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Dangerous Acquaintances Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When Cécile de Volanges is fifteen years old, her mother removes her from a convent in preparation for the girl’s marriage to the Comte de Gercourt. The match is arranged by Madame de Volanges without her daughter’s knowledge. Shortly after her departure from the convent, Cécile begins an exchange of letters with Sophie Carnay, her close friend. Cécile has few contacts with her fashionable mother except for trips they make together to shops to purchase an elaborate wardrobe. The little she knows about the plans for her future she learns from her maid.

The unscrupulous Marquise de Merteuil sees in the proposed marriage an opportunity to get revenge on Gercourt, who some time before deserted her for a woman of greater virtue. In her wounded vanity, she schemes to have the Vicomte de Valmont, a libertine as unscrupulous as herself, effect a liaison between Cécile and the Chevalier Danceny. Such an affair, circulated by gossip after Cécile and Gercourt are married, will make the husband a laughingstock of the fashionable world. To complete her plan for revenge, the marquise also wants Valmont to seduce Madame de Tourvel, the woman for whom Gercourt abandoned her. Madame de Tourvel is the wife of a judge. As a reward for carrying out these malicious schemes, the Marquise de Merteuil promises to reinstate Valmont as her own lover.

Valmont is able to arrange a meeting between Cécile and Danceny. Although she is attracted to the young man, Cécile hesitates at first to reply to his letters. She conceals her eventual consent to write to him, even to speak of love, from her mother. Valmont meanwhile turns his attention to Madame de Tourvel, who is a virtuous woman and, aware of the vicomte’s sinister reputation, tries to reject his suit. Nevertheless, she finds herself attracted to him, and in time she agrees to write to him but not to see him. She also stipulates that Valmont is not to mention the subject of love or to suggest intimacy. Eventually Valmont and Madame de Tourvel become friends. Aware of her indiscretion even in friendship, she finally tells Valmont that he must go away, and he accepts her decision.

In the meantime, although she writes him letters in which she passionately declares her love, Cécile is steadfast in her refusal to see Danceny. Cécile grows more mature. She still writes to Sophie, but not as frankly as before. Instead, she turns for advice to the Marquise de Merteuil, whom she sees as a more experienced woman. The marquise, impatient with the slow progress of the affair between Cécile and Danceny, informs Madame de Volanges of the matter, with the result that the mother, in an angry interview with her daughter, demands that Cécile forfeit Danceny’s letters. The marquise’s plan produces the effect she anticipates; Cécile and Danceny declare themselves more in love than ever.

Hoping to end her daughter’s attachment to Danceny, Madame de Volanges takes Cécile to the country to visit Madame de Rosemonde, Valmont’s ailing aunt. Valmont soon follows, on the Marquise de Merteuil’s instructions, to keep the affair alive between Cécile and the young chevalier and to arrange for Danceny’s secret arrival. Valmont, bored with rustic life, decides to take Cécile for himself. Under the pretext of making it safer for him to deliver Danceny’s letters, he persuades her to give him the key to her room. At the first opportunity, Valmont seduces her. At first the girl is angered and shocked; before long, however, she surrenders herself to him willingly. Valmont is at the same time continuing his attentions to Madame de Tourvel. Deciding that persistence accomplishes nothing, he tries ignoring her, whereupon Madame de Tourvel writes to offer her friendship.

Cécile, deeply involved with Valmont, writes the Marquise de Merteuil, asking for her advice on how to treat Danceny. Madame de Volanges, who is unaware of the situation, also writes the marquise, telling her that she is considering breaking off...

(The entire section is 1,228 words.)