Marquis de Sade in popular culture

Marquis de Sade in popular culture
Depiction of the Marquis de Sade by H. Biberstein in L'Œuvre du marquis de Sade, Guillaume Appolinaire (Edit.), Bibliothèque des Curieux, Paris, 1912

There have been many and varied references to the Marquis de Sade in popular culture, including fictional works, biographies and more minor references. The namesake of the psychological and subcultural term sadism, his name is used variously to evoke sexual violence, licentiousness and freedom of speech.[1] In modern culture his works are simultaneously viewed as masterful analyses of how power and economics work, and as erotica.[2] Sade's sexually explicit works were a medium for the articulation of the corrupt and hypocritical values of the elite in his society, which caused him to become imprisoned. He thus became a symbol of the artist's struggle with the censor. Sade's use of pornographic devices to create provocative works that subvert the prevailing moral values of his time inspired many other artists in a variety of media. The cruelties depicted in his works gave rise to the concept of sadism. Sade's works have to this day been kept alive by artists and intellectuals because they espouse a philosophy of extreme individualism that became reality in the economic liberalism of the following centuries.[3]

There has been a resurgence of interest in Sade in the past fifty years. Leading French intellectuals like Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault have published studies of Sade. There has been continuing interest in Sade by scholars and artists in recent years.[1]



  • The play by Peter Weiss titled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat, as performed by the inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, or Marat/Sade for short, is a fictional account of Sade directing a play in Charenton, where he was confined for many years. In the play, the Maquis de Sade is used as a cynical representative of the spirit of the senses. He debates Jean-Paul Marat who represents the spirit of revolution.[4]
  • The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima wrote a play titled Madame de Sade.
  • The Canadian writer/actor Barry Yzereef wrote a play titled Sade, a one-man show set in Vincennes prison.
  • Doug Wright wrote a play, Quills, a surreal account of the attempts of the Charenton governors to censor the Marquis' writing, which was adapted into the slightly less surreal film of the same name.
  • La Fura dels Baus have toured worldwide their production, XXX, which is said to be based upon Sade's work and thoughts. The production has been met with criticism and controversy everywhere it has been shown.
  • Lost Cherry Orchard is a dramatic performance by Czech theatre company Depressed Children Long for Money (Depresivní děti touží po penězích) based on Philosophy in the Bedroom by Sade and The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov suggesting that Mme Ranevskaya spent her years in Paris in the salon of Marquis de Sade and performed fifteen-year-old virgin Eugénie, the main character of Philosophy in the Bedroom. When her daughter Anya comes to Paris, Ranevskaya returns to Russia, taking all spectators with her (in the original Czech production in 2007 the technically demanding production included two remote sets (Paris and Siberia) and a train transport for cast and audience). After the end of the Chekhovian part, Mme Ranevskaya leaves Siberia to meet her French lover again, Marquis de Sade himself, leaving all the cast of The Cherry Orchard and all spectators in Russia. The performance combines the sadistic brutality of Philosophy in the Bedroom with the world of total losers of The Cherry Orchard.
  • "Divine Marquis" is a play by John Phillips, based on recently discovered correspondence between the young marquis de Sade and his seventeen-year-old sister-in-law, Anne Prospère de Launay, detailing their love-affair and its repercussions. The play was staged at the Barons Court Theatre in London from 29 September to 18 October, 2009.
  • "The Marquis De Sade's JUSTINE", an opera libretto by Meron Langsner and Silvia Graziano, was given a staged reading at the Boston Playwrights Theatre on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011 as a benefit for Fort Point Theatre Channel.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sade's life and writings have proved irresistible to filmmakers.[3] Visual representations of Sade in film first began to appear during the surrealist period.[5] While there are numerous pornographic films based on his themes, here are some of the more mainstream films based on his history or his works of fiction:

  • L'Age d'Or (1930), the collaboration between filmmaker Luis Buñuel and surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. The final segment of the film provides a coda to Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, with the four debauched noblemen emerging from their mountain retreat.[5]
  • The Skull (1966), British horror film based on Robert Bloch's short story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade." Peter Cushing plays a collector who becomes possessed by the evil spirit of the Marquis when he adds Sade's stolen skull to his collection. The Marquis appears in a prologue as a decomposing corpse dug up by a 19th-century graverobber. In another scene, a character gives a brief, fictionalized account of Sade's life, emphasizing his "boogeyman" reputation.
  • The 1966 film of Marat/Sade directed by Peter Brook, who also directed the first English-language stage production. Patrick Magee plays the Marquis.[4]
  • Marquis de Sade: Justine, directed by Jesus Franco (1968). Klaus Kinski appears as Sade, writing the tale in his prison cell.
  • Eugenie…The Story of Her Journey into Perversion also known as Philosophy in the Boudoir (1969). Another Franco film, this one featuring Christopher Lee as Dolmance.
  • De Sade (1969), romanticized biography scripted by Richard Matheson and directed by Cy Endfield. The film more or less presents the major incidents of Sade's life as we know them, though in a very hallucinatory fashion. The film's nudity and sexual content was notorious at the time of release, and Playboy ran a spread based around it. Keir Dullea plays the Marquis (here named Louis Alphonse Donatien) in a cast that includes Lili Palmer, Senta Berger, Anna Massey, and John Huston.
  • Eugenie de Sade, another of Jesus Franco's adaptations (1970). Adapts Sade's story "Eugenie de Franval", accurately, though set in the 20th century.
  • Beyond Love and Evil, original title La philosophie dans le boudoir (1971), French film loosely adapted from de Sade's play "Philosophy in the Bedroom". Set in the present day, a cult of depraved hedonists cavort at a remote, elegant mansion.
  • Justine de Sade, directed by Claude Pierson (1972). An accurate rendition of Sade's tale, though lacking Franco's panache.
  • Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom Italian: Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975). Sade's novel updated to Fascist Italy.
  • Cruel Passion (1977), a toned-down re-release of De Sade's Justine, starring Koo Stark as the long-suffering heroine.
  • House of De Sade (1977), X-rated film combines sex and S&M in a house haunted by de Sade's spirit. Vanessa del Rio stars.
  • Waxwork (1988), another horror film. In this one, people are drawn through the tableaux in a chamber of horrors into the lives of the evil men they represent. Two of the characters are transported to the world of the Marquis, where they are tormented by Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) and a visiting Prince, played by director Anthony Hickox.
  • Marquis (1989), a French/Belgian co-production that combines puppetry and animation to tell a whimsical tale of the Marquis (portrayed, literally, as a jackass, voiced by François Marthouret) imprisoned in the pre-Revolution Bastille.
  • Night Terrors (1994), another horror film playing on Sade's boogeyman image. A depiction of the Marquis's final days is intercut with the story of his modern day descendant, a serial killer. Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame directed, while horror icon Robert Englund of A Nightmare on Elm Street (and its many sequels and spin-offs) played both the Marquis and his descendant.
  • Dark Prince (1996). The Marquis (Nick Mancuso) seduces a young maiden from his jail cell.
  • Sade (2000), directed by Benoit Jacquot. Daniel Auteuil plays Sade, here imprisoned on a country estate with several other noble families, sexually educating a young girl in the shadow of the guillotine.
  • Quills (2000), an adaptation of Doug Wright's play by director Philip Kaufman. A romanticized version of Sade's final days which raises questions of pornography and societal responsibility. Geoffrey Rush plays Sade in a cast that also includes Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine. The film portrays de Sade as a literary freedom fighter who is a martyr to the cause of free expression. The film's defense of de Sade is in essence a defense of cinematic freedom.[6] The film was inspired by de Sade's imprisonment and battles with the censorship in his society.[3] The film shows the strong influence of Hammer horror films, particularly in a key scene where asylum administrator Caine locks Winslet in a cell with a homicidal inmate, mirroring exactly a scene from The Curse of Frankenstein.
  • Lunacy (2005, Czech title Šílení): Czech film directed by Jan Švankmajer. Loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and inspired by the works of the Marquis de Sade. Sade figures as a character.

In art

Many surrealist artists had great interest in the Marquis de Sade. The first Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) announced that "Sade is surrealist in sadism." Guillaume Apollinaire found rare manuscripts by Sade in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He published a selection of his writings in 1909, where he introduced Sade as "the freest spirit that had ever lived." Sade was celebrated in surrealist periodicals. In 1926 Paul Éluard wrote of Sade as a "fantastique" and "revolutionary." Maurice Heine pieced together Sade's manuscripts from libraries and museums in Europe and published them between 1926 and 1935. Extracts of the original draft of Justine were published in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution.[5]

The surrealist artist Man Ray admired Sade because he and other surrealists viewed him as an ideal of freedom.[3] According to Ray, Heine brought the original 1785 manuscript of 120 Days of Sodom to his studio to be photographed. An image by Man Ray entitled Monument à D.A.F. de Sade appeared in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution.[5]

Other works

  • The writer Georges Bataille applied Sade's methods of writing about sexual transgression to shock and provoke readers.[3]
  • A character named Marquis de Singe in the adventure game Tales of Monkey Island is thought to reference Marquis de Sade. The character has a strong affiliation with amputation and has been exiled to Flotsam Island after his cross-breeding experiments on the Queen's poodles.
  • Marquis de Sade is also mentioned in Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende as having taken a young girl as an apprentice while in jail who went on to be the source of one of the main character's prodigious knowledge of seduction and sex.[7]
  • In Harlan Ellison's science fiction anthology, Dangerous Visions (1967), Robert Bloch wrote a story entitled "A Toy For Juliette" whose title character was both named for and used techniques based on Sade's works.
  • Bloch also wrote a short story called "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade", in which a collector becomes possessed by the violent spirit of the Marquis after stealing the titular item. The story was the basis for the film The Skull (1966), starring Peter Cushing and Patrick Wymark.
  • In Garth Ennis's Preacher comic series, a pale, long-haired character goes by the name of Jesus de Sade. This character is intended as an insult to Christians and a parody of Marquis de Sade by having him sodomizing small animals and his pantless butlers.
  • In the comic book series The Invisibles, Sade is recruited by the anarchistic group the Invisibles, as part of the revolution. The portrayal of him is supported by his liberal views, anti-authority stance and unhegemonic lifestyle.
  • Jack of All Trades (TV series) a comedy-adventure series set in the 1800s starring Bruce Campbell. In the episode "X Marquis the Spot" (2000), Jack visits the island resort of the Marquis de Sade and competes in an S&M-themed obstacle course race that parodies Survivor (TV series).
  • The DC Comics character Desaad, created by Jack Kirby in New Gods #2 (1971), is a play on "De Sade". Desaad's assistant Lady Justeen, created by Walt Simonson in Orion #1 (2000), is likewise a play on "Justine".
  • Polish science fiction author Stanisław Lem has written an essay analyzing game-theoretical arguments that appear in Sade's novel Justine.[8]
  • The 1990 song "Sadeness" (and indeed the entire piece it is a part of, "Principles of Lust"), created by the "musical project" Enigma, is named after the Marquis de Sade, and he is a theme of the song(s).
  • In Thomas Pynchon's Vineland "The Marquis de Sod" is the name of a landscaping company.
  • In the 2007 Marvel Comics limited series " Penance Relentless" the main character, Penance (Robbie Baldwin), is shown to have a copy of "Pain & Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Marquis de Sade". This is due to his powers, something he enjoys, only becoming active when he experiences extreme pain.
  • In the song "Babalon AD (So Glad For The Madness)" by metal band Cradle of Filth from their album Damnation and a Day, the narrator (which is supposed to be the devil,) says that he "dictated to de Sade in the dark entrails of the Bastille."
  • The Marquis Doll Adventures, a novel by Paula Hopkins, invokes a future world using characters based on De Sade's writings.
  • Dutch DJ and Producer, Dov J. Elkabas, more famously The Prophet, used the name "MarQuiz De Sade" for the release of the vinyl MarQ 1. Containing the tracks "Sadizm", "The Brother MarQuiz" and "S.O.A.B".
  • In the Kingdom Hearts series manga, Larxene was seen reading a Marquis de Sade book while lounging on the couch. Larxene herself is a sadist.
  • In the adventure video game Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, a receptionist in a Parisian hospital talks about another nurse's strict methods, saying "In terms of strictness, she'd whip the butt off the Marquis de Sade!"
  • In a comical vein, in the "Carry On" movie Don't Lose Your Head (1966), Charles Hawtrey's character "Duc de Pommfrit" is seen reading a book by de Sade before a foiled attempt to guillotine him.
  • An anachronistic De Sade (played by Lloyd Bochner), also served as a villainous foil for a pair of would-be 17th-century lovers in an episode of the tv show Fantasy Island.
  • The Marquis (played by Neil Munro), is also the villain in The Charnel Pit, an episode of the tv series Friday the 13th: The Series, where a cursed painting provides entry for the unwary into Sade's life and times.
  • Guido Crepax's graphic novel combining Justine with Anne Desclos's Histoire d'O, supposedly followed Sade's example of creating beauty from the vile and the degenerate.
  • He is also mentioned in Alan Menken's "Little Shop of Horrors" in the song, "Dentist", which is about a sadistic dentist. The line reads, "Here he is, girls, the leader of the plaque / watch him suck up that gas, oh my God / he's a dentist and he'll never ever be any good / who wants their teeth done by the Marquis de Sade?"
  • He is name-checked in the Alice Cooper song Unfinished Sweet from the Billion Dollar Babies album, in the line "De Sade is gonna live in my mouth tonight/Achin' to get me."
  • The BBC mockumentary Operation Good Guys featured a character Dominic de Sade, who had an interest in BDSM
  • The low budget horror film The Dungeon of Harrow by comic book artist Pat Boyette features an antagonist called "Count de Sade," here pronounced to rhyme with "maid."
  • The Marquis de Sade is depicted in the pages of Alley Cat, a graphic series published by Image comics which featured Alley Baggett as a crime fighter.
  • He is mentioned as having developed the torture scene in the graphic novel Y The Last Man.
  • The Marquis de Sade is also mentioned in the Clive Barker novella The Hellbound Heart as having traded Lemarchand's Box for paper on which to write the 120 days of Sodom.
  • An album by the Austrian blackened-death metal band Belphegor, Bondage Goat Zombie, is somewhat of a concept album revolving around de Sade's works as an overall theme and inspiration, also featuring the song "Justine: Soaked in Blood", directly based on his work.
  • In Family Guy, Brian Griffin refers to the Marquis as Stewie's "favourite hero".
  • Kafka's Soup, a literary pastiche in the form of a cookbook, contains a recipe for boned stuffed poussins à la Marquis de Sade.
  • The Stone Roses mention the Marquis de Sade in their 1989 seminal hit Fools Gold.


  1. ^ a b Phillips, John, 2005, The Marquis De Sade: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192804693.
  2. ^ Guins, Raiford, and Cruz, Omayra Zaragoza, 2005, Popular Culture: A Reader, Sage Publications, ISBN 0761974725.
  3. ^ a b c d e MacNair, Brian, 2002, Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire, Routledge, ISBN 0415237335.
  4. ^ a b Dancyger, Ken, 2002, The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice, Focal Press, ISBN 024080225X.
  5. ^ a b c d Bate, David, 2004, Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism and Social Dissent, I.B. Tauris, ISBN 1860643795.
  6. ^ Raengo, Alessandra, and Stam, Robert, 2005, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation, Blackwell, ISBN 0631230556.
  7. ^ Daughter of Fortune By Isabel Allende. p. 90 Google books
  8. ^ Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. (1986). "Twenty-Two Answers and Two Postscripts: An Interview with Stanisław Lem". DePauw University. 

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