This is one of the most intriguing classics I’ve read in a long time. At first glance it didn’t seem to me as though a book that consists entirely of series of letters written between various people would be interesting, but this was the 18th Century, when letter-writing among the French aristocracy was obviously an art form so each letter is written in beautiful language with such detail and emotion, each with the unique tone of its author.
At the centre of this novel are the main characters, the lothario Vicomte de Valmont, and his former lover the widow Marquise de Merteuil. De Merteuil orders de Valmont to seduce a 15 year old girl, Cecile, who the Marquise’s former lover threw her over for, just for her amusement. At the same time, the Vicomte tries his hand at seducing the prudish married Presidente de Tourvel. To Valmont and de Merteuil, it’s all a game. As de Valmont says regarding de Tourvel, “I shall possess this woman; I shall steal her from the husband who profanes her: I will even dare ravish her from the God whom she adores. What delight, to be in turns the object and the victor of her remorse! Far be it from me to destroy the prejudices which sway her mind! They will add to my happiness and my triumph. Let her believe in virtue, and sacrifice it to me; let the idea of falling terrify her, without preventing her fall; and may she, shaken by a thousand terrors, forget them, vanquish them only in my arms.”
Valmont and de Merteuil are depraved, manipulative and very calculating. The amount of detail that they put into their game is truly astounding. Forget Iago, these two are devil incarnates; very Machiavellian. Despite how evil these two are, they are at the same time fascinating. The book did have a Cruel Intentions feel to it but it only makes sense that such a book would provide inspiration to Hollywood.