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The 120 Days of Sodom (1904)

by Marquis de Sade

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3172614,661 (3.07)84
The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade relates the story of four wealthy men who enslave 24 mostly teenaged victims and sexually torture them while listening to stories told by old prostitutes. The book was written while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille and the manuscript was lost during the storming of the Bastille. Sade wrote that he "wept tears of blood" over the manuscript's loss. Many consider this to be Sade crowing acheivment.… (more)
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English (18)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (26)
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“Now, dear reader, you must prepare your heart and your mind for the most impure story that has ever been written since the world existed, such a book being found neither among the ancients nor among the moderns.”
It sounds like a very cheap excuse (like reading Playboy for the interviews), but I read this primarily out of historical interest (and okay, maybe a little curiosity too). I'm just going to say it straight: this is gross, but really gross, extremely gross, in ways you can barely imagine. And it is not only the unimaginable sexual escapades that de Sade describes, but mainly the ever-increasing violence, and the sickening way in which other people (especially women and children) are degraded to mere objects.

To be honest: I mainly read the run-up to the book and most of the 'stories' of the first cycle (the first of 4), and even then, gradually I began to read diagonally, skipping the worst passages. I didn't have the stomach for it to begin with (some scenes really make you feel sick), and also, after a while the endless descriptions of the excesses really started to get boring. That also says something. Moreover, according to de Sade, that first cycle only contains a description of the “simple passions”. From the schematic overviews of the next three cycles (which he did not write out, thanks heaven), it can be concluded that after that first ‘simple’ cycle, it only goes crescendo into gruesome torture, up to and including the most beastly mutilations and even murder.

Curiously, all this is presented by de Sade as a kind of scientific experiment. The core of the story is that 4 friends (rich and powerful men) isolate themselves in a Swiss castle, together with about 30 victims, and for 4 months indulge themselves in an endless series of sexual and violent deeds, and while doing that, meticulously recording and sharing all their emotions and experiences. Regularly they debate on, for instance, what brings the greatest pleasure (the act or the desire for it), and its moral implications (or rather, the lack thereof), almost like in a Platonic dialogue.

So, even amidst these excesses occasionally interesting things can be found, I mean on a philosophical level (imagine!). For instance, they conclude that their happiness comes from the fact that others (their victims) cannot enjoy what they can, in other words: inequality and domination are basic goods. Or that good and evil are completely arbitrary, and that therefore everything is allowed. Striking, but not unexpected, are the fierce attacks against the church and against religion in general: only Nature (with a capital) counts, because, by making possible the most terrible acts, nothing (and certainly not God) stands in the way of doing just that, and therefor every evil is justified. It is the libertine “natural philosophy” that de Sade keeps coming back to.

Now, one of the points I was curious about is to what extent de Sade can be seen as an exponent of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, a thorny issue. Ok, he was part of the nobility, and therefore thoroughly rooted in the ‘Ancien Regime’, but so were other Enlightenment philosophers. And agreed, his focus was certainly not on higher reason, but on the contrary on the dark side of the human species. But his approach exudes the rationalistic-mechanistic view that is so typical of the French 'philosophes' of that period. Only look at the thoroughness with which the four ‘masters’ perform their brutal deeds, in a systematic-premeditated order, report on them and discuss them. In a way you can surely say that de Sade also exposes the dark side of Enlightened rationalism, eventually leading to the Holocaust (I'm not saying anything new, here).

Naturally you wonder: what was the personal motivation of de Sade to write all this, and especially why in that excessively explicit way? I know: libraries have already been written about it. And the views on this range from “de Sade just had a sick mind”, to “he wanted to provide a brilliant insight into the seething, stinking pit that hides inside each of us, but which we usually keep hidden”. I guess, all these views are valid. And so I definitely came to understand why the figure of Sade, and his writings, continue to fascinate, even after more than 2 centuries. But if you want my (completely non-binding) advice: beware, if you want to read this, know what you're getting into.

Annex: I have now also read his Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu (the reworked version from 1797), and I must say that it is on a much higher literary level (ok, this sounds very “I read Playboy for the interviews”-ish), it is a little bit less explicit, and, actually contains a little less violence, although it remains very rude and particularly derogatory of the female species. But above all it contains many more well-developed passages that philosophize about the (im)moral aspects of libertine behavior, and in that sense it is much more interesting.
  bookomaniac | Apr 27, 2024 |
Whatever you may have heard, its worse. The frame story is about 4 of the vilest men to walk the earth. They retreat to a remote castle to be able to indulge themselves without fear of interruption. Those they take with them include 16 kidnapped teens aged 12-15, 8 boys and 8 girls. The main point of the story is a catalogue of every sexual fetish the author can imagine. Some are told each day by 4 storytellers who accompany the group.
Only the first 30 days are told in detail the rest is just sketched as the work was never finished. Just to give some idea of how dark things get, the majority of characters don't make it out alive.
The score i've given this is only based on the quality of the writing NOT on the content.
NO ONE should read this except maybe people who want to be Profilers like on 'Criminal Minds'. ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
I decided on pure whim to make a go at this and [b:Justine|796267|Justine|Marquis de Sade|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1178444302s/796267.jpg|13268607] last year. (They're both on that silly [b:1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die|16047158|1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die|Peter Boxall|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348601840s/16047158.jpg|814053] list I'm sort of picking off of.) Honestly, I didn't make it past the opening with this. I got to the guy who had several inches of filth caked about his nether regions due to hatred of bathing*, gagged, and quit. Didn't even make it to the torture.

While researching some banned book issues recently, I came across this from Wikipedia:

Beginning in 1763, Sade lived mainly in or near Paris. Several prostitutes there complained about mistreatment by him and he was put under surveillance by the police, who made detailed reports of his activities. [...] The first major scandal occurred on Easter Sunday in 1768, in which Sade procured the sexual services of a woman, Rose Keller, a widow-beggar who approached him for alms. He told her she could make money by working for him-she understood her work to be that of a housekeeper. At his chateau at Arcueil, de Sade ripped her clothes off, threw her on a divan and tied her by the four limbs. Then he whipped her, made various incisions on her body into which he poured hot wax, and then beat her. He repeated this process seven or eight times, when she finally escaped by climbing out of a second-floor window and running away. [...] In 1772, an episode in Marseille involved the non-lethal poisoning of prostitutes with the supposed aphrodisiac Spanish fly and sodomy with Latour, his manservant. That year, the two men were sentenced to death in absentia for sodomy and the poisoning.

So next time you see someone holding the Marquis up as some sort of misunderstood antihero, maybe remind them that in real life (not just book life) he was a rich dude who got away with the non-consensual torture of beggars and prostitutes because of his station in society. Sometimes depraved is just depraved, and literature isn't all that literary.

*gross stuff spoiler tagged, in case you happen to be eating when you see this
  amyotheramy | May 11, 2021 |
A dark controversial tale, bound to make you cycle through every emotion possible from titillation to abject horror. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended. ( )
  Aetherson | Apr 26, 2021 |
Underrated classic. It's too bad that it's only a draft and he never got to finish the whole thing. Despite this, it's interesting to see it at this stage of writing. I would have liked to see more detail in the last three parts. Based on the other reviews of this book, I can see that even today Marquis de Sade continues to shock and piss off the weaklings who can't handle his philosophy, by disrespecting and tearing apart all of their strongest core beliefs. ( )
1 vote celestialfarmer | Feb 1, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marquis de Sadeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bataille, GeorgesContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Col, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the memory of Maurice Heine, who freed Sade from the prison wherein he was held captive for over a century after his death, and to Gilbert Lely, who has unselfishly devoted himself to the same task of liberation and restitution.
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Please do not combine and keep separated the "120 days of Sodome" from the "120 days of Sodome and other writings".
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The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade relates the story of four wealthy men who enslave 24 mostly teenaged victims and sexually torture them while listening to stories told by old prostitutes. The book was written while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille and the manuscript was lost during the storming of the Bastille. Sade wrote that he "wept tears of blood" over the manuscript's loss. Many consider this to be Sade crowing acheivment.

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