At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life

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9780140286779: At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life

A remarkable and unparalleled portrait of the Marquis de Sade and the two women who endured his peculiar genius

Much has been written about the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), the flamboyant aristocrat whose years indulging in sexual aberrations inspired his celebrated works 120 Days of Sodom and Justine--and landed him in the Bastille. However, scant attention has been paid to the two women who were closest to him: Renee Pelagie de Sade, his adoring wife, and his powerful mother-in-law, Madame de Montreuil.

Francine du Plessix Gray draws on thousands of pages of letters exchanged by the married couple, few of which have been published before in English, to explore in the fullest historical and psychological detail what it was like to be married to one of the most maverick spirits of modern history. Gray brings to life two remarkable women and their complex relationship to Sade as they dedicated themselves to protecting him from the law, curbing his excesses, and ultimately confining him. With immediacy, irony, and verve, At Home with the Marquis de Sade also conjures up the extravagant hedonism and terror of late eighteenth-century France.

"At Home with the Marquis de Sade is not the first full-length life of Sade in English, but it is most likely to remain the best." --Chicago Tribune

"Boldly imaginative. . . . The long-suffering spouse of history's most infamous rake becomes a praiseworthy enabler of greatness." --The New York Times Book Review

* A New York Times Notable Book

* A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998 and a finalist for the Salon Book of the Year

* A Book-of-the-Month Club and a Quality Paperback Book Club Selection

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Review:

Lending his name to the term sadism, and synonymous with pornography and sexual perversion, the infamous Marquis de Sade was inarguably mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But the very qualities that were repellent in the man make for fascinating reading in Francine du Plessix Gray's biography, At Home with the Marquis de Sade. The pitfalls of writing about such a scandalous subject are obvious: Sade is so completely associated in the modern mind with extremely degrading sexual escapades that any book about him risks being tarred with the same prurient brush--how does one discuss the Marquis without mentioning such loaded topics as whipping, sodomy, masturbation, blasphemy, or orgies, for example? The answer is, one doesn't; but Gray's focus in this biography is less on Sade's sexuality than on his relationship with the two most influential women in his life: his wife, Pélagie, and his mother-in-law, Madame de Montreuil.

It seems even a sadist can love, and in his own way, the Marquis de Sade loved his wife. Even more remarkable is that Pélagie apparently returned his affection devotedly for many years, despite frequent scandals, jailings, and even an affair with her own sister. Gray draws extensively on letters written by Sade, his wife, and his mother-in-law to paint a vibrant picture of an unorthodox marriage, a period of great political upheaval, and a complicated bond between mother and daughter. Gray also places the Marquis's writing in a context that, while forthrightly characterizing it as "the crudest, most repellent fictional dystopia ever limned, the creation of a borderline psychotic whose scatological fantasies have grown all the more deranged in the solitude and rage of his jail cell," also acknowledges its "recklessness and daring" as well as its influence on later writers from Swinburne and Baudelaire to Octavio Paz and Luis Buñuel. Sex, art, religion, and politics--At Home with the Marquis de Sade addresses them all with the intelligence and insight one has come to expect from Francine du Plessix Gray.

About the Author:

Francine du Plessix Gray is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and the author of Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, the painter Cleve Gray.

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