Structure of the letter and the elevated style she

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structure of the letter and the elevated style she uses to defend her sexual promiscuity and her motives in ruining the reputation of others may change our assumptions about French noble women. Constantly preoccupied with her erotic life, Merteuil wants to affirm her superiority over Valmont. The portrayal of Mme de Merteuil is achieved through her own point of view; as she tries to justify her behaviour, the details of her life story represent a clear attack of the 18 th century French society and of “women of feeling”. The Marquise is a woman of the Enlightenment: she is well read, intelligent and she believes in the progress of a society where women can be equal to men and can create their own destiny: “This useful curiosity, while it increased my knowledge, also taught me to dissem ble. I was forced to hide the objects of my attention from the eyes of the people around me, but I tried to direct my own wherever I wished.” (p. 181) But I, what have I in common with these empty-headed women? Have you ever seen me break the rules I have laid down for myself or betray my principles? I say my principles, and I use that word advisedly. For they are not, like those of other women, discovered by chance, accepted
uncritically or followed out of habit. They are the fruit of my deepest reflections. I have created them, and I can say that I am what I have created. (p. 181) Her transformation from a submissive young girl to a powerful female libertine is owed to her “useful curiosity” and her desire to know. The rich, varied content increases the emotional appeal of the letter. An example of the emancipated woman, Merteuil’s language and style contrast sharply with the writing styles of the other female characters in the novel. Her independence of thought is revolutionary, particularly with reference to sexuality and to her right to do what or who she wants: “One must conquer or die. As for Prévan, I want him, and I shall have him.”(p.187)

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