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‘Aline and Valcour, Vol. 3’ by Marquis de Sade (Contra Mundum Press)

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Volume Two of the Contra Mundum Press edition of Aline and Valcour ended with ‘Sainville’s Story’ and before we get to hear ‘Léonore’s Story’ Volume Three begins with a disturbance as the police arrive to arrest Sainville and a woman he’s supposed to have abducted. But it’s not Léonore they are there to arrest but Aline—this is M. de Blamont’s doing as he’s still trying to force his daughter into marrying Dolbourg. M. de Blamont has conspired with Sainville’s father to use a lettre de cachet (the very instrument that was used by Sade’s mother-in-law to imprison Sade) to get Sainville for his father and Aline for him. Count Beaulé manages to delay their arrest by promising to the officer that he’ll deliver them to him in three days time. Meanwhile it is revealed to those present that Sainville’s father is Count Karmeil and therefore Léonore is actually Mme de Blamont’s daughter—are you keeping up?

Anyway, the next 240 pages is taken up by Léonore’s story. Unlike Sainville’s story this is more of a picaresque tale as she meets up with Clémentine and travels about the world. Several times her story intersects with Sainville’s, such as when she was hidden away in the coffin in the hotel room and also when she ends up in Ben Mâacoro’s dystopian society. Unlike Sade’s later stories of Justine and Juliette the story of Léonore and Clémentine is a tale of two different women who work together and use their intelligence to outsmart those who are out to take advantage of them. Sade introduces some humour in Léonore’s tale, such as her adventures in Ethiopia, where she’s arrested, along with her ‘husband’ after being duped into seeing a local tourist attraction, namely Mohammed’s penis, which is just a ruse by the king to obtain victims to be tortured by impalement. When Léonore exposes her white backside in preparation everyone is thrown into a state of confusion as Lénore had been ‘blacked up’ and dressed as a man—they think she’s either a god or a devil. Ok, it’s a bit like a Carry On movie but it was amusing to read.

Soon after this escapade Léonore meets Clémentine, the beautiful wife of Dom Lopès de Riveiras. Léonore considers herself a virtuous, aristocratic lady but Clémentine is more of a free-spirit, more of a libertine. Sade, I feel, delights in having Léonore describe Clémentine; here’s a snippet of the description.

Clémentine viewed good deeds as trickery; sensitivity, a weakness from which we must protect ourselves; modesty, an error that always disadvantages the charms of one who’s pretty; sincerity, an idiocy that makes a fool; humility, an absurdity; temperance, a deprivation for the best years of one’s life; and religion, laughable hypocrisy.

She’s also voluptuous. Léonore feels that she might be corrupted by her. When they are captured by the soldiers of the cannibal tyrant, Ben Mâacoro, Léonore and Clémentine discuss their fate.

   “I’m infinitely less afraid,” she told me one night, “of serving this monster’s pleasures than being his main course at dinner.”
   “Not me! I’d prefer a thousand times to be eaten than satisfy his disgraceful lust.”
   “Don’t you think that’s taking virtue too far?”
   “No, it’s only to cherish the man I love.”
   “When things calm down a little, you’ll explain to me such délicatesse. I still don’t understand it.”

They manage to escape from Ben Mâacoro’s clutches by convincing him that love is infinitely more pleasureable than lust and then tricking him—this was Léonore’s plan. Later on the couple fall in with a band of Bohemian Gypsies led by Brigandos. They just happen to be devil-worshippers and thieves, and indulge in a little bit of murder when it’s absolutely necessary; apart from that, they’re decent enough. At least they’re better than the Inquisition, whose hands they fall into next.

Once ‘Léonore’s Story’ is over the narrative returns to the attempts to thwart M. de Blamont getting his hands on Aline. And they have to now try to annul the lettre de cachet. In this last section Léonore reveals herself to be rather a cold, calculating creature; she’s materialistic and, to the horror of Mme de Blamont, an atheist—she is, in fact, more like her father, M. de Blamont, than her mother. Mme de Blamont does not really like her new-found daughter. And so, Sade presses on with the plot, introducing more complications and on to the end — misery and death for everyone.

Aline and Valcour is an excellent novel, which surpassed my expectations. I still find it astonishing to think that Sade stopped writing 120 Days in Sodom in order to start writing this novel—two very different books. But then there was no hope of getting ‘120 Days’ published and maybe he felt that he was now a good enough writer to be published, and wanted to be published. Aline and Valcour is still pure Sade though, with libertinage as the driving force behind the tale, only without the explicit sexuality of his ‘libertine’ novels, proving that he could write a more mainstream book.

It’s a shame that it took more than two hundred years to be translated and published in English but I’m glad that it finally has. Thanks go to the publisher ‘Contra Mundum Press’ and the translators, Jocelyne Geneviève Barque and John Galbraith Simmons. The books are beautiful objects with a great design, top quality paper and to top it off they include extensive notes and the original engravings. However, the decision to publish the book in three volumes is a bit strange; I would have thought a single-volume version preferable, on the other hand if the book is to be split then it naturally splits into four-volumes, which is how it was originally published in French, I believe. There were also a large number of typos, such as this one on lines 5-6 on page 691: ‘They said you resemble Aline: too bad for her if she were she as ugly as you.’ Oh well, I’ll stop quibbling.

Time to yield, Valcour. Life henceforth offers you none but thorns. Unite your soul with those of your friends. Once more: read on, I say, and go to your grave.

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‘Aline and Valcour, Vol. 2’ by Marquis de Sade (Contra Mundum Press)

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Volume One of the Contra Mundum Press edition of Sade’s 1795 novel, Aline and Valcour was covered here. That volume ended with the arrival of the mysterious young couple Sainville and Léonore; Sainville claims to be returning to his regiment in Calais but the company at Vertfeuille suspect they’re not telling the truth. Volume Two consists of a single letter from Déterville to Valcour recounting Sainville’s story—that’s a 216 page letter! I also like Sade’s footnote for this letter which reads: Any reader who would take what follows as a pointless episode, to be read or passed over at will, would be making a grievous error. Just in case we were thinking of skipping this volume.

So, Sainville tells his story which begins three years before: he and Léonore are a young couple in love, and, as with Aline and Valcour, their parents are opposed to their union. Léonore’s family has arranged for her to marry Count de Folange but as she refuses to marry him she is sent to a convent. Similarly, Sainville refuses his arranged marriage—it’s worth noting here that Sade’s marriage was arranged for him, against his will, between his father and his future mother-in-law, Madame de Montreuil. With the help of an aunt Sainville manages to get into the convent, dressed as a woman, and hatch an escape plan with Léonore which involves Léonore posing as a statue of a saint. This is quite an amusing episode in the novel and shows that Sade can be quite frivolous at times. The couple marry themselves in the eyes of God and head for Venice where they spend an idyllic few months before disaster strikes. One day when Sainville goes sight-seeing on his own Léonore is abducted by several men in gondolas. Sainville is prevented from searching for her straight away as he is arrested, but following his release he begins his search for his lover. Sade creates another bizarre scene where Sainville, who is staying in a hotel room before embarking on his journey, observes through a hole in a wall a man open a coffin, which contains a young woman; the man is pleased to find that she is still alive. Sainville can’t watch any more as he has to leave to board a ship, but little does he know that the woman in the coffin is Léonore.

Believing that Léonore is on a ship bound for the Cape, Sainville pursues her, ends up lost in Africa and is captured by a tribe of Butuans, a savage race of cannibals, who are ruled over by a tyrant, King Ben Mâacoro.

On the altar steps before my eyes was the most horrible scene. The King had just committed a human sacrifice; this palace was also his temple. His just-murdered victims were still palpitating at the feet of the idol. Lacerations covered the wretched victims and blood flowed everywhere, with heads separated from bodies—all of it combined to chill my senses. I flinched from horror.

Sainville manages to survive only because King Mâacoro believes he can be of use to him. So, Butua is a dystopia, ruled over by the tyrant king; all his subjects are of little worth to the king, especially women who are treated like cattle or slaves. Sainville learns about Butuan life from a cynical Portuguese man, Sarmiento, who has managed to survive there for several years. Butua is in decline, its population is decreasing, it is constantly at war with neighbouring states, and its industry is negligible. In this section Sade is able to voice his opinions, through Sarmiento, of his ideas of moral relativity, and the benefits of sodomy. It’s strange how Sade often uses the most odious characters to put forward what are presumably his own views, and to mix them up with other views that he, presumably, didn’t hold.

Sainville eventually escapes from the Butuans and then travels to the South Pacific where he comes across the utopian land of Tamoé, ruled by the philosopher-king, Zamé. Zamé explains to Sainville how Tamoé is organised; in contrast to Butua, Zamé considers himself a First Citizen rather than a king. Property is held collectively, people are free to marry whoever they like and divorce is legal. There are few laws and no prisons as punishing people is anathema to the Tamoéans; shame and exile are their most severe judgements.

For any citizen who does wrong you must have but one objective. If you wish to be fair, let his punishment be useful to him and others; anything that deviates from that aim is infamy.

For the reader dystopias are usually more interesting than utopias, although we’d probably rather live in the utopia, even if it is more dull. But as I was reading this section I couldn’t help but wonder how Sade would cope in this utopia he’d created; I’m sure he would have found it all incredibly dull. We have to remember that he wrote Aline and Valcour whilst in the Bastille, he finished it around 1788 but didn’t get it published until 1795, after he’d been released from prison again, following his arrest under the revolutionary government. Sade mentions several times in the footnotes, which were presumably added after the revolution, that he’d written it before the revolution whilst he was imprisoned by the ancien régime. The reader in 1795 is presumably supposed to think of Butua as the ancien régime and Zamé as the ideal revolutionary state, yet to be achieved.

On leaving Tamoé Sainville’s adventures continue as he manages to escape the Spanish Inquisition; he finally finds Léonore, who is working as an actress in Bordeaux. We are told at the beginning that they were re-acquainted three weeks earlier.

It’s now time for Léonore’s story but Déterville reveals that there are policemen banging on the doors so we’ll have to wait until volume three.

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‘Aline and Valcour, Vol. 1’ by Marquis de Sade (Read Indies – Contra Mundum Press)

Image source: Publisher’s website

By 1785 the Marquis de Sade had been working on the sulfurous novel, Les 120 journées de Sodome, for three years. For some reason he decided to pause, or abandon, this book and switch to a different type of novel, one that was more orthodox, and therefore more publishable. Before beginning this new novel, Aline et Valcour, Sade produced his ‘back-up’ copy of ‘120 Days’ on a ‘scroll’ of paper; it is this scroll which was hidden away in his cell in the Bastille and was finally re-discovered and then printed in 1904. Aline et Valcour, however, was first published in 1795, after the Reign of Terror, and after he had been released from prison yet again, and it was to be the first work that was published in his own name. However, it had not been translated into English until the 2019 Contra Mundum Press edition which was translated by Jocelyne Geneviève Barque and John Galbraith Simmons. Being a long work, as many of Sade’s works are, the publisher has decided to split it into three volumes; this is a review of the first, and shortest, volume, Aline and Valcour, or, the Philosophical Novel, Vol. 1.

Although Aline and Valcour is less explicit than Sade’s more well-known works, it covers similar themes and is still obviously a work by Sade. Unusually for Sade, it is an epistolary novel, a form of novel that was very fashionable in the late eighteenth century. The titular heroes are young lovers who have been separated by Aline’s father, Monsieur de Blamont (a.k.a. “The President”) who is determined to marry off his daughter to his friend, Monsieur Dolbourg. But, as is typical in Sade’s works, M. de Blamont and M. Dolbourg are both libertines, and as Sade tries to make them as repulsive as possible he also makes sure that their professions are as repulsive as possible too—repulsive to Sade that is—Blamont is a judge, whilst Dolbourg is a banker. In order to physically separate Aline and Valcour Blamont has proposed they spend their summer at Vertfeuille. However, they can still write to each other clandestinely and, luckily for Valcour, Mme Blamont likes him and is prepared to thwart her husband’s plans; also present at Vertfeuille is Valcour’s friend, M. Déterville. In an early letter to Valcour, Aline sums up the situation.

   My dearest, we must stop seeing one another.
   There they are—cruel words. I put them down without dying. Follow me bravely. My father spoke as the master who demands to be obeyed. A convenient match appears, and that suffices. He didn’t ask if I agreed but took into account only his own interests, wholly sacrificing my feelings to his caprices. Don’t implicate my mother—she said and did all she could, and imagines doing still more. You know how much she loves me and you must be aware of her tender feelings for you. Our tears flowed together. The barbarian witnessed them but was not moved.

In the early letters, mostly between, Aline, Valcour and Déterville, we learn of Blamont’s intransigence over the proposed wedding between Dolbourg and Aline and then we find out more of Valcour’s history. Valcour was born into a distinguished family and grew up to be arrogant and angry; when war was started he was quick to join the army, as an officer, of course. Valcour fell in love with Adéläide Sainval but their marriage was forbidden by Valcour’s father, and so the couple separated, though both still loved each other. Later Valcour killed Adéläide’s brother in a duel and had to leave France for Switzerland, where he met Rousseau and became captivated by literature and the arts. Thus Valcour is of royal blood, but also an impoverished artist; M. Blamont wants Aline to be married to money. It’s interesting to note that much of this description of Valcour’s early years is similar to Sade’s own.

If the story is a bit pedestrian up to now then it really kicks off with ‘Sophie’s Story’; I won’t be able to go into the details but will give a taste of what happens. On one of their walks in Vertfeuille they come across a distraught young woman, who has just given birth, and who is fleeing her captors. She has been held as a sex slave, along with another woman, Rose, by two men Delcour and Mirville. Sophie had been ‘married’ to Mirville and Rose to Delcour. It is soon suspected, and then proved, that Delcour is in fact M. Blamont and Mirville is Dolbourg. Years earlier Blamont and Dolbourg had impregnated two sisters at the same time and hatched the plan where they would both have each child raised separately so that when they were old enough (about thirteen years old) each would take the other’s daughter as their mistress—this is pure Sade just without the explicitness. However the plans weren’t executed properly and there was much confusion over babies being mixed up etc. At one point it is believed that Sophie and Aline are sisters, especially as they look so similar but in the end this is erroneous. Sade concocts a convoluted plot which becomes even more confusing when Valcour and Déterville try to uncover the truth about Sophie, Blamont and Dolbourg and try to decide what to do with Sophie and the proposed marriage between Aline and Dolbourg. Mme Blamont is aware that the evidence they have regarding Sophie can be useful against M. Blamont but she knows that the cards are stacked in his favour. As a libertine he is used to arguing his case and as a judge he knows the law and has connections, and besides any damage to his honour will also reflect on her, and Aline. In the end M. Blamont is able to muddle things enough so that all they agree on is a delay of three months to the marriage.

In a letter to Valcour, Déterville makes the following comment on depravity in general, but concerning M. Blamont in particular.

Man’s greatest fault is to buttress his vices with doctrines that, once elaborated, serve to legitimize his conduct; everything that would be condemned in the heart of another will be forever engraved in his own. That’s why a young man’s wrongdoings are insignificant: he betrays principles but returns to them. An older man sins only after reflection; his faults emanate from his philosophy, which foments and nourishes them by erecting principles on the debris of his childish morality. And in these inflexible so-called principles he discovers the laws of his depravity.

Volume One ends with Déterville recounting the arrival at Vertfeuille of a young couple, Sainville and Léonore, whose story takes up the whole of Volume Two.

Aline and Valcour, Vol. 1 was read as part of the ‘Read Indies’ month.

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