The Original Sadist Had a Really Nice Prison Cell and Very Specific Last Wishes

Did you know that when we call someone a sadist, we are referring to the Marquise de Sade?


Image from Wikipedia, click for source.

According to Wikipedia, The Marquis was born into a noble French family in 1740. Early in life he joined the military and then married and had three children, but he wasn’t much of a family man. In fact, he reveled in procuring and abusing prostitutes as well as his own servants. His behavior was so outrageous that he spent half of his adult life in prisons or insane asylums. We remember Sade today for his writings – he wrote some scandalous books that mingled shockingly violent pornographic scenes with his political philosophy.

In 1777, Sade was arrested and imprisoned in the Chateau de Vincennes under a warrant obtained by (who else but) his mother-in-law. He escaped but was recaptured and remained at Vincennes for seven years after which they transferred him to the Bastille. Ten days before Bastille Day (when the people stormed the prison on July 14, 1789 and officially set off the French Revolution), Sade was moved to an “insane asylum”. Funnily enough, eventually he was released from the asylum and was then elected to a position in the new government!

His freedom didn’t last too long, alas. In 1802, Napoleon ordered the arrest of the author of Justine and Juliette (two of Sade’s pornos that had been published anonymously). He was housed in two other jails and then in an insane asylum until he died in 1814.

Sade’s will is fascinating.  He must have been worried about being buried alive because he wrote

“I categorically forbid the dissection of my body for any purpose whatsoever; I must pressingly request that it be kept for fourty-eight hours in the room in which I die …”

He also included his burial instructions, ” (A)n express messenger shall be sent to M. Le Normand, firewood merchant … to take my body and in his care transport it in the said firewood wagon to the woods on my Malmaison property … where I wish it to be placed, without any sort of ceremony … once the grave is filled in, acorns are to be scattered over it, so that in time the grave is again overgrown, and when the undergrowth is grown as it was before, the traces of my grave will vanish from the face of the earth as I like to think memory of me will be effaced from men’s minds …”

You can read more about Sade’s will and the wonderful story of his skull at  The Marquis and His Skull.

Although Sade was by all accounts a flagrant libertine, the French have preserved at least one of his prison cells as a tourist attraction in the Chateau de Vincennes. The Chateau is a short train ride from central Paris and boy howdy is it cool. It began as a residence for the French royal family during the Middle Ages and is considered one of the greatest Medieval castles in all of Europe. Once Versailles was built, Vincennes was used as a porcelain factory and then a jail. Eventually, the Chateau was turned over the military and they have been restoring it since WWII.

When I visited Vincennes I happened on Sade’s cell and I envied it for its spaciousness and super-high ceiling. It may have been hard to heat back in the day, but, in truth, I thought it nicer than many New York City apartments, including my own.

According to Wikipedia, Sade’s family considered him a shameful embarrassment. One of his sons burned a lot of his writings and the family tried to forget him, but of course,  his name lives on.  I wish Sade, the former prisoner/asylum resident, could return for a moment today – to see his name in common usage around the world and the millions of books, magazines and videos that share his particular predilictions.

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