Bongie's essay is one among various new studies of Sade: Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge, Octavio Paz's An Erotic...


SADE: A Biographical Essay

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.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0226064212

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

Close Quickview