One of the most notorious manuscripts in world literature has been purchased on behalf of the French government for the sum of €4.55 million. The original thirty-nine-foot scroll on which Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade, composed his infamous erotic masterpiece, The 120 Days of Sodom, will be included in the collection at Paris’s Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, a branch of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. According to The Connexion, the purchase price for the manuscript was covered by Emmanuel Boussard, “a former investment banker and co-founder of the Boussard & Gavaudan investment fund.”
Sade wrote the controversial story in 37 days in 1785 in the Bastille, where he had been imprisoned. Days before the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, Sade was transferred and he hid the manuscript in a stone wall. The tiny handwriting on sheets of paper have been attached as a single 39-foot-long roll. It was later recovered, sold, resold and then published for the first time by a German doctor in 1904.
In 1929 Viscount Charles de Noailles, whose wife, Marie-Laure, was a direct descendant of Sade’s, bought the manuscript.
It later became part of the Aristophil investment scheme.
The manuscript, “remarkable for its particular form resulting from the conditions of its creation … its very eventful trajectory, its sulphurous reputation, and its influence on a number of French writers of the 20th century,” was in 2017 deemed a national treasure by the French minister of culture.
Alison Flood in The Guardian quotes the BNF as saying the scroll represents “an emblem of literary and artistic freedom” that is “now a classic, with immense posthumous fortune.”
The 120 Days of Sodom has become one of the most controversial books of all time. The story of four libertines “who rape, torture and murder their young victims at a remote castle in the Black Forest,“ the text has been subject to repeated censorship as well as becoming a flashpoint for defenders of free expression. It remains hugely influential (the author’s name provides the root of the term “sadism”) for writers, scholars, and philosophers.
In her essay “Must We Burn Sade?,” Simone de Beauvoir writes,
Sade does not give us the work of a free man. He makes us participate in his efforts of liberation. But it is precisely for this reason that he holds our attention. His endeavour is more genuine than the instruments it employs. Had Sade been satisfied with the determinism he professed, he would have repudiated all his moral anxieties. But these asserted themselves with a clarity that no logic could obscure. Over and above the facile excuses which he sets forth so tediously, he persists in questioning himself, in attacking. It is owing to this headstrong sincerity that, though not a consummate artist or a coherent philosopher, he deserves to be hailed as a great moralist.