4/26/13 - the original sadist turns to writing

In today's selection -- our word "sadism," the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain, cruelty, degradation, or humiliation, comes from the Marquis de Sade (1740 - 1814). Born into French royalty, he was subjected to abuse from an early age, and grew into a young adult of monstrous sexual appetites and behaviors that kept him in trouble with his family and the law. Denied sexual prey with his imprisonment at age twenty eight, he turned to writing and played out his fantasies on the page. He spent thirty two years of his life either in prison or an asylum:

"Upon his return to France [a wanted man, having escaped captivity], [the Marquis de] Sade hid in plain sight at his Lacoste estate. The marquis kept a relatively low profile, which for him meant months-long orgies -- often involving underage girls and boys, hired as maids and cooks. One girl ended up pregnant; another died following a short illness. At one point, an angry father showed up to liberate his daughter and fired a pistol point-blank at Sade's chest. The gun misfired, and the marquis lived to sodomize another day. 'I pass for the werewolf of these parts!' he wrote with delight in a letter. 'Poor little chicks!'

"In 1777, his mother-in-law lured him into Paris under the pretense that his mother was on her deathbed. (She had, in fact, already passed away.) [She] alerted authorities that Sade was back within city limits, and they arrested him on the outstanding charges of poisoning and sodomy. [She] again argued with her daughter that what she was doing was in Sade's best interests: it was the only way Sade could appeal his previous conviction and clear his name, thus restoring respectability to their family. ... [In the end the final] verdict was ... life in prison. The term would begin immediately.

"With the years stretching out infinitely before him, Sade picked up a pen. If he could not act out his fantasies any longer, he would write them down. ... The marquis wrote many novels during his imprisonment, including Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised; The 120 Days of Sodom; and Philosophy in the Bedroom. While he may have written fiction before this date, he never made any mention of it. Authorship was considered an ignoble profession for a gentleman of the Marquis de Sade's standing (ironic, considering his other passions). It was only when he was stripped of his nobility and freedom that he became the man of letters we know him as today. Sade 'went into prison a man; he came out a writer,' French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote. ...

Sade in later lifeSade in later life

"Improbably, a political sea change in France led to the release of prisoners held under royal decrees. On Good Friday in 1790 ... Sade was set free ... [at] a time when erotic works were in great demand, and many of his books went through multiple editions ...

"As could be expected based on his past behavior, no subject was off limits in Sade's work: sexual violence, suffering, torture, rape, sodomy, incest, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, and cannibalism were among the topics he explored. Sade's wish for The 120 Days of Sodom, for example, was to pen 'the most impure tale that has ever been written since the world exists.' ...

"Although his books sold well, Sade was not a critical darling. Petites-Affiches, in 1791, advised young people to avoid Justine. 'Mature men, read it to see how far one can go in derangement of the human imagination,' the journal wrote. 'But throw it into the fire immediately thereafter.' ...

"In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte assumed leadership of France. He was determined to clean up the country, starting with the plague of immorality that besieged it. In 1801, government officials ordered the arrest of the author of the 'pornographic' novel Juliette. Sade, who was at his publisher's office making corrections to the manuscript when the police arrived, was easily identified as the author. ...

"In 1814, the marquis died in prison of natural causes. His family burned all of his unpublished manuscripts. If they wished to prevent the Marquis de Sade from further tarnishing the family name, they were unsuccessful: the word sadisme, meaning 'to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, and humiliation on others,' entered the French language, and later begat the English word 'sadism' and its many derivatives. As Sade once wrote to his son, 'Do not be sorry to see your name live on in immortality. My works are bringing it about, and your virtues, though preferable to my works, would never do that.' "


Andrew Shaffer


Literary Rogues


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2013 by Andrew Shaffer


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