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At Home with the Marquis De Sade:
Lending his name to the term sadism, and synonymous with pornography and sexual perversion, the infamous Marquis de Sade was inarguably mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But the very qualities that were repellent in the man make for fascinating reading in Francine du Plessix Gray's biography, At Home with the Marquis de Sade. The pitfalls of writing about such a scandalous subject are obvious: Sade is so completely associated in the modern mind with extremely degrading sexual escapades that any book about him risks being tarred with the same prurient brush--how does one discuss the Marquis without mentioning such loaded topics as whipping, sodomy, masturbation, blasphemy, or orgies, for example? The answer is, one doesn't; but Gray's focus in this biography is less on Sade's sexuality than on his relationship with the two most influential women in his life: his wife, Pélagie, and his mother-in-law, Madame de Montreuil.
It seems even a sadist can love, and in his own way, the Marquis de Sade loved his wife. Even more remarkable is that Pélagie apparently returned his affection devotedly for many years, despite frequent scandals, jailings, and even an affair with her own sister. Gray draws extensively on letters written by Sade, his wife, and his mother-in-law to paint a vibrant picture of an unorthodox marriage, a period of great political upheaval, and a complicated bond between mother and daughter. Gray also places the Marquis's writing in a context that, while forthrightly characterizing it as "the crudest, most repellent fictional dystopia ever limned, the creation of a borderline psychotic whose scatological fantasies have grown all the more deranged in the solitude and rage of his jail cell," also acknowledges its "recklessness and daring" as well as its influence on later writers from Swinburne and Baudelaire to Octavio Paz and Luis Buñuel. Sex, art, religion, and politics--At Home with the Marquis de Sade addresses them all with the intelligence and insight one has come to expect from Francine du Plessix Gray. [via]