cover image Sade: A Biographical Essay

Sade: A Biographical Essay

Laurence L. Bongie. University of Chicago Press, $30 (343pp) ISBN 978-0-226-06420-8

In the title, Bongie, a professor emeritus of French at the University of British Columbia and author of David Hume: Prophet of the Counter Revolution, specifically calls this a ""biographical essay,"" not a biography. And in fact, it is geared toward those in search of a very focused dissertation rather than a comprehensive, compelling account of Sade's life, like Francine du Plessix Gray's recent At Home with the Marquis de Sade (Forecasts, Oct. 5). In the past few years, the Marquis's writings have been touted for their literary qualities while their author has been championed as the ultimate individualist at odds with a hypocritical society. Bongie strips Sade of those honorable labels. Using letters, Sade's own writings and newly found police records, he goes about his work like a detective or an investigative reporter to expose what he believes was the true Sade. Paying close attention to Sade's relationship with his mother, Bongie challenges claims made by previous biographers, such as that Sade's mother was indifferent to her son from the very beginning. He diligently traces the complex family dynamic that fed directly into Sade's behavior and writings. Bongie admits, in conclusion, that his study was conducted by ""tracing a line neither straight nor even continuous."" And this is where he narrows his audience. Portions of Sade's life are examined in detail when Bongie needs them to support his main theory that Sade's credibility should always be questioned. But vital periods are ignored, leaving a reader looking for a true biography feeling unsatisfied. (Dec.)