He is the patriarch of sadism. He is the “S” in both S&M and BDSM. He is the guy who made the word, “sodomy,” all about the ass. He is the French nobleman, revolutionary politician, philosopher and writer famous for his literary depictions of, “libertine sexuality,” — or what we refer to today as, porn. Born Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade on June 2, 1740, he is Marquis de Sade.
Though today Sade’s name seems best known as the origin of the words, sadism and sadist — the key components of sadomasochism and BDSM — his legacy is actually the trove of fictional, erotic works from which those terms were born. Sade’s novels, short stories and plays were absolutely scandalous (to say the least) for their time, combining civil- and philosophical discourse with pornography, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, suffering, anal sex (which he termed sodomy), crime, and blasphemy against Christianity. Sade didn’t just talk the talk, either. In real life, he was as much a true rebel as his fiction; a proponent of absolute freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion and law. He was, in fact, the 1790’s French Revolution-era version of Al Goldstein and Larry Flynt.
The Marquis de Sade: The 120 Days of Sodom & Other Writings
Perhaps the Marquis’ most notorious work (er, crowning achievement), The 120 Days of Sodom, is 900-plus pages of pure debauchery, even by today’s standards, and the cornerstone of his creativity and thought, despite being unfinished by the author.
The 120 Days of Sodom revolves around the activities of four wealthy men who, in the four months of one winter, attempt to seek out the ultimate in sexual gratification through orgies, sealing themselves away in a far off castle somewhere in bum-fuck Germany with a harem of 36 teenagers — both male and female. Ultimately the men discover utmost gratification in sexually abusing and torturing the teens and the violence gradually increases ending in their slaughter. (Yeah, that’s pretty fucked up.)
Sade secretly wrote The 120 Days of Sodom over the course of 37 days while imprisoned in the Bastille. Short of writing materials and fearing confiscation, he wrote it in tiny handwriting on a continuous roll of paper, made up of small pieces of paper smuggled into the prison and glued together. The result was a scroll 12 meters long that Sade would hide by rolling it tightly and placing it inside his cell wall.
Unfortunately for him, on July 4, 1789, he was transferred to an asylum after inciting a riot at the prison, and the scroll was left behind. Ten days later the Bastille was stormed and looted, beginning the French Revolution, and Sade feared the scroll was destroyed. He later stated he was so distraught over it’s loss that he, “wept tears of blood.”
Miraculously, and unbeknownst to Sade, however, a man named Arnoux de Saint-Maximin was occupying Sade’s old cell and discovered it hidden within the wall just days before the storming of the Bastille. He took it and it was in his family’s possession, passed down for generations, until it was finally sold and published in 1904.
Sade described his work as, “the most impure tale that has ever been told since the world began.” We’ll leave it to you to decide. In honor of Marquis de Sade’s 282nd birthday, click here or on the book cover above to download and read all 900+ pages of his most notorious work, The 120 Days of Sodom & Other Writings, for free.