Dangerous Liaisons Background

Dangerous Liaisons Background

Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) is widely considered the only novel of lasting significance ever written by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. Fortunately for the soldier whose writing ability actually contributed to his losing one career before finding success in another, Dangerous Liaisons receives equally universal regard as one the most significant of all the early attempts by French writers training their talents on this newest literary form which seemed on its way to being dominated by British writers like Swift, Defoe and Samuel Richardson. Published in 1782, the British had certainly enjoyed a head start on Laclos and other novelists publishing in the latter decades of the 18th century, but in truth Laclos was just helping to play catch-up.

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (yes, THAT, Cyrano) had written two precursors to the modern novel form more than half a century before Swift and Defoe. Innovations that would take the French novel out of its hybrid state and make something that more closely resembled those British works recognizable even by today’s forms as genuine novels would not commence for another century. What makes Dangerous Liaisons such a significant part of the history of the French novel is the method by which he exploited what had become standard epistolary structure of telling the story through personal correspondence of characters to explore what eventually come to be recognized as the dominant strength of the form as compared to poetry and drama.

Rather than using the letter format merely foster a sense of realism and believability, Dangerous Liaisons foretells the future of the novel as the ideal way to penetrate into the psychology and motivation in a much more expansive way that could ever be succeeded on stage and in a more personal way that had ever been suitable for the thematically-dominated epic poem. In addition, while one of the primary attacks leveled against this new literary form was its vulgar concentration on the lives of average people dealing with ordinary situations, that perceived weakness is also seized upon by Laclos as one of the greatest strengths the novel had over poetry. Dangerous Liaisons faces no constraints over dealing with grandiose themes played out by larger than life characters intended to represent certain fundamental character traits and as a result, Laclos is able to manipulate the first-person epistolary conceit to conceal intent, mask motivation and engage in acts of treachery capable of actually surprising his audience.

Ironically, despite Laclos constructing his story to take specific advantage of the strengths of the new literary medium, Dangerous Liaisons has since been adapted into just about every other medium possible. A 1988 film version received multiple Oscar nominations while an equally successful commercial film released a decade later updated and modernized the story into a teen rom-com. The novel has appeared on either the big or small screen in at least a dozen different incarnations. Revealing the fluidity of the original tale, this versatility of adaptation is also manifested by the existed at least two different operas, three different ballets and a handful of stage productions including a musical. One of the most creative adaptations appeared in 2013, Dangerous Tweets, in which the entire novel is told through Twitter postings.

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