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Tuesday, March 30

Jane Austen and Dangerous Liaisons

or "Miss Austen in very bad company!"

When I read the 24th chapter of Mansfield Park in which Henry Crawford explains to his sister Mary his reasons for conquering Fanny Price, I wondered: could Jane Austen have read Choderlos de Laclos's writings? They were contemporaries and The Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) was published in 1782. Well, perhaps she did not, but my dear cad, Henry Crawford, certainly could read ...

Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford

Let us see how and when Henry begins to have "ideas" about poor Fanny. He tells Mary about his plans.
[...] my plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me.

She protests but he explains his desire.

But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart.

To him, Fanny Price is a challenge

Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.

He assures his sister that he will not hurt Fanny... perhaps a bit... nothing more!

[...] only want her to look kindly on me, to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair for me by herself wherever we are, and be all animation when I take it and talk to her; to think as I think, be interested in all my possessions and pleasures, try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I go away that she shall be never happy again. I want nothing more.

You must read all the dialogues to better appreciate this chat between the Crawford siblings, but I believe that the parts cited are enough to get an idea of Henry's intentions, and why their exchange reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons, specifically of Letter 6, where the Viscount of Valmont explains to the Marquise de Merteuil how pleased he is at the thought of conquering Madame de Tourvel.
What a delightful thought: to be the cause and the cure of her remorse! Far be it from me to try to break down the prejudices which worry her! They'll merely help to increase my happiness and my reputation. I want her to have these high principles — and to sacrifice them for my sake! I want her to be horrified by her sins yet unable to resist sinning; to suffer endless terrors wich she can overcome and forget only in my arms; then I'll agree to let her say: "I adore you". She will be the only woman in the world really worthy of uttering those words. I shall truly be the God whom she loves best. (Les liaisons dangereuses, Oxford Press, page 20, translator Douglas Parmée)
And as a scoundrel always remember another, I remember Chad, from Neil LaBute's movie, In Company of Men. The three men had different fate, but the motive of the conquest seems the same: only vanity.

Alessandro Nivola and Frances O’Connor as Henry Crawford and Fanny Price.


Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Chordelos de Laclos, 2008 · OUP


Mansfield Park, 1999, Patricia Rozema · IMDb
Dangerous Liaisons, 1988 (John Malkovich) · IMDb
Valmont, 1989 (Colin Firth) · IMDb
In the Company of Men, 1997 (Aaron Eckhart) · IMDb

Posted by Raquel Sallaberry, Jane Austen em Portugues


Vic said...

I'd like to add Cruel Intentions to your movie list, Raquel. A take on Valmont and Dangerous Liaisons, the film was made in 1999 with Ryan Phillipe, Reese Witherspoon, and Sara Michelle Gellar.

Kate said...

I've been listening to the adaptation of Clarissa on BBC4 radio (yes the one with Richard Armitage) and I can definitely see a thread running through Lovelace, Valmont, and Henry Crawford (shades of Wickham too, perhaps?).
After the first episode I got on the google to see if there were connections between Austen and Samuel Richardson sure enough there is some evidence that she was familiar with his work and I think influenced by it. Clarissa was written in 1748. Anyway, kinda off topic and it's midnight and my brain no workie.
I continue to enjoy your blog,

Maria Grazia said...

Interesting connection Laurel Ann. I have just to re-read Mansfield Park for my JA Book Club in April and this is something I hadn't noticed.
@Kate Austen read Richardson since she mocks his sentimentalism in her works (Sanditon, for instance).

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Meredith said...

LOL! I just watched the 1999 adaption last night!

There definitely seems to be a similar theme in those two scenes. Didn't her cousin Eliza read the book? Maybe she shared that particular letter outloud.

Nonna said...

Perhaps Jane Austen did read what you suggested and fashioned the Crawford's characters accordingly. I must say they are a very tame version compared with inspiration piece. Carving notches on a belt from conquests of innocent girls as a game I find to be very depraved and evil indeed !

Raquel Sallaberry said...

I did not know this movie!

Is the plot very similar to Dangerous Liaisons?

Raquel Sallaberry said...


I have not read Clarissa yet, I hope to read it soon.
Oh,I forgot Mrs. Bennet's son in law, another cad!

Raquel Sallaberry said...


I had not thought about cousin Eliza... She must have read it!

Raquel Sallaberry said...

Nonna Beach

you are right, the Crawford are a light version of Valmont and Merteuil!

Jennifer said...

On the mention of Mansfield Park, is there any good movie adaptation of the book? I know of only three, a BBC version, a Masterpiece version, and this 1999 version, but I keep getting mixed reviews. Help please!

ChaChaneen said...

I saw the movie, Valmont many years ago... with Colin Firth of course... and it definitely has Mansfield Park themes through out!

Vic said...

Hi Raquel,

Here's the Wikipedia link to Cruel Intentions. Try the YouTube trailers too.


Anonymous said...


I'd say of the three, the first BBC adaptation is the most faithful to the book, but is much like all the other BBC adaptations from the 70s and 80s in terms of production values and style of filming. That may deter some people.

The 1999 one I understand is hated by most Austen purists, but I sheepishly admit I love it. I saw it before I read the book, so I think of it more as a stylized Regency-esque movie I like than an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel. They took great liberties with the character of Fanny Price, in particular (and sadly, no William). Alessandro Nivola is a great Henry Crawford--and Jonny Lee Miller has disturbingly pink lips throughout.

I was not impressed by a single thing in the newest version with Billie Piper, so I personally can't recommend it, but perhaps there are people who would disagree.

I can understand why you hear mixed reviews. There is no "newer" version that is faithful to the book. You kind of have to pick and choose from what is available.

Jennifer said...


Thank you. Perhaps I will just have to watch them all. :)

Raquel said...

I will. Thank you, Vic!