His works include novels, short stories, plays, dialogues, and political tracts. In his lifetime some of these were published under his own name while others, which Sade denied having written, appeared anonymously. Sade is best known for his erotic works, which combined philosophical discourse with pornography, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence particularly against women and children , suffering, criminality and blasphemy against Christianity.
He became infamous for numerous rapes and sexual abuse of young men, women and children.
He claimed to be a proponent of absolute freedom , unrestrained by morality , religion or law. The words sadism and sadist are derived from his name.
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During the French Revolution , he was an elected delegate to the National Convention. Many of his works were written in prison. There continues to be a fascination with Sade among scholars and in popular culture.
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He was his parents' only surviving child. In Sade's youth, his father abandoned the family; his mother joined a convent. After 20 months of training, on 14 December , at age 15, Sade was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant, becoming a soldier.
In January , his father died. The men of the Sade family alternated between using the marquis and comte count titles. Alternating title usage indicates that titular hierarchy below duc et pair was notional; theoretically, the marquis title was granted to noblemen owning several countships, but its use by men of dubious lineage caused its disrepute. At Court, precedence was by seniority and royal favor, not title. There is father-and-son correspondence, wherein father addresses son as marquis.
For many years, Sade's descendants regarded his life and work as a scandal to be suppressed. This did not change until the mid-twentieth century, when the Comte Xavier de Sade reclaimed the marquis title, long fallen into disuse, on his visiting cards,  and took an interest in his ancestor's writings.
At that time, the "divine marquis" of legend was so unmentionable in his own family that Xavier de Sade only learned of him in the late s when approached by a journalist.
The family have also claimed a trademark on the name. Many, however, were lost in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A substantial number were destroyed after Sade's death at the instigation of his son, Donatien-Claude-Armand. Sade lived a scandalous libertine existence and repeatedly procured young prostitutes as well as employees of both sexes in his castle in Lacoste. He was also accused of blasphemy , a serious offense.
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Beginning in , Sade lived mainly in or near Paris. Several prostitutes there complained about mistreatment by him and he was put under surveillance by the police, who made detailed reports of his activities. The first major scandal occurred on Easter Sunday in , in which Sade procured the services of a woman, Rose Keller,  a widow-beggar who approached him for alms.
He told her she could make money by working for him—she understood her work to be that of a housekeeper.
At his chateau at Arcueil, Sade ripped her clothes off, threw her on a divan and tied her by the four limbs, face-down, so that she could not see behind her.
Then he whipped her. Keller testified that he made various incisions on her body into which he poured hot wax, although investigators found no broken skin on Keller, and Sade explained that he had applied ointment to her after the whipping. Keller finally escaped by climbing out of a second-floor window and running away.
The Sade family paid the maid to keep her quiet, but the wave of social embarrassment damaged Sade's reputation. The lettre de cachet would later prove disastrous for the marquis. Four years later, in , Sade would commit further acts with four prostitutes and his manservant, Latour. The two men were sentenced to death in absentia for sodomy and the poisoning.
They fled to Italy, Sade taking his wife's sister with him. Sade and Latour were caught and imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans in French Savoy in late , but escaped four months later.
Sade later hid at Lacoste where he rejoined his wife, who became an accomplice in his subsequent endeavors. Sade was forced to flee to Italy once again. It was during this time he wrote Voyage d'Italie. In , he returned to Lacoste, again hired several servant girls, most of whom soon fled. In , the father of one of those employees went to Lacoste to claim his daughter, and attempted to shoot the Marquis at point-blank range, but the gun misfired.
Later that year, Sade was tricked into going to Paris to visit his supposedly ill mother, who in fact had recently died. He successfully appealed his death sentence in but remained imprisoned under the lettre de cachet. He escaped but was soon recaptured. He resumed writing and met fellow prisoner Comte de Mirabeau , who also wrote erotic works.
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Despite this common interest, the two came to dislike each other intensely. In , Vincennes was closed, and Sade was transferred to the Bastille. He was unable to finish the work; on 4 July , he was transferred "naked as a worm" to the insane asylum at Charenton near Paris, two days after he reportedly incited unrest outside the prison by shouting to the crowds gathered there, "They are killing the prisoners here! The storming of the Bastille , a major event of the French Revolution , occurred ten days after Sade left, on 14 July.
To his despair, he believed that the manuscript was destroyed in the storming of the Bastille, though it was actually saved by a man named Arnoux de Saint-Maximin two days before the Bastille was attacked. It is not known why Saint-Maximin chose to bring the manuscript to safety, nor indeed is anything else about him known. His wife obtained a divorce soon afterwards. During Sade's time of freedom, beginning in , he published several of his books anonymously.
He met Marie-Constance Quesnet, a former actress with a six-year-old son, who had been abandoned by her husband. Constance and Sade stayed together for the rest of his life. He initially adapted the new political order after the revolution, supported the Republic,  called himself "Citizen Sade", and managed to obtain several official positions despite his aristocratic background.
Because of the damage done to his estate in Lacoste, which was sacked in by an angry mob, he moved to Paris. In , he was elected to the National Convention , where he represented the far left. He was a member of the Piques section , notorious for its radical views. He wrote several political pamphlets, in which he called for the implementation of direct vote.
However, there is much evidence suggesting that he suffered abuse from his fellow revolutionaries due to his aristocratic background. Matters were not helped by his son's May desertion from the military, where he had been serving as a second lieutenant and the aide-de-camp to an important colonel, the Marquis de Toulengeon.
Sade was forced to disavow his son's desertion in order to save himself. While claiming he was opposed to the Reign of Terror in , he wrote an admiring eulogy for Jean-Paul Marat. He was released in after the end of the Reign of Terror.
In , Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and Juliette. After intervention by his family, he was declared insane in and transferred once more to the Charenton Asylum.
His ex-wife and children had agreed to pay his pension there. Constance, pretending to be his relative, was allowed to live with him at Charenton.
In , new police orders put Sade into solitary confinement and deprived him of pens and paper. In , the government ordered Coulmier to suspend all theatrical performances. Sade began a sexual relationship with year-old Madeleine LeClerc, daughter of an employee at Charenton.
Marquis de Sade
This affair lasted some four years, until his death in These instructions were not followed; he was buried at Charenton. His skull was later removed from the grave for phrenological examination. Numerous writers and artists, especially those concerned with sexuality, have been both repelled and fascinated by Sade. He has garnered the title of rapist and pedophile , and critics have debated whether his work has any redeeming value.
An article in The Independent , a British online newspaper , gives contrasting views: the French novelist Pierre Guyotat said, "Sade is, in a way, our Shakespeare. He has the same sense of tragedy, the same sweeping grandeur" while anarchist philosopher Michel Onfray said, "it is intellectually bizarre to make Sade a hero Even according to his most hero-worshipping biographers, this man was a sexual delinquent".
Geoffrey Gorer , an English anthropologist and author — , wrote one of the earliest books on Sade, entitled The Revolutionary Ideas of the Marquis de Sade in He pointed out that Sade was in complete opposition to contemporary philosophers for both his "complete and continual denial of the right to property" and for viewing the struggle in late 18th century French society as being not between "the Crown, the bourgeoisie , the aristocracy or the clergy, or sectional interests of any of these against one another", but rather all of these "more or less united against the proletariat.
Thus, Gorer argued, "he can with some justice be called the first reasoned socialist.
Simone de Beauvoir in her essay Must we burn Sade? He has also been seen as a precursor of Sigmund Freud 's psychoanalysis in his focus on sexuality as a motive force.
The surrealists admired him as one of their forerunners, and Guillaume Apollinaire famously called him "the freest spirit that has yet existed". Pierre Klossowski , in his book Sade Mon Prochain "Sade My Neighbour" , analyzes Sade's philosophy as a precursor of nihilism , negating Christian values and the materialism of the Enlightenment.
One of the essays in Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno 's Dialectic of Enlightenment is titled "Juliette, or Enlightenment and Morality" and interprets the ruthless and calculating behavior of Juliette as the embodiment of the philosophy of enlightenment.
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Similarly, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan posited in his essay "Kant avec Sade" that Sade's ethics was the complementary completion of the categorical imperative originally formulated by Immanuel Kant. However, at least one philosopher has rejected Adorno and Horkheimer's claim that Sade's moral skepticism is actually coherent, or that it reflects Enlightenment thought, and concludes it fits better into the emerging Counter-Enlightenment of the time.
Connolly analyzes Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom as an argument against earlier political philosophers, notably Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes , and their attempts to reconcile nature, reason, and virtue as bases of ordered society. Similarly, Camille Paglia  argued that Sade can be best understood as a satirist, responding "point by point" to Rousseau's claims that society inhibits and corrupts mankind's innate goodness: Paglia notes that Sade wrote in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when Rousseauist Jacobins instituted the bloody Reign of Terror and Rousseau's predictions were brutally disproved.
Sade, laughing grimly, agrees.
In The Sadeian Woman: And the Ideology of Pornography , Angela Carter provides a feminist reading of Sade, seeing him as a "moral pornographer" who creates spaces for women.
By contrast, Andrea Dworkin saw Sade as the exemplary woman-hating pornographer, supporting her theory that pornography inevitably leads to violence against women.
Susie Bright claims that Dworkin's first novel Ice and Fire , which is rife with violence and abuse, can be seen as a modern retelling of Sade's Juliette.