"The Vicomte de Valmont: Portrait of a Psychopath."
In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd share an essay I wrote in 2017 on the French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses aka Dangerous Liaisons .
Laclos’ Les Liaisons dangereuses presents several interesting characters, one of which is the Vicomte de Valmont. Valmont displays the traits of someone suffering from anti-social personality disorder based on his methods in pursuing women for sexual pleasure and personal satisfaction. Valmont has no concern for the welfare of others, indulging himself in sexual conquests by whatever means he feels necessary. Although Valmont shows outward signs of concern for others, those are facades to advance his liaisons. While Valmont may superficially appear to feel love, his actions indicate otherwise.
It can be argued that Valmont suffers from anti-social personality disorder based on his behavior throughout the book. Anti-social personality disorder is defined as:
a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior exhibiting pervasive disregard for and violation of the rights, feelings, and safety of others starting in childhood or the early teenage years and continuing into adulthood, that is often marked by a lack of remorse for having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from others (“Anti-social personality disorder”).
Valmont is a man who is ruthless in his pursuit of women. At no time does he seem to care for their feelings or the consequences of seducing them. To him, they are objects that bring him sexual satisfaction and/or the satisfaction of having corrupted someone.
It can be argued Valmont collects seductions as personal trophies. The more challenging the seduction (such as Madame de Tourvel), the more he seems determined to succeed. When the Marquise de Merteuil asks him to seduce young Cecile, Valmont dismisses it as it is no challenge. He has no concern for Sophia’s youth, merely that she is too easy to seduce. However, when Cecile’s mother makes Valmont’s seduction of Madame Tourvel difficult by warning Tourvel of Valmont’s reputation, he sets out to corrupt Sophia out of revenge.
Valmont’s behavior reflects his desire for pleasure that ignores its impact on others. He uses blackmail to gain access to Tourvel’s maid, manipulates Danceny into helping him gain access to Sophia, and helps a poor family by paying their debts in order to fool Tourvel that he is a decent but misunderstood man. Valmont even feigns contrition to a priest in order to arrange a meeting with Tourvel. Finally, Valmont abandons Tourvel when he thinks it will help him reunite with Merteuil. All of this show his lack of concern for others if it helps him.
His aid to the poor family shows Valmont’s true inner nature. He comments, “I must confess to a moment of weakness: my eyes filled with tears and in spite of myself, I felt a delicious emotion stirring inside me (43). However not much later, Valmont mocks those who do good deeds, “I’m tempted to think that those so-called virtuous people don’t deserve quite as much credit as we’re invited to believe” (ibid). He tells Merteuil his good deed is advance payment for his eventual seduction of Tourvel (44).
Valmont does not seem to show any remorse at his actions. He may regret the consequences because they harm him but there appears to be no remorse. It might be argued that Valmont hands over the incriminating letters over to Danceny as he faces death, in order to “do the right thing” but it can also be argued he does so merely to get revenge on Merteuil from beyond the grave.
Is Tourvel capable of love? The text suggests he is fascinated by the novelty of Tourvel’s feelings for him but the way in which he heartlessly discards her when he thinks it will ruin his chance to reunite with Merteuil makes it seem unlikely he loves her. Love is as much a novelty as the feeling he experiences after paying the poor family’s debts.
The Vicomte de Valmont is a self-centered, remorseless person whose actions mirror those of someone with an anti-social personality disorder. It is difficult to match his actions towards his sexual conquests with love because of how he callously treats them.
"Antisocial Personality Disorder." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antisocial%20personality%20disorder. Accessed 13 Feb. 2017
Laclos, Choderlos de, Les Liaisons dangereuses (Oxford World’s Classics). Oxford University