Study Guide

Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade Biography

Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Born into an aristocratic Provençal family related to the king of France, Sade began a career as an officer in a royal army regiment in 1754. Despite his powerful family and marital ties, he was repeatedly arrested for sexual assault, sodomy, and even murder by means of an overdose of the aphrodisiac “Spanish fly.” In 1777 he was incarcerated on order of the king and was later held in the Bastille until the French Revolution began. While in the Bastille he wrote his famous Les 120 journées de Sodome, which was not printed until the 1930’s. After his release he continued to write plays and novels, including Justine, and La Nouvelle Justine, suivie de l’historie de Juliette, which were published in 1797. The latter in particular resulted in a second period of imprisonment, under Napoleon Bonaparte, from 1801 to the end of his life in 1814. Much of this time he spent in an insane asylum near Paris.

Sade’s writings have always been controversial for extolling atheism and egoism and for extolling murder as a supreme act of virtue. They are also controversial because of their scatology and their detailed descriptions of sexual acts, including sodomy, incest, orgies, coprophagy, and physical torture—particularly that involving clerical figures. Nevertheless, many later French critics and writers—from Sainte-Beuve to feminist Simone de Beauvoir—have ranked Sade among the great writers and philosophers of the eighteenth century Enlightenment.

Although some of Sade’s writings are technically still banned in France, a nearly complete edition of his works was published in 1948; a “complete” edition was published in 1966 (a freshly edited edition appeared in 1986). His most erotic writings were translated into English and published in the United States by Grove Press in the late 1960’s. Although these writings have neither been banned by the federal government of the United States nor specifically challenged under various obscenity laws, they have not been easily accessible. Public and private libraries have exercised indirect censorship, either by refusing to acquire Sade’s works or by keeping them under lock and key.

Marquis de Sade Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade (sahd) was born in Paris in 1740, heir to the title of Count de Sade; in his family, the heir carried the title of Marquis. At his father’s death, he succeeded to the title of Count, as well as to the governorship of the provinces of Bresse, Bugey, and Valromey, but the earlier title remains associated with him. He was educated by his uncle, the Abbé de Sade, at the Benedictine monastery of Saint Léger d’Ebreuil. In 1754, at the age of fourteen, he embarked on a military career and fought through the Seven Years’ War; in 1766, by which time he had achieved the rank of captain, he resigned from the army and married Mademoiselle de Montreuil, who bore him two sons.{$S[A]De Sade, Marquis[DeSade, Marquis];Sade, Marquis de}

Shortly after his marriage de Sade became involved in the extraordinary sexual adventures that have made “sadism” the standard term for cruelty inflicted on a supposed object of love. For these exploits, he was imprisoned at various times for a total of twenty-nine years; at one point, in 1772, he was even sentenced to die for acts of sodomy, but was granted a reprieve by the king. He was also accused of poisoning young women, although it was ascertained that he had only given some prostitutes candies laced with the aphrodisiac Spanish fly, causing upset stomachs.

For the next thirty years, he continued his licentious and scandalous sexual experimentations involving young actresses...

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Marquis de Sade Bibliography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Allison, David B., Mark S. Roberts, and Allen S. Weiss, eds. Sade and the Narrative of Transgression. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Approaches to Sade through literary and philosophical criticism, feminist and gender theory, aesthetics, rhetoric, and eighteenth century French cultural history.

Bongie, Laurence L. Sade: A Biographical Essay. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. In contrast to the twentieth century critical stance that Sade was an early exemplar of modernist attitudes toward sex, violence, and power, Bongie argues that Sade was remarkable only as an unprincipled opportunist, a phony rebel, and a self-absorbed devotee of predatory sexuality.

Carter, Angela. The Sadian Woman: An Exercise of Cultural History. 1979. Reprint. New York: Penguin, 2001. Gives a thorough psychological and cultural analysis of Sade’s pornography and “sexual terrorism.”

Gray, Francine du Plessix. At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life. New York: Penguin, 1999. A biography focusing on Sade’s relationships with his wife and mother-in-law.

Martyn, David. Sublime Failures: The Ethics of Kant and Sade. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002. Compares the philosophies of Sade and Immanuel Kant, offering philosophical and rhetorical analyses of the two authors’ major works, and focusing on the related thematic fields of the economy of the gift and the materiality of writing.

Sawhney, Deepak Narang, ed. Must We Burn Sade? Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 1999. A collection of essays addressing the literary, theatrical, political, social, and philosophical aspects of Sade’s writing.

Schaeffer, Neil. The Marquis de Sade: A Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. A thorough scholarly biography that attempts to explain Sade’s sexual philosophy in the context of his times.