"J’ai vu les mœurs de mon temps, et j’ai publié ces lettres." – Choderlos Laclos.
(“I’ve seen the faults of my time and I’ve published it's letters”)
Choderlos de Laclos is one of the most (in)famous French writers, author of the classic 'Dangerous Liaisons'. His virulent portrait of the French nobility before the Revolution shocked the society and made a deep mark.
Pierre Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos was born at Amiens in 1741 on a family with minor nobility claims. He went to the Army and, despite his good work, was not allowed to climb higher than the Artillery; he was not noble enough. You can imagine that Laclos did not find that very amusing, especially when he saw a succession of incompetent leaders who got their jobs just for kissing the right ass in Versailles.
It was during this time, and moved by the sense of injustice, that Laclos used his skill in writing to create his master work. He was 40 year old when he shut himself out of the world in La Rochelle to write his book. This book isn’t, however, his only work. He wrote treaties on military strategy, poetry, comic operas, essays on the female condition, and much more.
Most of his writing was done before the Revolution, while he was a career officer left alone in a desk. Instead of writing about war and fighting, he chose a more subtle war: the war of the drawing room and of love.
"L’amour de la guerre et la guerre de l’amour" (“Love of war and war of love”)– wrote Charles Baudelaire on his notes about ‘Dangerous Liaisons’.
In 1784, he had an adventure worthy of Valmont when he got Marie-Soulange Duperré pregnant. Scandal followed, but he did not flee from it and married her in 1786, acknowledging the child. A big fan of the ideas of Rousseau, Laclos would be a good father, good husband, making citations of Rousseau’s work in his letters to his wife.
The French Revolution:
Laclos had a small part on The French Revolution and his works helped insufflate the Parisian mobs. In 1789 he became secretary of Philippe d’Orleans, known as “Philippe-Egalité”, head of the Orleans party of dissidents. Even though Philippe was cousin of Louis XVI, his hatred for the elder branch of the Bourbons had a big role on their downfall.
In 1790, Laclos joined the Jacobin’ Club, supporting the claim of duc d’Orleans for the regency. In 1792, he became commissary of executive power with the help of Georges Jacques Danton. During the years of Terror that followed, Laclos was not able to save himself. He went to jail in April 1793 but is released in May, with the intervention of a friend. He is forced, however, to respect house arrest.
After trying to escape, he is again sent to prison and again released, even though his friend Danton did not have the same luck. Still in the Army, Laclos is part of the state coup of 18 Brumaire. In 1800, he becomes a general in Bonaparte’s Army, a nomination made by the emperor himself. Later on, he becomes commander of artillery in Naples, but gets killed in September 3rd, 1803, in Tarente, of dysentery and malaria.
- Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782)
"L'humanité n'est parfaite dans aucune genre, pas plus dans le mal que dans le bien. Le scélérat a ses vertus, comme l'honnête homme a ses faiblesses." (Lettre XXXII) – “Humanity is not perfect in any of the genders, not for evil nor good. The evildoer has his virtues as well as the honest man has his weaknesses.”
- Des femmes et de leur éducation (1783-1800)
An essay in three parts about de role of women in society and their education.
"Partout où il y a esclavage, il ne peut y avoir éducation; dans toute société, les femmes sont esclaves; donc la femme sociale n'est pas susceptible d'éducation." – “Every place where it’s possible to find slavery, it’s impossible to find education. In all societies, women are slaves. Therefore, the social woman is not susceptible to education.”