Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Paris. France’s capital city is the focal point of the novel’s action. During the eighteenth century, Paris was the center of social interaction. Laclos’s novel portrays the aristocracy of the period, especially the libertine segment of this social group. Paris is thus the only setting possible for Laclos’s fiction.
Madame de Rosemonde’s château
Madame de Rosemonde’s château (rohz-MOHND). Country house belonging to Madame de Rosemonde, the aunt of the vicomte de Valmont. The château is important as the place where the notorious libertine Valmont may encounter and interact with a woman of the upper bourgeoisie. Madame de Tourvel is visiting Madame de Rosemonde during her husband’s absence from Paris. She has in a sense withdrawn from society and shut herself away from the dangers of Paris. It is also at the château that the unsuspecting Cécile de Volanges is placed in a vulnerable situation that allows Valmont to seduce and morally corrupt her.
In the village near the château Valmont performs a charitable act that helps a miserable villager in order to convince Madame de Tourvel that he is of good character.
Convent. Religious community from which Cécile’s mother brings her home to Paris. At the time in which the novel is set, convents were traditional refuges for women and residences for girls of aristocratic families until they reached marriageable age. Totally ignorant of the world when she emerges from the convent, Cécile is ill prepared for what awaits her. At the end of the novel, the convent once again plays a significant, though conventional, role, when both Madame de Tourvel and Cécile withdraw to the convent. The novels of the period abound with heroines abandoned by lovers who seek solace within religious orders. Madame de Tourvel goes there to die, Cécile to take the veil and expiate her sins.
*La Comédie Italienne
*La Comédie Italienne. Popular theater in eighteenth century Paris that is the scene of Madame de Merteuil’s public humiliation. At the conclusion of the novel she appears in her box there after the scandalous intrigue resulting in Valmont’s death and is ignored and shunned by everyone. Thus Laclos ends his novel in an appropriately moralistic fashion, as evil is punished.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Conroy, Peter V. Intimate, Intrusive and Triumphant: Readers in the “Liaisons dangereuses.” Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1987. Concludes that the fictional reader is the most powerful character “in” the book, more powerful than the narrator. Discusses form and technique from the perception of the reader.
Free, Lloyd R., ed. Laclos: Critical Approaches to “Les Liaisons dangereuses.” Madrid: Studia Humanitas, 1978. Eleven essays by critics discussing evil, characterization, suspense structures, language, and contemporary consciousness.
Meltzer, Françoise. “Laclos’ Purloined Letters.” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 3 (Spring, 1982): 515-529. Points out that in the epistolary novel, it is the fictional reader who most clearly creates the text. Discussion, which is informed by the work of Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, argues ironically that a purloined letter always arrives at its destination.
Miller, Nancy K. “Rereading as a Woman: The Body in Practice.” Poetics Today 6, nos. 1/2 (1985): 291-299. Examines the scene in which the Vicomte de Valmont writes a letter to Madame de Tourval literally on Emilie’s body and gives a feminist reading of male production of reading and its “rules.”
Roussel, Roy. “The Project of Seduction and the Equality of the Sexes in Les Liaisons dangereuses.” Modern Language Notes 96, no. 4 (May, 1981): 725-745. Presents an argument that seduction almost wishes not to succeed, since the process itself is enjoyable. Seducers seek to define themselves against traditional codes that demonstrate their arbitrary nature.