The writings of the Marquis de Sade have recently attained notoriety in the canon of world literature. Now Sade himself is often celebrated as a heroic apostle of individual rights and a giant of philosophical thought. In this detailed investigative work, Laurence Bongie tests these claims and finds them unfounded and undeserved.
"A valuable correction to the perception of Sade as a profound thinker, a great writer, and a martyr to liberty. Drawing on original archival work, Bongie tries to illuminate Sade's childhood and his relationship with his parents. . . . Fluent and well-informed."--"Library Journal"
"Mr. Bongie . . . has written an investigation focusing on one aspect of Sade's character and development, his heretofore neglected relationship with his aristocratic mother. . . . A profitable selection."--Richard Bernstein, "New York Times"
"A welcome corrective. Bongie's book . . . aims to deflate the exalted claims made about the marquis by demonstrating that he was a monstrous character."--Scott Stossel, "Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement"
Bongie's essay is one among various new studies of Sade: Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge, Octavio Paz's An Erotic Beyond, and most recently, Francine du Plessix Gray's At Home with the Marquis de Sade. The "divine Marquis," like some of the diseases featured in his novels, is not easy to get rid of. Throughout the 19th century, Sade and his pornographic novels were an underground phenomenon. Only in the 20th century did his reputation move into the realm of public discourse and legitimate publishing. Assorted modern commentators - from Guillaume Apollinaire to Camille Paglia - have hailed Sade as a free spirit, a courageous thinker, and a precursor of modernist attitudes toward sex, violence, and power. According to Bongie (professor emeritus of French, Univ. of British Columbia), the various biographers have uncritically cultivated the myth of Sade as a martyr to freedom of conscience. By contrast, Bongie seeks to deflate Sade's overblown reputation. His scholarship is painstaking and critical, yet free of polemical bluster. Moreover, Bongie has managed to unearth a few new archival facts about Sade's parents. The mother may be, he suggests, the key figure. Was she cold and aloof from his life, as the other biographers have supposed? Or did the callous and woman-hating son simply rebuff her as an inconsequential figure? Bongie conjectures the latter, though no conclusive evidence can be produced for either position. Bongie's archival diligence has also brought to light a few fresh details about the debauched life of Sade's father. Yet the upshot of his research is a negative finding: "we are still too ignorant of Sade's basic biographical facts, especially those relating to his formative years, to hope to even begin 'explaining' him." Still, he argues that based on what we do know, Sade's life and works reveal a man remarkable only as an unprincipled opportunist, phony rebel, and self-absorbed devotee of predatory sexuality. A sober, scholarly, and skeptical exploration of the Marquis de Sade's life and contemporary reputation. (Kirkus Reviews)