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The Marquis de Sade
A Life

The definitive biography by Neil Schaeffer

Home : Life & Times : Prison (1772-1790)

the chateau at Mazan

1772
June, Sade employs Spanish Fly in a series of orgies at Marseilles with prostitutes, who become ill from the drug. Condemned in absentia for poisoning and for sodomy, Sade flees to Italy with Anne-Prospère.

December 8, Sade is arrested in Savoy by means of a lettre de cachet arranged by his mother-in-law, Mme de Montreuil. He is imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans.

1773
April 30, Sade makes a daring escape from Miolans; later, he goes into hiding around La Coste.

1774
January 6, Mme de Montreuil arranges a police raid on La Coste to arrest her son-in-law by means of a lettre de cachet, but he flees in time and goes into deeper hiding.

Autumn, Sade returns to La Coste with five young servant girls and a young male "secretary," and is joined there by his wife.

1775
January, some of the relatives of the young servants lodge formal complaints about their sexual mistreatment. Mme de Montreuil hushes up the scandal and even has one of the most talkative servants imprisoned for several years under a lettre de cachet.

July 17, Sade flees to Italy, complaining about his neighbors in Provence: "If anyone so much as whips a cat in this province, they all say, ‘It`s Monsieur de Sade who did it.'" In Italy he keeps a journal of his views on art, sex, etc.

1776
July, Sade returns to La Coste from Italy.

October, Sade hires several young servant girls, all of whom leave except for Catherine Trillet.

vincennes1777
January 14, Sade's mother dies in her convent in Paris.

January 17, M. Trillet comes to retrieve his daughter Catherine, whom Sade calls "Justine." She refuses, and M. Trillet shoots point-blank at Sade, but his gun misfires.

January 30, Sade and his wife depart the relative security of La Coste for Paris to see his sick mother (but she was already dead and buried, details Mme de Montreuil failed to mention in her letter).

February 13, Sade is arrested under the lettre de cachet previously obtained my his Mme de Montreuil. He is imprisoned in the royal chateau of Vincennes, "this grave where they have buried me alive." He would spend 13 years behind bars.

December 31, Sade's uncle, the abbé, who helped to raise him, dies.

the entrance to LaCoste1778
June 14, Sade is conducted by Inspector Marais to Aix for his successful appeal of the verdicts of sodomy and of poisoning the Marseilles prostitutes. Nevertheless, he is informed that he must return to prison under the lettre de cachet obtained by Mme de Montreuil.

July 16, on the return trip to Vincennes, Sade escapes from Inspector Marais and hides out at La Coste, where he initiates an affair with his intelligent and witty housekeeper, Mlle de Rousset.

August 26, Sade is arrested at La Coste by Inspector Marais (who is eventually punished, possibly fired, for his disrespectful words to the marquis). Marais transports Sade back to Vincennes. Sade will spend his time writing letters to his wife Renée, demanding food, clothes, and especially books. He will also write plays, stories, and novels. Renée will beg the authorities, "Do not judge him from his writings, but rather judge him by his deeds."

1781
July 13, Sade's wife is granted her first visit in more than four years. She had not seen him since the day of his arrest on February 13, 1777.

1784
February 29, Sade is transferred to the Bastille when Vincennes is closed as an economy measure.

1785
October 22, Sade begins the final draft of his masterpiece, 120 Days of Sodom. He finishes 37 days later, and hides the scroll in his cell (where a guard finds it and saves it before the Bastille was destroyed).

1787
July 8, Sade completes The Misfortunes of Virtue.

1789
April 27, rioting breaks out in the neighborhood around the Bastille, whose guard is reinforced.

June 2, from his cell, Sade shouts to the crowd below, using a pissing-tube as a megaphone, saying that the prisoners are being slaughtered inside and calling on the crowd to come to their rescue.

July 4, Sade is transferred to the insane asylum at Charenton, and thus by two weeks misses out on being among the other four prisoners lionized by the Revolution.

July 14, the Bastille is sacked; Sade loses all of his manuscripts.

1790
April 2, Sade is released from Charenton after the National Assembly votes to abolish lettres de cachet: "I am free at last." However, his wife sues for separation and Sade is required to repay her dowry (which he never does).

July 1, Sade, calling himself Citizen Louis Sade, joins the section of the Place Vendôme, later called section des Piques, one of the most radical of all Paris sections and the spawning ground of Robespierre himself.

August 25, Sade meets Marie-Constance Quesnet, age 33, a former actress, abandoned by her husband. Sade's relationship with her and with her six-year old son Charles will last the rest of Sade's life.

June, Sade publishes the first of his political pamphlets. Others written for his section follow. He also publishes a clandestine edition of his erotic novel Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue.

October 22, Sade's sado-sexual play Oxtiern is performed in Paris and causes a disturbance.

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