Dangerous Liaisons Endnotes

1 .(p. 1 ) Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Only rarely does a work in translation circulate under its original title. Perhaps because the English word “liaisons” (in “dangerous liaisons”) has disappeared from common usage (and is hard to spell into the bargain), publishers in the English-speaking world have usually opted for the French title. Despite the presence of “liaison officers” in the military, liaisons in French refers to illicit sexual relationships; “bad company” would be a translation closer to our usage.

2 .(p. 1) J‘ai vu les moeurs de mon temps, et j’ai publié ces Lettres: The French translates as “I have observed the manners of my times, and I have published these letters.” “Manners” here refers to mores, a particular society’s moral attitudes. The quotation derives from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s preface to his 1761 novel Julie; ou, la Nouvelle Héloïse. Lettres de Deux Amans, Habitans d‘une Petite Ville au Pied des Alpes. Recueillies et Publiées par J. J. Rousseau. Rousseau’s title, like Laclos’s, defies translation and is usually rendered: Julie; or, the New Eloise. Letters of Two Lovers, Inhabitants of a Village at the Foot of the Alps. Collected and Published by J. J. Rousseau. The Nouvelle Héloïse was a best-seller all over Europe; there were seventy-two editions of the novel between 1761 and 1800. An English translation appeared in 1761 and was reprinted ten times before 1800. The Héloïse in Rousseau’s title is the woman with whom Peter Abélard (1079-1142), the medieval theologian, fell in love. She was the niece of the canon of Notre Dame and Abélard’s student. Since their love was impossible, they separated and expressed their affection in a series of famous letters. Héloïse, who died in 1164, was buried in Abélard’s tomb.

Rousseau’s tragic couple are Julie and Saint-Preux. They are madly in love, but Julie must marry Wolmar. Rousseau’s point is that a woman may have a love affair before marriage and still retain her character, but that after marriage she must remain faithful to her husband. Rousseau looked back to the medieval Héloïse and Abélard, but he was also strongly influenced by Samuel Richardson’s novels Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740-1741) and Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748). Pamela may be said to be the comic version and Clarissa the tragic: In the first, the heroine wins the day and marries the man who threatened to rape her, while in the second the heroine dies after being seduced and abused. In both Richardson and Rousseau, we see the birth of the modern novel’s interest in character, sentiment, and morality in a middle-class setting. Laclos capitalizes on both Richardson and Rousseau but focuses on aristocratic characters, perhaps to indict the hypocrisy of France’s ruling classes.

3 .(p. 3) Publisher’s Note: Laclos uses a device that harks back to Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), who insists he is not the author but a kind of editor of Don Quixote. Laclos surrounds his text with an apparatus that infuses it with ambiguity: Even the imaginary publisher cannot decide if it is “legitimate” or merely a fiction. To make his moral point, Laclos must create a work that straddles the fiction/nonfiction divide: It may be fiction, but its moral is all too real.

4 .(p. 5) Editor’s Preface: Again echoing Cervantes, Laclos here creates another device to remind readers they are not listening to speakers but reading letters; this is not life but, in a sense, death. Laclos further enhances the ambiguity of his text by having the editor point out that this volume contains only a “small portion” of the “correspondence whence it is extracted.” The reader sees only a fragment of the (imaginary) whole; in any case, the “real” names of the characters have been changed.

5 .(p. 5) I had proposed alterations more considerable … which has not been permitted me: The imaginary editor, a pedant, suggested “improving” the style of the letters and unifying them thematically but was not allowed to do so by their equally imaginary owners.

Part I

1 (p. 15) The Marquise de Merteuil to the Vicomte: The ranks of the eighteenth-century French nobility are as follows (in descending order): king-queen, duc (duke), prince (but a prince of the blood royal was above a duke), marquis-marquise, comte, vicomte, baron, seigneur, chevalier. The heir to the throne was the dauphin.

2 (p. 15) It is worthy of a hero: Merteuil ironically employs the language of knighthood and chivalry to inspire Valmont to commit crimes of an ungentlemanly nature.

3 (p. 18) we began to preach: Valmont, following Merteuil’s use of chivalric language, compares their adventures to religious evangelizing: They seek to make sexual converts.

4 (p. 19) Love, who prepares my crown, hesitates, himself, betwixt the myrtle and the laurel: The god of love cannot decide whether to crown Valmont with the myrtle wreath of the priest or the laurel crown of the conqueror.

5 (p. 19) La Fontaine [Laclos’s note]: The author’s note refers to French poet Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695); the quotation is from his dedicatory epistle to Fables (1668-1694).

6 (p. 21) in the most tender of conjugal tête-à-têtes you are always two: That is, even when making love you are separate.

7 (p. 24) One sees here the deplorable taste for puns, which was becoming the fashion, and which has since made so much progress [Laclos’s note]: The author is referring to a pun on the phrase “cross the ditch,” which can be defined as “make a leap”—a sexual joke, in the way we might say “doing the deed” or “getting down to business,” where sex is the unexpressed but true subject.

8 (p. 26) It is a great pity that he is a Knight of Malta!: The Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem was an order of crusading knights. In 1530 the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, granted them the island of Malta, and the order became known as the Knights of Malta. Danceny is probably a younger son and unlikely to inherit the family fortune, so he joins the knights, who were not necessarily, as Cécile thinks, celibate.

9 (p. 33) Le Sopha, a letter of Héloïse and two Tales of La Fontaine: The first is a licentious novel by Crébillon fils (pen name of Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, 1707-1777); the second is Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse (see endnote 2 for page 1); the third is another work by La Fontaine (see endnote 5, above), this one ribald. Merteuil mixes sexiness, wit, and earnest expressions of love.

10 (p. 34) it was my pleasure to look upon him as a sultan in the heart of his seraglio: That is, as an Oriental potentate in his harem. Merteuil engages in role-playing.

11 (p. 41) successors of Alexander: Those who followed Alexander the Great (Alexander III, king of Macedonia, 356-323 B.C.) could not keep the empire he created intact.

12 (p. 41) a real valet of comedy: A stock figure in theater is the witty servant (valet); Leporello, in Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787), is an example.

13 (p. 71) would that make him any less a dangerous acquaintance himself ?: The phrase “a dangerous acquaintance” in the French is une liaison dangereuse; this is one of several instances where the novel’s title appears within the text. See also p. 134.

14 (p. 95) I regret that I have not the talents of a thief…. But our parents have no thought for anything: Valmont jokingly wishes his parents had included theft in his education. Here Laclos mocks Rousseau, whose philosophy of education called for training in manual trades for all classes (see endnote 4 to part II).

15 (p. 98) Piron, Métromanie [Laclos’s note]: French playwright Alexis Piron’s comedy La Métromanie (Meter-mania; 1738) is about a character, Damis, who vindicates the idea of the poet as a normal person rather than a mad eccentric.

16 (p. 99) I preserved a coolness which would have done honor to the continence of Scipio: When Roman general Scipio Africanus Major (c.234-c.183 B.C.) conquered the city of New Carthage in Spain, he was given a young woman as a prize. When he learned she was to be married, he delivered her unharmed to her fiancé.

17 (p. 101) What Fury do you suppose is vile enough to plot such a black scheme?: The Furies are winged women of Greek mythology who avenged crimes. Only later did they acquire names, as Megæra (mentioned here in the same paragraph), Alecto, and Tisiphone.

18 (p. 102) Maréchale’s: The Maréchale is the wife of a Maréchal, or general, in the army.

19 (p. 107) the Italiens: The Comédie-Italienne and the Comédie-Française (or Theatre Français) were the two major French theatrical corporations. Theatergoers would refer to them, respectively, as the Italiens and the Français. Traditionally, the Italiens tended toward satire, using stock characters and improvisation.

Part II

1 (p. 116) the young man is so much of a Céladon: In the pastoral romance L‘Astrée, by French novelist Honoré d’Urfé (1568-1625), Celadon is a shepherd in love with the shepherdess Astrée. When she accuses him of infidelity, he throws himself into a river; he survives and, after myriad adventures, is reunited with her.

2 (p. 116) he explains that he is not a monk: Danceny explains he need not remain celibate as a knight of Malta (see endnote 8 to part I).

3 (p. 120) I am taking him tomorrow to Versailles: Because of his rank, Valmont is able to present Danceny at the royal court.

4 (p. 129) We believe it was Rousseau in Émile: … had Madame de Tourvel read Émile? [Laclos’s note]: The author’s note refers to Rousseau’s Émile; ou, Traité de l‘Éducation (Emile; or, Education, 1762), a romance about a boy’s upbringing. In the work Rousseau emphasizes physical exercise and learning manual trades, and announces the Romantics’ fascination with childhood by declaring children to be different from adults. The book was a major influence on educational theory.

5 (p. 130) recitato obbligato or arietta: Recitato (“recitative”) is a singing style in opera that imitates speech or dialogue; an obbligato is a complex piece of music for a single instrument; an arietta is a short aria, a song for a single voice.

6 (p. 136) Gresset: Le Méchant [Laclos’s note]: Le Méchant (The Spiteful Man, 1747), by French playwright Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset, is a satire on contemporary manners.

7 (p. 144) This expression refers to a passage in a poem by M. de Voltaire [Laclos’s note]: French writer Voltaire (assumed name of François-Marie Arouet) published the poem La Pucelle (1755) to mock the memory of Joan of Arc (c.1412-1431), the French national heroine (and later a saint) known as La Pucelle d’Orléans (the Maid of Orleans). In Voltaire’s poem, Agnès Sorel, the mistress of French king Charles VII, falls into English hands and becomes the lover of an Englishman, Monrose. Valmont plans to take on the role of Monrose, with Cécile playing the part of Agnès and Danceny transformed into Charles VII.

8 (p. 154) Racine: Britannicus [Laclos’s note]: In Britannicus (1669), by French dramatist Jean Racine, the emperor Nero falls in love with Junia, who is loved by his half-brother Britannicus. Failing to seduce her, he has Britannicus murdered. Junia becomes a vestal virgin. Valmont, as usual, is ironic in his use of quotations: The Vicomtesse is not exactly a vestal virgin.

9 (p. 160) remember that nothing which interests him is alien to me: That is, “Nothing that involves him is a matter of indifference to me.” Merteuil ironically plays with a line from Roman comic playwright Terence (c.190-159 B.C.), which appears in his Heautontimorumenos (The Self-Castigator; 1.1.25): Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto (“I am a man: nothing human is alien to me”).

10 (p. 165) I dropped from the clouds, like a divinity at the opera: Valmont compares himself to a deus ex machina, the theatrical use of a god or a royal personage to save the day. His intervention is intended to do the opposite.

11 (p. 173) apple of discord: In Greek mythology, Eris, the goddess of discord, tossed a golden apple among the guests at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. On it was written: “For the most beautiful.” The goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all thought they were the rightful recipients. Paris’s decision to give the apple to Aphrodite led to the Trojan War.

12 (p. 174) the Court and the Town: The royal court resided at Versailles, a world unto itself, but in terms of art and intellectual matters (to say nothing of amusement and pleasure), it was linked to Paris (the Town), the center of French cultural life.

13 (p. 176) Bois de Boulogne: This park of about 2,000 acres on the western side of Paris is reached by following the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe and continuing west.

14 (p. 180) Ten leagues: The league is an ill-defined distance that varies considerably, from 2.5 to 4.5 miles.

15 (p. 189) Samson…. Like a new Delilah, I have always employed my power in surprising this important secret: In the Old Testament book of Judges (chapter 16), Samson, a judge and warrior, takes Delilah, a Philistine, for a lover. She finally gets him to confess the secret that his great strength lies in his hair. While he sleeps, a Philistine cuts off his hair, rendering him helpless.

16 (p. 203) It was precisely the Zaïre, you are weeping. The empire which he thought to have gained over me … stood him in good stead for all the love of Orosmane: The reference is to Voltaire’s tragedy Zaire (1732), about the disastrous love Orosmane the Sultan feels for a captured Christian princess. Merteuil intends to treat Orosmane’s tragic love ironically, substituting for it the control Prévan thinks he has over her.

17 (p. 204) Cerberus: In classical mythology, Cerberus was a three-headed dog guarding the gate of the underworld.

18 (p. 205) Annette: She is one of the main characters in Annette et Lubin, a comic opera by French playwright Charles-Simon Favart (1710-1792), the inventor of light opera.

Part III

1 (p. 218) park: This part of the estate is, metaphorically, a “wilder” place than a garden, though not as entirely natural as a forest. Traditionally it was a place of temptation and some danger.

2 (p. 239) the darts of love, like the lance of Achilles, bear their own remedy for the ills they cause: Achilles is a legendary hero of the Greeks at the Trojan War; his lance, known as the Pelian spear, could both kill and cure.

3 (p. 242) Voltaire: Nanine [Laclos’s note]: Voltaire’s Nanine; or, Prejudice Defeated (1749) is a minor comedy. The quoted phrase means, “What I do, I do in justice, not out of being polite.”

4 (p. 262) crossed the Rubicon: This river separating ancient Gaul from Italy was crossed by Julius Caesar in 49 B.C. in his march on Rome; here the phrase means they had taken a definitive step.

5 (p. 268) I would not wear a livery, and a livery of the robe no less: Azolan reveals his snobbery in refusing to wear the uniform of the servants in Tourvel’s household. She is not of the nobility of blood but only that of a high royal magistrate. See the footnote on page 3.

6 (p. 276) “L‘amour y pourvoira.” Regnard: Les Folies amoureuses [Laclos’s note]: Laclos cites a 1704 comedy (Love’s Madness) by French playwright Jean-François Regnard (1655-1709), a secondary author of comedies.

7 (p. 281) From the comedy, “On ne s’avise jamais de tout!” [Laclos’s note]: Laclos is probably referring to Contes et Nouvelles en Vers (Stories and Tales in Verse, 1664), by Jean de La Fontaine.

8 (p. 288) waters of oblivion: In classical mythology, drinking from the river Lethe in Hades was supposed to cause one to forget his or her past life.

9 (p. 290) the head of the house of Gercourt will be in future only a cadet of that of Valmont: Valmont believes Cécile is pregnant with his child. If she marries Gercourt, this child would be considered Gercourt’s first-born (and, if a male, the head of the house), when he would actually be a cadet (junior) branch of the house of Valmont.

10 (p. 290) liaison: See endnote 13 to part I. Valmont does not connect dangereuses to the word, but its very absence here is a sign of things to come. See also pages 326, 330, and 377.

11 (p. 305): the prodigal son on his return obtained more favor from his father than the son who had never been absent: The reference is to a New Testament parable (Luke 15:11-32). When a man divides his fortune between his two sons, the younger leaves home, wastes his money on fast living, and ends up tending pigs. He returns home and his father welcomes him with open arms, which angers the elder son; the father explains that his brother was lost but is now found.

Part IV

1 (p. 317) Judge me then as though I had been Frederic or Turenne: King Frederick II of Prussia (1712-1786), known as Frederick the Great, transformed Prussia into a powerful nation; the Vicomte de Turenne, Henri de La Tour d‘Auvergne (1611-1675), supreme general of France, was a hero of the Thirty Years War.

2 (p. 317) like Hannibal, I may be enervated by the delights of Capua: After defeating the Romans at Cannae in 216 B.C., the great Carthaginian general Hannibal (247-182 B.C.) spent the winter in the city of Capua, famous for its luxuries.

3 (p. 336) “Plus je vis d’étrangers, plus j’aimai ma patrie.” Du Belloi’s tragedy of Le Siège de Calais [Laclos’s note]: Laclos is citing a 1765 work (The Siege of Calais) by a lesser French tragedian, Dormont de Belloy (pseudonym of Pierre-Laurent Buyrette).

4 (p. 361) Alcibiades: Alcibiades (c.450-404 B.C.) was a brilliant Athenian politician and general. He is a character, along with Socrates, in Plato’s Symposium. Merteuil goes on to quote from one of the Contes moraux (Moral Tales; 1761) of Jean-François Marmontel (1723-1799), a playwright, historian, and writer of prose fiction.

5 (p. 376) His Menæchmus has somewhat injured him: Menæchmus is one of a pair of twins in a comedy by Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (c.254-184 B.C.). Merteuil asserts there are two Valmonts: one charming, one too much like a husband.