In eighteenth-century France, readers were devouring other people’s letters like we consume Twitter feeds. Real letters, fake letters—anything with a good story or some juicy gossip would probably end up getting passed around. Entire novels were written in letters, such as the one-hit wonder by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses. Laclos was an army engineer and captain of 500 men at l’île d’Aix in France. He helped build some forts, but months went by and….no attack, which was great because it gave him time to write a steamy novel about ex-lovers who toy with people’s lives (you know, the usual—corrupting the innocent, seeking revenge) and write about it in perfectly crafted letters. We also get to read the letters of their victims. And since there’s ultimately a moral to the story, Laclos gets to serve up depravity for the sake of virtue—a win-win formula for scandalous success. Supposedly, Laclos was going to restrict his second novel to wholesome family life, but he never got around to it.
The novel has been adapted for film probably a dozen times, as well as radio, TV, opera, ballet, and now…Tweets. It was only a matter of time. Each letter (all 175 of them) has been viciously squashed into 140 characters or less. And while the damage to Laclos’ beautiful prose might be unforgivable to the purist, there is a certain art to our literary cruelty.
This was a collaborative project I worked on with my students as an experimental substitute for reading quizzes. Since we here at “What The French?! ” want to encourage you to share your cool projects, we thought that a free iBook might be just the right thing to launch our blog.
The first 10 tweets are below. At the bottom of the page we will put links for the free pdf and iBook versions of Dangerous Tweets within the next week.
Get the iBook for free on the iTunes store or:
download the pdf (good resolution)
download the pdf (low res if you must, but it doesn’t look so great in low res)