A Slice of Cake with the Marquis

Portrait of the Marquis De Sade Aged 19-Van Loos 1760
Portrait of the Marquis De Sade Aged 19-Van Loo 1760

I wish it to be a chocolate cake, and of chocolate so dense that it is black, like the devil’s ass is blackened by smoke.’ Marquis De Sade in a letter to his wife Renée-Pélagie from Vincennes prison, May 9, 1779.

During his many years of imprisonment, the Marquis De Sade would bombard his wife, Renée-Pélagie, a woman who expands the definition of long-suffering, with letters containing requests for books, clothes (De Sade was quite the dandy), prestiges (a code word for dildos, to avoid the prison censors redactions) and food. Especially sweets, all kind of sweets.

A typical letter asks for the following in the fortnightly care package sent by Renée-Pélagie, ‘…four dozen meringues, two dozen sponge cakes (large); four dozen chocolate pastille candies-with vanilla-and not that infamous rubbish you sent me in the way of sweets last time.’  Locked in his prison cell and unable to satisfy his numerous passions, De Sade was very specific indeed when it came to the delicacies he could enjoy, as another letter from Vincennes shows, ‘Please send me: fifteen biscuits made at the Palais-Royal, the finest possible, six inches long by four inches wide and two inches high, very light and delicate.’ Frequently, however, the items sent by Renée-Pélagie failed to meet the exacting standards of the Marquis; yet more infamous rubbish, provoking a torrent of scorn and invective from the perpetually outraged prisoner.

In De Sade’s fiction, the pleasures of the table are inexorably linked to the pleasures of the flesh. His libertines are invariably gluttons that indulge in fantastical meals in preparation for their orgies. As Noirceuil explains to Juliette, ‘Our cocks are never as stiff as when we’ve just completed a sumptuous feast.’ Examples abound in his libertine novels of such repasts, which he obviously planned with some care, as the following extract from La Nouvelle Justine of a meal consisting of eighty-nine dishes shows:

They were served two soups: one Italian pasta with saffron, the other a bisque au coulis de jambon, and between them a sirloin of beef à l’anglaise. there were twelve hors d’oeurves, six cooked and six raw. then twelve entrées – four of meat, four of game and four of patisseries. A boar’s head was served in the middle of twelve dishes of roast meat, which were accompanied by two courses of side dishes, twelve of vegetables, six of different creams, and six of patisseries. There followed twenty fruit dishes or compotes, an assortment of six ice creams, eight different wines, six liqueurs, rum, punch, cinnamon liqueur, chocolate and coffee. Gernande got stuck into all of them. some of them he polished off on his own. He drank twelve bottles of wine, starting with four Volneys, before moving onto four Ais with the roast meat. He downed a Tokay,  a Paphos, a Madeira and a Falernian with the fruit and finished off with two bottles of liqueurs des Iles, a pint of rum, two bowls of punch and ten cups of coffee.’

In De Sade’s most notorious and darkest novel, 120 Days In Sodom, the only characters to escape the four libertines murderous frenzy are the cooks, because they are a protected guild who are indispensable in maintaining the libertine’s lusts.

Yet, as always with De Sade, one must be wary of his intentions: do they serve as the delirious wish-fulfilment of a jailed aristocrat or do they indeed possess a satirical edge? After all the ancien regime was the great age of the gourmand, where the tables of the rich groaned beneath the weight of  absurdly baroque and decadent meals while the price of staples such as bread would fluctuate wildly. However the menus De Sade’s sent the chef of the Bastille, where he was also locked up, show a surprising frugality:

TUESDAY

DINNER
-Soup
-A mouthwatering half chicken
-Two little vanilla custards
-Two cooked apples

SUPPER
-Soup
-A small hash of the morning’s leftover chicken

SATURDAY

DINNER
-Soup
-Two delectable mutton cutlets
-A coffee custard
-Two cooked Pears

SUPPER
-Soup
-a little sweetened omelette made of just two eggs and extremely fresh butter

De Sade was also only a moderate drinker. Yet it is safe to say that his inability to resist a slice of chocolate cake, as black as the devil’s ass, combined with the sedentary life lived behind bars contributed to him becoming enormously fat in later life.

45 thoughts on “A Slice of Cake with the Marquis

  1. That is the most outrageous menu I’ve ever heard! I’m not sure whether to laugh or throw up! This was both interesting and amusing, Monsieur Gateau. Too much of everything is just enough, eh? I enjoyed the cake with my coffee this morning. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, a little bit of levity here, though I feel sorry for Madame De Sade trying to avoid giving the Marquis infamous rubbish. Some of the menus are even more baroque than this one. Indeed too much is just enough.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well the Marquis was nothing if not contrary. His letters, of which they are many, mainly to Renee-Pelagie, range from sweetly tender to wildly outraged. They also display a fair amount of literary skill, as the striking Cake metaphor shows. There is always something of the actor In De Sade, always seems to be aware of an audience.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah, I just love this post… Actually, I’ve always liked descriptions on eating habits from long gone ages. And I especially enjoyed your language in this one… Thank you for your write up. As always.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My pleasure, well it about time I had some Cake here… as it is Cake or Death, and who better than an old regular, the Marquis? Plus that chocolate cake as black as the devil’s ass is too good not to share really.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Madame de Sade is herself an enigma. She certainly wasn’t without strength of character, she opposed her formidable mother, La Presidente, on numerous occasions. It was a pre-arranged marriage but the Sades were unusually close. As he was old Provençal nobility nobody expected marital fidelity, but his scandalous behaviour was quite beyond the pale. Yet she stood by him, even when he went on the lam with her beautiful, favoured younger sister, until, and this is the strange part, he was released from prison following the Revolution. Mishima wrote a play about her and one of the best biographies is Francine du Plessix Gray At Home with the Marquis De Sade, which concentrates on their relationship. Glad you enjoyed, something a little bit different.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Blake in Proverbs of Hell echoes some of Sade’s thinking, without of course knowing about him. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom and only too much is ever enough. The De Sade’s relationship was indeed fascinating, but his life was ridiculously eventful.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hard for me to completely comprehend the following, “…only too much is ever enough”, too much and enough, an oxymoron. By all accounts he was enormous, and seemed to have his finger on the button, knowing how to electrify people left and right.

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      3. I was paraphrasing loosely, Blake says that only by knowing too much will you know what is enough. The Proverbs are deliberately paradoxical and provocative. I count Blake, De Sade and Goya as the major counter-Enlightenment figures as they show the limits of reason and the rebellion against rationality.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. So do I…I think you can trace a lineage from Swift to Sade, Blake and Goya onto the Romantics through the Symbolists and Decadents to the Surrealists (via Dada). Hardly an original thought but interesting still.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Until now, I knew only about Sade’s insatiable appetite for all things kinky….but he was such a glutton too…Oh my god, I pity his wife (the expanded form of the expression long-suffering as you said). Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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