Anyone who thinks “Fifty Shades of Grey” was racy has clearly never heard of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade. Born in 1740, de Sade is considered one of the most sexually deviant and rebellious characters in history. In fact, the word sadism is derived from his very name. The Marquis lived a life of monstrous passion and dark intellect, leaving a permanent mark on history as a noteworthy writer, thinker, and fornicator. Whether you admire him or loathe him, one thing is for sure, he lived a life like no other.
The Marquis was not just anybody. He was the only son born to Count de Sade and his noble wife Jean Baptiste François Joseph, in the famous Paris Hôtel de Condé in 1740. Though his life seemed to be full of privilege, de Sade was abandoned by both parents at a young age and left with his uncle, a notorious eccentric. The boy was raised without a mother, adhering to the demands of his perverted relative, and was raised by servants who, while unable to offer him any real affection, catered to his every whim. As a result, he grew to be a spoiled, entitled young man with an ever-growing temper and a bizarre sense of affection.
At the tender age of ten years, de Sade was sent to a nearby Jesuit college, the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris where he was regularly whipped by his instructors and humiliated in front of the other students. Later in life when de Sade was on trial for “unspeakable acts” against women, a former priest testified that de Sade was obsessed with the pursuit of physical pleasure and became preoccupied with the violence he received at the hands of his teachers. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. Little did his teacher know, this preoccupation would soon blossom into a full-blown sadistic obsession.
At just 15 years old, de Sade was drafted into the military and underwent 20 grueling months of training, eventually becoming a soldier in the French army. He seemed to excel in the military and was eventually promoted to Colonel of a Dragoon regiment where he fought in the Seven Years’ War. During this time, he witnessed many atrocities first-hand and was plunged into a world of extreme violence with zero accountability.
Upon his return in 1763, he began to court a rich magistrate’s daughter; however, the young woman’s father did not approve and offered him his older daughter instead. Despite the arrangement, the two managed to develop a great fondness for each other, and de Sade would brag he was able to spend her fortune and teach her to relish the act of sodomy, his favorite bedroom activity.
As de Sade’s marriage evolved, he became bored of shagging his wife alone and was known to entertain both male and female sexual partners whenever possible. Whether his wife was aware of these transgressions is unclear; however, de Sade entertained many sorted parties at his French castle where orgies and homosexual encounters were common. When his wife’s sister began living at the castle as well, de Sade wasted no time taking her virginity and beginning a torrid secret affair with her that would eventually destroy his marriage.
Throughout these years, one of The Marquis’s closest conspirators was his valet, Latour. While living in Marseille around 1772, de Sade and Latour concocted a scheme to use the aphrodisiac known as Spanish Fly to poison prostitutes and render them vulnerable to all sorts of depraved sexual acts. The men were not only unsuccessful, but their dastardly plot and ongoing homosexual affair were also uncovered. They were sentenced to death for attempted murder and sodomy. Again, they fled to Italy but were caught and imprisoned in a fortress near France where they remained for four months until they are able to escape again.
The Marquis was somehow able to sneak back into France and began his misdeeds immediately. As soon as he returned, his castle became a revolving door of abused servants fleeing for their safety and complaining of his perverseness. His insatiable sexual appetite finally caught up with him, however, when the father of a young female servant arrived at the castle and demanded to see his daughter. Once it was discovered that de Sade had deflowered her, the man became furious and attempted to shoot him at point blank range. But the pistol misfired and de Sade was spared once again.
During his time as a writer, de Sade anonymously penned two books titled “Justine” and “Juliette,” which received a great deal of notoriety and attention. Both stories were focused on the experiences of young girls confronted by unexpected sexual predators; one was raped by depraved monks, while the other was seduced by a woman twice her age. As was true with most of his works, the books were filled with violently pornographic scenes and riddled with odd philosophical tirades about morality. Napoleon Bonaparte himself disliked the books so much, he ordered the arrest of whoever wrote them. And so, de Sade landed in prison again.
The Marquis was declared insane by his family and permanently committed to the asylum at Charenton. Despite his familiarity with confinement, de Sade suffered greatly when he was put in solitary and deprived of his writing materials. Regardless of these physical limitations and his advanced age, he managed to begin a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl, whose father worked in the asylum. This affair would last about four years until de Sade finally died in 1814 at the ripe old age of 74.
And the rest is history.