Marquis De Sade: The Father Of Sadism, Explained

By | June 18, 2020

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Poet, playwright, rebel, and seeker of erotic pleasure through all of its nuanced and varied means, the Marquis de Sade literally embodied sadism. This libidinous French aristocrat spent nearly half of his life in various prisons and insane asylums for committing heinous acts of sexual torture, but while imprisoned, he wrote some of his most famous work (and even put on plays with the rest of the inmates). When he wasn't popularizing the concept of sadism and erotica in the Western world, De Sade also played a very minor part in the French Revolution. As with just about everything about this controversial figure, however, even his place in the great upending of France and his critical work on sexuality aren't what they seem to the naked eye.

The Spoiled Marquis

Born in the Hôtel de Condé in Paris on June 2, 1740, Donatien Alphonse François (or the Marquis de Sade, as he came to be known) was the only surviving child of the Comte and Comtesse de Sade. Like many children born into wealth, he was raised by servants who doted on his every whim, molding him into a petulant and spoiled child.

He was sent to school at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied under priests who were just as content to dole out violent punishments as they were to educate. As a result of his disobedience, De Sade was routinely flogged, a ritual of pain that shaped his psyche forever. He spent the rest of his life chasing the pain.

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(Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo/Wikimedia Commons)

The Soldier, Husband, And Father

De Sade was sent to a military academy after his time at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and by all accounts, he was a very good soldier. He earned the title of sub-lieutenant at just 15 years old, eventually rose to the rank of colonel, and led a Dragoon regiment fighting in the Seven Years' War. He returned from the war at 23 to court a rich magistrate's daughter, only to be cast aside and offered her older sister instead. In 1763, De Sade married Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil, who gave him two sons and a daughter.