Laclos, Choderlos de

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Laclos, Choderlos de (1741-1803): French, Author/Soldier.

Pierre-Amboise-François Choderlos de Laclos was a career military man who wrote one great novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), widely regarded the finest psychological analysis of the libertine era.

Born to a noble family in Amiens on 18 October 1741, Laclos envisioned a glorious military career. Frustrated in his efforts to advance in the army, Laclos turned to literature. His epistolary novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782), was a scandalous success, eventually becoming a French literary classic. It offers an exposé of libertinage, a philosophy and way of life launched by Regent Philippe d’Orléans. Sexual debauchery, corruption, and egotism were hallmarks of this lifestyle, which greatly influenced court behavior under Louis XV and Louis XVI. In Laclos’s novel, a morally corrupt but brilliant Marquise and her sometimes lover, a dissolute Viscount, plot revenge upon their competitors by planning the seduction of various innocent third parties. The main characters believe an individual can prove his worth by seducing carefully selected victims who pose a sufficient challenge. Laclos’s knowledge of military-type strategy wittily illuminates male-female relationships of the era.

In 1788, he entered the service of Philippe Egalité who hoped to replace Louis XVI on the throne of France. In 1790, Laclos joined the radical Jacobins and, during the French Revolution, rejoined the army. Under Bonaparte, Napoleon, he became a general, taking part in a campaign in Italy. At Taranto he fell ill and died on 5 November 1803.

Laclos’s Liaisons influenced novelists such as Stendhal and Balzac in the nineteenth century, and inspired at least four films in the twentieth.

Further Reading:

Ronald C. Rosbottom, Choderlos de Laclos, 1978.

Kenneth T. Rivers

Lamar University