Yet Another Effort

Imaginary Depiction of Marquis De Sade-H.Biberstein 1912

J.G Ballard once noted that the Marquis De Sade remains the spectre at the feast of European letters and thought. On the rare occasions when anyone decides to let him in from the cold, he leaves bloody footprints on the welcome mat.

A fiercely contrarian spirit, the  Marquis has been variously called, by admirers and detractors alike: revolutionary, radical, reactionary, an anarchist, a socialist. Depending on who you read he is either a much maligned libertarian or he paved the theoretical way for the homicidal tyrants of the 20th century.  No one can quite decide where the Marquis lies  on the political spectrum. The debate is probably fiercest regarding his views on gender and pornography, understandably so as the body in De Sade is always the locus of power and freedom, but even here views diverge. Virulent misogynist whose fiction continually degrade and devalue women, or a radical feminist who, in one of his darkest fictions, Juliette, shows the possibility  of complete female emancipation?

Illumination cannot be found in his life either. Strangely enough for a man who is know for transgression and excess, his behaviour as a free citizen in Republican Paris shows an unexpected moderation. De Sade didn’t avail himself of the unique opportunities present during the Terror, instead he kept a cool head while others were losing theirs.

After his release from prison in 1790 (see Citizen Sade), he lived in Paris with his mistress Marie Constant Quesnet and her six year old son. His long suffering wife Renee-Pelagie, after standing by him during the long years of imprisonment had obtained a divorce by this time. De Sade was elected to the National Convention and was appointed to the local Section Des Piques, one of the forty eight administrative divisions in the new Republic. It was in this position that he could have condemned his loathed in-laws, especially his mother-in-law, La Presidente who was responsible for the lettres de cachet that had caused him to be under lock and key for over a decade, to death. But he refrained; the Marquis De Sade had always been a principled opponent of the death penalty. This restraint and his criticism of Robespierre led to the Marquis being detained again in 1793, where he narrowly escaped execution due to a clerical error.

De Sade wrote a number of stirring pamphlets in defence of the Revolution, notably the famous Yet another effort, Frenchman, if you would become Republicans, nestled in his libertine classic La philosophie dans le boudoir (Philosophy in the Bedroom). In this text De Sade gives an outline of his version of Utopia, a minimal state that interferes as little as possible with the rights of the individual. I shall  by reviewing this work in greater depth and further detail in the next post on the Marquis.


61 thoughts on “Yet Another Effort

      1. Along with a very sweet tooth I share with the Marquis De Sade a quasi-mystical obsession with numbers. Certain numbers that have cropped up recently…
        The Moment
        diderot,jane austen,philosophy in the boudoir,ancien regime,laclos,cynicism,romanticism,pleasure,eroticism,dangerous liasions,libertine,voltaire,crebillon fils,the indiscreet jewels,lust,corruption,decadence,marquis de sade,the wayward heart and head,gothic,seduction,louis xv,baroque,love,the sofa

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      2. I have always preferred the Continental school over the Anglo-American philosophy. I love Blake and Lewis Carroll though. The French are very French and when it comes to libertines well they have it nailed. Funnily enough in most French novels there is usually a decadent sadistic English lord.

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  1. In the Essay on Novels, De Sade defends his writing this way: “It is not my wish to make vice attractive. … I harbor no dangerous plan to make women love men who deceive them, but on the contrary, to ensure that they loathe them.” I had a completely different opinion of him prior to this (thank you for enlightening me).

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    1. He had many good points along with the long list of faults, that he was well aware of. Marie-Constant stayed with him the rest of his life and tried hard to provide for her and her son, times were tough. His opposition to the death penalty never wavered and he didn’t settle scores. He had good reason to hate La Presidente, but he kept to his principles even though it meant he came under scrutiny. However he wasn’t an angel and perhaps I am too fond of the old rogue.

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      1. I have just begun my education regarding the Marquis so I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion. But what I have learned is a surprise to me. How much of his bad reputation was a result of the times in which he lived. Would he be viewed more kindly today?

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      2. He was imprisoned for most of his life. He was self aware, he realised that his uncontrollable nature was the reason. Could he help his nature? Could nature be wrong or was it civilisation. I think he was sincere. Like Blake he believed that if a desire could be suppressed it was because it was a weak desire. Strong desires can never be denied, not in the world Sadean universe.

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  2. Mr. Cake, very interesting write-up. I quite like the following, “a minimal state that interferes as little as possible with the rights of the individual”. Looking forward to the next post on the Marquis. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you Miss Cranes, glad you enjoyed the latest instalment on the Divine Marquis. He is an interesting political thinker even if some of his arguments seem to be a case of special pleading. But freedom is a tricky subject. He is rarely dull anyway.

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  3. Very interesting. I’m surprised he had such scruples. Though, I suppose wanting every personal freedom doesn’t mean you are completely corrupt. I always love to read the comments on your site. They are very entertaining.

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    1. He had some scruples. His stand against the death penalty was rather unique at the time. He saw the logical absurdity of saying murder was wrong and then the state would…murder you. Freedom is a thorny subject, if I want to play music loud late night at night I am depriving my neighbour a good nights sleep, yet I am repressing myself for the sake of my neighbour. Somebody is always unfree.

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      1. De Sade wouldn’t have necessarily been a huge fan of society. He believed it was tyranny imposed upon our natural desires. As an atheist he believed that all morals were based on religion, get rid of religion get rid of morals. We have to follow our natures, nothing natural could be wrong and as all desires are natural by virtue of them according them anything goes. They are holes in his reasoning, yet at least he followed his conclusions to the limit.

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      2. And of course now they are trying to find the moral center to the brain. Or have found certain areas that seem to have that function. Interesting. I don’t see how people practicing such freedom could live with other people. Someone’s going to be repressed.

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  4. Oh so many devils on his shoulder. 🙂 And yes, he pushed literary and sexual boundaries, and from the accounts I’ve heard, while *he* enjoyed freedom in his libertine ways, it seems not everyone he pushed himself on was happily and freely consenting. No wonder he was always in jail, between the books and his transgressions.

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    1. The actual amount of time he spent in prison for his real life transgressions were minimal. There was the Keller case that led to the lettre de cachet and the Marseille Spanish Fly case where he was sentenced to death in absentia along with his valet Latour for sodomy, but most of his time in prison or mental asylums were unrelated to actual crimes. He was banged up by every regime, monarchical, revolutionary and imperial, no regime could tolerant his extremes.

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