De Sade was the consensual type? How did that idea get into your head? Have you actually read any of the books you mention?

  1. The 120 days of Sodom: A bunch of dominants locks themselves up in a castle with a bunch of nice, fresh, underage slaves, and proceeds to rape them, all the while telling interesting stories, many of which end in the death of the victim. Not very consensual.
  2. Justine: The protagonist is abducted, nearly condemned to death, whipped and otherwise abused through the whole book. Not very consensual.
  3. Philosophy in the Bouduoir: Ends with a woman being fucked by a man that has syphilis, and with her vagina being stitched shut! Not very consensual again.

It is also reported that in his private life de Sade had a penchant for whipping servants.

I mean, I like reading de Sade (the first and greatest engineer of sin) as much as the next guy, but old D.A.F. simply CANNOT be turned into a modern, sensitive, sane-safe-and-consensual BDSM guy.

French nobleman and author (1740-1814). Full name: Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade. Sent off by his uncle at age 14 to join an aristocratic cavalry regiment of the Chevaux Legers. He fought in the Seven Years War as a teenager and witnessed many acts of cruelty and brutality visited upon villagers and fellow soldiers alike, in the guise of either strict military discipline or torturing captured prisoners.

After his service in the military, de Sade was accused of spanking a prostitute in his garden and pricking her with a knife. He denied the charges, and the woman agreed to drop the complaint if he gave her some money. Soon afterward, he was accused of poisoning a group of prostitutes at a banquet. Doctors who examined the women later did not find them to be ill or weakened by the alleged ordeal, but people preferred to believe the sensational story. De Sade suspected that the whole thing had been invented by his political enemies (he was an outspoken opponent of the church and the judicial establishment) and his wife's family (who had opposed their marriage). His wife left him, so he eloped with his wife's sister, and they left France. However, he was later forced to return to France to face the charges against him, and he was sentenced to prison.

De Sade spent seven years in the prisons of the Chateau de Vincennes and five years in the Bastille. After the French Revolution, he was imprisoned again by Napoleon I in Sainte-Pelagie for about three years and at Charenton for about eleven years, until his death in December 1814. In his will, he requested that he be buried in a densely-forested part of his estate and that his grave be strewn with acorns.

Despite the Marquis' reputation for debauchery and torture, it is believed that he expressed his desires mainly through his writing. Much of his work praised the natural human, whose only desires were food and sex and who despised civilized society, which de Sade saw as hopelessly corrupted by greed, perversion, and the lust for power. He often expressed the desire to go and live in the forests -- he once noted that he wished he could live among bears.
The thing to remember about de Sade is how to read him. Although he was certainly involved in and indulged various unusual sexual practices, his writing is not so much aimed encouraging the Libertine attitude he so often seems to espouse, but rather is better viewed as an experiment upon the state of mind of the reader.

Try reading La Nouvelle Justine or 120 Days of Sodom and noting the affects upon yourself as you read, not just the minor physiological effects related to arousal and disgust but also the more complex sense of quiet emptiness you get as you read further. The shocking while at the same time inevitable conclusion of Sodom for example, induces more thoughts on the nature of sin and the indifference of the Universe than almost any other book I've read.

de Sade was a truly revolutionary writer and whatever the circumstances of his private life should be regarded as that alone by following generations. The evidence for his proclivities as purely mental is clear from his refusal to execute any prisoners during his time as a Justice of the Revolution. The cheapening of his memory and work with bland powerplay sex and the frankly pathetic mores of modern sadomasochists are regrettable and detract from his deserved fame as one of the most thought provoking artists of the modern age.

I don't know. It seems somewhat strange to me that someone of Sade's obvious standing in society and intellectual gifts should turn his hand to disgusting and shaming those around him in so blatant a manner. I find the idea that someone who could write 120 days of Sodom would have a hard time killing people difficult to swallow.

I think it wasn't so much the idea of death that he was at, as perversity. The idea that as a human being you are free to twist and distort the core values of others as an expression of yourself seems to be central to Sade's exposition in many of his works, notably Sodom. The book wasn't written in a vacuum, as a detached clinical experiment on humanity, it's purpose is (as K9 suggests) to warp the viewer, and to question the morality of the universe that Sade was born into. The people that he was torturing didn't exist, at least we hope not. The images in our minds, did however and Sade is responsible for violating the identification we have with their humanity by slowly stripping them of all human virtue and dignity. It is in this arena of amoral gratification that he seeks to 'liberate' us from our strict adherence to conventionality.

There are so many mistakes there that it is hard to count. Firstly, the attacks on others in this way seems to be an externalisation of his primary insecurities about the nature of power, and peoples own identities. Why would he do this if he was comfortable in and of himself? He seemed to have no deep personal attachments to anyone throughout his life. For a man of such stature could it have been that he was unable to achieve true love from others, and thus feared that any such thing was an illusion? If he sincerely believed in what he wrote, his actions would have borne themselves out through some pattern of consistency, but this is not the case. He was never as evil as he made himself out to be, nor was he as contrite as he appeared to be in those moments when he was caught. I believe Sade lived a life of illusions and simple imagery. He semi-believed the lies of others, and the lies he told himself, and when he grew to realise just how empty and transparent they all were, he railed against the universe which bore him.

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.

Sexual life

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 prison.

SM life

De Sade went to great effort to arrange various debauches, usually with close friends and usually the entertainment was paid prostitutes. 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 a pervert.

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 in mind.

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 verbosity)..

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 and religion.

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

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