cover image At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life

At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life

Francine Du Plessix Gray. Simon & Schuster, $27.5 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80007-3

The story of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) is filled with drama, mystery, political survival, plot twists, unforgettable characters and bizarre eccentricities, sexual and otherwise. Novelist, essayist and biographer du Plessix Gray (Lovers and Tyrants) does a remarkable job in rendering that story in a way that engages both the emotions and the intellect. She separates myth from fact, and where there are gaps, she poses questions that let readers draw their own conclusions. She shows how someone like Sade could have been created: a distant mother, debauched father and cleric uncle, combined with a French society that rivaled the late Roman Empire in hedonism. Through letters, journals and official documents, she follows Sade from a lonely, isolated childhood to Jesuit school, the military, marriage, sexual scandals, financial hardship, media celebrity, outlaw status and incarceration. She also looks at the women who shaped his life: Ren e-P lagie, his fanatically loyal wife, and her mother, Madame de Montreuil, who tried her best to separate the couple. This biography is not some titillating list of transgressions but rather a complicated, contradictory life portrayed in full cultural, political and psychological context: Sade as debaucher and victim of French political unrest, libertine and moralizer, loving husband and manipulator, pornographer and chaste writer. Du Plessix Gray unearths the causes of Sade's fears, distrust, fetishes, psychoses and atheism--in short, the failings that made him human. Whether one sees Sade as the ultimate rebel hero or the ultimate monster, du Plessix Gray's thorough, riveting telling makes him irresistible. (Nov.)