1887

Intimate, Intrusive and Triumphant

Readers in the 'Liaisons dangereuses'

image of Intimate, Intrusive and Triumphant

In both the real and the symbolic sense, the action of the Liaisons is writing letters, which is to say, giving the phrase an ontological twist, that writing is its own subject. Letters in an epistolary novel recount and reenact simultaneously, without distinction. Doing and telling are congruent, interchangeable, identical activities. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are the principal characters in this novel because they know best how to use the word. They control and direct others through their writing. From our perspective, however, to listen well is an even more critical and fundamental activity than writing well. The ultimate victor in this novel of seduction and deception is not necessarily the one who writes best but rather he, or she, who reads best. Concentrating on the reader places the entire epistolary exchange in a new light and accentuates the use of the word as an instrument of power and the letter as a tool for domination.

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