of. He does not know this, but, fortunately for him, I know it for both of us.
♥ How weak we must be, how strong the dominion of circumstance, if even I, without a thought from my plans, could risk losing all the charm of a prolonged struggle, all the fascination of a laboriously administered defeat, by concluding a premature victory; if, distracted by the most puerile of desires, I could be willing that the conqueror of Madame de Tourvel should take nothing for the fruit of his labour but the tasteless distinction of having added one more name to the roll. Ah, let her surrender, but let her fight! Let her be too weak to prevail, but strong enough to resist; let her savour the knowledge of her weakness at her leisure, but let her be unwilling to admit defeat.
♥ As long as you are not anxious to succeed, my dear Vicomte, as long as your intention is to supply the enemy with arms and you look forward more to the battle than the victory, I have nothing further to say. Your strategy is a masterpiece of prudence. On any supposition to the contrary it would have been mere imbecility; and, to tell the truth, I am still afraid you may be deluding yourself.
What I have to find fault with is not the opportunity you lost. On the one hand, I cannot see that it had indeed arrived, on the other I am pretty sure, whatever people say, that an opportunity missed once will present itself again, whereas a too hasty action can never be recalled.
♥ You pretend to be afraid of love, and do not wish to see that it is you alone who are the cause of the evils for which you hold love to blame. Ah, certainly it is a painful feeling when it is not shared by the one who inspires it. But let it be reciprocated, and where else can happiness be looked for? Tender affection, mutual confidence - and a confidence without reserve - griefs assuaged and pleasures multiplied, sweet hopes, delicious memories, where else but in love can these be found? You slander its name, you who have only to cease from resisting it in order to taste all the joys it has to offer you. As for me, I forget all my sufferings to speak in its defense.
♥ What, after all, was I guilty of but a failure to struggle against the whirlpool into which I had been cast? I came into society young and inexperienced; I was passed, so to speak, from hand to hand by a series of women all of whom, in their readiness to succumb, seemed in a hurry to anticipate what they felt would inevitably be an unfavourable opinion of themselves. Was it for me to set an example of resistance, when no resistance was offered me? Should I have punished myself for momentary aberrations to which very often I had been encouraged, by promising a fidelity which would certainly have been unnecessary, and could only have been regarded as ridiculous? Pah! What else but breaking it off immediately can excuse a shameful connexion?
Yet I think I may say that this disorder of the senses - perhaps, too, it was inflamed vanity - never touched my heart. My heart was made for love: intrigue might serve for distraction, it was never my whole concern. I was surrounded by seductive but contemptible creatures; none of them could reach my soul. I was offered pleasure: I sought virtue. At length, because I happened to be fastidious and sensitive, I began to think myself inconstant.
When I met you my eyes were opened: I soon realized that love depends for its charm on qualities of the soul: only they can provoke it to an excess which only they can excuse. And finally I found that it was as impossible for me to keep from loving you as it would be to live anyone but you.
You see, Madame, to what sort of heart you are afraid to yield, the heart whose fate it is for you to determine. Whatever the destiny you hold in store for it, you will never alter the feelings by which it is bound to you. They are as unchanging as the virtues that gave them being.
♥ Oh, how different it was when you lived where I did! Then all was pleasure. The certainty of seeing you brightened even the moments when you were not with me; the time I had to spend away from you brought me nearer you as it passed. And however I spent it, you were always a part of my concerns. If I fulfilled my duties, it was to make me more worthy of you; if I cultivated my talents, it was in the hope of giving you greater pleasure. Even when the distractions of society carried me far out of your sphere, we were never apart. At the theatre I tried to imagine what would please you; a concert would remind me of your talents and of our delightful times together. In company and in the street I would seize upon the slightest resemblance to you. I compared you with everything, and always to your advantage. Not a moment of the day passed without my paying you some new homage, and every evening I brought my tributes to your feet.
♥ The little creature laughs a great deal: and, to encourage her merriment, I had the idea of relating, during our entr’actes, all the scandalous stories that came into my head. To give them all an added spice, and to make them more interesting I ascribed them all to her mamma; whom it amused me to bedeck with vices and follies.
It was not by accident that I hit upon the idea. It encouraged our timid schoolgirl more than anything else could have done, and at the same time inspired her with the profoundest contempt for her mother. I observed long ago that if it is not always necessary to employ this method in seducing a young girl, it is the indispensable and often the most effective course when one wants to corrupt her. For the girl who does not respect her mother will not respect herself: a moral truth I think so useful, that I was very glad to supply another example in illustration of it.
♥ It is not true that ‘the older women grow, the harsher and stricter they become.’ It is between the ages of forty and fifty that, desperate at finding their complexions wither and furious at being obliged to give up pretensions and pleasures to which they are still inclined, nearly all women turn into prudes and shrews. This long interval is necessary before their sacrifice is complete: but as soon as it has been consummate, they divide themselves into two classes.
The more numerous one, which comprises those women who have had nothing but youth and beauty to recommend them, falls into a feeble-minded apathy, from which it never emerges except to play cards or practise a few devotions. These women are always boring, often querulous, sometimes a little meddlesome, but they are rarely malicious. One cannot say of them either that they are of that they are not severe. They have neither thought nor being, an merely repeat indifferently and uncomprehendingly everything they hear, retaining within themselves an absolute void.
The other much rarer class, and the really valuable, one, contains those women who, having been possessed of a character and having taken care to cultivate their minds, are able to create an identity for themselves when the one provided by nature has failed them. They are able to polish their wits where before they had decked out their figures. Their judgement is generally sane, their intelligence at once solid, gay, and graceful. They replace their more seductive attractions with a more appealing kindness, and moreover with that joie de vivre, the charm of which only increases with age. Thus, making themselves loved by the young, they succeed in some sort in recapturing their youth. But then, far from being, as you say, harsh and strict, their customary tolerance, their long experience of human frailty, and, above all, the memories of youth which alone reconcile them to life, incline them rather too much perhaps to the side of lenity.
What I can say, at any rate vouch for is that, having always sought after old women, the value of whose suffrage I early recognized, I have met several to whom I was attracted as much by inclinations as by self-interest. I shall stop here: seeing that at the moment you take fire so easily and burn so earnestly I am afraid you might of a sudden fall in love with your old aunt and bury yourself with her for good in the tomb you have already so long inhabited.
♥ So, throwing myself at her feet, and in the dramatic tones you know, I cried: ‘Ah, cruel woman! Can any happiness exist for me that you do not share? How can I find it away from you? Ah, never! never!’
I must say that in having recourse to this expedient I had counted very much on the assistance of tears: but whether I was in the wrong mood, or whether, perhaps, it was only the effect of constant and exacting attention to detail, I found it impossible to summon any.
Fortunately I remembered that to subdue a woman one means is as good as another, as long as she can be surprised into strong emotion that leaves a profound and favourable impression upon her. Compassion being out of the question, I appealed to fear. Changing only the inflection of my voice, and remaining in the same posture, I continued: ‘Yes, I swear this vow at your feet. I shall possess you or die.’ As I uttered these words our eyes met. I don’t know what this timid creature saw or thought she saw in mine: but she rose looking terrified, and disengaged herself from the embrace I held her in. I did nothing to restrain her, since I have several times remarked that scenes of despair, when conducted with too much enthusiasm, lapse after any length of time into ludicrousness, from which they can only be saved by real tragedy, and tragedy I was very far from wishing to play. However, while she made her escape, I added in low and sinister tones, but loud enough to be heard: ‘Well, then! Let me die!’
♥ So far, my love, you will, I think, have been pleased with the orthodoxy of my method: you will have seen that I have in no respect diverged from the true principles of an art that is, as we have often observed, very similar to that of warfare. Judge me, then, as you would Turenne or Frederick. I have been obliged to combat a foe who wished only to temporize. By clever manoeuvering I secured for myself the choice of terrain and dispositions. I succeeded in lulling the enemy into security, so as to fall upon her more easily in her place of refuge. I made sure that security was succeeded by terror before I engaged in the fight. I was risking nothing, since I could look for great advantage in case of success, and was certain of other resources in case of defeat. Lastly, I did not commit myself to action till assured of a safe means of retreat by which I could protect and preserve my previous gains. No man, I think, could have done more...
♥ Oh, my young friend, it grieves me to say it, but you are much too worthy of love ever to be made happy by it! And, indeed, where is the woman of delicacy and sensitivity who has not found misfortune in the very feeling that promised her so much happiness? Do men ever appreciate the women they possess?
Not that many of them are not honourable in their conduct and constant in their affections: but even among these, how few are also capable of understanding our hearts! Do not imagine, my child, that their love is like ours. They feel, of course, the same delight; often they are more carried away by it; but they are ignorant of the anxious eagerness, that careful solicitude, which provokes us to the constant and tender attentions whose sole object is always the man we love. A man enjoys the happiness he feels, a woman the happiness she gives. This difference, so essential and so little noticed, yet influences the whole of their respective conduct in the most remarkable way. The pleasure of one is to satisfy his desires, of the other it is, above all, to arouse them. Giving pleasure for him is only a means to success; while for her it is success itself. Coquetry, so often held in accusation against woman, is no more than the abuse of their way of feeling, and is itself a proof of the way they feel. Lastly, that exclusive attachment to one person, which is the peculiar characteristic of love, is in a man only a preference, which seems at the most to increase a pleasure that with some other woman might be diminished, but not destroyed; whereas in women, it is a profound feeling, which no only annihilates all other desires, but, stronger than nature and disobedient to her commands, may cause them to derive only repugnance and disgust from the very source of pleasure itself.
Do not be led to believe that the more or less numerous exceptions which may be cited against these universal rules can in any way disprove them. Public opinion is their guarantee, which in the case of men only will distinguish between infidelity and inconstancy. It is a distinction which men make use of when they ought to be humiliated by it; a distinction which, among our sex, is never made except by those depraved women who are a disgrace to it. Any means will serve to spare them the painful consciousness of their degradation.
♥ Have you not observed that pleasure, which is undeniably the sole motive force behind the union of the sexes, is nevertheless not enough to form a bond between them? And that, if it is preceded by desire which impels, it is succeeded by disgust which repels? That is a law of nature which love alone can alter: and can love be summoned up at will? Nevertheless, love is necessary, and the necessity would really be very embarrassing had not one perceived that fortunately it will do if love exists on one side only. The difficulty is thus reduced by half without much being lost thereby: in fact one party enjoys the happiness of loving, the other that of pleasing - the latter a little less intense it is true, but to it is added the pleasure of deceiving, which establishes a balance; and so everything is satisfactorily arranged.
♥ He had the good sense, from time to time, to feel that sooner or later this affair must reflect adversely upon him: but though he was ashamed of it, he did not have the courage to break it off. His embarrassment was all the greater for his having boasted to his friends that he was absolutely free, for he was no unaware that our liability to ridicule always increases in proportion as we defend ourselves from it.
♥ “One is very soon bored with everything, my angel; it is a law of nature. It is not my fault.
“If therefore I am now bored with an adventure which has claimed my attention for four mortal months, it is not my fault.
“If, that is to say, my love was equal to your virtue - and that is certainly saying a great deal - it is not surprising that the one came an end at the same time as the other. It is not my faul.
“It follows that for some time I have been deceiving you, but then your relentless tenderness forced me in some sort to do so! It is not my fault.
“A woman that I love madly now insists that I give you up for her sake. It is not my fault.
“I quite realize that this is the perfect opportunity to accuse me of perjury: but if, where nature has gifted men with no more than constancy, she has given women obstinacy, it is not my fault.
“Believe me, you should take another lover, as I take another mistress. This is good, very good advice: if you find it bad, it is not my fault.
“Good-bye, my angel. I took you with pleasure: I leave you without regret. I shall come back perhaps. Such is life. It is not my fault.”
♥ Come, what have you to reproach yourself for? Believe me, your delicacy deceives you. The regrets it makes you feel, the wrongs it accuses me of, are equally illusory. I know in my heart that there have been no enchantments between us but those of love. Do not then be afraid to give yourself up to the same feelings that you inspire, to allow yourself to burn with the same fires you have kindled. Are our hearts the less pure for having known the truth so late? No, no. It is on the contrary only the voluptuary, who, working always according to plan, is able to regulate his progress and control his resources and foresee the outcome from a distance. True love does not allow considerations and calculations. It uses our feelings to distract us from our thoughts; its power is never so strong as when we are least aware of it; and it is by stealth and in silence that it entangles us in the web that is as invisible as it is indestructible.
♥ Your portrait, did I say? But a letter is a portrait of the heart, and, unlike a picture, it has not that coldness, that fixity which is so alien to love; it reflects all our notions: it is in turn lively, joyful, at rest...