Today it's back to France to meet an army officer who is better known for a certain scandalous novel than his military exploits. A man of contrast, artillery know-how and huge literary ambition, it is a pleasure to meet Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.Share
Although Laclos was to attain notoriety for his writing, when he was a young man in Amiens there was no doubt as to the direction his career would take and he was dispatched to the École Royale d'Artillerie de La Fère, where he trained for a life in the service of his country, devloping a particular expertise for artillery. At the age of 22 he took part in the Seven Years' War and then rose through the ranks to the office of Captain, becoming a noted authority on ballistics and though his professional ambition was more than fired, his true dreams lay elsewhere. Frustrated with the regimented military life and bored with his fellow soldiers, he amused himself by writing poetry that enjoyed some small success. Buoyed by this, Laclos' career seemed to be taking off when he wrote the libretto to the opera Ernestine. The work was chosen for a royal premiere in the presence of Marie Antoinette, which could surely only mark the start of a glittering career.
Opening in 1777, the opera was a commercial and critical flop and Laclos went back to what he knew. He established a military school in Valence, where a certain young man by the name of Napoleon would one day study. Whilst his career went from strength to strength Laclos continued to write, eventually beginning work on what would become his most famous novel. With his military career getting in the way of his creative urges, Laclos took a six month leave from the army and retired to Paris, dedicating himself to the business of writing. (Read more.)