Eighteenth-Century Critical Rewriting
This study examines the relationship between Pierre-Ambroise Francois Choderlos de Laclos's novel Les Liaisons dangereuses and women's writing. As the first major analysis of Laclos's reading of women's works, it offers a fresh interpretation of key eighteenth-century text and opens up onto the larger field of investigation into critical rewriting practices of the period.
Sol looks at the central place of the eighteenth-century woman's novel in the development of the genre through an examination of the cross-cultural/cross-gender movement of ideas carried out in the rewriting and reworking of texts by English and French novelists. During the Enlightenment, contact, exchange, and dialogue structured social intercourse and, in this time of intense ideological investigation, oppositional discourse flourished. In the escalating atmosphere of social fermentation created and sustained by interconnecting discourses, the novel assumed a privileged place in a period that called into question the very foundations of the social order. Often considered of secondary importance in the propagation of social change, novels explore the contradictions that arose from the clash between ideas and reality. As important as the scientific and philosophical tracts and treatises, they offered new interpretations of the world and performed much the same ideological function as didactic works. Eighteenth-century novelists, through direct borrowings or by new twists on common convention responded, refashioned, and rewrote each other, often calling upon the reader's participation to tease out the connections, and enter into the dialogue.
The "promiscuous" interplay of texts by Marie-Jeane Riccoboni, Frances Burney, and Laclos can be seen as model for the writing community as a whole which consisted of men and women-English and French-writing about and refashioning common concerns. Antoinette Sol proposes the triangulation of these three writers as a model of how novels participated in the social debate centered around sensibility and moral authority.
Laclos's relationship with other works and novelists can be seen as a paradigm for eighteenth-century narrative practices in general. He engages in the social discourse typical of the Enlightenment through a cross-gendered as well as multinational textual conversation. The interaction-the internal dialectic-of ideas and convention between Riccoboni, Burney, and Laclos is dynamic. Their narratives, at once passionate and transgressive, demonstrate close thematic connections, but they also question social custom. Focusing on the nexus of social issues centered around gender, authority, and identity, they offer exciting gendered explorations of ideological inconsistencies that arise out of the practical application of abstract social theories in the eighteenth century.
Drawing on correspondence, novels, literary criticism, and other documents by Riccoboni, Laclos, and Burney, Antoinette Sol demonstrates how these novelists, traditionally separated by nationality, gender, and genre, are in fact concerned with similar issues of individual authority and social criticism. She shows how arbitrary literary categorization of these writers as sentimental or libertine has kept their work from a reading which reveals their commonalities.