Sade, Marquis de

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Sade, Marquis de (1740 - 1814). French Writer.

Marquis de Sade was the pen name of Donatien Alphonse Francois, count de Sade who is best known for his erotic works which involved explorations of sexual and political freedom and cruelty; he is also credited with a number of sexually scandalous acts which bear his name to this day. Born in Paris to a family whose nobility reached back to the twelfth century, de Sade was sent to Avignon, at the age of four, to be cared for by an uncle who was a notorious sexual deviant. After a while, he attended the Jesuit college of Louis Le Grand where he discovered the academic classics and the classics of discipline.

At age 14 he left the Jesuits to serve in the military where he participated in the Seven Years War. He married the daughter of a high-ranking family in 1763 but he maintained at least one affair and invited prostitutes to his home. He was then arrested and exiled from Paris and sent to his wife’s family home in Normandy. In 1772 he was condemned to death in Aix for an Aunnatural crime but he managed to escape to Italy. Scandals and criminal activities, as well as a royal Asecret letter penned by his mother-in-law, sent him to what would become 27 years of imprisonment beginning in Vincennes in 1777. While imprisoned, de Sade began to write sexually graphic novels and plays in an attempt to combat boredom.

After escaping from Vincennes in 1784, de Sade was transferred to Paris’ infamous Bastille. He was later incarcerated in Charenton, the infamous lunatic asylum. While incarcerated, he wrote the underground classic Les Journées de Sodom. In 1790, the French Revolution freed de Sade and he returned home to discover that his wife had joined a convent.

Living in poverty, he anonymously published his most famous work Justine in 1791. Justine graphically depicts the sexual encounters of the young Justine. In the work, de Sade constructs a philosophy which portrays God as evil and Justine’s misfortunes are the direct result of denying this truth. The literary critics of the day called Justine obscene and an abomination. In 1798, de Sade published Juliette as the sequel to Justine. Juliette, Justine’s sister, is portrayed as a heroic figure who delights in evil.

In 1801, de Sade’s publisher told Bonaparte, Napoleon’s government who was responsible for writing Justine. Sade was returned to Charenton where he wrote and directed plays utilizing the inmates as actors. He also began work on a ten volume novel, Crimes of Passion. He died on 2 December, 1814. At which time, his son burned all existing manuscripts of his writings.

As recently as 1957, de Sade’s works were banned from official publication by French courts as the obscene ravings of a monster. However, more recent critical and psychological evaluations of these works have declared them the precursors of Freud’s notions of the unconscious and Nietzsche’s superman.

Further Reading:

M. Lever, Sade, 1993.


B. Keith Murphy

Fort Valley State University

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