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Marquis de Sade
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Marquis de Sade

Author (1740–1814)
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Marquis de Sade was a French aristocrat and philosopher who became notorious for acts of sexual cruelty in his writings as well as in his own life.


Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat, philosopher and writer of explicit sexual works, was born in Paris in 1740. His writings depict violence, criminality and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. During the French Revolution he was an elected delegate to the National Convention. The last 13 years of his life were spent in an insane asylum. He died in 1814.

Early Life

Donatien Alphonse François, best known as Marquis de Sade, was born in Paris, France on June 2, 1740. His father was a diplomat in the court of Louis XV, and his mother was a lady-in-waiting. From the start, de Sade was raised with servants who flattered his every whim. Not long into his childhood, his father abandoned his mother, and his mother took refuge in a convent.

By the age of 4, de Sade was known as a rebellious and spoiled child with an ever-growing temper. He once beat the French prince so severely that he was sent to the south of France to stay with his uncle, an abbot of the church. During his stay, while he was 6 years old, his uncle introduced him to debauchery. Four years later, de Sade was sent back to Paris to attend the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. After misbehaving in school, he was subject to severe corporal punishment, namely flagellation. He spent the rest of his adult life obsessed with the violent act.

Sexual Offenses

As a young man, de Sade had many affairs with women, most of them prostitutes. De Sade’s father was frantic to find his son a rich wife. The de Sades, although stable in status, had drastically decreased their financial holdings. In 1763, de Sade married Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil, the daughter of a wealthy government official. Married life didn’t slow his sexual pursuits, however, and within a few months, he was renting out rooms to carry on his intense fantasies.

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His first serious offence came when he forced a prostitute to incorporate crosses into their sexual acts, something that seemed altogether blasphemous. The woman immediately told the police about the event, and de Sade was arrested and imprisoned. They released him after a short time, and he promptly returned to his old habits. Of course, his behavior tested his wife’s limits, but divorce was practically impossible. The couple eventually had three children.

On Easter Sunday in 1768, de Sade invited a chambermaid to his room, cut her, and then dripped hot wax drip into her wounds. The de Sade family paid the woman to keep her from testifying, but after such social embarrassment, de Sade was made to live on the margins of society. Obsessed, he committed sodomy with four prostitutes and his manservant just four years later. Even though the act of sodomy was rather common among the aristocracy, the court decided to make an example of him and banished him to exile in Italy.


While in prison, de Sade wrote incessantly, producing 15 manuscripts in all, including the infamous Justine and 120 Days of Sodom. When the French Revolution broke out, de Sade convinced members of the new regime that he had been a victim of the old aristocracy. Amazingly, they released him from prison and welcomed him into the new government. It was the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte that led to his demise.

De Sade was put into an insane asylum. From 1810 until his death on December 2, 1814, he conducted a relationship with the 13-year-old daughter of an employee at the asylum. He died there on December 2, 1814.

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