Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Marquis De Sade Gripes To Mrs. Marquis De Sade & His Kids

by Stephen J. Gertz

Oh Sade, poor Sade, mamma's hung you in the closet
and I'm feeling so sad.*

A revealing eleven-page signed autograph letter written by the Marquis de Sade to his ex-wife and children is being offered by Christie's-Paris in its Importants Livres, Livres Anciens, Livres d'Artistes & Manuscrits sale November 6, 2013. Autograph manuscript and letter material by Sade is extremely scarce and this letter, with its original envelope, is estimated to sell for €30,000 - 50,000 ($41,000 - $67,000; £27,000 - £45,000).

Dated October 1, 1806 and composed while he was confined in the asylum at Charenton, Sade provides details of his fortune prior to the Revolution, upon his release from the Bastille in 1789, and in the seventeen years since. He based his calculations of the period 1790-1806 from discussions with Constance Marie- Quesnet, his mistress since 1790 and the one who took care of his post-Bastille business affairs.

He accuses his ex-wife and children of embezzlement; they had accused Mlle Quesnet of same.

"A friendly and confidential agreement held between us last Friday at Mrs. Quesnet [ ... ] resulted in little recall. [4 following lines crossed out]. I hope it makes you feel that the truth must always produce a honest soul, and embrace you, Sade." Sade is especially concerned about the state of his properties; their value seems to have decreased.

"The said picture painted for the purpose of proving that it was not degraded during the sixteen years that Ms. Quesnet has been with me since I was called out of the Bastille, until the present time, and therefore, Madame de Sade was wrong when she said, 'I find it less real now than I found it then.'"

Following calculations on his rental income and certain properties -  "Location good Arles, Coste, Mazan, Saumane, and it was on that pay family debts, charges, fees, Corporate &c . &c" - he notes that yes, his business has been mismanaged but defends Ms. Quesnet. "The charge of embezzlement under Ms. Quesnet is calumnous and unfounded."

He explains that all losses are rather due to mismanagement by the "notary Momaï." 

Sade then ratchets up his chagrin. "What happened to 27,000 [francs]? What has become of them ? O you who would like to make this issue [ ... ] dare say, are you not ashamed? Know that your father was on a list [?] by an evil family." The 'list" in question was a lettre de cachet that his mother-in-law had issued against him.

Disappointed by the behavior of his family against him, he finished the recollection:

"[?] They are all well vexers I believe that the public was instructed [ ... ] he will yet one day [ ... ] but not [ ... ] the horrible vice that we can not exist or compel the soul of the one who gave life to my children or in the souls of those who received it. Sade."

This letter appears to be fresh in the marketplace, purchased by the present owner from a Sade descendant, hence the steep estimate which may very well be exceeded.

 Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis of Sade (1740-1814), spent thirty-two years of his life incarcerated for one reason or another - mistreating prostitutes, blasphemy, etc. In 1768, he was imprisoned for holding a woman against her will and sexually abusing her; his mother-in-law had turned him in to the authorities who issued an infamous lettre de cachet which sealed his fate for many years to come. In 1772, he was sentenced to death for the non-lethal poisoning of prostitutes and sodomy with his manservant. He fled to Italy with his wife's sister and the manservant. He was caught, however, and imprisoned but escaped and took it on the lam four months later.

He hid out in his chateau Lacoste, rejoining his wife, who became his accomplice in further sexual crimes. More sexual mistreatment of servants ensued and he was forced once again to flee to Italy, returning to France in 1776 and more of the same. Arrested again in 1778, he successfully appealed his death sentence but remained in jail under the lettre de cachet that his mother-in-law had sworn out on him ten years earlier. In 1784 he was transferred to the Bastille. On July 4, 1789 he was  transferred to the asylum at Charenton. His wife divorced him.

In 1801, Napoleon ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and Juliette, Sade's novels of virtue punished and vice rewarded. He was arrested and imprisoned without trial, first at the prison of Sainte-Pélagie and then, following allegations that he had tried to seduce young fellow prisoners there, in the fortress of Bicêtre. After intervention by his family, he was declared insane in 1803 and transferred once more to the asylum at Charenton. His ex-wife and children had agreed to pay his expenses. They were, evidently, siphoning off income from his estate, which by 1796 had already sunk into distress.

It's difficult to feel any sympathy for Sade yet in this letter we hear a broken sixty-six year old man at the end of his rope if not his life, and empathy is warranted if only enough to occupy the point of a needle; it was a rope he hung himself with. His wife and children may not have been the best that a husband and father could hope for but his wife and children had a husband and father you wouldn't wish on a dog.

Life With Father it wasn't.

If only reality television shows had existed at the time: reruns of To Hell With The Sades would still be in syndication today.

*Apologies to Arthur Kopit.

Awkward translation of letter excerpts by the author.

Image courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

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