Philosophy in the Boudoir

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Tomer Hanuka-Cover of Philosophy in the Boudoir

To Libertines

Voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex, it is to you only that I offer this work; nourish yourselves upon its principles: they favour your passions, whereof coldly insipid moralists put you in fear, are naught but the means Nature employs to bring man to the ends she prescribes to him; hearken only to these delicious Promptings, for no voice save that of the passions can conduct you to happiness.

Lewd women, let the voluptuous Saint-Ange be your model; after her example, be heedless of all that contradicts pleasure’s divine laws, by which all her life she was enchained.

You young maidens, too long constrained by a fanciful Virtue’s absurd and dangerous bonds and by those of a disgusting religion, imitate the fiery Eugenie; be as quick as she to destroy, to spurn all those ridiculous precepts inculcated in you by imbecile parents.

And you, amiable debauchees, you who since youth have known no limits but those of your desires and who have been governed by your caprices alone, study the cynical Dolmance, proceed like him and go as far as he if you too would travel the length of those flowered ways your lechery prepares for you; in Dolmance’s academy be at last convinced it is only by exploring and enlarging the sphere of his tastes and whims, it is only by sacrificing everything to senses pleasure that this individual, who never asked to be cast into this universe of woe, that this poor creature who goes under the name of Man, may be able to sow a smattering of roses atop the thorny path of life.

Marquis De Sade-Philosophy in the Boudoir 1795

I have included the above dedication to Philosophy in the Boudoir in full (see The Moment for further information concerning the libertine tradition that it is the culmination of) to give a taste of the style and concerns of the Divine Marquis (see Citizen Sade and Yet Another Effort). As the title suggests, Philosophy in the Boudoir features a lot of sex and philosophical conversation yet it remains the most accessible of his major works, with very little physical cruelty (well, at least until the shocking, Grand Guignol ending) and contains many examples of fine, though somewhat, black humour. However it is the Marquis De Sade, so it is not for the squeamish as the language is frequently coarse and crude, while it contains vivid descriptions of sexual practises that are still shocking today, over 220 years after its initial publication.

Philosophy in the Boudoir describes in seven dialogues, the sexual and very unsentimental education of Eugenie (as critics have noted, the very name is chosen with care) over two days by a group of libertines: Madame De Saint-Ange (though they is nothing remotely saintly or angelic about her) whose boudoir is the setting of the piece, Saint-Ange’s younger brother Le Chevalier (who is involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister) and the archetypal libertine Dolmance., who is often thought to be somewhat of a self portrait of the Marquis himself.

All the characters, as is often the case in De Sade, are bisexual by principle. Dolmance provides most of the philosophy, stating that religion, morality, modesty and compassion are all absurd notions that stand in the way of the ultimate and only goal of human existence: pleasure. Saint-Ange and Dolmance further elaborates to Eugenie that it is impossible to feel true pleasure without pain. Sex without pain is like food without taste for De Sade.

Eugenie proves to be a quick and enthusiastic learner. In the middle of the fifth dialogue all the characters take a break to listen to Dolmance read out a pamphlet he found in the street, the famous  Yet Another Effort, Frenchman, If You Would Become Republicans, which is a distillation of De Sade’s philosophy and hopes for Revolutionary France. De Sade devotes a lot of time to beseeching  the Republic, now that it has deposed of the tyrant on the throne to banish forever the worship of God. Only then can they truly become Republicans. Once the dead hand of religion has been lifted, then morality surely has to follow. De Sade argues that theft should be applauded as private property is a source of evil. Prostitution will be encouraged and adultery by both sexes is permitted. There should be no law against homosexuality as it both natural and normal. The death penalty must be abolished. Basically De Sade upends every moral precept of the age and declares the less laws a State has, the better. He then goes on to warn that if these innovations are not followed then France will relapse and become a monarchical society again (he was right on this point).

After this lengthy discourse, the narrative resumes towards its jaw dropping denouement, and the reader is left to ponder the radical and horrific nature of De Sade’s thought. I will leave the last word to the man himself, who, for all his many faults and inconsistencies, possessed a lucid self-awareness.

 ā€œEither kill me or take me as I am, because I’ll be damned if I ever change.ā€ 

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59 thoughts on “Philosophy in the Boudoir

  1. You pique my interest for a work I’d never have dreamed of reading some months ago. Is the ending going to give me heart palpitations?

    That is quite the, ahem, stimulating artwork for the cover. Red for heat, for blood… both virginal and injurious. I don’t even want to know about the horse. I am afraid it means what I think it means. As always, an excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ending is really very shocking. However it is his most accessible major work, without the oppressive quality of the long novels. But still shocking, I plan one more post on the Marquis about his last will and testament and a summation. I think it is a good series though I should probably be harder on the old rogue.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I like that you’ve provided an alternative perspective, though. Everyone has preconceived notions about de Sade. Besides, it’s not like you’ve let him completely off the hook. You explain (or at least mention) the flaws in his thinking. Total freedom = rapid annihilation.

        I have three writing tips by the Marquis left to post: novel vs history, writing for money and avoiding moral earnestness – I think I’ll save that for last. After I see The Importance of Being Ernest in the theater next month!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well I am ambiguous about De Sade, but he is an interesting thinker and character. His thorough going atheism is much more logically consistent than the pallid wishy washy atheism of the new atheists, whose argument seems to be that the death of god means that we should be nice to one another and everything will be grand. He understand human nature better than these bourgeoisie. And he is always shocking and contrary. I look forward to more writing tips. The essay is brilliant and shows there is a lot more to the Marquis than wordy smut.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh, I detect a bit of spikiness! Perhaps if god isn’t dead but never ‘was’ in the first place, there is some accountability to humanity itself instead? As in, the duty of man is passing on of his DNA in order to perpetuate the species. We might have to be nice to one another for that to fly, don’t you think?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hmmm, but De Sade wanted to also get rid of the humanism that was inherited from religion. As our ethics are all based from religious precepts that when you get rid of religion then the ethics are discarded as well. What has being nice to do with the perpetuate of the species, which Nature doesn’t care about anyway as she just creates to destroy. Remember the blackbird that is more important than 40 million Dead. De Sade realised that if religion and ethics were gone then it doesn’t matter to nature whether you depopulate France or our nature. De Sade was brave in his views, the new atheists want their Cake and to eat it as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I beg to differ, Cake! First of all, there are as many different types of atheists with unique sets of beliefs as there are religious differences in this world… Perhaps it’s not ‘ethics’ per se but all animals care for their young, some mate for life, defend and protect their packs, etc. -none of that is ‘humanism’ is it survival of the species. And yes Nature can be cruel but can be kind as well. Our complex ethical ideas may arise from religion but the more simple ones are instinctual. An evolutionist would agree with that… De Sade removes value from all life (the blackbird example)- you can’t agree with that thinking, Cake! ARE you defending this position because you agree with it or just to play devil’s advocate?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. But why is the human species so special, maybe the blackbird is more important in the natural order than man. And I disagree that all animals care for their young, that is simply not true. Sharks? Rabbit mother frequently eat their young. Does nature really care more about man than other species, is it not all gist for the mill. As to whether I am devils advocate, well the thing I like most about De Sade is his contrarian beliefs. As to your instincts, they are frequently cruel and selfish. Spiky split cake

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Alright, perhaps ‘ALL care for their young’ is an overstatement. However, everything would have gone extinct ages ago if the opposite were true. And we are talking across purposes here, Cake. I don’t think nature ‘cares’ about anything. What I am saying is that highly developed humans -the pinnacle of evolution- if that is the atheist position on the origins of life- have inborn/innate/instinctual ethics or values that provide for the perpetuation of the species. Spiky!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Spiky nihilist Cake. However let’s not overlook his way ahead of his time views on sexuality and private property. He is a fore runner of Marx in the comments on private property, Nietzsche on the re evaluation of morals and Freud on both the importance of sexual impulses and on civilisation and it’s discontent. As to The perseveration of the species De Sade would argue that is just a byproduct of our desire for pleasure. Nature breeds this in so she can have more raw material to destroy.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I am not overlooking anything. There has been plenty of intriguing revelations about the divine Marquis in my recent exploration of the man. Don’t be a nihilist, Cake. The concept of Nature breeding for destruction is horribly depressing… why carry on at all?

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I am not a nihilist at all, you know that, I find that part of De Sade horrifying, however I do like playing the devils advocate. I think it is our job to overcome nihilism, but we have to understand the strength of that argument before we can surpass it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well… That is certainly an interesting book cover. The horse and the guy on the right… I can’t tell what’s happening with his face. Your discussion with Meg is intriguing also. You make me think, Cake. I like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually I have no idea why the horse is featured. The others are scenes from the book. I am glad I make you think, that’s the whole idea. I may not agree with a point of view but I like to see the merits in an argument.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post Mr. Cake, very thought-provoking. I like the opening line, “Voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex, it is to you only that I offer this work”. The artwork is pretty powerful also.
    ~ Miss Cranes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miss Cranes, hopefully I did not disappoint in this follow up in the De Sade series. It is excellent artwork, to be found on the cover of the Penguin Deluxe Classics edition. Is he becoming intellectually respectable? Would he like that even? I keeping checking for your latest post, awaiting eagerly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. you’re welcome. Mr. Cake, you never disappoint with your posts. I can’t imagine he would like that, to be intellectually respectable, perhaps because the vast majority of the intellectually respectable are not “his people”. A new posts, well… hmm… I don’t know, maybe next week, or thereafter.
        ~ Miss Cranes

        Liked by 1 person

  4. In terms of government overseeing our personal lives there is a difference between our sex lives and economic issues is a never ending debate. If you could check out my blog and tell me what you think that would be greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The notion at sex sh9ukd be reserved for love and monogamy is confused. In this age of explicit content and viral videos how can we still condemn individuals who choose to enjoy one of the greatest pleasures of life? Great write

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well the pamphlet Yet Another Effort is probably the clearest distillation of his political thought and is interesting though jaw dropping. The desire to abolish private property is definitely foreshadows later socialist thought, and the ending is absolutely shocking and a fine example of French transgression.

      Liked by 1 person

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