The Marquis de Sade - Biography

The Marquis de Sade - Biography

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The Marquis de Sade, whose bicentenary of his death is celebrated in 2014, is not limited to “sadism”. This writer and humanist was a Great Lover of Freedom, without taboos and without the implication of God. The various regimes which have rejected him have made him "the most obscure of famous men or the most famous of obscure men". His name has still fascinated him for more than two centuries, because he dared to write what no one has ever dared ...

Origin of the family

The distant Sade family dates back to well before 1177 in the Avignon region; Laure de Noves, sung by Petrarch, had married Hugues de Sade in 1325. This family of merchants, ennobled by the Pope in the 14th century, served the Church and the army, thus increasing the lands and lordships in the Luberon with Saumane and the magnificent castle of La Coste. While a branch called "the Sade d'Eyguières" will make a great naval officer during the American War of Independence, the Marquis comes from the branch called "the Sade de Saumane".

His grandfather Gaspard was ambassador of Avignon to Pope Clement XI. His father Jean Baptiste was the first to leave the region to seek his fortune in Paris. Attached to the Bourbons-Condé, he became captain of the dragons, lieutenant of the provinces of Bresse, married to a demoiselle Comtesse de Maillé, related to Richelieu. Later, principal adviser and confidant of the Duke of Bourbon, his diplomatic career ended quickly because of debauchery and unhappy words against the mistress of Louis XV. A permanent guest at the Hôtel de Condé, he passes from girls to boys as he wishes, but arrested by the police, he does not understand this punishment since it was his will. He then turns to religion and watches over his son, whom he loves madly, while attending the salons where he meets Voltaire, Montesquieu, Crébillon.

The Marquis de Sade, heir to a libertine family

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade was born on June 2, 1740 and grew up in the Hôtel de Condé with the future Duke of Bourbon Prince of Condé whose grandson was shot in the ditches of Vincennes in 1804, the brother of the Duke the Count of Charolais, cruel man with the peasants and the valetaille as well as the sister Mademoiselle de Charolais, having already at fifteen years a good number of lovers.

At the age of five, he was sent to his uncle abbot, vicar of the Archbishop of Toulouse, who maintained several women in his stronghold of Saumane in Provence. Playing with the children of the village, he always stands out because he is the son and grandson of the local lords.

At the age of ten, at the Louis Le Grand college in Paris, he learned Latin and discovered a passion for the theater. In 1755, like all young nobles, he was part of the elite regiment of Light Horses of the King's Guard. Excellent subject, he becomes cornet of the body directed by the future Louis XVIII.

During the Seven Years' War, he was a captain, behaving very well in the army, but not in his private life, drawn to gaming tables, brothels and the theater. Marked in his youth, Donatien is indeed the son and nephew of a libertine!

A marriage to pay off debts

At twenty, he is a wheeler; at twenty-three he multiplied his adventures and debts. Marriage, with a young girl of the nobility of dress Renée Pélagie Cordier de Montreuil, daughter of the president at the Cour des Aides, is the only solution. The negotiations are tough, no party wanting a libertine and indebted son! Housed for five years with the Montreuil family, provided with a dowry of 300,000 pounds, they will become the future heirs of châteaux in Normandy and Burgundy. But the marriage almost did not happen: Donatien has trouble leaving his good friend in Provence and almost misses the presentation of his future wife to the Court.

Married, he resumed his libertine habits, rented an apartment in Versailles, a small house in rue Mouffetard and another in Arcueil, and indulged in all his pleasures in the company of young girls: sodomy, flogging and blasphemy. Louis XV forgives debauchery but not insults towards religion: Donatien is arrested barely four months after his marriage; locked up in Vincennes while his wife was pregnant, he was then exiled to Normandy until his authorization to return to Paris in 1764.

Due to his position as lieutenant general, he frequents people, goes out a lot, finds his mistresses and begins his practices again. His father, who died in January 1767, left him the castles in Provence, but also the debts and the title of Count that Donatien refused. He will forever remain Marquis de Sade, only his son Louis Marie born in August 1767 will bear the title of Count.

Sade involved in dirty business

He spent his time between Paris and Provence in the spring of 1768, impregnating his wife, abusing two prostitutes and flogging a woman who filed a complaint despite the 2,500 pounds in compensation; the scandal breaks out: 9 months in prison in Saumur, the Conciergerie and Pierre Encize in Lyon. Released, after a trip to Holland, he returned to Paris in winter 1769-1770 to discover his son Claude Armand born in June 1769. He tried to occupy himself, but could not resume a function in the armed forces because of his bad reputation. .

He had just enough time to see his daughter born in April 1771 before being imprisoned again, this time for gambling debts. To get out of prison in November, he sells his position as captain and leaves Paris with all his family for the castle of La Coste, putting an end to his Parisian life. It doesn't bother him, he has never liked the Court, he can live alone in another region. You might think he's calmed down ... no, his obsessions will resurface.

In the spring of 1772, the Marquis invited the local nobles to his castle for a theatrical performance. Remember that this passion will never leave him, he will write seventeen plays that he will sign DAF, acting as director, manager, costume designer, blower, actor. He will like to be applauded as an author and actor. In this room, in front of the nobles, he plays accompanied by a lovely young lady (his sister-in-law). Love at first sight took place three years ago. His wife does not say a word, she deeply loves her husband.

In June, while he was in Marseille to settle money matters, he had a good time with prostitutes to whom he gave “lozenges à la Richelieu”. They are simple aphrodisiacs, but the girls get sick and complain. As soon as he returned to the castle, he was warned of his imminent arrest. He goes to nearby Italy, with his valet and his young sister-in-law who is also a canoness: the scandal is immense! Although his in-laws are outraged, his wife will never stop defending him since in September, the marquis and his valet are accused of "crime of poisoning and sodomy", tried and sentenced to death in absentia, led to the scaffold where the marquis will be put to death by beheading and his valet by hanging, their bodies burned and their ashes scattered. The girls will go back on their confessions, but the damage is done and the dishonor is real.

The Marquis and his sister-in-law lead a great life in Italy, but their love story soon comes to an end. Sade takes advantage of courtesans and can satisfy his fantasies ... especially after learning that Vivaldi, the great musician, is a priest and a girl runner! The young sister-in-law leaves him, Sade and his valet go to Chambéry then an Italian province, but are arrested at the beginning of December 1772 on denunciation of the in-laws. Taken to the castle of Miolans "the Bastille des Alpes", he is comfortably installed (bedroom, bathroom, table, pierced chair, armchairs, meals delivered ...), can walk and discuss with other prisoners (barons, lieutenants).

His wife tries to join him and sets up an escape plan. On April 30, 1773, in the middle of the night, three people fled on horses. The marquis went through Bordeaux, then Spain, Cadiz, Saragossa, Catalonia, Languedoc and found himself at the end of 1773 in Provence. But locked up, not daring to go out, he was bored ... until he left disguised in Italy. He returned to Lyon in the fall of 1774 to find his wife there.

With all her love, she tries to keep him near him ... but he has the demon in him, he has sex in his blood ... and here he is again in a dirty business. The Marquis has just hired a secretary and five young girls whose parents will file a complaint for "kidnapping done without their knowledge and by seduction". The rumor speaks of mutilated teenagers, hidden in La Coste, sums of money are paid by the Montreuil. But no document is found, all the documents in the file have been destroyed. In July 1775, the marquis sped to Gap, then Florence under the name of Comte de Mazan. First received by Cardinal Bernis in Rome, he was introduced to Marie Antoinette's brother-in-law in Naples at the start of 1776, who offered him various jobs at the Court.

Back in France, he wrote his "trip to Italy" in which he recounts his discovery of the castrati, which shocks him deeply; he becomes studious but always prey to his fantasies which he still satisfies, which causes him trouble. Thinking that in Paris, he can go unnoticed, he goes straight into the mouth of the wolf! He was arrested in February 1777 to be imprisoned in Vincennes. His wife struggles so well that she succeeds in having her trial revised; transferred to Aix en Provence at the beginning of 1778, he was retried on the Marseilles affair. The judgment is quashed, he is only accused of "admonition for debauchery and debauchery with a 50 pounds fine and a ban on staying in Marseille for three years". He thinks he's free! No ! Louis XV's lettre de cachet is still effective; Louis XVI horrified by the behavior of the marquis will not expand it. Under good escort, he returns to Paris, but manages to escape. Recaptured a month later, he was tied up, taken to Vincennes and locked up in September 1778. Thirteen years of detention awaited him which would make him a completely different man!

His stay in prison

Incarcerated in Vincennes, he occupies his time reading (he will have no less than 500 books) and stuff himself with pastries. Nicknamed "Monsieur le 6" in reference to the number of his cell, he writes a lot of letters proclaiming his innocence or insulting his mother-in-law, the police lieutenant or the governor of the prison. He becomes lucid and notices that confinement is of little use, except to degrade man, embitter him and make him even more angry.

His wife could finally visit him in July 1781, but he got things into her head, became jealous and angry, more and more aggressive until he hit everyone; she has to justify her movements, becoming her sufferer. Tired by the reproaches, exhausted by the blows received, she retired to the convent near the current Pantheon, entrusting the children to her mother.

In February 1784, Vincennes will close its doors for lack of occupants. The three remaining nobles are transferred to the Bastille. Installed on the sixth floor of the Freedom Tower, he can furnish his cell with furniture of his choice and his library of 600 volumes. Having hallucinations, seeing erotic scenes, he begins to write and describe all his repressed desires. This is how “Aline et Valcour”, “Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue” are written, where we read “we must sacrifice everything to pleasure; it is much less fun to be virtuous than to be vicious; vice amuses and virtue tires ”.

He no longer supports the Bastille after five years, but is not aware of the upheavals in Paris. He screams, calls the people; the governor has him evacuated in the middle of the night to the hospital in Charenton, without clothes, without furniture, especially without his books. It came close to regaining freedom ... because twelve days later, the people took the Bastille and freed the prisoners!

In his new prison, he feels lost; all his writings have remained in the Bastille. When he learns that the people have taken this prison, he thinks of his masterpiece "120 Days of Sodom" certainly destroyed ... yet this document passing from hand to hand, sold, resold, will be published between 1931 and 1935. The original will go from France to Switzerland, to be soon recovered by the BNF and exhibited at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts! If the Marquis knew ...

Finally free !

According to the will of the Nation, he is free and leaves Charenton surrounded by his two sons in April 1790. He is 50 years old, can no longer see well, has put on weight and walks poorly. He wants to see his wife who refuses, she who loved him so much during the twenty-seven years of fidelity and who did everything for him. Worse in June, she asks for and obtains separation of bed and board! Her sons prefer Normandy, her daughter is a nun! He won't see them anymore, he doesn't understand! He finds himself alone, has no friends, has not frequented any circle ... only servants and prostitutes. He settled near Saint Sulpice, only dealt with literature and put on plays, but success was not there, he was losing his money. Her first book "Justine ou les Malheurs de la Vertu" published in 1791 was a hit, because however indecent and disgusting it may be, everyone is struggling: six editions in ten years!

His "Sensitive" muse

Left alone for so long, he moved in with a young woman of thirty three, Marie Constance Quesnet, whom he called “Sensible”. They will no longer separate ... He moved to the current location of Galeries Lafayette, under the name of Louis Sade, abandoning the particle and the title of marquis. They will live happy, calm, without intimate relations, only platonic. He himself observes that he has changed “all this disgusts me now, as much as it once inflamed me. Thank God for thinking of something else and I am four times happier for it ”. He is transformed, she has become his muse.

Marquis de Sade text section des Piques "width =" 200 "height =" 283 "style =" margin-top: 0px; margin-bottom: 10px; margin-right: 10px; margin-left: 0px; float: left; border: outset 1px # C4C4C4 "title =" Publication of the Pikes section "/> Attracted by the Revolution while his sons emigrate, he enrolls in the Pikes section, attends the Fête de la Fédération and writes a text very relevant for the return of the King of Varennes; quickly secretary of the section in 1792, he was appointed Commissioner of the Paris sections in the hospitals and thanks to him, patients will be able to benefit from a bed each whereas before they were there slept three.

Favorable to the democratic evolution of institutions, he is all the same against violence like that of August 10 and does not hesitate to write it "the violence of my writings is very little compared to the current massacres". Elected Vice President of the Piques section in the spring of 1793, he was happy and satisfied with this official recognition; he does no harm to his in-laws depending on this section, he is content to criticize them by saying "they are beggars and scoundrels recognized that I could lose with one word ... but I have pity on them. 'them and I return them contempt and indifference ”. He does better, he puts them on a purification list. Sade is a moderate, except in religion!

Robespierre, who advocates the institutionalization of the cult of the Supreme Being, had him imprisoned at the beginning of December at Madelonnettes in the Marais. Nobody helps him, it is the beginning of the Terror. In January 1794, transferred to the Carmelites then to Saint Lazare, he was afraid of being guillotined because the report on his conduct was unhappy. Sensible is still there and his friends hide him in Doctor Coignard's nursing home, rue de Picpus "an earthly paradise, a beautiful house with a superb garden", but he is not reassured for all that. On July 26, the Revolutionary Tribunal condemned him to death for the second time in absentia for "conspiring against the Republic". Strangely enough, we don't come to pick it up that same day, but the next day only; he has already spun and escaped the guillotine. On July 27, Robespierre was overthrown by the Convention; the Terror ceased, Sade was saved and discharged from all charges in October 1794.

Free, he takes Sensible to Provence, to the castle of La Coste; the property is a ruin, the roof no longer exists, the windows and doors are broken and torn off. Disgusted, he sells the castle and some goods and then returns to Clichy.

His career as a writer

Disgusted, he no longer wanted to hear about politics and devoted himself to his career as a man of letters. He published eight volumes of “Aline et Valcour” in 1795 and ten volumes of “La Nouvelle Justine ou les Malheurs de la Vertu” in 1797 which were very successful, but the money was still lacking. To survive, he moved to Versailles and accepted a job as a blower at the city theater. He fought with the administration so that it lifted the sequestration of its property and rents in Provence. To top it off, he learned from the Gazette of his death on August 29, 1799!

In 1800, he signed with his name “the crimes of love” written in the Bastille. He thinks he will end his life quietly by writing. Well no ! Bonaparte calls him a monster, he hates this atheist libertine; in August, the police burn a complete edition of the Nouvelle Justine while preparing for her arrest. She took advantage of Sade's visit to her printer, to seize the manuscripts awaiting publication and put them in solitary confinement at the police headquarters at the beginning of March 1801. A month later, he was taken to Sainte Pélagie where he remained for two years. . To occupy his time, he created a Literary Society with a few inmates, but his behavior provoked complaints. Transferred in April 1803 to Bicêtre "la Bastille de la canaille" where we find the worst prisoners (rapists, thieves, madmen, murderers), his in-laws finally react: agree to incarceration, but more worthily . He is transferred to the Charenton hospice ... he will never come out.

Theater manager in Charenton

Charenton, founded in 1641 attached to the Ministry of the Interior in 1797, is a kind of prison to treat “insane people, dangerous people” whose crimes had to be hidden in the name of official morality. The pension is very high there and Sade can properly spend his end of life there thanks to the income from his farms in Provence; being marquis, he does not undergo the same treatment as the indigent considered as criminals.

Staff are uncertain as to who this well-spoken and good-looking "old man in old school clothes" is. He walks freely in the park thanks to the director Coulmiers, who has almost become his friend; having both the same ideas: to cure madness through the theater, he organizes performances, once a month, in front of more than 200 people. Moreover, with his kindness, Sensible was able to join him in the summer of 1804.

The performances go wonderfully, the actors play their role perfectly, without cries, without explosions of violence. Sade regulates the staging, directs the rehearsals, supervises the ensemble. It was a great success, followed by a small dinner with the actors and a few handpicked guests. When certain guests discover that the main actor, a man of spirit with warm spirit is none other than the Marquis de Sade, they are either surprised, or fascinated, or terrorized, but never indifferent.

Psychoanalysis was born, but few understand this new medicine, many will denigrate it, like the new doctor appointed in 1806 totally refusing these new ideas. He asks Minister Fouché to have Sade transferred to another place, on the grounds of bad behavior and too much freedom (he does not appreciate at all the small meals that follow the theater performances, let alone the applause). Sade is still not quiet and searches take place in June 1807 where manuscripts are seized. The Emperor does not leave him alone, will dismiss director Coulmiers and replace him with a new one who will ban theatrical performances. It's the end, Sade feels it ...

On December 2, 1814, the Marquis de Sade bowed out shortly before noon; Sensible leaves him with tears in his eyes, but will remain in the hospice until his own death in July 1832. Discreet funeral takes place the next day, the remains of the marquis are installed in the cemetery of the hospice, without a name or date on the slab when he wanted to be buried in Beauce, under a thicket, covered with acorns to disappear from this land.

His fame and his descendants

But the name of the Marquis will never disappear. For about 80 years, he will be forgotten then will come back to life thanks to the Surrealists; painters are inspired by it like Man Ray, Dali, Magritte; Paul Eluard wrote “three men helped my mind to free itself from itself, the Marquis de Sade, the Count de Lautréamont and André Breton”. The authors greet him in their own way, some big names are influenced by his writings, such as Victor Hugo and his Notre Dame de Paris; Georges Sand, Eugène Sue, Lamartine, Baudelaire whose bedside book is “Justine”, Simone de Beauvoir. Plays are dedicated to him, a Sade Prize is created, films have appeared, places of residence regain their splendor and some belong to the heritage.

The descendants will be discreet, and through the game of alliances, we note great names: Pierre de Chevigné, resistant, deputy, Minister of War under the Fourth Republic; Henri de Raincourt president of the General Council of Yonne; Henri de Castries, François Hollande's promotion companion at ENA, CEO of Axa; Philippes Lannes de Montebello former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

But those born between 1947 and 1956 will bring out the work by saying “we must dare to speak of Sade; the marquis is above all the symbol of freedom. Free man beyond prisons. Free spirit beyond the centuries! "

Finally, why did this man so marked the spirits? Simply, even if his private life was certainly questionable, he was really not very discreet; his sex life was more dreamed of than lived because during his thirty years of imprisonment, he had to content himself with writing fantasies for lack of being able to satisfy them. Sade is not for all that rehabilitated, he remains "this eternal Spanish inn, in which everyone finds what they bring, sees what they want to see there, understands what they want to understand".


- Marquis de Sade, the angel of shadow, by Gonzague Saint Bris. Edtions Telemaque, 2013.

- Should we burn Sade? by Simone de Beauvoir. NRF, 2011.

- The Work of the Marquis de Sade, by Guillaume Apollinaire, Bibliothèque des Curieux, 1909.

Video: The life of the Marquis de Sade