By Anselle Frère
How did the Marquise & Valmont first meet?
What made their love so dangerous?
The answers lie in this discovered manuscript –
--Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel
Lost for 250 years, here are the very first letters which passed between the young Marquise-to-be and the young Vicomte de Valmont. These reveal the beginnings of their dangerous attraction, their posturing, their powerplay.
Here also are the letters of their friends, foes and family: characters who fight to assert control over the young Marquise-to-be and Valmont.
The key to Sophie, the Marquise-to-be lies here: why she disdains to live by the rules of society of the ‘ancien regime’, why she throws off the constraints placed upon her sex, why she seeks control over the young male libertines who surround her –
--including the Vicomte de Valmont.
As her private letters unfurl, it becomes clear that not all predators are men:
---‘[I was] born to avenge my sex and to dominate yours’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Letter 81.
Praise for Dangerous Liaisons:The
“Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel (Volume I) is wonderfully accomplished. Stylistically it's elegant, diverse and rich…this is the bottom line - it's a really good story…”
John Taylor – BBC Radio 4 producer of multiple adaptations including Proust and C.S. Lewis
Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel
A novel presented in the form of a collection of correspondence.
1. A NOBLEMAN to the CHEVALIER D’IVRY (sent from PARIS, 9 AUGUST 1776)
In the off-season, a young man’s thoughts may turn to the seduction of another man’s wife. The wife might choose to fall prey to this seduction - the notion of ‘choice’ here being a treacherous one. It is this sort of treachery which brings to mind the great Rousseau who writes that ‘women are strong enough not to succumb unless they want to’…and this is a theme which now we must explore.
Monsieur, I put you on notice that for these two months past, your wife has chosen to take up a passionate liaison with me. It was not difficult to persuade her to break the sacred bonds of her marriage to you. Had I asked it of her, she would have stained all her future, reputation and society to be kept under my protection indefinitely. Never did her conscience cause her a moment’s hesitation and this, I was surprised to find, had its own curious charm.
There lies a reason behind my seduction of the Chevalière, your Hélène, but it does not yet suit my stratagem to disclose it. Every action leads to a series of events and there is one event, consequent to Hélène’s fall, which I hope to bring into effect. Unfortunately for you this means that your wife’s transgression must be made public.
I cannot yet provide you with my name but, after your wife’s faithlessness becomes generally known and after the result which I desire has occurred, I will uncloak my identity. You may then demand satisfaction from me with a weapon of your choosing, in the usual manner, et cetera, et cetera.
May I save you the trouble of pressing your Hélène for my name. She met me out of my région, when I was travelling without the display of liveried retinue and heraldry. Nevertheless, as I wish you to break with her, it is important that you believe she has been unfaithful to you. For this you will need some proofs: she has a tiny, natural, beauty spot, almost perfectly in the shape of a heart, at the top, inner curve of her thigh; there is a little scar underlying the hairline at the nape of her neck. I doubt, from what she tells me of your style of love-making, that you could have discovered either of these. Her face has a wistful beauty, her eyes dark, flecked with hazel.
Further proof, enclosed, is a collection of letters addressed to me (or should I say, addressed to the person she thought me to be), written in your wife’s own distinctive hand.
I have led Hélène to believe I will be at the East Gate of the Bois de Boulogne at dawn tomorrow to rendezvous with her. I shall not be there, but you may choose to take my place. She will have a token of our love in her possession: a strand of her hair and my hair which she has commissioned to be plaited together and captured in a locket of gold and glass, surmounted with our entwined initials, (the initials she imagines I have). The goldsmith was paid from your account; I thank you.
In case your pride demands that you require discretion rather than dishonour in this matter, I have kept back a few of Hélѐne’s letters to me, ones which give ample proof of her identity. These I will circulate publicly within the next se’ennight, in order that you have no option but to fall in with my plan and break with her.
As the author of your misfortune, I have no doubt you would like to avenge your outraged honour. I would suggest, however, that rarely can it be worth two men of stature risking blood over a woman, certainly not to the death anyway.
I suggest you make yourself easy over this event. In my role as libertine, I am captivating. As another author of seduction has penned:
‘when I have busied myself to seek how the woman could escape, I have never seen the possibility’ *1
And this is how it is with me.
Notwithstanding your sense of outrage, please be generous towards Hélѐne as you break with her. I would not normally plead for this, however, she will be dismayed by my betrayal, and everything now that will ensue.
In this era of ennui, Hélène’s artless surrender touched my soul. She has the tenderest heart in the world. Had you given her a modicum of attention, Sir, never would she have strayed.
À bientôt, a Nobleman.
2. HÉLÈNE, the CHEVALIÈRE D’IVRY to M. LEFЀVRE (sent from PARIS 11 AUGUST 1776)
Dearest Father, I beg that you allow me to return home. I have fled my marriage, and no one dares to offer me shelter. Because I remain the property of my husband, the religious houses are closed to me.
Married life was not as I imagined it would be and I fear I did not submit as I ought to the condition of wife. I do not seek to excuse my own transgressions but my trials in marriage were grievous.
Do not imagine that you will reconcile the Chevalier D’Ivry to me. Do not hope that the cooling effect of separation will soften my idea of him. There is no condition for harmony that can be brokered for our future life.
I entreat you, with all urgency, to permit me to return to home. I am in distress, but my pride does not allow me to write of it.
Please recommend me to the prayers of my mother. I am sure she misses her eldest daughter, her Hélѐne. Recommend me to the prayers of my darling sisters: my Sophie, my Jeanette. I wish to be home in time to be with Jeanette to attend to her in childbirth.
May I ask that you do not pass this letter to my brother, Didier.
3. JEANETTE the MARQUISE DE MERTEUIL to M. LEFЀVRE (sent from the CHÂTEAU DE **** **** 11th AUGUST 1776)
Dearest Father, I beg that you allow me to return home for these final, few days of awaiting the birth of my child. I wish to be at home so that my mother and my two sisters may be with me during this last stage of my confinement. I do not feel equal to face the task alone and I do not feel safe shut away in the château of my husband. I have a great sense of foreboding. Sometimes I feel that I am only the first Marquise. The Marquis insists he will hire a surgeon, but I remember the precept of Diderot:
‘the best doctor is the one you run to and cannot find’.
I beg of you, my father, please request permission of my husband that I may leave his house and return home to you and my mother. Be so good as to recommend me to the prayers of my mother; I have need of them. I believe she wishes to help her little Jeanette. Please also recommend me to the prayers of my sweet sisters, Hélѐne and Sophie.
I implore you not to pass this letter to my brother, Didier, for the forming of your response.
4. M. LEFЀVRE to DIDIER LEFЀVRE (hand delivered within the LEFÈVRE ESTATE near ROUEN, 13 AUGUST 1776)
Didier, your sisters have wrote; I enclose their letters. I educated they girls so that them do raise my consequence in this région, not obliterate it! Now, read their missives and see how them do turn this educating about! Do ye see how them do fling their learning at me with their philosophisers and their quotations? Do ye see how assuredly them do speak their demands, how casually them do speak of leaving their noble husbands? ‘Tis clear to me that them have had some petty quarrel with their young noblemen and now them do wish to fly off in a fit of bad humour. But your sisters do rate theyselves too high; them do forget their lowly provenance. T’was my hard-won coinage what made their marriages and not their allurements!
Ye, my boy, must reply to they. My writing be not what it ought and them must not be allowed to feel their superiority.
Write that them may not come home. Remind they that them may not make a fool of me. And for goodness sake quote some philosophiser or other!
5. DIDIER LEFЀVRE to JEANETTE, the MARQUISE DE MERTEUIL & to HÉLÈNE, the CHEVALIÈRE D’IVRY (sent from the LEFÈVRE ESTATE near ROUEN, 13 AUGUST 1776)
My sisters, I have spoken to our father; a single letter, copied, will serve for you both.
Hélѐne, Jeanette (you see I rob you of your married titles), how is it that you both wish to desert your noble husbands, situated as you are among all the luxuries and the trappings of their high estate? Every need you have surely is fulfilled a thousand-fold. Every whim you have surely is within your compass. Your father and I can only imagine that you have quarrelled with your young men and therefore that you have forgot the precept of Rousseau when he writes that women ‘must receive the decisions of fathers and husbands like that of the church’.
The function of daughters is to make alliances. Daughters exist to promote the honour of the family name. Once married, daughters serve as the secure vessel through which land and money may pass safely along with the next generation.
How may these conditions be upheld if you leave the protection of your spouses and careen about the countryside in carriages, with your ringlets, your ribands and your reputation flying in the wind?
We do not facilitate you to make fools of yourselves and ourselves. I copy this letter and your letters, to your husbands.
6. The VICOMTE DE VALMONT to M. DE BEAULIEU (sent from PARIS, 15 AUGUST 1776)
I oblige you, my friend, to place yourself as my spy in the Lefèvre home. I need to know the effect of my actions upon that family. I have just caused the oldest daughter (Hélѐne, I know how bad you are at remembering the names of girls), to be thrown out of her marriage and onto the mercy of her father…
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Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel
Anselle Frère gained an honours degree at a UK Russell Group University, where she specialized in 18th century literature. Subsequently, Anselle won a place on a two-year BBC graduate production training scheme. Anselle then became a script editor in the BBC drama department, working on iconic serials and films with award winning producers and writers. Anselle was awarded the BBC Paul Fox prize for her work.