This recollection of "At Home with the Marquis de Sade" (see references below)
is largely drawn
on memory, I do not have my copy handy to check every detail. I will claim
that it is accurate in tenor if not every detail.
Recent biographies de Sade largely replace the myth and rumor which has surrounded the use of his name as the foundation of the term 'sadism'. The Marquis, seen with rigor of historical study comes across at least partly in character with his time, and also having some distinctly different views than either his fellow libertines or indeed any element of pre or post revolutionary France.
Unlike his contemporaries de Sade allowed some of his exploits to become
quite public knowledge. He also was unique in writing extensively about his
views on atheism and
Certainly many of his aristocratic contemporaries engaged in more serious debauches, however most were more politic about them. De Sade managed to
curry the favor (or escape the notice) of most of these regimes at one time
or another. The Marquis was very nearly executed during the Terror following
the revolution, being at the time imprisoned in the Bastille, he was witness
to many executions. This experience clearly had a profound effect on his
later views and writings.
Equally, however, in the wavering mores of the times made he
still managed to be the target of one or another element of every government
from the House of Bourbon to after the rule of Bonaparte. At several junctures
his fortunes hinged entirely upon the support of his wife's powerful and wealthy family. That was later to be his undoing when they decided it was
prudent to see that he stayed incarcerated.
De Sade had a strong appetite for sex
, and inevitably when that was restricted
to 'vanilla' sex (even if relatively frequent), he would eventually arrange
a debauch, characteristically of epic proportion. And inevitably he was
caught after most of these.
There was one extended period, less well documented when he lived in relative
peace and indulge his pleasures for several years at his family's estate at
La Coste in Provence. After that extended stay he spent most of his years in
De Sade went to great effort to arrange various debauch
es, usually with
close friends and usually the entertainment
was paid prostitute
s. This was
quite similar to the approach of his contemporaries, except that de Sade
was actually more private and held smaller 'events' and being perceived as secretive
(with respect to themselves) caused his peers to think of him as
De Sade's often immature approach to life led him (again like many of his contemporaries) to substantially out spend his income. By today's standards
many would view him as a perpetual spoiled adolescent.
The prostitutes of the day included famous, sought-after and expensive women
and de Sade used some substantial part of his resources trying to maintain
women of this calibre. However usually for his debauches he would seek out
less expensive women, who generally were not in agreement with what he had
And inevitably when these parties were over these women would talk to their protectors or the police and de Sade would become the focus
of another scandal. Some of the women were paid off (by de Sade's in-laws),
but as time went on each new arrest resulted in a heavier sentence.
Most of the Marquis's writings were composed while in prison. Especially
in the later years of the Napoleonic empire, they were traded only illegally
and it seems that de Sade repudiated his authorship of many of them in
order to escape further prosecutions.
The various scandalous pornographies varied from extraordinarily long and
detailed revues of (almost entirely) imaginary scenarios (which differs
from the SM and pornography of today foremost in its highly repetitive
De Sade (like most of his peers) engaged in homo-erotic as well as hetero
sexuality. He also was not purely a sadist, as it is well documented
that he enjoyed playing on either end of the whip.
As other wu's have suggested it is not possible to make the Marquis de Sade
into a modern practioner of leathersex. However this is a facile truism.
The terms Sadist
and Masochist did not then exist, and he lived a century before time when
psychoanalysis would 'define' homosexuality and the wide array of
paraphilias of which sadomasochism is only one example.
De Sade's story is more complex than his
simple notoriety would suggest. He was unique in his time for having
expressed strong (and original) views about the nature of sexuality, morality
Above all the hype the Marquis de Sade had great influence on the later
course of modernism and surrealism. While his writings can be repetitious to
the point of exasperation, they remain unique and influential today.
is written by the author of:
Francine du Plessix Gray At Home with the Marquis de Sade