“This month, a new biography of the Marquis de Sade arrives on the
scene. Monumental in size, the product of extensive scholarship, “Sade”
by Maurice Lever (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $35; 568 pp.) is the
first major biography since Gilbert Lely’s windy old classic came out in
1948,and the first to benefit from the Sade family’s recent willingness
to make available their complete archive.

Born in 1740 to a noble
family, Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade was also born into the
traditions of libertinism. His father was a rake, his mother a
lady-in-waiting. He was sent to be raised in one fortress after
another–a remote castle and an abbey in whose library he would find the
essays that examined the dangers of flagellation as a form of religious
privation (too much whipping can lead to sexual excitation).

you have read his “120 Days of Sodom,” this new account of Sade’s life
can come as an awful letdown. There are niggling debates over whether,
after flagellating a woman who may or may not have been a prostitute,
Sade cut her with a penknife and filled the wounds with wax (as the
woman claimed in court), or used a wax emollient of his own invention to
heal the wounds from the whipping (as Sade claimed), or whether the
wax, in fact, was from the candle Sade was holding to illuminate the
proceedings (the biographer’s helpful suggestion).     … (cont’d)

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