The Marquis de Sade, who died two centuries ago (2 December 1814), lived a turbulent life. He was born into an aristocratic Provençal family, enjoying all the privileges of the ancient régime before it took against him, he kept his head through the French Revolution and died, aged 74, in a lunatic asylum.
Marquis de Sade spent most of his adult life under lock and key: if they couldn’t get him for being bad, being mad would do. In his final miserable years, Sade was an obese, despised and penniless social outcast. Yet soon after his death in 1814 his reputation began to climb. He was claimed as a hero by writers and artists in 1839, he was hailed as one of the glories of France a martyr
His most notorious work, The 120 Days of Sodom, has been bought for seven million euros; Sade’s bizarre psychopathy and life story, as much as his gruelling writings, Patrick Melrose grows up in the shadow of Sade’s chateau, with a violent, abusive father who could have walked straight from the pages of Sade’s 1791 novel Justine. For over 150 years, the Sade family regarded their notorious ancestor as a dirty secret:
Sade’s father, the Comte de Sade, and his uncle, the very Abbé, were known for their debaucheries. But from his twenties on, the handsome young __marquis de sade __caused alarm with his perverse antics. Most disturbingly, for an age of rigid class distinctions, he disliked his fellow aristocrats, preferring to go whoring with his hunky valet, sodomising and being sodomised by him in his turn or masturbating him, watched by prostitutes.
Sade’s sexual energies were released into reams of fiction, more resembling horror than pornography. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting off on Sades works his grim subject matter included paedophilia, murder and coprophilia. (He gave prostitutes pills intended to bring on flatulence, and then crouched expectantly under their buttocks.)
Marquis de Sade’s distress at his confinement, combined with his sense of entitlement, sexual peculiarities, hatred of religion and an obsession with numerology, gave rise to his precisely ordered fantasies of lust, omnipotence, cruelty and revenge fantasies that some argue prefigure Nazism.
In many ways, The Marquis de Sade was a startlingly modern thinker. He despised the notion that women were merely vessels for procreation and celebrated their orgasmic potential. His laying bare of institutional misogyny made him a paradoxical hero for some feminists. Angela Carter wrote a book on him called The Sadeian Woman.
In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice. It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure. xxxx