What goes on in this book would be called a one-night-stand today, but No Tomorrow (Pointe de Lendemain) does quite nicely for an 18th century dalliance a la Les Liasons Dangereuse. Denon was an aristocratic dandy when this was published in 1777, somehow managed to save his neck from the revolution thanks to some patronage from the painter David, and ended up as a sycophantic dandy in Napoleon’s court. No disgrace in that. I’d have sycophanted my ass off to keep away from the guillotine if that’s all it took. This little volume (27 pages) is termed a masterpiece of something called “Libertine Literature,” which was a phenomenon of Louis XVI’s court where people with a lot of money, a lot of time, and a “philosophy” which valued reason and rationalization over morality and emotion created great intellectual constructs to excuse their indulgences. If the hippies said, “If it feels good, do it,” these folks said, “If you can rationalize it, it’s okay.”
Thus, we have this amusing tale of a twenty-year-old, seduced away from his Comptesse de — by Madame T— for an evening of delights. The whole affair is elaborate in its intrigues, disguises, and deceptions, as is necessary in this genre. Les Liason Dangereuse involved many more people (couples) over a longer period of time, but the basic pattern is the same. Acts are committed, but not named. People are betrayed, but often are complicit in their own betrayal because they are involved in betrayals of their own, which are in turn known to their betrayed. None of the betrayed can acknowledge their knowledge of the betrayal to the betrayers, and everyone gets laid, has a great time, saves face and honor, and no one has to admit a thing. The more complicated, the more moving parts (so to speak) the better the tale.
One can imagine this brief narrative read aloud by candlelight beside a drawing room fire in mixed company, perhaps after some lady or another has entertained on a harpsichord. Everyone taking great amusement from a story in which they or their friends might have actually played a part. All would be greatly amused by the antics of others, never having to declare their own impulses or actions.
Delicious stuff till they bring in the tumbrels and the baskets. Let them eat . . . cake?