The Marquis de Sade occupies a weird place in literary history: The censorship of his work raised important questions about freedom of speech, but he was absolutely not the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with. In fact, while you should legally have the right to read his work, it should probably come with a complimentary bottle of brain bleach.

He Credited Corporal Punishment For His Perversions

Marquis de Sade at 19

(Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo/Wikimedia Commons)

Said freakiness can be attributed, at least by the Marquis, to his days as a spoiled brat in boarding school in the 1750s. When he misbehaved, which was often, he was flagellated, and he reportedly “spent the rest of his adult life obsessed with the violent act,” though that also just sounds like the kind of thing the Marquis de Sade would say to make his former teachers uncomfortable.

His Books Aren’t Really Erotica

Make no mistake, there is plenty of dickin’ down in the Sade canon, but it’s often nonconsensual and often occurs alongside acts that would only get the Dahmerest of Dahmers hot and bothered. In fact, the actual plots of his books tend to be nonsense, which made him real popular with the surrealists. More important was the philosophy espoused by the stories and often their characters, which could be summed up, albeit in a way that would get French beatniks all yelly, as “morality sucks.”

He Practiced What He Preached

Brothel in the 1730s

(Sir John Soane's Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

That doesn’t mean dickin’ down wasn’t a huge part of the Marquis’s philosophy and indeed his lifestyle. He was a frequent customer of sex workers, but definitely not a normal one, often holding them prisoner, assaulting them, and/or forcing them to participate in blasphemous acts. It got so bad that the chief of the vice squad -- in other words, the Final Boss of sex work -- started warning brothels not to let workers leave with him. Instead, he started victimizing homeless women and children, so yeah, he was real big on the anti-morality thing.

He Started Writing in Prison

Bastille in the 1710s

(Bibliotheque Nationale de France/Wikimedia Commons)

As you might imagine, the Marquis spent a lot of his life in prison, and this was at a time when noblemen could literally get away with murder, so that tells you a lot about the authorities’ patience re: his shit. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely just: Much of that time was served without trial or under involuntary commitment in an asylum, which again shows just how confident the authorities were that no one would fight them on this. He only started putting his ideas on paper because he no longer had the freedom to put them into action.

He Had a Family

You’d think the whole “assaulting homeless women” thing would put a lot of women off, but the Marquis was rarely without a partner in crime in his adult life. He married a well-connected French woman when he was 22, and sources vary on whether she was as much a prisoner as his other victims or an enthusiastic participant, but they had three children together. After she divorced him around 30 years later, he immediately took up with a young actress who was so devoted to him that she lived with him in the asylum. And you can’t even get a date.

He Held Office

La Convention nationale inside the Pantheon

(Zairon/Wikimedia Commons)

After the Revolution, the Marquis ingratiated himself with the new power in town and even got elected to the National Convention. That might seem weird because he was one of the people they tended to guillotine, and it was definitely a point of contention. In fact, he was imprisoned yet again for criticizing Robespierre.

He Had a Strange Will

Acorn

(Ivar Leidus/Wikimedia Commons)

After the Marquis died in the asylum in 1814, it was discovered that his will contained several strange requests, such as leaving his body where he died for 48 hours, calling a specific guy to cart it away to his estate, where a different specific guy would dig him a grave, who “may, if he so wishes, be accompanied by those among my relatives or friends who are averse to displays of ceremony or spectacle of any sort whatsoever.” He also wished that his grave be scattered with acorns so the resulting trees would conceal any trace of him. As a final middle finger to the monster who was obsessed with freedom, none of these wishes were followed. In fact, he was given a religious burial at the asylum, which would have pissed him off so hard.

His Descendants Said “We Don’t Know Him”

After his death, the Marquis’s son burned all his father’s unpublished manuscripts, and the whole family embarked on a diligent campaign to erase him from the family tree. By the 1940s, when the French intellectual elite rediscovered his work, his great-great-grandchildren had never even heard of him. They soon found a bricked-up space in their attic full of artifacts, like some kind of kinky haunted house.

You Can Buy Marquis de Sade Wine

Wine

(Terry Vlisidis/Unsplash)

The family now embraces its icky history, selling luxury goods under the brand Maison de Sade. You can buy sadistic wine, sadistic candles, and even bronze casts of the Marquis’s lost skull, provided you don’t mind finding yourself on several government watch lists.

Top image: Mary Evans/Wikimedia Commons

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