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Salman Rushdie and his Women
Marquis de Sade, Sex & Sadism - Poets & Storytellers
300    Dibyendu Banerjee    08/02/2024

The term sadism, which refers to the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification through the infliction of pain, suffering, humiliation or degradation of another individual, originated from the eighteenth-century French novelist, soldier, philosopher and revolutionist Marquis de Sade, whose literary works involved explicit depictions of sexual violence, torture and cruelty against fictitious victims. Although he was infamous for his erotic novels in which pain and cruelty are deeply bound to pleasure and freedom and was imprisoned several times for sex crimes, blasphemy and pornography, Marquis is no doubt one of the captivating authors of the 18th century, who attracts and enchants as much as he repulses.

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Apart from his best novel Justine (1791) and other novels like The 120 Days of Sodom, Juliette and Incest, his major works also include several plays, dialogues and political tracts, which vividly combine graphic descriptions of sex in different postures, rape and sexual assaults, torture and murder and child abuse with discourses on religion, politics, philosophy and sexuality. While most of those works appeared anonymously or posthumously, some were published under his own name during his lifetime.

marquis de sade sex sadism

Born Donatien Alphonse François de Sade at the Condé mansion, Paris on 2 June 1740 to Jean-Baptiste François Joseph, a diplomat, entrusted with diplomatic missions and his wife, Marie-Eléonore de Maillé de Carman, a lady-in-waiting to the princes de Condé, infant Sade was a spoilt child, haughty and prone to violent rages. Probably because he had a fight with his playmate, the Prince of Condé, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Avignon in 1744 and in the following year, Sade was placed in the care of his paternal uncle, the Abbé de Sade of Ebreuil, a priest who lived in the château de Saumane.

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By that time, his father had lost the favour of the king and had been recalled from his post in Germany and her mother left her husband to live in a Carmelite convent in Paris. Nevertheless, in the autumn of 1750, ten-year-old Sade was sent to the Jesuit College, the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he was taught Latin, Greek and in 1754, he was sent to the Chevaux-légers military academy. After twenty months of training, Sade was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant on 14 December 1755, and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the King's Foot Guard. Completing a successful military career, he was relieved in 1763, after the end of the Seven Year’s War, which ended with the Treaty of Paris.

marquis de sade sex sadism

Meanwhile, Sade fell in love with Laure de Lauris, the daughter of a nobleman, but was abruptly rejected after two months of courtship, which made him angry and he unethically threatened to blackmail her. However, although he resisted the arranged marriage with the plain and charmless Renée-Pélagie, the daughter of a high-ranking bourgeois family, as he was willing to marry only for love, finally he relented. Initially, Sade was pleased with his new bride, who gave him two sons and a daughter, but two years later he complained about her to be too cold and too devout, although she later became an accomplice to his alleged crimes with adolescents.

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Nevertheless, in the very first months of his marriage he began an affair with an actress, La Beauvoisin, who had numerous previous lovers and also rented a property at Arcueil in the southern suburbs of Paris, where he invited prostitutes and subjected them to various sexual abuses. On 18 October 1763, Sade hired a prostitute named Jeanne Testard, who reported to police in the next morning that Sade had locked her in a bedroom and asked her to beat him with a cane and a hot iron scourge, which she refused. He then masturbated with a chalice and crucifix while shouting obscenities and blasphemies, ordered her to trample on the crucifix and exclaim obscene blasphemies, which she had to reluctantly comply with and also proposed sodomy and flagellation to her, which she refused. However, she had to spend the night with Sade who read her irreligious poetry. Following a police investigation, Sade was arrested on 29 October and was sent to Vincennes prison, mainly because of the serious charges of blasphemous acts with religious artefacts, but was released on 13 November, as Sade’s father begged Louis XV for clemency.

marquis de sade sex sadism

In the summer of 1765, Sade took his the then mistress, Mademoiselle Beauvoison, to his favourite castle at La Coste, Provence, where he passed her off as his wife and then returned to Paris, where his wife joined him. In 1767, a year after Sade had leased a small house in Arcueil for illicit amorous meetings, his father died unexpectedly on 24 January, leaving considerable debts. However, the first public scandal erupted, when on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1768, Sade hired Rose Keller, begging on the Place des Victoires in Paris, to clean his rooms. Later, Keller alleged that she was taken to Arcueil and was locked in a room, where Sade threatened to kill her if she did not undress, tied her down on a bed and whipped her with a cane, cut her with a penknife and poured hot wax on her wounds. After that, Sade washed her and applied ointment to her wounds and then left her locked in a room from which she managed to escape through a window, related the incident to the persons in the neighbourhood, showed them her wounds and sought help. After charges were filed, Sade was arrested on a royal warrant and sent to the château de Saumur and then confined in the Pierre-Encise prison in Lyon. However, the king ordered his release on 16 November, on the condition that he would stay at La Coste under supervision.

marquis de sade sex sadism
Château de La Coste
marquis de sade sex sadism
The remains of de Sade’s Chateau de Lacoste, in the city of Provence.

Although his attempt to rejoin his regiment in 1770 failed due to the resistance from the commander, Sade ultimately was given an honorary commission as Mestre de cavalerie or Master of Cavalry with the king's approval in 1771. However, during that time, his financial situation was horrible, for which he was forced to sell his commission. But that did not save him from the situation and he was briefly imprisoned for debt at Fort-l'Evêque. Nevertheless, he was released when he paid a deposit and a promissory note for the remainder. After his release, Marquis de Sade visited La Coste with his family, to raise funds by devoting himself to theatrical productions and in the month of November, in the same year, they were joined by Anne-Prospère de Launay, Sade's 19-year-old sister-in-law. Almost immediately, Sade developed a fatal passion for her and formed an illicit liaison with his pretty sister-in-law.

marquis de sade sex sadism
marquis de sade sex sadism
Erotic illustrations in the novels by Sade

In the month of June 1772, Sade visited Marseilles with his valet Latour on the pretext of obtaining a loan and on 27 June, they were engaged in an elaborate orgy with four prostitutes, which included sexual intercourse, flagellation, even homo and heterosexual sodomy involving Sade, Latour and one of the prostitutes. During the event, special candies made from an aphrodisiac, known as Spanish fly, were freely offered to the women, which made them deathly sick with abdominal pain and upset stomachs, especially, Marguerite Coste, with whom Sade had sex. Suspecting possible poisoning, she filed a complaint with the police and after an investigation, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Sade on charges of sodomy and poisoning. By that time, Sade had fled to Savoy with his sister-in-law and his valet, but the Marseilles court continued the prosecution, found Sade and Latour guilty of sodomy and poisoning, condemned them to death in absentia on 2 September and they were burnt in effigy in Aix-en-Provence on 12 September. Finally, Marquis de Sade was arrested on 8 December 1772 and was confined to the citadel of Miolans, near Chambéry, but escaped in 1773, and took refuge in his château at La Coste, rejoining his wife, who requested an appeal of her husband's death sentence, but later became his accomplice and shared his pleasures.

marquis de sade sex sadism

The Nanon Affair followed immediately after that, when in September 1774, Sade and his wife hired seven new servants for their La Coste property, which included five young women, all about 15 years old and engaged in a series of orgies with them, which continued until the families of the young women filed charges of kidnapping and seduction and a criminal investigation commenced in Lyon. To save the situation, Sade's wife arranged to send most of the girls to convents, but one of the girls, named Nanon Sablonnière fled the château after an argument with Sade. However, she was falsely accused of theft and imprisoned at Arles, where she remained for over two years. Nevertheless, apprehending a possible arrest, Sade fled to Italy accompanied by his sister-in-law, who had become his mistress and returned to his château in France in June 1776. But despite extreme pecuniary problem, he had to leave La Coste and travel to Paris, along with his wife, due to the news of his mother's death, only to be arrested and incarcerated in the dungeon of Vincennes prison on 13 February 1777.

marquis de sade sex sadism
Cover of Justine

However, his death sentence due to the Marseille Affair was finally overturned by the court on 30 June 1778 and the appellate court also overturned the sodomy conviction on 14 July 1778, but he was given a small fine and forbidden to enter Marseilles for three years, as he was found guilty of only debauchery and inordinate immorality. Ridiculously, in spite of everything, Sade was immediately re-arrested, but he escaped, while being transferred back to Paris and returned to La Coste. Nevertheless, he was arrested again on 26 August, when the police raided his château and he was returned to Vincennes prison, where he was imprisoned from 7 September 1778 to 29 February 1784. After that, he was shifted to the Bastille, as the Vincennes prison was closed in February 1784.

marquis de sade sex sadism
Geoffrey Rush as Marquis de Sade and Kate Winslet as Madeleine in the film Quills (2000)

While in prison Marquis de Sade obsessively wrote sexually graphic novels and plays to overcome his boredom and anger and completed fifty novellas and tales between1787 and 1788. After completing Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man in the summer of 1782, in which he declared himself an atheist, he began working on The 120 Days of Sodom on a roll of paper some 39 feet (12 m) in length, graphically describing numerous varieties of sexual perversion, which many critics consider his first major work. In case of sudden visits of the guards, he used to tightly roll up the paper and hid it in a crack in the wall. In 1787, he completed his most famous works, The Misfortunes of Virtue, only in sixteen days, and later expanded the novella into the two-volume novel Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, followed by Eugenie de Franval in 1788. By that time, revolutionary tension had increased in Paris and a few days before the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, Sade improvised a megaphone and incited unrest outside of the fortress by shouting through a window to passers-by below on 2 July 1789 that the prisoners are being massacred and people should come and free them. Fed up with his attitude and behaviour, the guards dragged an unclothed de Sade out of his cell and hauled him off to the insane asylum at Charenton that evening. They took him so quickly that he could not get his manuscript out of the walls and on 14 July, the Bastille was stormed by a revolutionary crowd, when Sade's former cell was ransacked of his personal effects, even though it was kept under seal.

marquis de sade sex sadism
A scene from Salo or the 120 days of Sodom (1975)

After Sade was released from detention on 2 April 1790, his wife sought a legal separation and the marriage was dissolved in September 1790. However, he met a 33-year-old actress, Marie-Constance Quesnet, in August and they began a relationship which continued until his death. By that time, he was increasingly involved in politics and eventually was arrested in December 1793, charged with anti-republicanism and feigned patriotism, associating with counter revolutionaries. But although he was listed for execution on 27 July 1794, he escaped the guillotine miraculously the day before the Revolutionary leader Robespierre was overthrown and his supporters fell from power, ending the Reign of Terror and paving the way for Sade's release from prison in October 1794.

marquis de sade sex sadism
Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom on a roll of paper

On March 6, 1801, Sade was arrested again at his publisher’s office on the ground of public immorality, while stocks of The New Justine and Juliette were seized. He was ordered by the police minister to be detained in the Sainte-Pélagie without trial, as he believed the pornography laws did not provide for sufficient punishment. However, as he tried to seduce the young prisoners at Sainte-Pélagie, he was declared insane with libertine dementia and transferred to the Bicêtre Asylum. Subsequently, he was transferred to Charenton Asylum, where Marie-Constance, pretending to be his illegitimate daughter, was allowed to live with him. Sade completed two volumes of his ambitious ten-volume libertine novel, Les Journées de Florbelle ou la nature dévoilée (The Days of Florbelle or Nature Unveiled), in April 1807, which was eventually seized after a police raid at Sade's and Quesnet's rooms. By 1813, Sade was involved in a sexual relationship with Madeleine Leclerc, the teenage daughter of an employee at Charenton, much to the dismay of Quesnet and in September 1814, the new director of Charenton requested the authority to transfer Sade to some other institution. However, by that time Marquis de Sade became very sick and died on 2 December 1814 after an attack of gangrenous fever.

marquis de sade sex sadism
A scene from Justine (1969)

Marquis de Sade enjoyed years of his life with sexual pleasure and ended up spending twenty-seven years of his life incarcerated in prisons and mental asylums, where he produced a series of literary work, mixed with violent sexuality and philosophical themes, which included state, church, gender, sexuality, incest, crime, and nature. Due to this unique blending of opposite themes, he is regarded by many as both a pornographer and a philosopher.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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