Monday, July 12, 2010

The Bastille falls, 120 Days of Sodom follows...

This post has adult content

This week in history, Revolutionary Paris fell upon the fortress/prison Bastille setting free its seven prisoners.  The Bastille had become a glowing beacon in a dark night of monarchial ideals and the peasant class was determined to put out the light. They didn’t just demolish the Bastille. They dismembered it brick by brick in their frenzied pursuit for ammunition.

But they also had another intent less written about. People wanted souvenirs. One of these stolen souvenirs, was the infamous book, 120 Days of Sodom written by none other than, 18th century bad boy, Marquis de Sade.  (The man who gives us the word “sadism”) Arrested for descecrating church property, poisoning some prostitues, sodomy and various other sexual acts to heinous to repeat, Sade had become the Bastille's most famous prisoner. It was during his stay at the Bastille, that he penned his masterpiece on a 5 inch wide scroll in miniscule type and then wedged it in the walls.

120 Days of Sodom tells the story of four wealthy libertines who lock themselves up in a medieval castle to torture 46 harem girls. The book proceeds to describe their quest for sexual gratification in such exaggerated detail that it becomes almost tedious. Sade described this work as a “magnificent banquet” where a reader could choose the dish that suited him best. (1)  (Sort of like a Pu Pu platter of sexual abherrations.)

When the Bastille fell, 120 Days of Sodom disappeared into the dust.

When Sade realized his crowning literary achievement had become a victim in the melee, he “wept tears of blood.” Unfortunately, it really was his fault that his pet porn project was lost. Ten days before the storming of the Bastille, he was screaming obscenities below his prison window and trying to incite the locals into tearing down the towering edifice. Always a creative man, Sade had employed a ingenious tactic to get his voice heard throughout the surrounding area. He took the tin funnel used to channel his bowl movement into the sewage below and employed it as a megaphone. That Sade could be so cheeky,

Well, the prison guards just couldn’t have their most famous sexual terrorist disturbing the peace so they moved him to the far less posh Charenton asylum where he couldn’t scare the kids.

Somehow, 120 Days of Sodom showed up in Germany in 1904. Then in 1935, some enterprising editor had that eureka moment and said, - hmmmm.....these tiny scraps of pornographic drivel would sure make one heck of a book. Let that be a lesson to aspiring writers with a stack of rejection letters. Sometimes it takes years to get your book into the right hands.

The Marquis de Sade - A Misuderstood Moralist?
Today, 120 days of Sodom is banned in most countries as one of the most obscene works of literature every printed. Most people see it as the morose ramblings of a sexual deviant with a deep-seated rage toward humanity. Still, even Sade has his defenders. Author Simone de Beauvoir (Must we Burn Sade?) spun Sade's writing as superbly illustrating the innate struggle between good and evil that can only be conquered through destructive impulses. When I am feeling naughty, I break out a chocolate bar. It's a lot less messy than whipping my husband with a cat o' nine tails.

Either way, if it had not been for the storming of the Bastille, 120 Days of Sodom might not have ever been printed.

Happy Bastille Day to my French readers!

p. 351 Schaeffer

Sources and Further Reading
Schaeffer, Neil. The Marquis de Sade : a life Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Univ. Press, 1999.


Heather Carroll said...

You had me at "adult content..."

Great post, I always find Monsieur Sade's antics entertaining

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

There's an Italian film that uses 120 Days of Sodom as the basis, and it's incredibly disturbing. I've also seen Mishima's play called Madame de Sade last year starring Judi Dench as the Marquis' mother-in-law. I find him entertaining like Heather but also incredibly disturbing as well. I've always thought that Gerard Depardieu should play De Sade.

Bearded Lady said...

Heather and Elizabeth - yes Sade's antics do make a great biography. I think the movie Quills was very loosely based on his later life? I can't remember. I saw the movie so long ago.

Amy said...

"Quills" is set at Charanton and is after the Revolution (Michael Caine's character buys a home whose past owners were murdered by revolutionaries). I'm pretty sure most of "Quills" was fiction (I mean, how many laundresses looked like Kate Winslet, really?), but it was still disturbingly entertaining.