Marquis de Sade

| birthplace = Paris, France | deathdate = | deathplace = Charenton, France | occupation = writer, poet, critic, delegate to the National Convention | influences = Voltaire | influenced = Simone de Beauvoir, Existentialism, Surrealism }}

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (Marquis de Sade) (June 2, 1740 - December 2, 1814) (pronounced ) was a French aristocrat, french revolutionary and writer of philosophy-laden and often violent pornography. He was a philosopher of extreme freedom (or at least licentiousness), unrestrained by morality, religion or law, with the pursuit of personal pleasure being the highest principle. Sade was incarcerated in various prisons and in an insane asylum for about 32 years of his life; eleven years in Paris (10 of which were spent in the Bastille) a month in Conciergerie, 2 years in a fortress, a year in Madelonnettes, 3 years in Bicêtre, a year in Sainte-Pélagie, and 13 years in the Charenton insane asylum. Much of his writing was done during his imprisonment. The term "sadism" is derived from his name.


Early life and education

Sade was born in the Condé palace in Paris. His father was comte Jean-Bastiste François Joseph de Sade. His mother, Marie-Eléonore de Maillé de Carman, was a distant cousin and lady-in-waiting to the princess of Condé.

While a boy he was educated by his uncle, the abbé de Sade. Later Sade attended a Jesuit lycée (all boys school) and went on to pursue a military career. He served in the Seven Years' War as captain of a cavalry regiment. He returned from the war in 1763 and pursued a daughter of a rich magistrate but this pursuit was rejected by his father who, instead, arranged a marriage with her elder sister, Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil, in the same year. The couple produced two sons and a daughter.

His lifelong attraction to the theater became apparent in 1766 when he had a private theater constructed at his castle in Lacoste in the Provence. The Marquis de Sade's father died in January 1767.


The generations of this family alternated use of the titles marquis and comte. His grandfather, Gaspard François de Sade, was the first of this family to bear the title of marquis. He was occasionally referred to as the marquis de Sade, but more often documents refer to him as the marquis de Mazan. But no reference has been found of Donatien de Sade's lands being erected into a marquisate for him or his ancestors, nor any act of registration of the title of marquis or comte by the parlement of Provence where he was domiciled. Both of these certifications would have been necessary for any legitimate title of nobility to descend legally. But the Sade family were ''Noblesse d'épée'', that is, members of France's oldest nobility, who claimed descent from the ancient Franks. Indeed an ancestor of the family was Laura de Noves. Given the loftiness of their lineage, the assumption of a noble title, in the absence of a grant from the King, was de rigueur, well-sanctioned by custom. The family's indifferent use of marquis and comte reflected the fact that the French hierarchy of titles (below the rank of duc et pair) was notional. The title of marquis was, in theory, accorded to noblemen who owned several countships. Its use by men of dubious lineage had caused it to fall into some disrepute. Precedence at court depended upon seniority of nobility and royal favor, not title. Correspondence exists in which Sade is referred to as marquis prior to his marriage by his own father.

Nevertheless his descendants reject the use of the unofficial or honorific title of marquis and call themselves comtes de Sade.

Scandals and imprisonment

It is said that Sade lived a scandalous libertine existence and, purportedly, repeatedly abused young prostitutes as well as employees of both sexes in his castle in Lacoste. His behavior included an affair with his wife's sister, Anne-Prospere, who had come to live at the castle.

One of Sade's first major scandals occurred on Easter Sunday in 1768, in which he procured the sexual services of a woman, Rose Keller — whether she was a prostitute or not is widely disputed. He was accused of taking her to his chateau at Arcueil, imprisoning her there and sexually and physically abusing her. He was also accused of blasphemy, a serious offense at that time. She "escaped" by climbing out a second-floor window and running away. She was never paid for her services. It was at this time that la Presidente, Sade's mother-in-law, obtained a lettre de cachet from the king, excluding Sade from the jurisdiction of the courts. The lettre de cachet would later prove disastrous for the marquis.

Beginning in 1763, Sade lived mainly in or near Paris. Several prostitutes there complained about mistreatment by him and he was put under surveillance by the police who made detailed reports of his escapades. After several short imprisonments he was exiled to his chateau at Lacoste in 1768.

An episode in Marseille, in 1772, involved the non-lethal poisoning of prostitutes with the supposed aphrodisiac Spanish fly and sodomy with his manservant Latour. That year the two were sentenced to death in absentia for sodomy and said poisoning. They fled to Italy, Sade took his wife's sister with him and had an affair with her. His mother-in-law never forgave him for that. She obtained a lettre de cachet for his arrest (a royal order of arrest and imprisonment, without stated cause or access to the courts).

Sade and Latour were caught and imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans, in late 1772, but escaped four months later.

Sade later hid at Lacoste where he rejoined his wife who became an accomplice in his subsequent endeavors. He kept a group of young employees at Lacoste, most of whom complained about sexual mistreatment and quickly left his service. Sade had to flee to Italy again. During this time he wrote ''Voyage d'Italie'', which, along with his earlier travel writings, has never been translated into English. In 1776 he returned to Lacoste, again hired several servant girls, most of whom fled. In 1777 the father of one of those employees came to La Coste, to claim her, and attempted to shoot the Marquis at point-blank range. Fortunately for Sade the gun misfired.

Later that year Sade was tricked into visiting his supposedly ill mother, who in fact had recently died, in Paris. He was arrested there and imprisoned in the Château de Vincennes. He successfully appealed his death sentence in 1778 but remained imprisoned under the lettre de cachet. He escaped but was soon recaptured. He resumed writing and met fellow prisoner Comte de Mirabeau who also wrote erotic works. But the two came to dislike each other immensely.

In 1784 Vincennes was closed and Sade was transferred to the Bastille. On July 2 1789 he reportedly shouted out from his cell, to the crowd outside, "They are killing the prisoners here!" causing somewhat of a riot. Two days later he was transferred to the insane asylum at Charenton near Paris. (The storming of the Bastille, marking the start of the French Revolution, occurred on July 14.)

He had been working on his magnum opus Les 120 Journées de Sodome (The 120 Days of Sodom). To his despair the manuscript was lost during his transferral; but he continued to write.

He was released from Charenton in 1790 after the new Constituent Assembly abolished the instrument of lettre de cachet. His wife obtained a divorce soon after.

Return to freedom, involvement with the Republic and imprisonment

During Sade's time of freedom, beginning in 1790, he published several of his books anonymously. He met Marie-Constance Quesnet, a former actress, and mother of a six year old son, who had been abandoned by her husband. Constance and Sade would stay together for the rest of his life. Sade was, by now, extremely obese.

He initially ingratiated himself with the new political situation after the revolution, supported the Republic, called himself "Citizen Sade" and managed to obtain several official positions despite his aristocratic background.

Due to the damage done to his estate in Lacoste which was sacked in 1789 by an angry mob, he moved to Paris. In 1790 he was elected to the National Convention where he represented the far left. He was a member of the Piques section, a section notorious for its radical views. He wrote several political pamphlets, in which he called for the implementation of direct vote. However there is much to suggest that he suffered abuse from his fellow revolutionaries due to his aristocratic background. Matters were not helped by the desertion of his son, a second lietenant and the aide-de-camp to an important colonel the Marquis de Toulengeon, in May 1792. De Sade was forced to disavow his son's desertion in order to save his neck. Later that year his name was entered - whether by error or willful malice - on the list of emigres of the Bouches-du-Rhone department.The Life and Times of the Marquis de Sade

Appalled by the Reign of Terror in 1793, he wrote an admiring eulogy for Jean-Paul Marat to secure his position. Then he resigned his posts, was accused of "moderatism" and imprisoned for over a year. He barely escaped the guillotine, probably due to an administrative error. The queue was quite disorderly as well. This experience presumably confirmed his life-long detestation of state tyranny and especially of the death penalty. He was released in 1794, after the overthrow and execution of Maximilien Robespierre had effectively ended the Reign of Terror.

In 1796, now all but destitute, he had to sell his ruined castle in Lacoste. The ruins of the castle were acquired in the 1990s by fashion designer Pierre Cardin who now holds regular theater festivals there.

Imprisonment for his writings and death

In 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and Juliette. Sade was arrested at his publisher's office and imprisoned without trial; first in the Sainte-Pélagie prison and, following allegations that he had tried to seduce young fellow prisoners there, in the harsh fortress of Bicêtre.

After intervention by his family, he was declared insane in 1803 and transferred once more to the asylum at Charenton. His ex-wife and children had agreed to pay his pension there.

Constance was allowed to live with him at Charenton. The benign director of the institution, Abbé de Coulmier, allowed and encouraged him to stage several of his plays, with the inmates as actors, to be viewed by the Parisian public. Coulmier's novel approaches to psychotherapy attracted much opposition. In 1809 new police orders put Sade into solitary confinement and deprived him of pens and paper, though Coulmier succeeded in ameliorating this harsh treatment.

In 1813, the government ordered Coulmier to suspend all theatrical performances.

Sade began an affair with 13-year-old Madeleine Leclerc, an employee at Charenton. This affair lasted some 4 years, until Sade's death in 1814. He had left instructions in his will to be cremated and his ashes scattered but, instead, he was buried in Charenton. His skull was later removed from the grave for phrenological examination. His son had all his remaining unpublished manuscripts burned, including the immense multi-volume work Les Journées de Florbelle.

Appraisal and criticism

Numerous writers and artists, especially those concerned with sexuality, have been both repelled and fascinated by de Sade.

The contemporary rival pornographer Rétif de la Bretonne published an Anti-Justine in 1793.

Simone de Beauvoir (in her essay Must we burn Sade?, published in Les Temps modernes, December 1951 and January 1952) and other writers have attempted to locate traces of a radical philosophy of freedom in Sade's writings, preceding modern existentialism by some 150 years. He has also been seen as a precursor of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis in his focus on sexuality as a motive force. The surrealists admired him as one of their forerunners, and Guillaume Apollinaire famously called him "the freest spirit that has yet existed".

Pierre Klossowski, in his 1947 book Sade Mon Prochain ("Sade My Neighbor"), analyzes Sade's philosophy as a precursor of nihilism, negating both Christian values and the materialism of the Enlightenment.

One of the essays in Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) is titled "Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality" and interprets the ruthless and calculating behavior of Juliette as the embodiment of the philosophy of enlightenment. Similarly, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan posited in his 1966 essay "Kant avec Sade" that de Sade's ethic was the complementary completion of the categorical imperative originally formulated by Immanuel Kant.

In his 1988 Political Theory and Modernity, William E. Connolly analyzes Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom as an argument against trend of earlier political philosophers, notably Rousseau and Hobbes, and their attempts to reconcile nature, reason and virtue as basis of ordered society.

In The Sadeian Woman: And the Ideology of Pornography (1979), Angela Carter provides a feminist reading of Sade, seeing him as a "moral pornographer" who creates spaces for women. Similarly, Susan Sontag defended both Sade and Georges Bataille's ''Histoire de l'oeil (Story of the Eye'') in her essay, "The Pornographic Imagination" (1967) on the basis their works were transgressive texts, and argued that neither should be censored.

By contrast, Andrea Dworkin saw Sade as the exemplary woman-hating pornographer, supporting her theory that pornography inevitably leads to violence against women. One chapter of her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1979) is devoted to an analysis of Sade. Susie Bright claims that Dworkin's first novel Ice and Fire, which is rife with violence and abuse, can be seen as a modern re-telling of Sade's Juliette.

Works written by de Sade





Political Pamphlets

Letter Correspondence/Personal Notes Posthumously Published into Books


Fictional works

Sade's life and works have been the subject of numerous fictional plays, films, pornographic or erotic drawings, etchings and more. These include Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade, a fantasia extrapolating from the fact that Sade directed plays performed by his fellow inmates at the Charenton asylum. Yukio Mishima, Barry Yzereef, and Doug Wright also wrote plays about Sade; Weiss's and Wright's plays have been made into films. His work is referenced on film at least as early as Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's ''L'Age d'or'' (1930), the final segment of which provides a coda to Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, with the four debauched noblemen emerging from their mountain retreat. Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), updating Sade's novel to Fascist Italy; Benoit Jacquot's Sade and Philip Kaufman's Quills (from the play of the same name by Doug Wright) both hit cinemas in 2000; additionally several horror films have used Sade as a major character. He is referenced in several stories by science fiction writer Robert Bloch, while Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem wrote an essay analyzing the game theory arguments appearing in Sade's Justine.In a comical vein, in "Carry On" ''Don't Lose Your Head'' (1966), Charles Hawtrey's character "Duc de Pommfrit" is seen reading a book by de Sade before a foiled attempt to guillotine him.

He is name-checked by the DC Comics character Desaad; was a secondary character in the Grant Morrison's graphic novel series The Invisibles and in 2000 Guido Crepax created graphic novel combining Justine with Anne Desclos's ''Histoire d'O'', supposedly following Sade's example of creating beauty from the vile and the degenerate.

Further reading about de Sade

External links

About his life and work

Works online



|PLACE OF BIRTH=Paris, France |DATE OF DEATH= |PLACE OF DEATH=Charenton-Saint-Maurice }}

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