Going to any length: The manuscript of Marquis de Sade’s ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’
Part of the festivities celebrating the bicentenary of the death of Marquis de Sade is an exhibit at the L’ Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris featuring the original manuscript of The 120 Days of Sodom.
Regarded by Sade as his magnum opus, The 120 Days of Sodom also known as The School of Libertinism, was written by Sade in the space of thirty-seven days in 1785 while imprisoned.
The production, construction and preservation of the manuscript is itself an epic tale.
Sade wrote for 3 hours each evening, copying his drafts on strips of paper 11″ wide, he then glued them together to form a roll and hid the manuscript between two stones in his cell.
When the French Revolution picked up and the Bastille was stormed, Sade was transferred to a hospital and his manuscript was lost. He later wrote that he “wept tears of blood” over its loss.
The roll was later found, in 1832, hidden in his cell and went unpublished until 1904 when a German psychiatrist published it thinking the sexual fetishes described in the book might be of “scientific importance…to doctors, jurists, and anthropologists.“
It did not appear in English until 1957 when it was published as part of The Traveller’s Companion Series by The Olympia Press in Paris.
Here is a little bit of history of the manuscript which returns to Paris after some time and intrigue.
From the Guardian:
In 1929, the scroll was bought by a member of the Noailles family who was a direct descendant of Sade. It was later stolen, smuggled into Switzerland and sold to a collector. A furious international legal wrangle ensued with a French court ordering it to be returned to the Noailles family, only to be overruled in 1998 by a Swiss court that declared it had been bought by the collector in good faith.
It was first put on display near Geneva in 2004. Gérard Lhéritier, president and founder of Aristophil, a company specialising in rare manuscripts, who bought the scroll for €7m (£5.75m) will put it on display at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris, which he owns.
Interesting slant – A Tale of Two Scrolls, A.D. Coleman, ponders this another seminal work originally written in scroll form, On the Road, that was first published in 1957. “Cross-pollination or not, there’s a definite resonance to the fact that, in 1957, two revolutionary books drafted on scrolls 166 years apart achieved their first publication in English.”
Musée d’Orsay is also taking part in the celebration with the exhibition: Sade: Attacking the Sun. Sade “completely transformed the history of both literature and the arts, first as an underground writer, and later by becoming a veritable legend in his lifetime.”
Hyperallergic has more on the Musée d’Orsay show: Abusing the Marquis de Sade.
Top two images: Sade Manuscrit Les 120 journées de Sodome (image courtesy L’ Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits, Paris)