chapter  1
17 Pages


WithGraham Holderness

My title is possibly the one remaining permutation of this phrase, whose changing fortunes, from Les Liaisons dangereuses (via Fatal Attraction) to Dangerous Liaisons, register a peculiarly rich and illuminating process of cultural reproduction. It began in 1782 with the publication of what we now confidently recognize as a novel, but which was originally printed, if only in jest, as a collection of private correspondence - Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, subtitled Letters Collected in One Section of Society and Published for the Edification of Others. 1 In 1985, under the same main title, appeared a dramatized version, Les Liaisons Dangereuses: A Play by Christopher Hampton, Based on the Novel by Choderlos de Laclos. The performance text corresponding to this printed adaptation was a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which opened at the Other Place in Stratford in 1985, shifted to The Pit in London's Barbican Centre in January 1986, and later that year, by way of a commercial transfer, moved to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End. The production then transferred to Broadway, opening at the Music Box Theatre in April 1987. The published text represents 'the text of the playas it stood on the first day of rehearsal; and the various minor cuts and abrasions (and improvements) sustained and effected during rehearsals are therefore not included'. 2

In 1989 Hampton published a screenplay from the film version released in the previous year, the printed text now bearing the title Dangerous Liaisons. This text was designed to correspond exactly to the completed film-text: Hampton wanted it to 'resemble the final cut as closely as possible'. 3 Penguin Books, who had published a translation of Laclos's novel in 1961, promptly re-issued the book, with a re-designed cover carrying

Choderlos de Lados Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Now a superb film starring Glenn Close· John Malkovich

Michelle Pfeiffer Dangerous Liaisons

Published in 1782, Lados's Les Liaisons Dangereuses appeared only a few years before the French Revolution. Lados was a soldier and amateur intellectual who attempted writing in various different kinds - comic opera, poetry, sociological treatises, induding one on the education of women - but wrote only the one novel. Lados was a man of the Enlightenment, and in politics a Jacobin. His political affiliations seem a source of embarrassment to one of his English translators, who glances casually at Lados's political career, defined as a matter of 'chicanery' and 'intrigue', and condudes that 'there is no room here to explore some of the obscurer passages and back-alleys of history'. 5 In fact, Lados was an active Jacobin, in the service of the Due d'Orleans (the king's liberal cousin, known as 'Phillippe-I'Egalite'), a speech-writer for Danton, and imprisoned twice for political reasons. This would seem in retrospect to constitute a rather doser connection to the central political currents of the age than a bit of chicanery in a back-alley.