Who was the infamous Marquis de Sade?

17.06.2011 | By: Jure P

We reveal the scandalous life and the perverted works of perhaps the most famous French writer.



Marquis de Sade

Marquis de Sade inspired many authors and moviemakers with his first novel. (PhotoXpress)


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Donatien Alphonse François, better known as Marquis de Sade, was a French aristocrat, revolutionary and writer  who became famous for his novels full of sexual violence, where his primary motive was the satisfaction of personal pleasure. German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term sadism after him, when describing a tendency for enjoying torturing and humiliating other people to get sexual satisfaction and pleasure. The term sadist is also used in everyday speech for a person who enjoys other people’s misery in general.

Life full of scandals

Marquis de Sade was born in Paris on the 2nd of June 1740 in an influential and wealthy family of de Sade counts, one of the greatest noble families in the Provence region. He lived a scandalous life, was involved with sodomy, incest and several cases of abuse against prostitutes. He took part in the Seven Years’ War, a conflict between European colonial empires between 1756 and 1763. A few years later, as a young officer, he tied up and threatened a girl, who had asked him for who knows what on the streets of Paris, with a knife. He claimed the incident was only a joke. The victim could indeed get free and get out through the window. He was involved in another scandal in 1772 when he poisoned a few local prostitutes in Marseille with a high but non-lethal dose of cantharidin, a powerful aphrodisiac. It’s not completely clear if he did this on purpose. The court in Aix sentenced him to death in his absence, but he had already defected to Italy. Because of the great influence of his family, his punishment was later reduced to a couple of years in prison, but they still let him out of prison in only 1790 instead of 1779, which is credited mostly to the influence of his enemies. Sitting in prison was supposedly very bad for his mental health. He spent 32 years of his life in prisons and psychiatric institutions. He died in the Charenton insane asylum in 1814.

Marquis de Sade: Master of the perverted quill

Marquis de Sade was described as a real monster and they found proof for this in his life and literature – full of rape, necrophilia, humiliation, torture and perverted sexual practices. He was in favour of the philosophy of total freedom, without moral, religious and judicial restrictions. Nowadays history sees him mostly as a literary pervert. His main works are The 120 Days of Sodom, a series of novels about Justine, The Crimes of Love and Incest. As a prisoner in the Bastille he wrote a bunch of average and unimportant theatre plays, essays and political pamphlets. He also started writing a series of novels which supposedly depict all kinds of perverted matters. In 1791 he anonymously published his first and most famous sadistic novel Justine ou les Malheurs de la Vertu (Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised), which is a naturalistic novel about fallen girls and is typical for the 18th century. But the story is reversed with de Sade: sin is rewarded, virtue suffers and has to be humiliated. He describes the destiny of two Parisian banker’s daughters who have to go through life on their own after their father’s death. The older sister, the unscrupulous and strong Juliette, finds herself in a high-society brothel, marries one of the clients and later poisons him. The young sister, the shy Justine, tries to remain virtuous, but is raped, wrongly accused of a crime and put into prison. She ends up in the hands of a sexual murderer.


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