Marquis de Sade
biography by Neil Schaeffer
|Home : Prison Letters
kill me or take
me as I am, because I'll be damned if I ever change..."
from a letter to his wife, written in prison,
letter of the week
|In writing my biography, The
Marquis de Sade: A Life, I found that one of the true surprises was
the richness, the humor, the genuine humanity that can be seen in his
letters from prison, written mostly to his patient and devoted wife
Renée. Since he spent 29 years behind stone walls, prison
letters were one of his most typical forms of discourse. In addition to
the features mentioned above, in these letters, you will also see the
extremes of his personality swings, his bizarre and paranoid system of
reading hidden meanings from numbers and words, his essential
loneliness and self-absorption, his preoccupation with his sex life,
his attempts to understand himself, his development as a literary
stylist and ultimately as a fiction writer.
I offer my translations solely for the pleasure of individuals who seek
to appreciate and understand Sade. My practice in translation has been
to strike a compromise in modernizing Sade's orthography and
punctuation, so that the translation retains some flavor of his style
and of eighteenth-century conventions without sacrificing readability.
When I have shortened a letter, I indicate a cut with three spaced
periods. All other strings of periods are in the original.
I begin the correspondence when Sade was 36 years old and hiding out in
his chateau of La Coste in Provence. A few years earlier, he had been
found guilty in absentia for the capital crimes of performing
sodomy and also of poisoning some prostitutes in Marseilles.
Nevertheless, he left the relative safety of La Coste to come to Paris
when he learned that his mother was very ill. When he arrived on
February 8, 1777, he learned that she had been dead for three weeks. It
appears that he had once again fallen into a trap. On February 13, Sade
was arrested by Inspector Marais by means of a lettre de cachet
obtained by his mother-in-law, Mme de Montreuil, who thought prison was
the best place for him while he pursued his eventually successful
appeal of the Marseilles verdict.
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