The myth of the Marquis

I’m not a big fan of the writings of the Marquis de Sade. He seems long-winded, obsessive, and simple-minded to me. I’m also not a fan of the man himself, for what I think should be obvious reasons. He has, however, become a mythological figure, and not just in popular culture. In films like Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade (1967) and the more recent Quills (2000), we see him as a sexy rebel figure, representative of the counterculture’s struggle against authority. But even today’s biographers find him sympathetic. Francine Du Plessix Gray’s At Home With the Marquis de Sade and David Carter’s brief Marquis de Sade both seem to me to be overly apologetic. I don’t think we have to burn de Sade, but at the same time I don’t think we should romanticize him. That we continue to do so says a lot about our us and our need for a certain kind of hero. Who knew we were still so repressed?

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