Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power. – Oscar Wilde
In his only novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses first published in 1782, with English translation first appearing in 1898, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos depicts the seductions and deceit in France high class society circles at the end of eighteenth century. The plot revolves around Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquize de Merteuil who use their powers to turn sensuality into a game, thus creating a tangled web of seduction, affairs and betrayal. A story of infinite games of romance, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is, in its core, a story of power, questioning the connection between ultimate power, personality and sexuality: a question so actual and all-consuming, that the book was made into a great movie, Dangerous Liaisons, released in 1988.
This underlying question in core of the work is best depicted in the movie excerpt exploring independent woman’s survival in a wicked world of eighteenth century France.
And the dialogue script, revealing all there is to be known of woman’s position in a society:
– I often wonder how you managed to invent yourself.
– Well, I had no choice, did I? I’m a woman. Women are obliged to be far more skillful than men. You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So, of course I had to invent not only myself, but ways to escape no one has ever thought of before… and I’ve succeeded because I’ve always known that I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.
– Yes, but what I asked was: how?
– When I came out in the society I was fifteen. I already knew that the role I was condemned to – namely to keep quiet and do what I was told – gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe: not to what people told me which, naturally, was of no interest but to whatever it was they were trying to hide. I practiced detachment, I learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork into the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn’t pleasure I was after, it was knowledge: I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what they think, novelists to see what I can get away with and in the end, I distilled everything into one wonderfully simple principle: Win or Die.
– So, you are infallible, are you?
– If I want a man, I have him. If he wants to tell, he finds that he can’t. That’s the whole story.
– And, was that our story?
– I wanted you before we’d ever met: my self-esteem demanded it. Then, when you began to pursue me, I wanted you so badly. It’s the only time I’ve ever been controlled by my desire: single combat.
The whole situation makes one wonder is it all plain romance, or unconquerable yearning for power. Is power the secret, underlying motivator in all our endeavors? And, if so, what is to be gained from it? – the question even more important in lieu of the fact we are willing to put everything at stake just to taste it…
power… try it… own it… master it…
Irresistible in its entirety, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a revolutionary masterpiece which has launched a whole new era of revealing the most deeply hidden truths, almost exclusively of power and control.