Justine (de Sade novel)  

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"One is not criminal for painting the strange tendencies inspired by nature"

"Once tastes are formed nothing in the world can destroy them"

"A mass of flesh which today constitutes an individual ... may be reproduced tomorrow in the form of a thousand insects"

"The life of the most sublime of men is to nature not of greater importance than that of an oyster"

"Ainsi, ce bonheur que les deux sexes ne peuvent trouver l’un avec l’autre, ils le trouveront, l’un par son obéissance aveugle, l’autre par la plus entière énergie de sa domination.


Thus, that happiness the two sexes cannot find with the other they will find, one in blind obedience, the other in the most energetic expression of his domination." --La nouvelle Justine by Marquis De Sade

 This page Justine (de Sade novel) is part of the Marquis de Sade series  Illustration: Portrait fantaisiste du marquis de Sade (1866) by H. Biberstein
This page Justine (de Sade novel) is part of the Marquis de Sade series
Illustration: Portrait fantaisiste du marquis de Sade (1866) by H. Biberstein

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Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, or several other titles: see below) is a novel by the Marquis de Sade, first written 1787, revised and published for the first time in 1791. Finally the novel was extended to comprise 10 volumes and published in 1797.

Justine is set just before the French Revolution in France and tells the story of a young woman who goes under the name of Therese. Her story is recounted to Madame de Lorsagne while defending herself for her crimes, en route to punishment and death. She explains the series of misfortunes which have led her to be in her present situation.

Grove Press (1965) published a still popular version in the collection Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings.


History of the work: three editions

1st version

Full French text of 'Les infortunes de la vertu', first version of 'Justine'

Justine (original French title Les infortunes de la vertu) was an early work by the Marquis de Sade, written in two weeks in 1787 while imprisoned in the Bastille. It is a novella (187 pages) with relatively little of the obscenity which characterized his later writing as it was written in the classical style (which was fashionable at the time), with much verbose and metaphorical description.

2nd version

A much extended and more graphic version, entitled Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu (1791) (English title: Justine, or The Misfortunes of the virtue or simply Justine) was the first of Sade's books to be published.

3d version

A further extended version La Nouvelle Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu was published in 1797. It was accompanied by a continuation, Juliette about Justine's sister. The two together formed 10 volumes of nearly 4000 pages in total; publication was completed in 1801. This final version, La Nouvelle Justine, departed from the first-person narrative of the previous two versions, and included around 100 engravings.

Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of Justine and Juliette, and as a result Sade was incarcerated for the last 13 years of his life. Napoleon called Justine "the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination".

The book's destruction was ordered by the Cour royale de Paris on May 19, 1815.


Plot summary

The plot concerns Justine, a 12-year-old maiden ("As for Justine, aged as we have remarked, twelve"...) who sets off, impecunious, to make her way in France. It follows her until age 26, in her quest for virtue. She is presented with abuse, hidden under a virtuous mask. The unfortunate situations include: the time when she seeks refuge and confession in a monastery, but is forced to become a sex-slave to the monks, who subject her to countless orgies, rapes and other abuses. When helping a gentleman who is robbed in a field, he takes her back to his chateau with promises of a post caring for his wife, but she is then confined in a cave and subject to much the same punishment. These punishments are mostly the same throughout, even when she goes to a judge to beg for mercy in her case as an arsonist, and then finds herself openly humiliated in court, unable to defend herself.

Justine (Therese) and Juliette were the daughters of Monsieur de Bertole. Bertole was a widower banker who fell in love with another man's woman. The man, Monsieur de Noirseuil, in the interest of revenge, pretended to be his friend, and made sure he became bankrupt and eventually poisoned him, leaving the girls orphans. Juliette and Justine lived in a nunnery, where the Abbess of the nunnery corrupted Juliette (and attempted to corrupt Justine too). However, Justine was sweet and virtuous. When the Abbess found out about Bertole's death she booted both girls out. Juliette's story is told in another book, and Justine continues on in pursuit of virtue, beginning from becoming a maid in the house of the Usurer Harpin, which is where her troubles begin anew.

In her search for work and shelter Justine constantly fell into the hands of perverts and rogues who would rape and torture her and the people she makes friends with. Justine was falsely accused of theft by Harpin and sent to jail expecting execution. She had to ally herself with a Miss Dubois, a criminal who helped her to escape along with her band. In order to escape they had to start a fire in the prison, in which 21 people died. After escaping the band of Dubois, Justine wanders off and accidentally trespasses upon the lands of The Count of Bressac.

These are, of course, described in true Sadean form. However, unlike some of his other works, the novel is not just a catalogue of sadism.

The story is told by "Therese" in an inn, to Madame de Lorsagne. It is finally revealed that Madame de Lorsagne is her long lost sister. The irony is that her sister submitted to a brief period of vice and found herself a comfortable existence where she could exercise good, while Justine refused to make concessions for the greater good and was plunged further into vice than those who would go willingly.

The story ends with Madame de Lorsagne relieving her from a life of vice and clearing her name. Soon afterward, Justine becomes introverted and morose, and is finally struck by a bolt of lightning and killed instantly. Madame de Lorsagne joins a religious order after Justine's death.

Major themes

De Sade was strongly involved in both the development of his own philosophies (which later became many of the principles of sadism) and an investigation into the changing nature of his country. As, later in life, he became very involved in politics and became a member of the National Convention, we can see many of his ideas introduced in this, one of his earlier works.

Key philosophical ideas as follows:

  • going against accepted tradition
  • the subjectivity of virtue and vice
  • the pursuit of desire and the consequences of it
  • the evils of absolutism for either the purposes of good or evil
  • Nature, as being the only true ruler of man
  • The notion of Reason as dominating disinterested system

The more political ideas focus on:

  • the hierarchy and inequalities within a class system
  • the corruption of the church, the justice system and most major institutions
  • the respective roles of the sexes
  • the necessity of reliance upon others (appropriate as De Sade advocated a form of utopian socialism, at least later in life)

Additional Key Philosophical Ideas:

1. The pursuit of virtue, as well as that of vice, are both for the sake of pleasure, as pleasure is the ultimate goal of mankind and of life.

2. Pain is good, too, insofar as its removal results in pleasure; and even heightened pleasure.

3. Evil and crime are directly pleasurable in themselves, avoiding the sublimation and delayed gratification involved in acts of virtue. Of course, it is pleasure that the virtuous expect in the afterlife, after their life-long denial of the instinctual self-gratifications withheld them, either by their own will, or through the imposition of custom or law.

4. There is even a type of pleasure involved for the "just" in the punishments inflicted by law and society on those judged "guilty" of following nature's instincts, and this one is equally perverse.

5. The will to power is the will to pleasure, and all use of reason is ordered toward the attainment, in whatever be the immediately manifest form, of that end. Hence, virtue is always a mask of sorts.

Contemporary reference

Justine was written around 30 years after Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, and the thematic influence is clear. The story is quite related in terms of the endless trials which face each heroine, but with the opposite results. While Pamela's unwavering dedication to virtue does force her to suffer the threat of some vices, and confinement similar to that which befalls Justine, she is eventually successful in reforming Mr B. and becoming his wife. She then leads a life of prosperity and happiness.

In 1793, the rival writer Rétif de la Bretonne published his Anti Justine.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The story has been adapted for film several times, most notably in a 1969 international co-production directed by Jesus Franco and starring Jack Palance, Romina Power, and Klaus Kinski as the Marquis, titled Marquis de Sade: Justine. There has also been a graphic novel version by Guido Crepax. In 1973 the Japanese director Tatsumi Kumashiro filmed an adaptation of Justine as part of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno series. The film was titled Woman Hell: Woods are Wet.

Justine was also featured in the 2000 film Quills based on the life of the Marquis de Sade.

Modern publication (in English)

A censored English translation of Justine was issued in the US by the Risus Press (introduction by Iwan Bloch, translated and edited by Harold Berman ; illustrated by Mahlon Blaine, cf. 1931 edition) in the early 1930s, and went through many reprintings. The first unexpurgated English translation of Justine (by 'Pieralessandro Casavini', a pseudonym for Austryn Wainhouse) was published by the Olympia Press in 1953. Wainhouse later revised this translation for publication in the United States by Grove Press (1965) as Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. Other modern translated versions in print, notably the Wordsworth edition, are abridged and heavily censored.

The final 1797 version La Nouvelle Justine has never been published in English translation, although it was published in French in the permissive conditions of the late 1960s, as part of two rival limited-editions of the definitive collected works of de Sade: Jean-Jacques Pauvert's Oeuvres completes de Sade (1968, 30 volumes) and Cercle du Livre Precieux's Oeuvres completes du Marquis de Sade: editions definitive (1967, 16 volumes).

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

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