chapter  5
26 Pages

When Excess Isn’t Enough: Secrets and Silences in the Sadean Text

Sade is a writer of excesses. Indeed, it is impossible to evoke Sade without calling into one’s imagination the excesses that are now forever linked to that name, a name that conjures up a grotesque figure, like the monster portrayed in Man Ray’s 1939 portrait. In that rendering, the “divine marquis” has become larger than life. He looms, bloated and ungainly, before the quintessential image of ancien régime arbitrary power: the Bastille. The marquis called this prison home for five and a half years, from 1784 to 1789, and for many of his contemporaries, the existence of the former justified the presence of the latter, while others felt that Sade’s imprisonment in the fortress was too kind a fate for him.1 In our century, one critic wrote of Sade’s 1797 work L’Histoire de Juliette ou les prospérités du vice: “If there is a ‘Private Case’ in libraries, it is for such a book” (S’il y a un Enfer dans les bibliothèques, c’est pour un tel livre.)2 However heinous a symbol the Bastille was in eighteenth-century France, the marquis de Sade was giving it a run for the money.