Pleasure At Any Price: Marquis De Sade


Who is the most controversial, polarizing, debated writer/cultural figure, who 200 years after his death still provokes and challenges readers?  The Marquis de Sade.

The Marquis was born Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade on 2nd June 1740. Educated by his uncle the Abbé de Sade in addition to a career in the military (fighting in the Seven Years War). Marrying Renee-Pelagie de Montreuil and later having a son and a daughter.

Like many of his characters, De Sade was a Libertine who enjoyed a no holds barred debaucherous existence. Since time and memorial, wealthy men have always enjoyed the pleasure of a mistress. It was expected that his wife would just look away from his infidelity. What was different for De Sade’s wife was that in addition to consorting with prostitutes and her own sister. De Sade’s use of prostitutes was also marred with controversy; given his cruelty and repeated accusation of abusing them. Hardly a surprise given the fact that the word sadism was inspired by the infamous aristocrat. De Sade was also accused of Blasphemy, which was not only a more serious offence but one that would not be so easily tolerated by members of their social circles. So embarrassed was his family, that his own mother-in-law obtained a letter de cachet (an arrest warrant issued without a reason by royal order).

De Sade had been imprisoned on multiple occasions; firstly in Chateau de Vincennes, then at the notorious Bastille prison (just before the storming in 14th July 1789) The first instance was due to his almost lethal poisonings of two prostitutes by Spanish Fly. Spanish Fly was an ‘aphrodisiac’ that was based on a mixture of beetles. Instead of causing amorous feeling, actually it killed people. Both himself and his valet Latour were charged with sodomy and poisoning in 1772 and sentenced to death. After fleeing to Italy (being later reunited with his wife).Though De Sade was released and had his death sentence revoked in 1790, his wife had had enough of her husband’s behaviour and divorced him. By now the French Revolution was fully under way. Though he sympathised with the revolutionaries, his aristocratic stock made his a target for malice and general distrust.

Napoleon Bonaparte was now ruling France, still De Sade faced legal trouble thanks to his novels. By now ‘Justine’ and ‘Juliette’ had been released; telling the tale of two sisters separated and how their lives are marked by one’s decision be virtuous (Justine) and another who embraces vice (Juliette). In 1801 Napoleon ordered the arrest of De Sade. After being declared insane by his family and ex-wife in 1803, no doubt tiring of his antics and it’s impact on their own lives. He remained in an asylum near Charenton, even incarcerated the Marquis managed to push the limits of the staff. Director of the asylum, Abbé de Coulmier encouraged inmates to act out the plays written by De Sade as a method of therapy. After much resistance 1809, saw De Sade spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement without his quills and paper. Resulting until his death on 2nd December 1818.

As to his written works? Well, they are exactly as you would imagine them to be. Sadism, corruption and cruelty reigns supreme. However there is more to De Sade’s work than just acts of continual violence. He challenges the sanctity of the Church and it’s members, claiming that in all institutions suppress the masses and snubs the idea in the existence of God. While atheism now hardly raises an eye brow; the fact that he dares to imply that the members of the clergy were capable of acts of brutality is one that has become more significant. Given the scandals involving sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the fact that no one believed that a priest could be capable of abusing children.

What few people ever mention about the De Sade, is that ignoring the contents (difficult I know). He was actually a decent writer, though he still divides opinion. Some believe him to be a radical who challenged the status quo. Others who believe him to be a violent misogynist who advocated the worse kind of pornography. In my personal opinion, the truth is somewhere between to the two parts. While I applaud his         willing to question the long held beliefs. His sadist behaviour is impossible to condone, especially as he was not concerned with consent of his victims.

Ultimately the Marquis de Sade is not a person who can be put into a clear cut category; good, bad, intellect, base sex fiend, writer, pornographer. If you want to work out were De Sade belongs, read one of this books and find out for yourself.

Marquis de Sade



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