Thursday, January 6, 2011

My complete and utter DISDAIN for Marquis de Sade

Oh, Marquis de Sade, you both nauseate and infuriate me. He is, somehow, considered one of the best writers of France's history. His erotic writings helped coin the term "sadism." This can give you a nice hint as to the overall theme of his writings. I find him to be a vile and deplorable individual. His exaltation in the literary world is baffling. He was not enlightened, he was not an existentialist; he was simply a dirty man who wrote about dirty things. If you think James Joyce's love letters were dirty then you have no idea what you are in for. His work was viewed almost as an exploration of sexuality, but it is just pure smut.
He was born in 1740 in Paris and only child to an aristocratic family. They were wealthy and powerful, he lived an ideal childhood, given all the opportunities available to him. When he got older he served in the military, even fighting in the Seven Years War. Later, 1763, he married a young lady of another high-ranking family; Renee -Pelagie de Montreuil. Then things got...weird.
In 1768 he captured an tortured a prostitute. Word got out and the police warned all the brothels as he was considered a threat to all prostitutes (he was feared more than Jack the Ripper). As years passed he was found guilty of all sorts of sexual crimes ranging from public indecency to brutal acts of rape. Later he would seduce and get his sister-in-law to participate in an orgy, enraging both his wife and mother-in-law. Things actually get worse from this point on.
In 1772 he is given the death penalty for his crimes but escapes to Italy. He was then sort of banished from Paris and sent to his wife's family home in Normandy (why she was still with him I haven't the foggiest idea). From 1773 - 1777 he had a harem of young girls he used as sexual slaves. He arranged orgies and had several more scandals before being sentenced to 27 years in prison, that death sentence seemed to go away. It began in a dungeon in Vincennes. During his imprisonment he decided to curve his boredom by writing sexually graphic novels and plays.
After an escape attempt he was transferred to Bastille in Paris in 1784. During this time he wrote Les 120 Journess de Sodome. This became an underground "classic" for over a hundred years. A movie of the piece was made sometime in the 1970s. He was released from an insane asylum in 1790, after which his wife finally obtained a divorce. I am still curious as to why she waited so long.
He then wrote and published Justine (1791) and Juliette (1797) the sequel. These are two of his most famous works. These were about two sisters who, upon being orphaned, begin leading separate but equally depraves lifestyles. He sent a copy to Napoleon in 1803 and this only upset him. He then refused to say de Sade free, since he gone back into prison during this time.
de Sade's explanation for his work goes a little something like this: God is evil and denying this fact only gets you punished, hence Justine's awful treatment in the story (I read one excerpt from it and could hardly stomach that one paragraph). He believed it was our nature to be wicked and act accordingly. He thinks you should act on your instincts...nope. The people who's instincts are to rape and other such things wind up in prison for good reason. We punish these things not because we are trying to make people unhappy but because we want to protect individuals and uphold a good and moral society.
What bothers me the most is how he managed to survive the French Revolution. The only way he avoided being beheaded was to write a eulogy for Marat, the subject of controversy during the Revolution as well as the subject of my favorite painting by David. He played his cards effectively.
It is interesting that in the century following de Sade there was a very definite split between sexual perversions and a complete turn away from anything even remotely sexual. The Victorian era showed us angel-like women with heroic men juxtaposed to a seedy underbelly. The release of de Sade's work created a disturbing awakening. Things people previously thought were wrong became something to try.
"Maybe my depraved thoughts are normal. I shouldn't be worried about my soul."
No. No they are not. You should be concerned that these thoughts enter into your mind.Orgies and brutal rape are not and never will be okay. You feel ashamed of these acts for a reason, some are less sensitive to it than others but the shame is there all the same. People often cite the love letters of James Joyce, but I have read those, and while a little weird, they are pretty tame. These sexual perversions we so readily accept as eccentricities are leading a swift downfall of any honor. dignity, or pride our society had left. de Sade is why snuff films are made.
People will argue with me that de Sade was just writing what we think and want to do. But that can't possibly be true. There are people, upon reading his work, said that those thoughts had never occurred to them and the idea was revolting. de Sade and his followers represent the minority. de Sade believed in decadence and violent, sexual acts. He was everything any decent individual would vilify. They were called perversions for a reason, this isn't a miss-labeling, it is an accurate depiction of how truly far a society can crumble. See that abyss over there?


  1. You should read up on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and then follow up this post with your thoughts on Sacher-Masoch. It'll be a whole Sadomasochism theme. I made a joke.

  2. While you are perfectly entitled to your opinions on Sade, you should try at least to get your facts right: Les 120 Journess de Sodome didn't become 'an underground "classic" for over a hundred years'- the text was lost during the storming of the Bastille and was only published in an uncensored format in the mid 20th century.

    Making lazy statements like 'he was feared more than Jack the Ripper'(Who says? You?) doesn't contribute much in the assessment of the man.

    Also unfair is your attempt to 'assess' Sade when you've only 'read one excerpt from it and could hardly stomach that one paragraph...'

    Your comment that 'there are people, upon reading his work, said that those thoughts had never occurred to them' ... Surely that would make him a hero of imagination - someone who dared to think the unthinkable, write the unwritable? This in fact is what makes him a very 'modern' and relevant author: everything that we now know about the Holocaust/Rwanda/the Killing fields and countless other 20th/21st century's already there in the books of Sade.

    Sade's writings are both 'atrocious and sublime'(to paraphrase Bertolucci's comment on the movie you referred to). His books are disturbing, uncomfortable and unsettling to read but I think Sade would never have had it any other way.