Book Report: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (play)

Can some Gentle Reader explain to me what Les Liaisons Dangereuses is about? The Christopher Hampton play, I mean, although I’d also love to know what is appealing about any other version of the novel, including the novel itself. I mean, other than being sexy; it’s clearly a wonderful opportunity to watch Alan Rickman (or John Malkovich or Colin Firth) (or Ryan Phillipe or Rupert Everett) (or Gérard Philipe or Yong-jun Bae or Jean-Pierre Bouvier or Juraj Kukura) being all sexy and whatnot, and I understand that may well be enough. But is that all the play is about?

Seriously, I’m perplexed. I don’t understand why Valmont behaves the way he does, or how the audience is supposed to feel about the way he behaves, or what we are supposed to take away from the whole thing. I don’t understand what Mr. Hampton (or Choderlos de Laclos in the novel I haven’t read) is on about. The only thing I can think of is that it’s an up-against-the-wall-motherfuckers play about the excess of the (nineteen-) eighties and the coming revolution (that didn’t come). Even then, it’s incredibly trivial, as surely the least of the reasons for the revolution was or should be the sexual habits of the rich. The meddling of the Marquise and the Vicomte does nobody any harm, or at least nobody but a few dupes we can’t really have any sympathy for, particularly when the ‘harm’ is a fiction of society. Or is it saying that sex really is important, that love, even between dishonest and annoying people, is valuable, and that the wickedest thing is recreational sex?

Or is it just a bit of fun, and I’m reaching for a meaning that was never there?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

4 thoughts on “Book Report: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (play)

  1. irilyth

    I interpret it as being about dishonesty and deception: The point isn’t about sex per se, it’s about those who lie and cheat and steal getting what’s coming to them in the end. (So to speak.)

  2. Michael

    It’s about unintended consequences. If you treat other people as toys, you may hurt them. And if you do, you may regret it either because of your own suddenly-discovered conscience or because of the disapproval of others. In a twist on Lord of the Flies, it is an application of the social and emotional patterns of children to a world populated by adults. Picture children aged 6 to 8 sitting around a school playground reading the parts, and the way the characters act toward each other will make perfect sense.

  3. Vardibidian

    Well, and even if there is some sort of regret or come-uppance (and the Marquise certainly doesn’t show any regret or have any come-uppance, and the Viscomte gets regret and come-uppance pretty much because he stops being childish), what’s in it for the audience?

  4. irilyth

    I don’t know if the play ends the same way as the movie, but in the movie, I think both get their come-uppance: The Marquise is ruined socially, and the Vicomte is left in heartbroken despair, unless I’m mis-remembering, which I might be.

    What’s in it for the audience is what’s in it for the audience in any morality play: We see that the good are rewarded, the evil are punished, and are inspired to go forth and be more good and less evil in the future.


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