on February 22, 2003
When I read Justine ou Les Malheurs de Virtue, I lost my appetite. That's how intense it is. However, I loved it. Only the Marquis de Sade could have come up with such sordid tales. Many people believe his books are erotica, pornography, and even Satanic. I believe that throughout this work and all his others there is an obvious show of existentialism. De Sade is one of the first modern nihilists. When you think of existentialism, one of the first you name is Camou, but when someone asks me to name an existential I think of de Sade. The book is fascinating. It might seem like a show of wanton libertines, in fact, I would have to say, this book is about how man is inherently savage and animalistic; that innocence and virtue are nothing more than hopes created by hopeless people. Justine is one of them. She believes Man is by nature divine and pure. But throughout her journey she sees the contrary. Its called the Misfortune of Virtue because Justine never realizes at any time that Man is utterly sinful and completely unsaveable. She continues to find misfortune because she holds true to her hope and faith in Man and God; the two characters de Sade completely abhors. To de Sade Man is an animal equal to pigs and rats and therefore they have no true value except for what pleasure they can bring themselves in life. Personally if you have never read any of de Sades works, you should read his biography first. His books take alot of their inspiration from the marquis' own life. By the way, if you wonder why I gave this book a 4 and not a five, it is because I felt that the end was too abrupt and didn't have the climax I had hoped for. This book also has several short pieces by him of which the one I favor most is "Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man". That will is definitely serious but in the end you can't do anything else but laugh.
on February 18, 2003
whether you loved him or hated him, we must all admit that the most controversial authors around the world owe their corrupted souls to de sade. after reading this collection of work, it is easy to understand why so many could've been offended but i can also understand how reading his work can greatly benefit mankind scientifically and pyschologically. while certainly not for all tastes, his books provide the reader with an unflinching look at some of the most vile behavior that humans have ever exhibited both in and out of the bedroom. de sade left virtually nothing to the imagination to chew on in the annals of graphic detail here but gave us more than we could handle in the lines of philosophy and, yes, science. this may very well not be his greatest volume of work but perhaps it's a fine place to start for those not quite accumstomed to the de sade writing style. it's sinful, wicked, and i'm literally a greenish envy that i could not have written even a small portion of what the marquis wrote. each nook and cranny is seething with debauchery, lust, and over powering desire. if the marquis were to spare us a few moments with any of these topics, he then waves his fist to pound any organized religion. try and avoid him if you might but i strongly believe his message to the world was not avoid our strange desires but to understand the why behind them. the dialogue between a dying man and a preacher will raise some eyebrows but it does bring up quite a few questions for us to ponder and undoubtedly has been debated throughout the years. i daresay my favorite portion of the book has to be the philosophy in the bedroom which rmeinds me somewhat of dangerous liaisons only much more explicit and definately will turn off many a reader.
on June 24, 2001
'The Marquis de Sade - the complete Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and other writings.' Compiled and translated by Richard Seaver & Austryn Wainhouse with essays by Jean Paulhan of l'Academie Francaise & Maurice Blanchot. New York: Grove Press, 1990 (1965). 753 pp.
Donatien-Alphonse-Francois, Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), was born in Paris into one of the most noble and ancient families of Provence. He was educated at first by his uncle, the tolerant, scholarly, and sophisticated Abbé de Sade, then by the Jesuits, and at the age of twenty-three married Renee-Pelagie de Montreuil, an intelligent and loving woman who bore him three children.
The marriage, as was usual at the time, was arranged, and Sade would have much preferred to marry Renee's beautiful and vivacious younger sister, Anne-Prospere, a girl he later seduced. This led to the undying enmity of his mother-in-law, the powerful Madame de Montreuil, who through her influence at court was able to obtain a 'lettre de cachet' or Royal Warrant of arrest from the king, which led to Sade's first imprisonment.
A variety of sexual escapades, and Madame de Montreuil's continuing enmity, were to lead to an incredibly harsh total of twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and he was eventually to die in the Charenton lunatic asylum where he had been sent, not because he was insane, since he was one of the most lucid thinkers of his age, but after incurring the wrath of Napoleon who had been led to believe that he was the anonymous author of the anti-Bonaparte satire, 'Zoloe,' a mediocre work which current opinion feels was probably not written by Sade.
What were Sade's real crimes? Well, so far as I can gather, there weren't any. He was guilty of a number of ... indiscretions and frankly admitted to being a libertine - a man who felt that sex was something to celebrate and enjoy, and not the dirty and disgusting thing we have been taught. He also wrote a number of very profound, very obscene, very learned, and also very funny books, for what is regularly overlooked is that he was, in addition to his other talents, a great comic artist.
The French critic Philippe Sollers, in fact, seems to feel that everything Sade wrote was intended as comic. And if we consider that the essence of great comedy lies in the truth of its portrayal of human nature, I think we arrive at the real reason for Sade having been demonized, imprisoned, and misrepresented as a monster - there is just too much truth in him, and society has a vested interest in suppressing the truth.
An impressive array of outstanding personalities have written about Sade's work: Apollinaire, Maurice Heine, Gilbert Lely, Octavio Paz, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Bataille, Pierre Klossowski, Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Yukio Mishima, Annie LeBrun, etc., and there are some who feel that if it were not for his reputation, his novel of 1795, 'Aline and Valcour,' would probably be rated every bit as highly as we rate such works as 'Don Quixote' or 'Gulliver's Travels.'
Unfortunately, because in many of his works he dealt with taboo subjects in an often extreme way, and because his vision of man was less than flattering, his reputation as a libertine has been seized upon as an excuse to rigorously exclude him from him the Western literary canon, and one will search in vain for any mention of Sade in the Histories of Western Literature and Philosophy where he ought to figure prominently.
This campaign of vilification and suppression has been so effective that it is possible to have a keen interest in literature and philosophy, and to read extensively for decades, without ever even suspecting that Sade is the one writer who is most worth reading since he so unique.
Because of the extreme obscenity that we find in his writings they have always been a favorite target of censors, and it wasn't until the mid-sixties that unexpurgated editions of Sade's works became available in English translation in the United States.
For those who would like to read the authentic texts, I can strongly recommend the present authoritative and critical English edition. It has a full introduction, critical essays, bibliographies, etc., and is beautifully translated:
There are a lot of other 'Sade' books on the market, or books that pretend to be giving you Sade, but the present ediition contains the only authoritative and uncut English translations of his major works. As for earlier translations, some of them tend to be rather expensive, possibly because they have usually been issued in limited editions and book dealers have a nasty habit of classifying them as Erotica....
In fact, Sade is not not really erotically stimulating at all. My own feeling is that his descriptions of sexual high jinks are intended more to provoke laughter than to excite, and anyone who goes to him for titillation is going to come away disappointed.
Roald Dahl, the famous writer of children's books, pointed out somewhere that children love the grotesque, the exaggerated, the monstrous, the ugly, the dirty; they find such things hilarious. I think there's more than a bit of this in Sade, and perhaps buried deep down in all of us too. Sade was able to see into the depths of the subconscious mind, and for anyone who is interested in understanding who and what we really are he is unsurpassed.
on May 30, 2004
This collection of the Marquis de Sade's writings includes "Justine" and "Philosophy in the Bedroom". The latter is a "dialogue" about a teenage virgin girl's indoctrination into the ways of sex, basically. Some hands-on lessons soon turn this young innocent into a well-trained debauchee. Next, we have the novel "Justine." In this story of virtue vanquished by vice, "good girl" Justine leaves the convent to find herself molested by a wicked outside world of cruelty and perversion. The over-arching idea or message that Sade was trying to get across here was: doing good only leads to bad consequences, and besides, it's more fun to be evil and perverted. I don't believe in Sade's philosophy because even his apologists and sympathizers will admit that it is all about completely unleashing the beast within us, and the 20th century more than any other has taught us that that can only lead to total anarchy, and end in total annihilation. It is a doctrine of extreme nihilism based on selfish and compassionless self-gratification. Another problem is that all of Sade's villains are the same--their sexual proclivities, their philosophies, their social status, etc etc. Not much variety. Another fault some have found is that his plots are quite predictable and repetitous (same thing over and over: Justine meets a man who first seems good and decent on the outside, but turns out to be a real villain, which she only discovers after he has taken her to his secluded mansion, monastery, or some other place from which there is no escape for her). Of course, virtue is always punished by vice, and each time Justine begs for mercy, she is paid back for it with violent abuse and lust. In Sade's works, he makes it look like 9 out of 10 people, particularly men, are wicked, perverse, violent beasts. Also, there is a strong undertone of misogyny, sodomy, sadomasochism, and the hatred of all standard morality. Sade's ideas often have a seemingly convincing evil logic, but they are the thoughts and fancies of a clever and philosophical madman or serial killer, weakened at times by inconsistencies, contradictions, and platitudes. Sade writes from the perspective of a gifted writer who has been babied and pampered all his life, who has never worked, who has been able to satisfy his every desire, who has spent most of his life in jails and an asylum, and thus has lost touch with reality and the human race (and this shows clearly in his writings which are usually much more implausible than realistic), who has lived in complete comfort even in his confinement. Even the food which his wife had sent to him and which he ate behind bars would have suited a king. I believe Sade was an unfeeling, heartless wretch because his mother abandoned him at a very very early age, and he never learned love in childhood, so was unable to give it in adulthood.
I give this book 5 stars for its intellectual daring and originality as a documentation of the philosophy of evil, and because it is more or less well-written. I believe Sade's writings can give many insights into the thoughts and behavior of evil, and are important reading for theologians, psychologists, and criminologists.
on February 16, 2003
When the Marquis de Sade was locked up in the Bastille for various crimes that ranged from sexual abuse of prostitutes to flagellation of young boys, he found that he had the time to write at length in novel form a series of books that have come to stand for his belief in the utter joy of inflicting pain on the virtuous: sadism. For the next few centuries, philosophers and literary critics have debated whether his works deserve the attention normally given to serious works of literature or whether they are simply the ravings of a mind unhinged. There is a current trend to rehabilitate his reputation, a trend which includes analysing his canon with the same set of standard literary tools that are used on mainstream authors.
The reader new to de Sade might well wish to begin with JUSTINE. It is here that he delineates a world that is composed of two categories of people: those of vice and those of virtue. With the former, de Sade presents a very nearly exclusive male dominant protagonist, one who is wealthy, middle-aged, possessed of a castle or subterranean dungeon, and has a proclivity to speak at great length on the superiority of vice over virtue. With the latter, De Sade, as he does in JUSTINE, gives the reader a young, well-shaped, nearly indestructable female whose sole purpose is to suffer a non-stop series of assaults both on her body and to her mind. Each assault is a carbon copy of its predecessor. Justine (called Therese) is kidnapped or tricked into entering the lair of a rich and dissolute monk or nobleman who promptly lectures Justine/Therese on the inevitable triumph of Vice over a feckless Virtue. Each time this Vice figure rapes and sodomizes Justine, he tells her, "You see, my dear? If there were truly a virtuous God watching over innocent lambs like you, then I would surely be struck down by a bolt of lightning." Typically, Justine's only reply is, "But Moniseur, surely you can allow your hard heart to be softened by my plight." As if to punctuate the superiority of his position over Justine's, her tormentor simply increases the pace of his ravagings.
What becomes clear well before the half way point is that both the tormentor and his victim are allegorical stick figures from the morality plays with which de Sade was undoubtedly quite familiar. And just as those figures of morality from the Middle Ages were sure to point to a victory of virtue over vice, de Sade was determined to reverse the results. JUSTINE, as well as his later JULIETTE and 120 DAYS OF SODOM, all point to the same nihilistic end; either there is no God or what is worse, there is one but this deity has so arranged his cosmos that the universal deck is stacked against those who seek to live the good and pure life. Today, as the modern reader plows through the thousands of pages of de Sades' canon, that reader will find that the real titillation lies not in the finite ways that a female body can be corrupted but rather in the more nearly infinite ways that this corruption can be justified. Few writers have made this point more clearly--or more horribly--than de Sade.
on June 30, 2002
Despite the fact that de Sade's works have become virtually cult classics because of their raw descriptions of sex, I found these books to be sort of boring. Although the obsession with various and sundry sexual proclivities does add to the overall interest and weirdness factor, perhaps, it's not enough to save these books, either. Basically, when it comes to sex, for de Sade it comes down to the "four B's"--somebody is always being boned, buggered, blown, or beaten. Big deal. You can get this on videotape. In fact, these days you can practically get it in R-rated movies and on the front pages of small-town newspapers.
Some of the political philosophy is interesting in the historical context of the time, but if you want real philosophy, instead of parlor-level simplifications, I suggest you read works of real political philosophy, such as Plato's Republic or Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, for example, instead of some amorous amateur's afternoon thoughts. Unfortunately, de Sade seems to be at his most profound when his pants are around his ankles (or should I say pantaloons?) Anyway, de Sade and the emperor Tiberius would have made an interesting sexual "tag-team" for Masters and Johnson to research, perhaps, but a profound author he's not.
I also saw the recent movie, Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush as de Sade. In contrast to the books, I actually thought the movie was pretty good. In the film, de Sade spends the last 12 years of his life in an insane asylum. The movie (assuming it's accurate) shows that de Sade was a man driven and compelled to write. At one point, the director of the asylum takes his quills and paper away from him for corrupting the other inmates with his writings. But de Sade is a man with a mission--he continues to write with his own blood, and, well, other bodily excretions--as it becomes clear that his dark literary muse will not be silenced no matter what the cost.
I will say one nice thing about the books, though, which is that he does know how to turn a literary phrase once in a while, but that's about it. Give this over-heated and libidinous libertine the cold shoulder (but go see the movie).
on December 19, 2001
I quote the Marquis de Sade: "I do not wish to represent vice as being attractive. I do not want to make women adore the men who deceive them, but, rather, to detest them. I have made those of my heroes who tread the pathway of vice so utterly disgusting that they cannot inspire either pity or love. Thus I consider myself justified in claiming that I am more moral than those authors who nervously tone down their work." And indeed, it is somewhat of a relief to find that Sade (a literate and intelligent fellow) did not uphold the childishly atavistic, fundamentally absurdist ideology that Danville/Bressac/whoever lengthily expounds upon.
Indeed, Sade's work is very dangerous to those who take him at face value. The more messed up of the Nazi "thinkers" were no doubt steeped in this sort of literature, and much of the twisted, vicious "reasoning" for their vile worldview can be seen in these pages, as many of Sade's "libertines" often like to sit and have themselves a nice metaphysical chat with whoever they're raping. Indeed, Danville's "pit" and his prattle about the survival of the wealthy mirrors Nazi Germany just about perfectly. It's very disappointing to see the looneytarians try to defend this disproportionately callous, animalistic, disgusting rhetoric, but they do, oozing half-baked ideologuing and lymphatic juice when slightly squeezed.
But Sade, despite being bitter, cynical and highly sexed (the stories of his debaucheries are greatly exaggerated, by the bye), strongly opposed capital punishment and man's inhumanity to man in general. It is that fact that makes his work redeemable, even if it isn't all that literary (indeed, no character has more than one dimension...this was the intent, true, but still that fact remains) or if people have the tendency to ignore that underlying truth in favor of the deliberately perverted, distended, bestial "intellectual reasoning" that many of the characters spew - reasoning that Sade intended to have shown how vile its proponents truly were!
on April 14, 2001
This collection of works is an illuminating collection of Sade's best. The critical introductions are excellent, along with the massive chronology of Sade's life. Sade's letters and Last Will & Testament also give insight into one of France's most controversial literary minds.
The collection begins with "Dialogue between a priest and a dying man", perhaps the shortest, and least depraved, of his works. The dialogue is a concise evisceration of Judeo-Christian philosophy, advocating the supremacy and amorality of Nature.
"Philosophy in the Bedroom" follows, which is Sade at his most philosophically eloquent and sexually twisted. Every taboo is torn to pieces (sometimes literally) while the characters engage in philosophical dialogues about Nature, religion, politics, and, obviously, sex. There is a political treatise in the middle of the dialogues. The treatise is Sade at his most learned and compelling. Amid the erotic carnage, Sade displays himself as one of France's greatest philosophers. Foucault? Whatever.
Eugenie de Franval is next. It is a romantic tale about the love between a father and his daughter. It pre-dates Balzac, although it has a realistic style familiar to anyone who has read Pere Goriot (another tale of familial love, but not about incest).
Justine closes out the collection. This version is considerably longer than "the Misfortunes of Virtue" in the story collection of the same name. Sade fills the story with copious monologues discussing the stupidities of religion, the nature of fetishism (pre-dating Freud and Krafft-Ebing by a long shot), and the glories of crime. Depraved? Yes. Entertaining? Absolutely. Justine is comedy at its blackest. You'll laugh at all the misfortunes Justine gets herself into and her abundantly sentimental character. Kind of like "Pride and Prejudice", but totally messed up.
Reading Sade has opened my eyes and my mind to his scorched earth brand of philosophy. Nietzsche pales in comparison to the furious directness of Sade. Also, check out the chapter on Sade and Rousseau in Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" for more insight than this silly little review.
Quality reading. Pick it up now!
on January 13, 2001
It is little wonder that the Marquis De Sade spent the last years of his life in a madhouse. Anyone as far ahead of his time as he was is sure to be considered insane by his contemporaries. This collection of his work is exhaustive, and deliciously exausting. You not only get "Justine" and "Philosophy in the Bedroom", there are many shorter works and a collection of De Sade's letters. All of these paint a picture of a man and a philosophy that was at least 150 years ahead of the morals and thought of his period. Sade not only anticipates Freud and Niezche, he goes beyond them. He declares homosexuality natural and advocates a woman's right to choose. The cruelty Sade is known for is the natural outgrowth of his philosophy and the pervailing attitude toward Nature during his life. Nature is the only real ruler of man, he says. Nature is sometimes cruel, indeed in the view of Western Civilization, Nature is always cruel. Therefore, says the Marquis, humans, if they are to be in harmony with the only true governing force, must allow themselves to at least imagine being cruel. Now, while one might criticize the Marquis for not being able to cross the rubicon with his views on Nature as he did with homosexuality, the fact remains that the conclusion is logical within De Sade's framework. This is not a collection for those seeking light erotica. Indeed, some of the situations described are the exact opposite of erotic. Read as philosophy, as the Marquis intended, his work is an earth shattering precursor to the modern and post modernist movement. This colection goes a long way in wresting Sade's name away from the pathology that unfortunatly bears his name.
on December 15, 2000
I guess that one of the best ways to pass the time when your locked away in a mental institution is to write porn. This is what deSade did. The good people of France had the sense to keep this guy locked in either a prison or a mental hospital for most of his life. I can see why.
This is a shocking book. That is its intent and it succeeds. Still it does give you things to think about besides wondering if there is any combination of men, women, boys, girls, animals and so forth that he left out.
More seriously, a number of important philosophical and moral points are raised here. The problem is being able to keep your mind unaroused enough to think about them.
Reading DeSade is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
The only thing I can think about is to not try to do it this way with your girlfriend or boyfriend. You'll end up in jail if you try. If you want to learn about hte realities of sadism, masochism and bondage try SM 101 by Jay Wiseman, The Loving Dominant by John Warren or Screw the Roses Send Me the Thorns by Phillip Miller and Molly Devon.