"Par eues en 1782, Les Liaisons Dangereuses furent reçu comme un roman scandaleux qui peignait avec exagération et complaisance des mœurs abominable en faisant semblant de les condamner dans un dénouement conventionnelle.".
How far does a modern reader share this reaction to Laclos' novel. Les Liasons Dangereuses can be read in many ways, but one fact that cannot be avoided is it's prematurity; the work is far ahead of its time, tackling themes and concepts that undoubtedly would have rendered it "un roman scandaleux" to Laclos' contemporaries. The assertion that the epistolary work presents the ugliest parts of society; its "moeurs" and values, or lack thereof are evident throughout the text; exposing the lies and contradictions is another benefit of the letter-novel. If we can accept these elements of the statement as truth, the extent to which the characters' conduct is "exaggeré" can indeed be questioned, particularly if (as Alstad does) we withdraw the two main protagonists, Valmont and Meurteil from any discussion of late 18th century society and see their role as one of provocation; "cynically challenging the whole concept of virtue by exposing the hypocrisy of society and the inadequacy of all conventional values (on which said society is founded)"1. Considering these two characters as enlightened villains, transcendent of the society in which they exist, I will discuss said society using the characters that actually prove to be steadfastly tied to French royalism and courtly culture. In this light, Laclos does indeed prove to, "condamne," this society, whilst the modern reader might perhaps be more hesitant to do so.
Both the concept of social hierarchy and notion of caricature are prevalent to any reading of the text in light of criticism of society. The characters (aside from the liberators Meurteil and Valmont) prove to be caricatures of characters that would have made up Louisean courtly society during the Ancien Regime; aware of their social roles, compliant to their rules and ignoring their own desires.