Literature / Dangerous Liaisons

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Les Liaisons dangereuses is an 18th century Epistolary Novel by French author Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, adapted as a stage play by the same name and as the 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons. It was adapted the very next year as the film Valmont and later updated in 1999 to a modern high school as Cruel Intentions; in 2003 another modern-dress (late 1950's/early 1960's) adaptation was filmed as a miniseries for French TV starring Catherine Deneuve and Leelee Sobieski.

The story follows wealthy aristocrats engaged in a malicious bet involving sexual conquests, revenge, manipulation, seduction, and love in the sophisticated, and decadent atmosphere of 18th century French high society.

Tropes used in Dangerous Liaisons:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The main characters are the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil.
  • All Women Are Prudes: Zig-zagged- it's implied that all the "virtuous" women are at best indifferent, but Tourvel is something of a grey area.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Cecile and Merteuil have shades of this, thanks to undertones put by the author in some Letters such as the 20th and 63rd.
  • Arranged Marriage: Cecile's mother has one planned for her.
  • The Bet: The lynch pin of the plot. Valmont and Merteuil hatch a bet that he will be able to seduce Tourvel; if he wins (with written proof) Merteuil will spend the night with him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Merteuil. At one point in the play when she's comforting Cecile and has her arms around her, the stage direction describes her as looking "bored and impatient".
  • Break the Haughty: Merteuil in the end. Valmont ensures from beyond the grave that her reputation is utterly wrecked, causing her to have to leave Paris in disgrace, and in the book she also contracts smallpox, destroying her beauty.
  • Byronic Hero: Tourvel and Volanges certainly consider Valmont to be this
  • Death by Despair: Tourvel, already wretched from Valmont's rejection, goes into a downward spiral when she hears of his death.
  • Death Equals Redemption: It's only as he's dying that Valmont does something good.
  • Double Standard: The novel makes much of the inherent unfairness in the way women's and men's reputations are affected by sexual rumors.
  • Downer Ending: Valmont and de Tourvel are dead, Cecile's so broken by all the manipulation she decides to become a nun, and Merteuil is (in the film and book) publicly disgraced and (also in the book) facially disfigured from smallpox. She's gotten so engaging, if not actually likeable, that it can be hard to witness her downfall. In the play she gets off practically scot-free but is emotionally broken by the idea that Valmont loved someone other than her, and of course — as the threatening shadow of the guillotine on the wall at the very ends reminds us — the French Revolution is on the way...
  • Duel to the Death: Between Valmont and Danceny, which Valmont loses.
  • Epistolary Novel: Though the film has the characters meeting and discussing things they write in the book, it still retains a lot of letter writing. Often with original substitutes for a desk.
  • Exact Words: Valmont is very fond of those, finding pleasure and amusement in his own duplicity, like when he tells Tourvel she "would think less of him if she knew his motives." Taken Up to Eleven in his best letter, written in bed, on another lover's bare back, and composed in its entirety of sentences alluding to that fact.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Merteuil fakes this extremely well, pretty much out of necessity. (Keeping up a not just good but absolutely unassailable reputation is the only way to ensure that anyone spreading rumors about what she's really up to won't be believed.)
  • Idle Rich: Virtually all of the cast. Valmont is astonished at the seemingly paltry of money he pays to save a poor family from ruin (to look good in Tourvel's eyes, naturally) and that such families are not uncommon.
  • Ironic Echo: After succeeding in sleeping with Madame de Tourvel, Valmont says that his infatuation with her is temporarily "beyond his control." This is the same phrase Merteuil uses when telling her I Have This Friend... story, which ultimately leads to his dumping Tourvel and his doom.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Laclos uses the framing device that he discovered the journals and is publishing them, and comments on how Moral Guardians likely object but he is publishing them for a moral purpose (namely that people like Valmont and Merteuil are bad and others should avoid being taken in by someone like them)
  • Ladykiller in Love: Valmont, though he is so jaded he doesn't notice he is in love until it's pointed out to him.
  • Lipstick and Load Montage: The opening credits to the film has a montage featuring both the main male and female characters. It looks like they are dressing for battle, and they were.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Valmont but especially Merteuil, the Trope Codifier for Manipulative Bitch. A proto-feminist letter argues that there was no other way for a woman to get ahead and live the life she wanted in the 18th century. In Cruel Intentions, Kathryn argues that she cannot enjoy sex and be considered 'nice' and that this double standard drives her manipulations. However, this argument is much weaker in Cruel Intentions.
  • The Masochism Tango: Valmont and Merteuil take this to its logical extreme with Valmont's death as a direct result of Merteuil's manipulation of Danceny, shortly followed by Merteuil's humiliation by Valmont's manipulation of Danceny.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: In one of the first scenes of the movie, when Valmont meets Cecile. Whenever he isn't talking, he's very openly staring at Cecile's chest. Needless to say, it makes her mother uncomfortable.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: Played straight with Madame do Tourvel, inverted with Cecile.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Used by Merteul on Cecile with extreme cruelty when the despairing girl writes to her for help ; earlier, the marquise writes to Valmont claiming that women welcome sexual violence, as it gives them an excuse in a world where they can't freely succumb to desire.
  • The Pornomancer: Averted; the characters spend quite a lot of time on the planning and implementation of a seduction.
  • Private Tutor: Danceny teaches music to Cecile.
  • Stepford Smiler: Catherine/de Merteuil is very much type C. She invested a great deal of hard work to become so.

Alternative Title(s): Les Liaisons Dangereuses

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