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The 120 Days of Sodom (1784) - Marquis de Sade

Related: Sade - transgressive fiction - 1780s - Salò - (1976) - Pier Paolo Pasolini

Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis is generally held to be the first book on sexual perversions, it was in fact preceded by Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom (1784). [Apr 2006]

The 120 Days of Sodom - Marquis Sade, Pierre Klossowski (Introduction) [Amazon.com]

The 120 Days of Sodom (1784) - Marquis de Sade

The 120 Days of Sodom or the School of Freedoms (Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l'école du libertinage) is book written by the French writer Marquis de Sade in 1784. Due to its extreme sexual and violent nature it remained banned in many countries for a long time.


Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom in the space of thirty-seven days in 1784 whilst he was locked up in the Bastille. Being short of writing materials, he wrote it in tiny writing on a continuous, twelve-metre long roll of paper. When the Bastille was stormed and looted on July 14, 1789 during the height of the French Revolution, Sade believed the work was lost forever and later wrote that he "wept tears of blood" over its loss.

However, the long roll of paper on which it was written was later found hidden in his cell, having escaped the attentions of the looters. It was first published in 1904 by a Berlin psychiatrist Dr. Iwan Bloch (although to avoid controversy he used a pseudonym.) It was not until the latter half of the twentieth-century that it became more widely available in countries such as Britain, the USA and France.

In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini turned the book into a movie, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom). The movie is set in a Nazi environment but can barely touch the perversities listed in the book. -- adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_120_Days_of_Sodom [Nov 2004]


Due to the extreme content of The 120 Days of Sodom, it is understandably regarded as gruesome and difficult to read.

It does have its defenders however. The first publisher of the work, Dr. Bloch, regarded its thorough categorization of all manner of sexual fetishes as having "scientific importance...to doctors, jurists, and anthropologists." He equated it with Kraft-Ebbing's Psychopathia Sexualis. Feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir wrote an essay titled Must We Burn Sade?, defending the 120 Days of Sodom when, in 1955, French authorities were planning on destroying it and three other majors works by Sade.

On the other hand, another feminist writer, Andrea Dworkin, condemed it as "vile pornography" and its author as as the embodiment of misogyny, especially as the rape, tortures and murders are inflicted by male characters on victims who are mostly (but not exclusively) female.

It is likely that many people - whether they regard The 120 Days Of Sodom as being of any literary value or not - would not even classify it as 'pornography' because the sex is repetitive and not described in much detail. Furthermore, the paraphilias involved - such as coprophilia, paedophilia, rape, torture and murder - are those which the majority of people would find either unstimulating or downright revolting. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_120_Days_of_Sodom#Attitudes [Dec 2004]

Iwan Bloch [...]

Written in the Bastille over 37 nights starting 20 August 1785, the manuscript comprised a roll of paper 13 yards long by 5 inches wide, covered on both sides by Sade's microscopic script. This could be rolled up and easily hidden in a gap in the wall of his cell. On the fall of the Bastille, the manuscript was lost and eventually came into the possession of the Villeneuve-Trans family where it remained for over a century, until 1904 when it was edited by 'Dr. Eugene Duhren' (in fact Dr. Ivan Bloch, author of numerous sexological works), and published clandestinely in Berlin by Max Harwitz. At once the first attempt to compile a Psychopathia Sexualis and a nihilistic cry of rage at the destructive egotism and hypocracy of human nature, this was fairly described by Geoffery Gorer in his pioneering book of 1933, comparing it with Kafka's The Castle, as 'one of the most extraordinary books in the world'. [retrieved mid 2004, source unknown]

The 120 Days of Sodom - Marquis Sade, Pierre Klossowski (Introduction) [Amazon.com]

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