By The Marquis De Sade
Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Complete American Edition (January 31, 1994)
Softcover, 1205 pages
Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Complete American Edition (January 31, 1994)
Softcover, 1205 pages
“I proceed to compare the pleasures vice and virtue procure; I start with virtue, I sample it, savor it thoughtfully, thoroughly, critically. How dull, how vapid! How tasteless, how bland! It leaves me cold, nothing moves me in this, nothing stirs me, virtue makes me listless, the pleasure has gone to whom I have served and, in return, for reward, I have nothing but his distant and aloof gratitude. Now I wonder: is this pleasure? And what a difference between this virtuous exercise and the next one of vice! How my senses, my nerves are brought alive, how my organs bestir themselves! I have nothing just to caress the misdemeanour I am plotting and lo! The divine sap starts up and rushes through my veins, I am all afire, fever assails me; the thought hurls me into ecstasy, a delicious illusions spreads aureate across the whole landscape of this world I am about to conquer through a crime.” Originally published anonymously in several parts between 1797 and 1801, this is the companion novel to Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised which is about a young girl who constantly clings to her ideas of morality and chastity and is abused in every conceivable manner. Julliette is her sister whose travels take her down an opposite route. She becomes a nymphomaniac libertine, who has no regard for any philosophy, morality, or individual. She lives entirely for her own pleasure, which eventually leads her down the path of criminality, murder, and cannibalism. It is considered one of the most provocative (to put it mildly) and condemned works of literature ever penned. Not putting his name on the cover did not save De Sade from public scorn. Napoleon himself demanded the arrest of the author. He spent the last thirteen years of his life in prisons and insane asylums. Paying for his art with loss of freedom.
|Only known portrait of the Marquis De Sade|
The general flow of the story has the titular character bounce from one type of libertine to another, learning that there is no limit to the depravity she can reach, nor any reason for her to feel shame in her actions. The cadence of the book follows a standard routine: she finds herself in a new place, a libertine does something horrible, then spouts a long diatribe on how the morality around the act is wrong, followed by an orgy. The sex scenes become increasingly weird and less credible from an anatomical standpoint- the arraignment of bodies and animals seems completely ridiculous. De Sade leaves no stone unturned in his assault on what is considered to be moral. His main focus is to demonstrate the base hypocrisy of morality, especially when so many successful leaders seem to ignore such conventions. The descriptions are often extreme. For example, “Cunt-fuck was all I had time to do. For I did not foresee you would wish to stop so soon; twenty fours hours is my usual stint at that house, and do not swing my ass to the fuckers until they have made a hash of my cunt. A hash, yes. Transformed it into an open wound.” or “this particular libertine’s delight was, upon nearing the spilling of his seed, to rip open part of his victim’s chest, cut a hole into the heart, and discharge into the valve.” This novel has revealed to me some new words relating to various sexual acts. Leave it to the French to have a rich lexicon in this manner. To add to my list of nasty terms, we have the verb “encunt” and “encunting” which means “to penetrate vaginally with some sort of object; a penis or otherwise.” Then we have the adjective “sapphic”- derived from the ancient poet Sappho of Lesbos, where we also get the term lesbian- this refers to women sexually enjoying each other. And so we don’t leave the men behind, there is the term “Socratic” which refers to anal sex. “Buggery” or ass-fucking is the sexual position of choice for De Sade’s libertines, with either men or women. Coprophagia (shit-eating for sexual pleasure or due to mental illness) seems to be a major source of arousal for the truly demented and libertine. There are many passages describing this activity. I’m not one to automatically ascribe the actions in a book to the author, but DeSade discusses this relatively obscure type of sexual pleasure so often and with such zest, that I am driven to believe he indulged in it himself. Nowhere, however, does any of his numerous libertines indulge in urolagnia- the drinking of urine for sexual pleasure. Why? I’m not sure. It certainly fits in his list of outrages. Several historical figures are mentioned and a few show up to take part in the action. The most notable being Pope Pius VI, the current Pope at the time of publication and an enemy of Napoleon. His scenes are the longest in the book. The Holy Father indulges in several bizarre orgies with Juliette involving apes, five year old boys, ninety year old women, goats, and all manner of instruments. At one point he impales himself in a turkey’s anus, then climaxes when the animal’s head is cut off, claiming the sphincter’s death contractions were the greatest sensation of all. He proceeds on a long diatribe on that murder should not be considered a sin, as it was part of the cycle of life. One needs death in order for more life to grow and that the idea of sin was ridiculous. After which he plants a communion wafer on the end of his penis and bangs Juliette on the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. As you can imagine this portrait of the Holy Father does not exist anywhere else in recorded history. Whether it was based on De Sade’s own gathering of rumors during his time in Italy, or just another example of how the powerful are all truly corrupt, is open to interpretation. Although I would choose the latter.
|Pope Pius VI|
Part of what fascinates me is the reactions from critics towards this work and how dismissive of they are of the actions of the characters in order to embrace the philosophy. His idea of “total freedom”, that is freedom to act and freedom from any sense of morality, as laurelled by Camille Paglia, is always displayed by De Sade’s characters in the most vicious of manners. For example in the first book, the titular character is corrupted by the Abbess of her convent boarding school. The height of their depravity involves deflowering a nine year old girl with a twelve inch strap-on dildo. At the end, Julliette and her lover, Noirceuil, take turns destroying their own children. The man sodomizes his son, then cuts the boy’s heart out and eats it. After which Julliette tosses her twelve year old daughter into a fire and they take turns jabbing her with a poker while she tries to escape, driving her back into the flames. The philosophy of total freedom presented in Julliette means stripping yourself from all constraint placed upon a person by religion and society, or at least those portions that go against what he calls “Nature”. Essentially this Nature is what others would call “Natural Law”, ie acting similar to animals. Look at animals in nature, do they worry about killing, or incest, or theft, or rape? Do they hesitate from giving in to their desires or impulses? Then why should we? That’s our natural state. In reality it is barely even a philosophy, it is more a half-assed justification for a person to commit whatever depraved act pops into their skull. De Sade attempts to demonstrate his ideas with some sketchy examples on how these concepts are already embraced by various other cultures. I say sketchy, because several of his examples are either misrepresentations or outright lies. For example he writes, “Every American is much addicted to theft” and “American women enjoy being buggered by monkeys” As most Americans will agree, that is nonsense. Other snippets come from antiquity, such as “In Athens, in Sparta, hospitality was forbidden; those who implored were put to death.” Which is the exact opposite of any source I’ve read about the ancient Greeks. Others I had not heard of, but I presume that anyplace which lauds thievery, rape, or incest is not a place one would want to live if they can help it.
|1791 edition of the sister novel Justine|
DeSade certainly does not shy away from the inevitable horrific end of the idea of “total freedom”- murder, rape, cannibalism, bestiality, pedophilia, incest. Only those at the top can enjoy “total freedom” because they have the power, money, and influence to get away with it- not much different from today’s world. The concept of total freedom means misery for the majority of people. It is difficult to know how to take De Sade in his writing. Does he believe it? Is he explaining a mentality that is pervasive throughout his social class? Or did he just feel like taking a giant dump on his society? It could be that we are mistaking the man for his work. A person who writes about serial killers, usually is not a serial killer himself. But the whole of his work (not just this book, several more thousands of pages) revolve around these themes, which seems on the level of obsession. So did he truly endorse these concepts, or was it all for shock appeal? Most writers who are trying to peddle an alternative societal lifestyle try to upsell their views, giving them a utopian appeal. De Sade does not. Perhaps his personal views are not important. Perhaps it is all political opinion after all. For one message is consistently clear in his writings. That is, the people who are supposed to protect you from such atrocities are the ones who are inflicting them. And if those who are supposed to be the paragons of society are false, then all ideas of morality must be a farce as well. Thus indulge yourself as much as you like, it won’t matter in the long run. Perhaps the message is even simpler than that. “Might as well be bad, because being good will get you nowhere.”
It is interesting to note that many of the views he takes (wild and blasphemous at the time) have become embraced by various liberal causes. Abortion is constantly toted by De Sade, though he goes further and says women should have the right to kill their child at any time if they tire of the brat. Atheism is another example. Apparently his belief is that barely anyone believes in the religious myths, but are afraid to say anything. “To what then must we ascribe the existence of this dogma amongst this particular people? Either to the people’s fancy or to the plotting of its priests; these being the sources of superstition, how can you allow them any substance?” And with both of these in hand, comes the general sense that the individual (in this case Julliette) is the center of the universe, and the narcissistic impulse to treat all other people as objects for their sexual gratification.
The world presented here is jaundiced view of reality. There is no love, or warmth, or care. It is simply absent. People are there to be used then thrown aside by the powerful. Children are either burdens or instruments of incest for their parents. You are either treated with respect if you have money or a title, or are the dirt beneath the powerful feet. Narcissism is the common denominator. Perhaps this was the way that world was in the privileged upbringing of the Marquis de Sade. In a very real sense this is look at the world view of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Where else does the aspect of libertinage, as described by De Sade, thrive. Where else are rape, sexual assault, pedophilia, substance abuse, and self-involvement viewed as business as usual as in Hollywood?