Marquis de Sade in popular culture  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Sade's influence on Surrealism, Sadomania

Outside of the auctorial descriptive sadism, there have been many and varied references to the Marquis de Sade in popular culture, including fictional works and biographies. The namesake of the psychological and subcultural term sadism, his name is used variously to evoke sexual violence, licentiousness and freedom of speech. In modern culture his works are simultaneously viewed as masterful analyses of how power and economics work, and as erotica. Sade's sexually explicit works were a medium for the articulation of the corrupt and hypocritical values of the elite in his society, which caused him to become imprisoned. He thus became a symbol of the artist's struggle with the censor. Sade's use of pornographic devices to create provocative works that subvert the prevailing moral values of his time inspired many other artists in a variety of media. The cruelties depicted in his works gave rise to the concept of sadism. Sade's works have to this day been kept alive by artists and intellectuals because they espouse a philosophy of extreme individualism that became reality in the economic liberalism of the following centuries.

In the late twentieth century, there was a resurgence of interest in Sade; leading French intellectuals like Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault published studies of the philosopher, and interest in Sade among scholars and artists continued.

In the realm of visual arts, many surrealist artists had interest in the Marquis. Sade was celebrated in surrealist periodicals, and feted by figures such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Maurice Heine; Man Ray admired Sade because he and other surrealists viewed him as an ideal of freedom. The first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) announced that "Sade is surrealist in sadism", and extracts of the original draft of Justine were published in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution. In literature, Sade is referenced in several stories by science fiction writer Robert Bloch, while Polish science fiction author Stanisław Lem wrote an essay analyzing the game theory arguments appearing in Sade's Justine. The writer Georges Bataille applied Sade's methods of writing about sexual transgression to shock and provoke readers.

Sade's life and works have been the subject of numerous fictional plays, films, pornographic or erotic drawings, etchings and more. These include Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade, a fantasia extrapolating from the fact that Sade directed plays performed by his fellow inmates at the Charenton asylum. Yukio Mishima and Doug Wright also wrote plays about Sade; Weiss's and Wright's plays have been made into films. His work is referenced on film at least as early as Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's L'Age d'or (1930), the final segment of which provides a coda to Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, with the four debauched noblemen emerging from their mountain retreat.

Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), updating Sade's novel to the brief Salo Republic; Benoît Jacquot's Sade and Philip Kaufman's Quills (from the play of the same name by Doug Wright) both hit cinemas in 2000. Quills, inspired by Sade's imprisonment and battles with the censorship in his society, portrays Sade as a literary freedom fighter who is a martyr to the cause of free expression.



  • The play by Peter Weiss titled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, as performed by the inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, or Marat/Sade for short, is a fictional account of Sade directing a play in Charenton, where he was confined for many years. In the play, the Maquis de Sade is used as a cynical representative of the spirit of the senses. He debates Jean-Paul Marat who represents the spirit of revolution.
  • The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima wrote a play titled Madame de Sade.
  • Doug Wright wrote a play, Quills, a surreal account of the attempts of the Charenton governors to censor the Marquis' writing, which was adapted into the slightly less surreal film of the same name.
  • La Fura dels Baus have toured worldwide their production, XXX, which is said to be based upon Sade's work and thoughts. The production has been met with criticism and controversy everywhere it has been shown.
  • Lost Cherry Orchard is a dramatic performance by Czech theatre company Depressed Children Long for Money (Depresivní děti touží po penězích) based on Philosophy in the Bedroom by Sade and The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.
  • "Divine Marquis" is new a play by John Phillips, based on recently discovered correspondence between the young marquis de Sade and his seventeen-year-old sister-in-law, Anne Prospère de Launay, detailing their love-affair and its repercussions. The play is being staged at the Barons Court Theatre in London from 29 September to 18 October, 2009.


Marquis de Sade by Jess Franco

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sade's life and writings have proved irresistible to filmmakers. Visual representations of Sade in film first began to appear during the surrealist period. While there are numerous pornographic films based on his themes, here are some of the more mainstream films based on his history or his works of fiction:

  • L'Age d'Or (1930), the collaboration between filmmaker Luis Buñuel and surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. The final segment of the film provides a coda to Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, with the four debauched noblemen emerging from their mountain retreat.
  • The Skull (1966), British horror film based on Robert Bloch's short story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade." Peter Cushing plays a collector who becomes possessed by the evil spirit of the Marquis when he adds Sade's stolen skull to his collection. The Marquis appears in a prologue as a decomposing corpse dug up by a 19th-century graverobber. In another scene, a character gives a brief, fictionalized account of Sade's life, emphasizing his "boogeyman" reputation.
  • The 1966 film of Marat/Sade directed by Peter Brook, who also directed the first English-language stage production. Patrick Magee plays the Marquis.
  • Marquis de Sade: Justine, directed by Jesus Franco (1968). Klaus Kinski appears as Sade, writing the tale in his prison cell.
  • Eugenie…The Story of Her Journey into Perversion also known as Philosophy in the Boudoir (1969). Another Franco film, this one featuring Christopher Lee as Dolmance.
  • De Sade (1969), romanticized biography scripted by Richard Matheson and directed by Cy Endfield. The film more or less presents the major incidents of Sade's life as we know them, though in a very hallucinatory fashion. The film's nudity and sexual content was notorious at the time of release, and Playboy ran a spread based around it. Keir Dullea plays the Marquis (here named Louis-Aldonze-Donatien) in a cast that includes Lili Palmer, Senta Berger, Anna Massey, and John Huston.
  • Eugenie de Sade, another of Jesus Franco's adaptations (1970). Adapts Sade's story "Eugenie de Franval", accurately, though set in the 20th century.
  • Justine de Sade, directed by Claude Pierson (1972). An accurate rendition of Sade's tale, though lacking Franco's panache.
  • Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma), directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975). Sade's novel updated to Fascist Italy.
  • Cruel Passion (1977), a toned-down re-release of De Sade's Justine, starring Koo Stark as the long-suffering heroine.
  • Waxwork (1988), another horror film. In this one, people are drawn through the tableaux in a chamber of horrors into the lives of the evil men they represent. Two of the characters are transported to the world of the Marquis, where they are tormented by Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) and a visiting Prince, played by director Anthony Hickox.
  • Marquis (1989), a French/Belgian co-production that combines puppetry and animation to tell a whimsical tale of the Marquis (portrayed, literally, as a jackass, voiced by Francois Marthouret) imprisoned in the pre-Revolution Bastille.
  • Night Terrors (1994), another horror film playing on Sade's boogeyman image. A depiction of the Marquis's final days is intercut with the story of his modern day descendant, a serial killer. Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame directed, while horror icon Robert Englund of A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its many sequels and spin-offs) played both the Marquis and his descendant.
  • Dark Prince (1996). The Marquis (Nick Mancuso) seduces a young maiden from his jail cell.
  • Sade (2000), directed by Benoit Jacquot. Daniel Auteuil plays Sade, here imprisoned on a country estate with several other noble families, sexually educating a young girl in the shadow of the guillotine.
  • Quills (2000), an adaptation of Doug Wright's play by director Philip Kaufman. A romanticized version of Sade's final days which raises questions of pornography and societal responsibility. Geoffrey Rush plays Sade in a cast that also includes Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine. The film portrays de Sade as a literary freedom fighter who is a martyr to the cause of free expression. The film's defense of de Sade is in essence a defense of cinematic freedom. The film was inspired by de Sade's imprisonment and battles with the censorship in his society. The film shows the strong influence of Hammer horror films, particularly in a key scene where asylum administrator Caine locks Winslet in a cell with a homicidal inmate, mirroring exactly a scene from The Curse of Frankenstein.
  • Lunacy (2005, Czech title Šílení): Czech film directed by Jan Švankmajer. Loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and inspired by the works of the Marquis de Sade. Sade figures as a character.

In art

Sade's influence on Surrealism

Many surrealist artists had great interest in the Marquis de Sade. The first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) announced that "Sade is surrealist in sadism." Guillaume Apollinaire found rare manuscripts by Sade in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He published a selection of his writings in 1909, where he introduced Sade as "the freest spirit that had ever lived." Sade was celebrated in surrealist periodicals. In 1926 Paul Éluard wrote of Sade as a "fantastique" and "revolutionary." Maurice Heine pieced together Sade's manuscripts from libraries and museums in Europe and published them between 1926 and 1935. Extracts of the original draft of Justine were published in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution.

The surrealist artist Man Ray admired Sade because he and other surrealists viewed him as an ideal of freedom. According to Ray, Heine brought the original 1785 manuscript of 120 Days of Sodom to his studio to be photographed. An image by Man Ray entitled Monument à D.A.F. de Sade appeared in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Marquis de Sade in popular culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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