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Delanceyplace: A Literary Rogue

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, writes Andrew Shaffer.

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. ...


"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.'

Author: Andrew Shaffer
Title: Literary Rogues
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: Copyright 2013 by Andrew Shaffer
Pages: 9-14

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