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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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‘Incest’ (Eugénie de Franval) by Marquis de Sade

This Hesperus Press edition was originally published in 2003. It is a novella-length story of 89 pages translated by Andrew Brown. The original story was published as Eugénie de Franval in what was to be the only collection of Sade’s stories to be published in his lifetime, Les Crimes de l’amour in 1800, a collection which consisted of eleven stories and one essay, in four volumes. It is believed that these stories were written between 1786 and 1788 when Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille. Different translations of Eugénie de Franval are available in English, such as David Coward’s translation in the Oxford University Press 2005 collection, The Crimes of Love, which includes seven of the original stories along with the essay on novels. The original collection, Les Crimes de l’amour, does not contain the explicit material for which Sade has become infamous, and as such was published under his own name. But the material is still quite risqué as it invariably includes libertines as main characters who are not afraid to voice their opinions and act on their desires. Last year I read Virtue, which was another story originally from Les Crimes de l’amour. I have also set up a page on Sade’s shorter works which may be of use to anyone who is trying to make sense of the English translations currently available. More recently Alma Classics published an edition of this translation with a less explicit cover.

M. de Franval is a young, handsome libertine. When the question of marriage arises and he makes it known that he wishes to have a young wife, then the fifteen year-old, beautiful, Mlle de Farneille seems a perfect match. Her mother, Mme de Farneille, who is still only thirty-two years old, has ‘intelligence and charm’. Within a year of their marriage Mme de Franval (née Mlle de Farneille) gives birth to a daughter, Eugénie.

M. de Franval, who, the minute this child saw the light of day, no doubt conceived the most detestable designs on her, straight away separated her from her mother.

And so, Franval takes Eugénie away from her mother despite the protests from his wife and mother-in-law. Eugénie only meets her mother for the first time when she is seven years old. Eugénie is fed well, has an excellent education and is allowed to play with other children as well as attend theatres, but she is ‘protected’ from the influence of religion by her father. Franval tries to inculcate in his daughter his own views on morality and religion.

By the age of fourteen Eugénie loves her father and despises her mother and it is at this age that Franval decides to act. Having groomed his daughter since birth he talks to her as a lover and Eugénie replies likewise, she wants no other man. Although the narrator ostensibly condemns this relationship, he dwells on the details and tries to make it sound like a beautiful relationship between equals. In his ‘libertine novels’ incestuous and paedophilic actions occur frequently and violently; here Sade is still trying to transgress contemporary morality but more insidiously. Unaware of the relationship between father and daughter, Eugénie’s mother announces that a M. de Colunce has asked for Eugénie’s hand in marriage. Franval puts his foot down and tells his wife to tell Colunce that his ‘daughter was born with certain defects which are obstacles to the bonds of marriage.’ Franval’s wife and mother-in-law become suspicious as they know this not to be true and they call upon the help of a priest, M. de Clervil.

Sade now has Franval and Eugénie renew their love for each other and has them speak like any other lovers in novels. Eugénie’s mother, grandmother and Clervil now try to get her to marry Colunce, whom she doesn’t love. If Eugénie was in love with anyone else we would see Clervil et al. as the ‘baddies’ trying to force her to marry someone against her will. Franval, being a libertine, is not scared of using dirty tactics and so he decides to get Valmont, a fellow libertine, to seduce Mme de Franval and blackmail her, with forged love letters, into leaving Franval alone. It is Valmont who reveals Franval’s and Eugénie’s true relationship to her.

With events running away from her Mme de Farneille, Franval’s mother-in-law, asks Clervil to talk to Franval and Eugénie. Clervil and Franval spar: when Clervil states that happiness cannot be found in crime, Franval gives the Sadean reply that all crimes are relative and so all happiness is relative.

‘No, Monsieur, no, there is nothing real in the world, nothing which merits praise or blame, nothing worthy of being rewarded or punished, nothing which, though it is unjust here, is not legitimate five hundred leagues away—no real evil, in a word, and no constant good.’

Clervil, who has been advised against referring to scripture, uses a pragmatic argument that transgressing local laws will lead to further crimes and incur punishment.

‘Furthermore, the habit of overriding ordinary constraints soon leads us to break more serious ones, and, from error to error, we end up committing crimes which are properly punished in every country in the whole world, and properly inspire dread in all reasonable creatures which inhabit the globe, under whichever pole it might be.’

Franval argues that Eugénie freely chose to be his lover and that he did not force her. Clervil says that Franval put the thought into her head for selfish reasons. Franval tries to use the forged letters to convince Clervil of Mme de Franval’s unfaithful behaviour but Clervil knows them to be fakes. When Clervil tries to convince Eugénie of her error she throws herself, nakedly, at him and tries to create a scandal; Clervil withdraws. This dialogue is interesting in that Clervil’s arguments against Franval (Sade) are valid and as justified as Franval’s; neither man is seen to ‘win’ the argument.

From here on the plot gets complicated and melodramatic as it involves double-crossing, kidnapping, murder and suicide. As this story was meant for a general readership, Sade has Franval and Eugénie repent for their crimes. The final scene is suitably gothic with castles, lightning, coffins, corpses and suicide.

Although not as explicit as his libertine novels, Incest is still quite shocking for the modern reader, as it must have been for the contemporary reader. It is clear that Franval intends to control and manipulate Eugénie until she is of age to become his lover. Sade disliked the influence that religion had over society and certainly disapproved of girls being brought up uneducated, unaware of sex and then married off at an early age to a man she does not love. Was Sade trying to show that Franval’s methods of bringing up Eugénie were no less controlling, no less manipulative and no less selfish than the way girls were brought up by church and state? Sade may argue that at least with Franval Eugénie had an education and was allowed to, and capable of, making a decision on whom to love and that she would have had no choice if she had been raised as her mother wished. The modern reader would surely say that Eugénie was groomed by Franval for his own sexual gratification and that she had no choice at all and that both scenarios are bad for Eugénie. It is always difficult to know if Sade is trying to make a serious point or whether he is just out to shock the reader. He always undermines any point he is trying to make by having his characters act abominably, even in these ‘mainstream’ works. Still, I believe that Incest would be a good book to read for anyone wishing to get a ‘flavour’ of Sade’s writing but who are wary of reading his more sexually violent works.

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‘Virtue’ by Marquis de Sade

Virtue was published by Hesperus Press in 2011 and consists of the novella Ernestine: A Swedish Novella and the short play Oxtiern, or The Miseries of Libertinism which is Sade’s own adaption of Ernestine for the stage. Ernestine was originally published in 1800 in the four-volume collection, The Crimes of Love (Les Crimes de l’amour, Nouvelles héroïques et tragiques) which was the only collection of Sade’s short fiction published in his lifetime. The stories were written, however, before 1788 when Sade was still imprisoned in the Bastille. These short stories lack the explicit sadistic sexual content for which Sade became infamous but they often concern contemporary morality and libertinage. In these short stories, which were intended for general publication, the libertines generally get their comeuppance which does not happen in his infamous ‘libertine’ novels such as Justine and Juliette. Virtue was translated by David Carter.

Ernestine begins with a frame story; the narrator describes his visit to Sweden, including the copper mines of Falun and Taberg. It is whilst being guided round the mines of Taberg by Falkeneim that he meets Oxtiern, who, the narrator is informed, is a Swedish nobleman who has been banished to the mines after being found guilty of ‘unprecedented crimes’. The narrator is intrigued by Oxtiern and wants to know how and why he ended up there, so Falkeneim tells Oxtiern’s tale which forms the main story.

The story begins in a small town, Norrköping, about fifty miles from Stockholm. Colonel Sanders, a widower, lives there with his beautiful daughter, Ernestine, who is sixteen years old. Ernestine is in love with Herman, who lost his parents at an early age, and who works for a local businesswoman, Widow Scholtz. But, Widow Scholtz, who is described as ‘an arrogant, imperious woman’ has a passion for Herman and things soon become complicated: Sanders approves of Ernestine’s and Herman’s betrothal but he does not want to upset Mme Scholtz, who is known to have a temper…and power; Ernestine knows of Scholtz’s interest in Herman and fears that Herman may be swayed by Scholtz’s money; Sanders begins to think it would be best for everybody if Herman married Scholtz rather than his daughter. When Herman declines Scholtz’s offer of marriage she warns him:

Herman, you do not know the woman you offend…No, you do not know of what she is capable…You will learn it perhaps too late…Leave at once…Yes, leave…

Six months go by before the arrival of Count Oxtiern. At a ball, held by Mme Scholtz, Oxtiern becomes obsessed with Ernestine and begins to charm her father, who is flattered by the attention of a count. This has, of course, been planned by Scholtz to draw Ernestine away from Herman but if she can’t have him then she is prepared to destroy him. Oxtiern and Scholtz now plot to get Ernestine and Herman as their respective lovers. Oxtiern tempts Sanders and Ernestine to Stockholm whilst Herman is left at the mercy of Scholtz. When Herman continues to resist Scholtz’s advances she decides to frame him for stealing from her and imprisons him. With Herman permanently separated from Ernestine she cruelly enjoys telling him that Ernestine is now Oxtiern’s wife and that this was achieved with Sanders’ blessing—none of which is true.

Scholtz has given up on Herman, who is now moved to Stockholm where he is due to be executed. Ernestine is meanwhile tricked into meeting Oxtiern on the pretext that she is to meet Herman, whom she hasn’t seen for months. In a quintessentially Sadeian scene Oxtiern attempts to seduce Ernestine, but with cruelty rather than flattery. He tells her that Herman has been condemned for robbing Scholtz and that Ernestine may be implicated in the crime as well. But if she willingly submits to Oxtiern then he will get Herman released and she can marry him (Herman). If she doesn’t submit then Herman will die and he will rape her anyway. Ernestine still refuses and reasons thus:

It is never permissible to commit one crime to prevent another. I know my lover sufficiently well to be certain that he would not want to enjoy a life that had cost me my honour, and what is more he would not marry me after my reputation had been blackened. I would have thus made myself guilty, without his becoming happier as a result. I would have become so without saving him, since he would certainly not survive such excessive horror and slander. So let me leave, sir. Do not make yourself more of a criminal than I suspect you of being already. I shall go to die near my lover. I shall share his dreadful fate. At least I shall perish worthy of Herman, and I would rather die virtuous than live in ignominy.

With this Oxtiern goes into a rage and Mme Scholtz cruelly draws back the curtain to show Herman, at that moment, climbing the scaffold. Oxtiern rapes the unconscious Ernestine at the moment Herman is being executed.

Against Mme Scholtz’s advice Oxtiern lets Ernestine free. The story does not end there but involves a duel where Sanders tries to get his revenge for the crimes committed against his daughter but Oxtiern is not to be outwitted so easily. This part of Ernestine also forms the bulk of the short play, Oxtiern, which is included in this edition. It’s interesting to see how Sade altered much from the story to make it work as a play.

Unlike his ‘libertine’ novels, in Ernestine Sade has the libertines punished for their crimes—Mme Scholtz is executed whilst Oxtiern is banished; but he is ultimately freed by Sanders and vows to perform virtuous acts from thereon. Knowing Sade’s other works I can only imagine him smirking to himself with this ‘virtuous’ ending, after having Ernestine raped by Oxtiern and then killed by her own father and having Herman executed for a crime he didn’t commit only to have Oxtiern surviving by showing some Christian repentance. Sade wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and with the ‘sanitised’ stories in The Crimes of Love he had hoped to be recognised as such. However, he was soon after arrested for being the author of the obscene works, Justine and Juliette, which he denied publicly. Even though his fame is due to these obscene works I feel that some of his more accessible works are worth reading even if they may still be too much for some readers.

You have no idea, my friend, of the effect of a young woman’s tears on all these weak and timid souls.

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A Conversation With Myself

I: You haven’t posted anything for a while. Have you given up?
ME: …er…no, I don’t think so.
I: Well, have you? Or haven’t you?
ME: No. I haven’t made the conscious decision to stop blogging; it just hasn’t happened.
I: What happened?
ME: Nothing really…work maybe…I always try to blame work. But I just sort of lost enthusiasm for posting anything. Strangely it was at a time when I was thinking of blogging about more than ‘just’ books, which had been my original intention when starting up this blog, that it all just crashed…I lost the enthusiasm.
I: Did you stop reading as well?
ME: No, in fact I was enjoying my reading as much as before, if not more.
I: What have you been reading?
ME: Well, I finished reading L.P. Hartley’s Eustace and Hilda trilogy, which was excellent, and carried on with more by him.
I: Such as?
ME: The Go-Between which I thought I should read as it’s his most famous work. I also read The Hireling; I had already watched the film version earlier in the year but really wanted to read the book.
I: Were they good? I mean book and film.
ME: Yes, certainly. The film of The Hireling was quite different than the book but both worked well.
I: What do you like about Hartley’s writing?
ME: He has great psychological insight into his characters, especially children.
I: Have you read any more by him?
ME: No, but I do have a biography of him that I intend to read soon.
I: Who’s the author?
ME: Adrian Wright.
I: No relation?
ME: Of course not. You should know that as well as me.
I: Ok. Keep your hair on. So, what else have you been reading?
ME: A real mish-mash really but I finally got round to reading Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold, which I’d been meaning to read for years.
I: Was it as good as Catch-22?
ME: No, but it was ok…funny in places…especially the family scenes…it got a bit strange at the end though. I felt that he could’ve done with a better editor, assuming he had one at all.
I: I suppose none of his other books can compare with Catch-22.
ME: Probably not. But when I read his second novel, Something Happened, I actually preferred it to Catch-22.
I: Did you watch the recent adaption of it?
ME: Of Catch-22? Yes. I liked it. It was better than the film.
I: So what else have you been reading?
ME: I don’t want to list everything…that would be dull…but the usual I suppose…fiction, some non-fiction…..I read Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which I really enjoyed, and had hoped to blog about.
I: But you didn’t.
ME: No. And I’ve been reading some 18th Century works as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Laclos, Sade.
I: All French I see. What is this thing you have with French writers?
ME: …er…I don’t know…it just sort of happens that way…I do intend to read some British writers as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Fielding, Defoe, Richardson, Austen…
I: Mostly male writers I see. And Austen is 19th Century isn’t she?
ME: Yes. But I’m thinking of a ‘long’ 18th Century. I just haven’t read much Austen and I want to read more by her. I hope to include Byron as well.
I: What prompted this interest in 18th Century literature?
ME: Well, I’m interested in the 18th Century…some of the historical characters….some of the events such as the French & American revolutions. I keep meaning to read Casanova’s memoirs but haven’t got round to it yet. But I had also intended to read some Sade…
I: Woah! Really! The Marquis de Sade! Are you some kind of sicko?
ME: …er…I hope not…but he’s a…
I: …pervert….
ME: …fascinating…
I: …sicko….
ME…character…
I: Are you sure? I mean have you read any of his work? It’s pretty strong stuff.
ME: Yes, I’m well aware of his works. I read most of Juliette when I was in my late teens/early twenties until I abandoned it…I felt emotionally numb at that point…But I read some biographies at the time and found him fascinating as a person. I didn’t know what to make of him, and still don’t.
I: So you thought you’d read more by him?
ME: Well, yes. But I intend to concentrate on some of his more ‘conventional’ works initially.
I: So none of his pervy stuff?
ME: Not at first, but I do intend to read 120 Days of Sodom.
I: That will be jolly. Why?
ME: I don’t want to be defeated by a book. I don’t want to be the sort of reader who doesn’t read something because the characters are ‘not nice’ or because they say or do nasty things.
I: So it’s a macho thing?
ME: Possibly…I hope not…but it may well be…
I: So have you read many so far?
ME: A few. Sade was a better writer than is generally credited. I wonder what sort of reputation he would have today if he’d restricted himself to his more ‘acceptable’ works.
I: He’d probably be unknown.
ME: Quite possibly. The shock value of his ‘libertine’ novels is why we remember him, and with good reason, but his other works are still quite revolutionary.
I: So, is there much available?
ME: Well, considering that Sade spent a large portion of his adult life in prison it’s amazing how much is available. A lot is now lost. His ‘libertine’ novels are generally available in various editions and his shorter works are now available in the OUP collections, as well as other versions, such as the small Hesperus editions. I have created a page here with as much information as I could find on his shorter works.
I: And this ‘Sade project’ has now expanded into an ’18th Century Literature Project’?
ME: I guess. It was when I realised that I really needed to read Les Liaisons Dangereuses before reading more Sade, and possibly Richardson as well, that I thought about reading more 18th Century works.
I: So you must be storming away?
ME: Not really. It’s going slowly. I’ve read Les Liaisons Dangereuses and a few others. As with 19th Century literature, I find it difficult reading one after another. I have to keep returning to the 20th & 21st Centuries.
I: So are you going to post anything about your reading? Sade or otherwise?
ME: I had intended to. And I still do. I just don’t know when.
I: But you may?
ME: I may. But I may not.
I: But you want to?
ME: I do.

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Filed under Carter, Angela, Hartley, L. P., Sade, Marquis de