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Book excerpt

By: Marquis de Sade

Date: 1791

Source: de Sade, Marquis. Justine. New York: Globusz Publishing, 2004. Available online at 〈http://www.globusz.com/ebooks/Justine/〉 (accessed March 29, 2006).

About the Author: Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, known as the Marquis de Sade, was born in France in 1740. A noble by birth, he wrote and published extensively on philosophical and sexual matters. He was imprisoned for a total of twenty-nine years on charges such as sodomy, poisoning, political disloyalty, and corrupting minors. He died in 1814 in France.


The word "sadism," defined as deriving sexual pleasure or gratification from inflicting pain on another person, first made its way into dictionaries in the early 1830s. A sadist, by definition, enjoys inflicting pain on others; the Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade published a series of erotic books in which characters exhibited behaviors that came to be known as "Sadistic" behaviors, named for de Sade.

The Marquis de Sade was the only surviving child of noble parents with great wealth and aristocratic connections. Born in 1740 and given every advantage in terms of goods, education, and connections, de Sade chose to live a life as a libertine, pursuing hedonism, or pleasure, to the exclusion of all else. de Sade attended college and at the age of twenty-three married Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil; he maintained relationships with prostitutes throughout his marriage and was notoriously brutal in his sexual relations with them.

In 1768, de Sade captured and whipped a beggar, Rose Keller, for two days; he applied salve to her wounds, reopened them with a knife or whips, and then applied salve until she escaped, naked, into the streets. The incident shocked authorities and the public. In his defense, the marquis claimed he was testing a new salve; he served six weeks jail time and paid Rose Keller a small sum in damages. The Paris vice squad quickly warned sex trade workers of de Sade's proclivities, and his reputation spread. Seducing his wife's younger sister, Anne-Prospre, angered his mother-in-law and was part of his constellation of deviant sexual behaviors, which included extended orgies and use of pain for sexual pleasure.

In 1772, de Sade inserted "Spanish Fly," an aphrodisiac, into some candies he distributed to prostitutes whom he hired for an arranged orgy. According to various historical accounts, some prostitutes became sick from the drug; other accounts report that two women died. de Sade was tried and convicted on counts of sodomy and poisoning and sentenced to death. He escaped to Italy, where he lived for five years. The death sentence was removed, but in 1777, de Sade returned to France and immediately was jailed.

Between 1777 and 1814, de Sade spent a total of twenty-seven years in prison, for offenses ranging from sodomy to poisoning to political disloyalty. He began his writing career in prison, writing stories and plays to deal with the tedium of prison life.

Justine was the first of his published works, debuting in 1791.


"Oh by God!" quoth she, "here's an unhappy little one. What! you shudder before the obligation to serve four fine big boys one after another? Listen to me," she added, after some reflection, "my sway over these dear lads is sufficiently great for me to obtain a reprieve for you upon condition you render yourself worthy of it."

"Alas! Madame, what must I do?" I cried through my tears; "command me; I am ready."

"Join us, throw in your lot with us, and commit the same deeds, without show of the least repugnance; either that, or I cannot save you from the rest." I did not think myself in a position to hesitate; by accepting this cruel condition I exposed myself to further dangers, to be sure, but they were the less immediate; perhaps I might be able to avoid them, whereas nothing could save me from those with which I was actually menaced.

"I will go everywhere with you, Madame," was my prompt answer to Dubois, "everywhere, I promise you; shield me from the fury of these men and I shall never leave your side while I live."

"Children," Dubois said to the four bandits, "this girl is one of the company, I am taking her into it; I ask you to do her no ill, don't put her stomach off the métier during her first days in it; you see how useful her age and face can be to us; let's employ them to our advantage rather than sacrifice them to our pleasures."

But such is the degree of energy in man's passions nothing can subdue them. The persons I was dealing with were in no state to heed reason: all four surrounded me, devoured me with their fiery glances, menaced me in a still more terrible manner; they were about to lay hands on me, I was about to become their victim.

"She has got to go through with it," one of them declared, "it's too late for discussion: was she not told she must give proof of virtues in order to be admitted into a band of thieves? And once a little used, won't she be quite as serviceable as she is while a virgin?"

I am softening their expressions, you understand, Madame, I am sweetening the scene itself; alas! their obscenities were such that your modesty might suffer at least as much from beholding them unadorned as did my shyness.

A defenseless and trembling victim, I shuddered; I had barely strength to breathe; kneeling before the quartet, I raised my feeble arms as much to supplicate the men as to melt Dubois' heart….

The fourth attached strings to all parts of me to which it was possible to tie them, he held the ends in his hands and sat down seven or eight feet from my body; Dubois' touches and kisses excited him prodigiously; I was standing erect: 'twas by sharp tugs now on this string, now on some other that the savage irritated his pleasures; I swayed, I lost balance again and again, he flew into an ecstasy each time tottered; finally, he pulled all the cords at once, I fell to the floor in front of him: such was his design: and my fore-head, my breast, my cheeks received the proofs of a delirium he owed to none but this mania. That is what I suffered, Madame, but at least my honor was respected even though my modesty assuredly was not. Their calm restored, the bandits spoke of regaining the road, and that same night we reached Tremblai with the intention of approaching the woods of Chantilly, where it was thought a few good prizes might be awaiting us. Nothing equaled my despair at being obliged to accompany such persons, and I was determined to part with them as soon as I could do so without risk. The following day we fell hard by Louvres, sleeping under haystacks; I felt in need of Dubois' support and wanted to pass the night by her side; but it seemed she had planned to employ it otherwise than protecting my virtue from the attacks I dreaded; three of the thieves surrounded her and before my very eyes the abominable creature gave herself to all three simultaneously. The fourth approached me; it was the captain. "Lovely Therese," said he, "I hope you shall not refuse me at least the pleasure of spending the night with you?" and as he perceive my extreme unwillingness, "fear not," he went on; "we'll have a chat together, and I will attempt nothing without your consent. "O Therese," cried he, folding me in his arms, "'tis all foolishness, don't you know, to be so pretentious with us. Why are you concerned to guard your purity in our midst? Even were we to agree to respect it, could it be compatible with the interests of the band? No need to hide it from you, my dear; for when we settle down in cities, we count on you to snare us some dupes."

"Why, Monsieur," I replied, "since it is certain I should prefer death to these horrors, of what use can I be to you, and why do you oppose my flight?"

"We certainly do oppose it, my girl," Coeur-de-fer rejoined, "you must serve either our pleasures or our interests; your poverty imposes the yoke upon you, and you have got to adapt to it. But, Therese, and well you know it, there is nothing in this world that cannot be somehow arranged: so listen to me, and accept the management of your own fate: agree to live with me, dear girl, consent to belong to me and be properly my own, and I will spare you the baneful role for which you are destined."

"I, Sir, I become the mistress of a—"

"Say the word, Therese, out with it: a scoundrel, eh? Oh, I admit it, but I have no other titles to offer you; that our sort does not marry you are doubtless well aware: marriage is one of the sacraments, Therese, and full of an undiscriminating contempt for them all, with none do we ever bother. However, be a little reasonable; that sooner or later you lose what is so dear to you is an indispensable necessity, hence would it not be better to sacrifice it to a single man who thereupon will become your support and protector, is that not better, I say, than to be prostituted to everyone?" "But why must it be," I replied, "that I have no other alternative?"


Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised, caused a stir in 1791 in France. The book's protagonist, Justine, is a girl of twelve years old who, along with her sister Juliette, is set out into the world alone after their mother dies and their father disappears. As she travels throughout France, Justine finds herself tested by a variety of alluring settings. de Sade used Justine as a symbol of virtue violated; at one point she seeks help and shelter in a convent and is used repeatedly by a series of monks during an orgy. At other times, when presented with ethical dilemmas, she chooses the virtuous path, but suffers great injustices for it. In this passage quoted above, Justine has escaped prison with Madame DuBois, a notorious murderer. Asking Madame DuBois for help, Justine makes yet another foolish decision, one that leads her to being used by DuBois' henchmen for sexual purposes.

By the end of the book, Justine, abused and near death, reunites with Juliette. While Justine has made life choices based on internal goodness and has been destroyed by it, Juliette has lived a life of vice and hedonism and has prospered.

This use of irony—that those most pious would be the most likely and willing to corrupt true virtue—and the direct attack on the Catholic Church led Napoleon to ban Justine and de Sade's story of Juliette, The History of Juliette, which was published in 1797. In 1801, de Sade was imprisoned once more, and contraband copies of Justine and Juliette were in high demand.

De Sade's works, starting with Justine, explore sexual themes in a literary fashion that had never been seen before in Western Europe. A philosopher at heart, de Sade used his works to detail sexual debauchery, to shock readers and the government, but also to communicate his central philosophical belief that man was governed by his inborn nature, however that may manifest itself, and that to fight such fatalism was folly. He separated natural law from social law; one was innate, the other created by man and highly subjective. Justine follows her inborn nature, which is pious and chaste, and finds that the social laws that dictate the actions of others bring her nothing but sexual degradation and pain. De Sade used his writings as a vehicle for sexual gratification and philosophical expression.

The brutal experiences of such a young, innocent girl set the tone for the creation of the word "sadism," and its subsequent partner, "masochism," which is the quality of deriving sexual pleasure from receiving pain. Although the word "sadism" is named after de Sade, researchers believe that in fact de Sade was more than likely a masochist rather than a sadist.

The Marquis de Sade's works were banned in many countries; France banned his books until the 1960s and Britain did not decriminalize his works until 1983.



Airaksinen, Timo. The Philosophy of the Marquis De Sade. London: Routledge, 1995.

Bongie, Laurence L. Sade: A Biographical Essay. University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Schaeffer, Neil. The Marquis de Sade: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1999.