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French literature



Pierre Choderlos de Laclos




 


Pierre Choderlos de Laclos





 

Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos (18 October 1741 – 5 September 1803) was a French novelist, official and army general, best known for writing the epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons).

A unique case in French literature, he was for a long time considered to be as scandalous a writer as the Marquis de Sade or Nicolas-Edme Rétif. He was a military officer with no illusions about human relations, and an amateur writer; however, his initial plan was to "write a work which departed from the ordinary, which made a noise, and which would remain on earth after his death"; from this point of view he mostly attained his goals, with the fame of his masterwork Les Liaisons dangereuses . It is one of the masterpieces of novelistic literature of the 18th century, which explores the amorous intrigues of the aristocracy. It has inspired a large number of critical and analytic commentaries, plays, and films.

 

Laclos was born in Amiens into a bourgeois family, and in 1760 was sent to the École royale d'artillerie de La Fère, ancestor of the École polytechnique. As a young lieutenant, he briefly served in a garrison at La Rochelle until the end of the Seven Years War (1763). Later he was assigned to Strasbourg (1765–1769), Grenoble (1769–1775) and Besançon (1775–1776).

Despite being promoted to captain (1771), Laclos grew increasingly bored with his artillery garrison duties and the company of the soldiers, and began to devote his free time to writing. His first works, several light poems, were published on the Almanach des Muses. Later he wrote an Opéra-comique, Ernestine, inspired by a novel by Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni. Its premiere on 19 July 1777, in presence of Queen Marie-Antoinette, was a failure. In the same year he created a new artillery school in Valence, which was to include Napoleon among its students. At his return at Besançon in 1778, Laclos was promoted second captain of the Engineers. In this period he wrote several works, which showed his great admiration of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In 1779 he was sent to Île-d'Aix to assist Marc-René de Montalembert in the construction of fortifications there against the British. He however spent most of his time writing his new epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, as well as a Letter to Madame de Montalembert. When he asked for and was granted six months of vacation, he spent the time in Paris writing.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses was published by Durand Neveu in four volumes on 23 March 1782, turning into a widespread success (1,000 copies sold in a month, an exceptional result for the times). Laclos was immediately ordered to return to his garrison in Brittany; in 1783 he was sent to La Rochelle to collaborate in the construction of the new arsenal. Here he met Marie-Soulange Duperré, 18 years his junior, whom he would marry in 1786. The following year he began a project of numbering Paris' streets.

In 1788 Laclos left the army, entering the service of Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, for whom, after the outbreak of the French Revolution, he carried forward with intense diplomatic activity. Captured by the Republic ideals, he left the Duke to obtain a place as commissar in the Ministry of War. His reorganization has been credited as having a role in the Revolutionary Army victory in the Battle of Valmy. Later, after the desertion of general Charles François Dumouriez, he was however arrested as "Orleaniste", being freed after the Thermidorian Reaction.

He thenceforth spent some time in ballistic studies, which led him to the invention of the modern artillery shell. In 1795 he requested of the Committee of Public Safety reintegration in the army, which was ignored. His attempts to obtain a diplomatic position and to found a bank were also unsuccessful. Eventually, Laclos met the young general and recent First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, and joined his party. On 16 January 1800 he was reinstated in the Army as Brigadier General in the Armée du Rhin, taking part in the Battle of Biberach.

Made commander-in-chief of Reserve Artillery in Italy (1803), Laclos died shortly afterward in the former convent of St. Francis of Assisi at Taranto, probably of dysentery and malaria. He was buried in the fort still bearing his name (Forte de Laclos) in the Isola di San Paolo near the city, built under his direction. Following the restoration of the House of Bourbon in southern Italy, his burial tomb was destroyed; it is believed that his bones were tossed into the sea.


Dangerous Liaisons

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is a French epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782.

It is the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two rivals (and ex-lovers) who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others, all the while enjoying their cruel games. It has been claimed to depict the decadence of the French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution, thereby exposing the perversions of the so-called Ancien Régime. However, it has also been described as a vague, amoral story.

The book is an epistolary novel, composed entirely of letters written by the various characters to each other. In particular, the letters between Valmont and the Marquise drive the plot, with those of other characters serving as illustrations to give the story its depth.

It is often claimed to be the source of the saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold", a paraphrased translation of "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" (more literally, "Revenge is a dish that is eaten cold"). However the expression does not actually occur in the original novel.


 

Plot summary
The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous (and married) Madame de Tourvel, who is living with Valmont's aunt while Monsieur de Tourvel is away for a court case. At the same time, the Marquise de Merteuil is determined to corrupt the young Cécile de Volanges, whose mother has only recently brought her out of a convent to be married to a former lover of Merteuil. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her music tutor) and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to want to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust, so that they can use them later in their own schemes.

Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte seduce Cécile in order to exact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the task too easy, and preferring to devote himself to seducing Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. He expects rapid success, but does not find it as easy as his many other conquests. During the course of his pursuit, he discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself in seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. In the meantime, Merteuil takes Danceny as a lover.

By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, it is suggested that he might have fallen in love with her. Jealous, Merteuil tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel — and reneges on her promise of spending the night with him. In response Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, thus abandoning Merteuil. Merteuil declares war on Valmont, as such she reveals to Danceny that Valmont seduced Cécile. Danceny and Valmont duel. Valmont is fatally wounded, but before he dies he is reconciled with Danceny, giving him the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement. Two of these letters are sufficient to ruin her health and her reputation, and she flees the country. Furthermore, her face is left permanently scarred by illness, and so she loses her greatest asset: her beauty. But the innocent still suffer: hearing of Valmont's death, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever, while Cécile returns to the convent.

 



Pierre Choderlos de Laclos


 

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia





Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos (18 October 1741 - 5 September 1803) was a French novelist, official and army general, best known for writing the epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses.

A unique case in French literature, he was for a long time considered to be as scandalous a writer as the Marquis de Sade or Nicolas-Edme Rétif. He was a military officer with no illusions about human relations, and an amateur writer; however, his initial plan was to "write a work which departed from the ordinary, which made a noise, and which would remain on earth after his death"; from this point of view he mostly attained his goals, since the fame of his masterwork Les Liaisons dangereuses is such that it can be considered one of the most well-known books in the world. It is one of the masterpieces of novelistic literature of the 18th century, which explores the amorous intrigues of the aristocracy. It has inspired a large number of critical and analytic commentaries, plays, and films.


 
Illustration of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' by Fragonard


Biography

Laclos was born in Amiens into a bourgeois family, and in 1760 was sent to the École royale d'artillerie de La Fère, ancestor of the École polytechnique. As a young lieutenant, he briefly served in a garrison at La Rochelle until the end of the Seven Years War (1763). Later he was assigned to Strasbourg (1765-1769), Grenoble (1769-1775) and Besançon (1775-1776).

Despite being promoted to captain (1771), Laclos grew increasingly bored with his artillery garrison duties and the company of the soldiers, and began to devote his free time to writing. His first works, several light poems, were published on the Almanach des Muses. Later he wrote an Opéra-comique, Ernestine, inspired by a novel by Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni. Its premiere on 19 July 1777, in presence of Queen Marie-Antoinette, was a failure. In the same year he created a new artillery school in Valence, which was to include Napoleon among its students. At his return at Besançon in 1778, Laclos was promoted second captain of the Engineers. In this period he wrote several works, which showed his great admiration of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In 1779 he was sent to Île-d'Aix to assist Marc-René de Montalembert in the construction of fortifications there against the British. He however spent most of his time writing his new epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, as well as a Letter to Madame de Montalembert. When he asked for and was granted six months of vacation, he spent the time in Paris writing.



Illustration from 1796 edition
 

Les Liaisons Dangereuses was published by Durand Neveu in four volumes on 23 March 1782, turning into a widespread success (1,000 copies sold in a month, an exceptional result for the times). Laclos was immediately ordered to return to his garrison in Brittany; in 1783 he was sent to La Rochelle to collaborate in the construction of the new arsenal. Here he met Marie-Soulange Duperré, 18 years his junior, whom he would marry in 1786. The following year he began a project of numbering Paris' streets.

In 1788 Laclos left the army, entering the service of Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, for whom, after the outbreak of the French Revolution, he carried forward with intense diplomatic activity. Captured by the Republic ideals, he left the Duke to obtain a place as commissar in the Ministry of War. His reorganization has been credited as having a role in the Revolutionary Army victory in the Battle of Valmy. Later, after the desertion of general Charles François Dumouriez, he was however arrested as "Orleaniste", being freed after the Thermidorian Reaction.

He thenceforth spent some time in ballistic studies, which led him to the invention of the modern artillery shell. In 1795 he requested of the Committee of Public Safety reintegration in the army, which was ignored. His attempts to obtain a diplomatic position and to found a bank were also unsuccessful. Eventually, Laclos met the young general and recent First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, and joined his party. On 16 January 1800 he was reinstated in the Army as Brigadier General in the Armée du Rhin, taking part in the Battle of Biberach.

Made commander-in-chief of Reserve Artillery in Italy (1803), Laclos died shortly afterward in the former convent of St. Francis of Assisi at Taranto, probably of dysentery and malaria. He was buried in the fort still bearing his name (Forte de Laclos) in the Isola di San Paolo near the city, built under his direction. Following the restoration of the House of Bourbon in southern Italy, his burial tomb was destroyed; it is believed that his bones were tossed into the sea.

 


 

 





 

Dangerous Liaisons

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
1741-1803

A recent series of successful film, theater, and ballet adaptations suggest that this gripping tale of love, deceit, and the art of seduction still holds a powerful grip on our collective imagination. Written by a lieutenant in the French army, Les Liaisons Dangereuses manages to shock and delight in equal measure. The action takes place among the aristocratic circles of pre-revolutionary France and centers on the ruthless, charming libertine Valmont and his rival, one-time lover, and partner in crime, Merteuil. Valmont is gifted with wealth, wit, and intelligence, and leads an idle life guided by a self-imposed code of conduct:to seek ever-greater glory in his seduction of unsuspecting society women. Merteuil is a sexually liberated young widow, of equal intelligence and malice, but unlike Valmont has to play the role expected of her by society, and so appears deeply serious and virtuous. Together, they create a complex web of relationships based on betrayal, lies, and sexual misconduct. Although all they truly seek is one another's admiration, their constant attempts to outdo the other has disastrous consequences as jealousy and hubris combine to undermine their own deeply flawed principles.
The use Laclos makes of the popular epistolary form is exemplary. For it is precisely in the delicious recounting of the events that his two leading characters derive their pleasure—a pleasure shared by the reader as we indulge in the eloquence and exquisite cruelty of this captivating masterpiece.



 

 
 
 
 
 

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