Writers on Rogues: Miranda Neville on Valmont

It is no secret that I utterly adore Miranda Neville. She's funny, clever, a fellow Ballroom blogger AND writes like a dream. AND...the girl can title a book. I thought her last book had the best one ever, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, until the announcement of the one that's out at the end of the month--Confessions of an Arranged Marriage. Love. And then, to make her awesomeness even more obvious, when I asked her to come over and chat about her favorite rogue, she chose the Vicomte de Valmont, a scoundrel with whom I have a long, personal relationship. I can't help it. You might even say it's beyond my control. ;)

Miranda! Over to you!

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We all love a reformed rake. But what about a rake who refuses to be reformed? Despite his truly appalling behavior, I can’t help loving Valmont.

The Vicomte de Valmont is the hero (or something) of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a French novel by Choderlos (there’s a hero name!) de Laclos, published in 1782. It was a wildly popular, utterly shocking novel about sexual games and revenge, much admired by Marie Antoinette.

Valmont and his cohort Madame de Merteuil make a deal. He’ll help her ruin Cecile de Volanges and she’ll sleep with him. Madame de Merteuil wants revenge on Cecile’s fiancé, her former lover. Got that straight? Never mind. The motivations for a tangle of seductions get quite complicated so I’ll move straight on to Valmont’s particular sins.

1. Though it wasn’t the original plan, he ends up sleeping with the fifteen-year-old Cecile to revenge himself on her mother.

2. He seduces Madame de Tourvel, a beautiful and virtuous married lady, simply because it’s a challenge. And he does it so beautifully.

Valmont is far too clever to pretend to be good. Instead he appeals to Madame de Tourvel to reform him. Here’s a quote from the John Malkovich film version.

“I'm not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realize that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it. I didn't understand what was happening to me. And it was only when I began to feel actual, physical pain every time you left the room that it finally dawned on me: I was in love, for the first time in my life. I knew it was hopeless, but that didn't matter to me. And it's not that I want to have you. All I want is to deserve you. Tell me what to do. Show me how to behave. I'll do anything you say.”

And the kicker is it’ll be all her fault if she resists and he returns to his wicked ways. We want to believe him as much as Madame de Tourvel does. We desperately root for Valmont to be reformed. He seems to have fallen in love with her but has he really? The question is left ambiguous. He tells Madame de Merteuil “I ended by falling on my knees and pledging her eternal love. And do you know that, at that time, and for several hours afterwards, I actually meant it.”

I like to think that he did mean it. But his ego and persona are so tied up in his rakedom that he throws away the chance at true love. The book ends (spoiler alert) badly.

There are at least two film adaptations. Dangerous Liaisons with John Malkovich as Valmont and Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel and Valmont, with Colin Firth and Meg Tilly. Both have their virtues, one of which is gorgeous costumes and sets. Men look so delicious in 18th century garb. In researching this blog, I discovered Alan Rickman had played Valmont on the stage. Be still my heart. I couldn’t find picture, only a short documentary film clip.

If you were going to be seduced and left heartbroken by an unreformed rake, who would rather: John Malkovich, Colin Firth or Alan Rickman?

Ohhhh...the question! I love it! I mean, it's so hard! Because I love love love John Malkovich as Valmont...but Colin Firth is...well...Colin Firth, and Alan Rickman has that AMAZING voice!

What do you think? Answer below and one lucky commenter (US only) will win a copy of Miranda's The Dangerous Viscount (look out for Minerva...the heroine of her latest)!