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The Bibliotheque Nationale Wants Sade Manuscript: The Clyde Fitch Report

January 25, 2013

The Brown Tweed Society is pleased to host The Clyde Fitch Report, the nexus of art and politics.

If you’ve never read the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, please, please, please let this serve as an admonition: it’s harrowing.

When you think of Sade, you probably picture the 18th-century equivalent of stern, bossy men wearing leather chaps or dominant women in black corsets with artisanal whips. You’re wrong. The 120 Days of Sodom is the story of kidnapping, depraved sex acts, spectacularly creative torture, elaborate rape, even more upsetting creative torture and, well, sadistic murder. If not exactly a satire, the book is a melodramatic polemic, making an unmissable point as it lashes out at social mores under the ancien régime. There. is. a. character. named. Bum-Cleaver.

Sade wrote it while in prison, and it represents an intentionally over the top challenge to the culture that incarcerated him. That intention to go over the top: let’s declare it a success. Le yikes!

Elaine Sciolino reported on Monday in The New York Times that Bruno Racine, director of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) (the French national library), has been in negotiations to acquire Sade’s original manuscript as a “national treasure.” Which, harrowing plot aside, it clearly is. The manuscript is in the form of a single, 39-foot long scroll, covered front and back with Sade’s tiny writing. Between the 1920s and 1980s, it was, amazingly, in the possession of some of the Marquis’ descendants in Fontainebleau, but has ended up owned by a Swiss collector of erotica.

Another admonition: Do not date anyone who considers The 120 Days of Sodom to be erotica.

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