|About this Recording
Pierre Ambroise Françoise Choderlos de Laclos
Dangerous Liaisons – Cast
Marquise de Merteuil - Sarah Woodward
In 1779 an officer of the French army was sent to Aix to assist in the building of a military fort. This officer was the thirty-eight-year old Pierre Ambroise Françoise Choderlos de Laclos, and he had a different kind of battle on his mind to that of his fellow soldiers. He was poor, of the petite noblesse rather than the aristocracy, and finding his climb up the career ladder unbearably slow and hindered by the class snobbery. Of his superiors, he decided to launch an attack on the ancient régime in the form of the novel, written in 1781, that we know today as Dangerous Liaisons. This novel was indeed a product of its time and the pervading Rousseauist mood, which was to culminate in the French Revolution a few years later. Flush with his new literary success, Laclos entered the household of the
Finally, in 1803 at the age of 62 and far from his beloved wife and children, he collapsed in the Italian heat and died of dysentery. His last letter, to Bonaparte, clearly expresses his misery, anxiety and bitterness. Outside of his one tremendous literary achievement Laclos’ life was a picture of frustrated ambition and disillusionment. But for his Dangerous Liaisons we would not know his name today.
Dangerous Liaisons is one of the great novels of eighteenth century French literature, if not of all time. Written in epistolary (letter) form it is clearly the product of a tactical military mind, constructed so intricately, so ingeniously, that the reader is captured from the very first page. Laclos proves himself a great artist in his seamless switch from voice to voice—the scheming, monstrous Merteuil; the naîve but charming virgin Cécile; the religious, virtuous Madame de Tourvel; the seductive libertine Valmont; the wise old Madame de Rosemonde…This skill is shown perhaps most cleverly when he writes a letter by Valmont who is pretending to be Cécile—Laclos acting as Valmont acting as Cécile! Thus style, tone and language are carefully tailored to each letter writer, resulting in characters so believable that at times we tremble before them. They are also typical of their age, in particular of the ruling classes, which were the target of Laclos’ attack.
Indeed Dangerous Liaisons has a somewhat manipulative effect upon the reader, almost as manipulative in fact as that of Valmont and Merteuil on their helpless victims. Until approximately halfway through the novel we are so compelled and fascinated by the villains of the piece that we cannot help but secretly take their side (as we do Milton’s Satan). However, it eventually dawns upon us that a truly heinous and appalling crime is taking place before our eyes and our sympathies immediately switch to the victims.
When Valmont tells Danceny towards the end of the novel “Ah! Believe me, we are only happy through love”, he sums up the basic message of Dangerous Liaisons. It is true of every character in the novel that their only moments of true happiness occur when they are in love. Even Merteuil cites her affair with Valmont as the only time of happiness in her life. And yet love is debased and manipulated to such an extent that the result is misery or death for all the players, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. As Madame de Volanges so rightly points out: ” In all this I see the wicked punished, but I find no consolation in it for the unhappy victims.”
Laclos himself takes on the role of a fictional ‘editor’ and writes a preface to the novel in which he discusses the value of the work and speculates upon its success. This claim to authenticity was a common practice in eighteenth century ‘memoir’ novels such as these. The author of such novels inevitably claims to have been told the story by the narrator himself, or to have ‘found’ the material, as in the case of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ where Laclos claims he was “requested to put in order this correspondence by those into whose hands it had fallen” (Madame de Rosemonde and Danceny, for example). This is an extract from his ‘Editor’s Preface’:
Notes by Anna Britten
The music on this cassette taken from the NAXOS catalog
MOZART Overtures (Idomeneo, Apollo and Hyacinthus etc)
MOZART Gran Partita
MOZART Sinfonia Concertante
HAYDN Farewell Symphony
Music programming by Sarah Butcher
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