The Marquis de Sade's Attitude Towards Women
The Marquis de Sade was an author in France in the late
1700s. His works were infamous in their time, giving Sade a
reputation as an adulterer, a debaucher, and a sodomite.
One of the more common misrepresentations concerning Sade
was his attitude toward women. His attitude was shown in
his way of life and in two of his literary characters,
Justine and Julliette.
The Marquis de Sade was said to be the first and only
philosopher of vice because of his atheistic and sadistic
activities. He held the common woman in low regard. He
believed that women dressed provocatively because they
feared men would take no notice of them if they were naked.
He cared little for forced sex. Rape is not a crime, he
explained, and is in fact less than robbery, for you get
what is used back after the deed is done (Bloch 108).
Opinions about the Marquis de Sade's attitude towards
sexual freedom for women varies from author to author. A
prevalent one, the one held by Carter, suggests Sade's work
concerns sexual freedom and the nature of such, significant
because of his "refusal to see female sexuality in relation
to a reproductive function."
Sade justified his beliefs through graffiti, playing
psychologist on vandals:
In the stylization of graffiti, the prick is
always presented erect, as an alert attitude.
It points upward, asserts. The hole is open, as
an inert space, as a mouth, waiting to be filled.
This iconography could be derived from the
metaphysical sexual differences: man aspires,
woman serves no function but existence, waiting.
Between her thighs is zero, the symbol of nothingness, that
only attains somethingness when male principle fills it with
meaning (Carter 4).
The Marquis de Sade's way of thought is probably best
symbolized in the missionary position. The missionary
position represents the mythic relationship between
partners. The woman represents the passive receptiveness,
the fertility, and the richness of soil. This relationship
mythicizes and elevates intercourse to an unrealistic
proportion. In a more realistic view, Sade compares married
women with prostitutes, saying that prostitutes were better
paid and that they had fewer delusions (Carter 9).
Most of Sade's opinions of women were geared towards
the present, in what they were in his time. He held
different opinions, however, for how he envisioned women in
the future. Sade suggests that women don't "fuck in the
passive tense and hence automatically fucked up, done over,
undone." Sade declares that he is all for the "right of
women to fuck." It is stated as if the time in which women
copulate tyrannously, cruelly, and aggressively will be a
necessary step in the development of the general human
conscious concerning the nature of copulation. He urges
women to copulate as actively as they can, so that, "powered
by their hitherto untapped sexual energy they will be able
to fuck their way into history, and, in doing so, change it"
Women see themselves in the reflection form Sade's
looking glass of misanthropy. Critics say that Sade offers
male fantasies about women in great variety, along with a
number of startling insights. He is said to put pornography
in the service of women (Carter 36).
The Justine series, consisting of six editions, was one
of the most infamous and well known series written by Sade.
While the series had several editions, the storyline
remained basically the same throughout, though becoming more
verbose in each edition.
Two characters emerge from the Justine novels: Justine
and Juliette, who are sisters orphaned at an early age.
These two characters represent the opposite poles of
womanhood in Sade's mind. Justine is the innocent, naive
type who gets mistreated throughout her life. Juliette is
Sade's ideal woman, being uninhibited in her sexual conduct
and in her life, murdering and copulating at whim. She,
naturally, does well in life (Lynch 41-42).
The story of Justine is a long and tragic one, taking
the naive young girl abroad, where she is used and discarded
by man and woman alike. This is due to the fact that she is
a good woman in a predominately male world. "Justine is
good according to the rules concerning women laid down by
men." Her reward is rape, incessant beatings, and
humiliation (Carter 38).
Justine's first encounter in life is with a priest who
tries to seduce her instead of offering her the assistance
she seeks. Next, she encounters a financier named Dubourg.
He abuses her and makes her steal. Dubourg is rewarded for
the vices he has by getting a lucrative government job
Justine soon is received by Du Harpin, an expert in
making loans, plotter of the robbery of a neighbor, who is
utilizing Justine as a intermediary. Justine is arrested as
a result of Du Harpin's misdeeds. She is soon released by a
woman named Dubois, who engineers their escape via setting
aflame the prison (Lynch 42).
Dubois leads Justine to an encounter with her brigand
friends, led by Coeur-de-fer (French for Heart of Iron).
They rape Justine between raids in which she doesn't
participate. During one of their raids, they rob and beat
Saint-Florent. Justine helps Saint-Florent escape. He
promptly expresses his gratitude by raping her and stealing
the little money she had (Lynch 42).
Justine is left abandoned and distraught in the woods.
She happens upon a youthful count named Bressac in the
middle of a homosexual act with one of his servants. Rather
than killing her then for her indiscretion, Bressac brings
her home and forces her to assist with his plan to murder
his wealthy aunt. Justine flees after four years with
Bressac (Lynch 42).
She is soon hired by a "surgeon" who is better
described as a vivisector, who practices his science on his
daughter and on young children. Justine, feeling pity,
attempts to save Bressac's daughter, is caught, and is
branded as a common criminal (Lynch 42).
Justine's cycle of misfortunes continue for some time.
She is visited once again by Dubois and twice by
Saint-Florent, both of whom incriminate her in something not
of her doing. She finally finds her long-lost sister,
Juliette, who she recites her life's story to. Her sister
grants her freedom. She lives for a short time afterwards,
shortly disfigured by lightning and eventually killing her
Juliette, sister of Justine, lives a different life
altogether. Her early life revolves around her tutors, who
introduce different trades. Her first tutor was Mme.
Delbene, a libertine, who introduces infliction of pain for
pleasure. Mme. Delbene's final affirmation to Juliette was,
"Oh, my friend, fuck, you were born to fuck! Nature created
you to be fucked" (Lynch 52).
Her next mentor is Mme. de Lorsange, who brings an
introduction to theft, a supplement to carnal pleasure.
Under Mme. de Lorsange's tutelage, Juliette becomes a
skilled thief, robbing many. Here Juliette learns the
intricacies of being antiethical (Lynch 53).
Juliette's next learning experience comes from
Noirceuil, a believer in the duality and balance of virtue
and vice in people. He is a totally independent individual.
He justifies himself by tracing immorality through
antiquity. He arranges a transvestite wedding, where he
dresses up as a woman and Juliette dresses like a man. He
later violates Juliette's seven-year-old daughter, roasting
her alive afterwards with her mother's permission.
Noirceuil is awarded a position in the ministry (Lynch 53).
Juliette later becomes involved with Saint-Rond, a
minister and king's favorite. He introduces her to the
Society of Friends of Crime. Justine is initiated by being
asked questions about her sexual activities (both past and
present). Her last oath uttered upon entrance in the
Society read,"Do you swear to forever live in the same
degeneracy [as you have all your life]?" She replied yes
Sade's two aforementioned characters represent two
factors in Sade's life: reality and fantasy. Reality, in
Sade's eyes, is Justine. Innocence without prosperity, an
image of woman. Juliette represents fantasy. She is what
Sade expects and hopes the woman of the future will
resemble: uninhibited, free, equal (Lynch). So says
Gullaume Appolinare in Lynch:
Justine is the old woman, subjugated, miserable,
and less than human; Juliette, on the contrary,
represents the new woman he glimpses, a being we
cannot conceive of, that breaks loose from
humanity, that will have wings and will renew
Sade justified his writings and feelings by saying,
"Flesh comes to us out of history, so does the repression
and taboo that governs our experience of flesh." He cites
flesh as verification of itself, rewriting the Cartesian
cognito, "I fuck therefore I am" (Carter, 11).
Sade punished virtue in his writings. Women are the
representation of innocence to him, which isn't too far from
how his contemporaries felt. By punishing Justine in his
novels, he isn't punishing woman, simply the innocence that
While Sade believed that the woman with which he was
copulating was simply there to serve his needs, he also felt
it could (and should) work the other way around. It is as
if he is saying, "Just because I use you, it doesn't mean
you can't use me." Sade couldn't be a sexist in the modern
sense, simply because he advocated free sexuality so much.
He saw the women of his time and was troubled by it.
In turn, he wrote about these women, represented in Justine.
The woman he saw in the future were a bolder, free-spirited
kind, represented in Juliette. It was the promise of this
new genre of women he looked forward to and was enlightened
In short, Sade disliked subjugated women and liked
empowered women. He liked women closer to his own persona.
Sade was probably the first pornographer, and as such,
caused quite an uproar. Most of the judgements made about
Sade by critics were reflexes, made without taking in the
full spectrum of what he was, what he wrote, and what he
did. The judgement of Sade by the populus, therefore is one
more severe than it should be.