|Depiction of the Marquis de Sade |
by H. Biberstein
Marquis de Sade grew up in Paris and became a Colonel fighting in the Seven Year's War. He fell in love with a rich magistrate's daughter, but her father rejected his suitorship and, instead, arranged a marriage with his elder daughter, Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil. However, when his wife came to live at his castle in Lacoste, he began an affair with the younger sister. He was known to have had sexual relationships with prostitutes and several employees at the castle and was early accused of blasphemy. When he moved to Paris in 1763, he was put under surveillance by the police and was held in prison several times shortly. Two years later, the first major scandal occurred, when Sade procured the sexual services of a woman who accused him of abusing and imprisoning her. Without access to the courts, Sade was arrested and imprisoned.
In the following years, Sade spent a lot time fleeing from the government, due to many accusations by former employees or prostitutes. However, in 1776, Sade was tricked into going to Paris to visit his supposedly ill mother, who in fact had recently died. He was arrested there and imprisoned in the Château de Vincennes. Sade escaped and was recaptured several times while still writing further erotic works. During his time in prison, Sade finally met a somehow like-minded author, who wrote erotic works as well. But unfortunately, they came to dislike each other intensely. In July 1789, he was transferred to the Bastille and just before the famous storming of the Bastille, he was transferred to Charenton. In 1790, Sade was released and divorced shortly after.
Enjoying his new freedom, Sade began publishing his works anonymously and met Marie-Constance Quesnet with whom he stayed together for the rest of his life. Sade began an active career in politics on the far left side and started living in Paris again. He wrote several political pamphlets and after he saved his deserting son's neck, his name was added to the list of émigrés of the Bouches-du-Rhône department. But, despite the new troubles, Sade wrote a widely admired eulogy for Jean-Paul Marat. In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and Juliette. Sade was arrested and imprisoned without trial. First, he was held in the Sainte-Pélagie prison and, following allegations that he had tried to seduce young fellow prisoners there, in the harsh fortress of Bicêtre. Two years later, he was declared insane and moved back into the asylum at Charenton along with his wife. There, he was able to stage his plays with the other inmate's help, which were even viewed by the general public of Paris. However, he was soon deprived of pens and paper and the government suspended all theatrical performances.
Marquis de Sade passed away in 1814 and his son burned all of his remaining manuscripts including the immense multi-volume work Les Journées de Florbelle. Many contemporary writers were highly fascinated by Sade's works. Several authors published their own thoughts on Sade, like Geoffrey Gorer, who wrote a book titled 'The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis de Sade' in 1935. It was found that Sade had completely opposite views on mankind than contemporary philosophers. One of the pioneers of surrealism, Guillaume Apollinaire referred to Sade as "the freest spirit that has yet existed" and others saw him as a precursor of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis in his focus on sexuality as a motive force. But also feminist readings of Sade occurred in the 20th century. Angela Carter described Sade in 'The Sadeian Woman: And the Ideology of Pornography' as a "moral pronographer" who created spaces for women. Others saw him more as a "woman-hating pornographer" who supported violence against women.
Throughout the years, Sade's fiction has been tagged under many different titles, including pornography, Gothic, and baroque. However, his most famous works, 'Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue', 'Juliette', 'The 120 Days of Sodom', and 'Philosophy in the Bedroom' are considered libertine novels. These works challenge perceptions of sexuality, religion, law, age, and gender, and Sade was known to intentionally "shake the world at its core" while wishing to present "the most impure tale that has ever been written since the world exists."
At yovisto, you may be interested in a lecture by Professor James Weiss, who discusses his book "Marquis de Sade's Veiled Social Criticism".
References and Further Reading:
- The Life and Times of the Marquis de Sade
- Paglia, Camille. (1990) Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. NY: Vintage
- Marquis de Sade at Britannica