*spoilers: DO NOT READ ON IF UNPREPARED*
It will hopefully be a consolation that much philosophical thinking and otherwisely* intellectual activities have been the causes of my unexpected absence, but I am returning armed with a fresh post that will blow the cobwebs away (or burn them away, as we must prepare for some slight heat and sauciness. Only of the 18th century French kind though, so it will probably be lukewarm at most. Sorry.)
The novel comprises letters between characters who are linked to each other in various scandalous ways, with the two ‘main’ correspondents being the Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil, who are great friends and former lovers. I am convinced that it is predominantly the alliterative nature of their names that engineers to their success, but don’t quote me on that, because their gleefully wicked machinations and scheming probably do play some part as well. Probably. The main gist is that the Marquise is determined to take revenge on another former lover (you learn quite early on that almost every male character is a former lover of the inescapable Marquise) by encouraging his innocent fiancée to fall in love with someone else, while the Vicomte is driven by his desire to ravish the virtuous (and very much married) Présidente de Tourvel. After much faffing, the Vicomte succeeds in his seduction, both of the permanently fraught Présidente but also —quelle surprise!— of the aforementioned innocent fiancée. Having then fallen out with the Marquise (over LITERALLY. NOTHING.) they then become deadly enemies for about the last 10 pages until the Vicomte actually dies
from the deadliness of their emnity in a duel. Thrilling stuff.
♥ The underlying basis of the intimacy between the Marquise and Vicomte is apparently the shocking secrets they have about the other one. Quite apart from the fact that this doesn’t immediately seem to be the sturdiest foundation for a friendship, the reader never finds out what secrets the Vicomte is keeping up his billowy sleeves, though we are breezily assured that Letter 152 holds all the answers. Well, it doesn’t.
♥ Would it have been so hard to throw a few short names in there, in addition to the lengthier humdingers? On second thoughts, considering the title of his previous work was Ernestine, maybe we got off lightly.
The Big Scoop:
The thing that stood out to me the most in this novel was the double standards between the sexes. I mean, I know that the values for women were –and still are in many ways, but we won’t get onto that– very much focused around their sexuality etc. etc. but STILL. The Vicomte is applauded for his conquests, in public and in private, while the Marquise is forced to deny her very nature in order that she may maintain an appearance of dignity. At the end, the sordid details of her conquests are revealed, so she is shunned by society, while the Vicomte rests happily in his grave, having preserved his honour (what honour?) by dying in a sword fight. That makes completely sense. However, I am forced back down off my soap box by the treatment of these double standards at Laclos’ hands. Not only are they dragged off their pedestal and through the mud, and then back through the mud again for good measure, but the subversive elements of adultery, heresy and even homosexuality –it is oh-so-subtly barely insinuated that the tutor-tutee relationship between the Marquise and the innocent fiancée she wants ruined is not purely platonic– are just delightful. And all the while, an appearance of complete endorsement is piously sustained. Love it.
This was a solid 8, maaaybe even stretching to a 9. Every single character was magnificently disagreeable in some way, a good few were gloriously reprehensible, really, and I loved that. Yes, I know, I usually hate it when I can’t relate. *cough* Looking at you, Eustacia Vye *cough*. But when I’m not supposed to be able to… that makes it completely different. After all, who can argue with the promotion of forfeiting all human decency to get your own way?**
* In the meantime, yes, I have forgotten how to speak the Englesey, I beg many pardons.
** Apart from Faust. Bit of a bummer what happened to him.