Friday, February 9, 2001

Investigating the Real Marquis de Sade

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #149, February 9, 2001)

What is there about the Marquis de Sade? Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade was born in France in 1740 and died there in 1814. But his legend lives on and keeps growing (aided by movies like Quills), making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. A complete biography is beyond the scope of this column, but there are many sources of information about (and analysis of) the man, his life, his works, and the times in which he lived. If you’ve recently seen Quills and want to know more about de Sade, simply visit your bookstore or library, or type “Marquis de Sade” into your web browser’s search engine and see what comes up.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you investigate the Marquis:

If you want to learn about de Sade’s life, it helps if you are already familiar with what was going on in France and the rest of Europe during the 1700s and 1800s—royalty, wars, revolutions, that sort of thing. These were events that helped shape de Sade’s life and writings, and it’s impossible to really understand him apart from this historical context. If you don’t know much about this era, though, don’t worry; you’ll pick it up as you go along.

Another thing that might come in handy is a degree in philosophy. de Sade was as much a philosopher as a pornographer, and if the sex and brutality in de Sade’s work was scandalous, so was the world view behind it. It continues to be scandalous, and therefore good fodder for philosophical discussion, to this day.

If you want to read some of those scandalous writings, you’re in luck—after being banned or misplaced for years, they’re now readily available. Be aware, however, that you might find them difficult reading. You may find the sex scenes titillating, repulsive, or both, and you may find the writing style overly florid to the point of either laughter or boredom. Gay men may be bored or turned off by the constant barrage of overembroidered descriptions of the female anatomy, and many women will find the Marquis to be obnoxiously chauvinistic. (Incidentally, the word “chauvinistic” expresses another concept which arose in eighteenth-century France.)

Keep in mind that the Marquis wrote in French, so if you are reading him in English you are necessarily reading a translation. I’m told that reading his works in the original French is a much different (and most would say more pleasureable) experience.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep this in mind: Today’s leather/SM community is about safe, sane and consensual SM play. Note that word “play,” and note the fact that the community refers to people who engage in SM as “players.” The Marquis was not concerned with safety, sanity, or consensuality, and he was not playing—he was dead serious. He was a Marquis, a nobleman, and an aristocrat. He, like much of the rest of the aristocracy of the time, thought he was above the rules that governed ordinary people. If, in the course of pleasuring himself, he injured (or killed) a prostitute, what did he care? She was of no importance.

That’s not the philosophy of today’s leather/SM community—if it was, we would have all killed each other by now. That’s why, as I said last issue, the Marquis is a somewhat embarrassing patron saint and poster-boy for the community. It’s why the leather/SM community has, to a certain extent, distanced itself from the terms “sadism” and “masochism,” or even “S&M,” preferring simply “SM”—which for some people means “sex magic.”

MSDB presents “Sex Sells: How to Write and Sell Erotica” March 9-11

If the Marquis’ writing inspires you to create your own—or if you don’t care for it and think you could do better—local kink group MSDB has just the workshop for you. Learn how to tap into a booming literary market. Discover the secrets of writing erotica: how to free your creativity and get past inhibitions, how to avoid cliches, common mistakes and pitfalls, how to write what editors and publishers will want to buy, and more. The workshop will be led by M. Christian, author and editor of several current erotic books. For more information, write to MSDB, Minneapolis MN, or visit

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Friday, Feb. 9: Leather Beer Bust and Dance Night, Trikkx in St. Paul. This will be a recurring event on the second Friday of every month. Host Jim Dryden invites you to “create some leather presence in St. Paul for those of us on this side of the river.” All the beer you can drink for $5 and all the pop/soda you can drink for $1 from 7 to 9 PM. Dancing continues until closing.

Friday-Saturday, Feb. 9-10: Mr. Minneapolis Eagle contest, details to follow.

Saturday, Feb. 10: Atons Leather/Levi Night, details to follow.

Saturday, Feb. 17: Levi Leather Night at The Main Club, 1217 Tower Ave., Superior, WI. This is the kick-off event for The Main Club’s Old Anniversary Week. Call for more information.

No comments:

Post a Comment