Towards a Theory of Libertine Temporality: Time, Legacy, and Failure in Clarissa, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Juliette

  • Thomas Froh

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is a series of textual studies which posits that key libertine characters in the latter half of the eighteenth century possess a cohesive and unique attitude towards time. The works reviewed are Clarissa (1748) by Samuel Richardson, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782) by Choderlos de Laclos, and Juliette (1797) by the Marquis de Sade. The shared sense of temporality across the libertine characters of these works manifest in four key thematic parallels. The first theme is a conflict between the libertine characters role as the creator of a transgressive narrative and libertinisms emphasis on the hedonistic moment of pleasure. Each demands a different attitude towards time and this creates an underlying tension which the libertine must attempt to resolve. Second is a desire to create a legacy, which manifests as a desire to narrate. This is often seen in their comparison to other libertine figures both immediate and historical, and informs the libertine characters consideration of past and future. Third, the libertine character attempts to reconcile the tension between narration and moment, and still establish a legacy, through a concept of articulated time: the careful moderation of ones actions in order to establish a degree of control over temporality. Yet the fourth and final theme identified is failure, as the libertine character is unable to maintain this articulated time, and by extension sees a general failure of his or her respective libertine projects. While the individual aspects of the libertine understanding of time in these works might be seen in other literature, taken as a whole they produce a cohesive sense of libertine temporality unique to fiction from latter half of the eighteenth century. This study sheds new light and meanings on the most significant libertine characters from this period, and reveals the way in which their sense of time, and the history of libertine writing and thinking before them, frames and informs each of their actions. This analysis does not purport to be applicable to all libertine writing, but rather presents a critical insight that reinforces the literary and cultural significance of major works of libertine fiction from the eighteenth century.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHal Gladfelder (Supervisor) & Jerome Brillaud (Supervisor)


  • Samuel Richardson
  • Choderlos de Laclos
  • Marquis de Sade
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  • Clarissa
  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Juliette
  • epistolary
  • time
  • libertinism
  • eighteenth-century literature
  • literature
  • the novel
  • eighteenth century
  • erotic literature
  • libertine
  • temporality

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