In Britain, his books are mostly out of print and remain subject to campaigns to have them banned whenever anyone attempts to republish them, but in France, the Marquis De Sade has effectively been declared a National Treasure, as his original manuscript for The 120 Days of Sodom has been withdrawn from auction and saved for the nation.
The manuscript – written by De Sade on a roll made up from scraps of parchment smuggled into his prison cell in the Bastille – was thought lost in 1789, when De Sade was freed from prison during the Revolution, and when the manuscript did turn up, it took over one hundred years to be published. In Britain, the book was banned until the 1960s, and was then unpublished again for over thirty years, partly as a result of being connected (somewhat spuriously) to Ian Brady and the Moors Murders. It was the basis of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salo – itself banned extensively.
The document was one of many owned by disgraced French investment firm Aristophil, who paid €12.5 million for it in 2014. Along with André Breton’s Surrealist Manifestos, the manuscript was due to go to auction on December 20th, with an estimate of €6 million, before the French government stepped in and banned the export of the two manuscripts, promising to pay the full market value for the works.
It’s hard to imagine the British government doing similar for rare erotic masterpieces – indeed, if they did, the tabloids would doubtless be spitting blood. But it’s good to know that in France, they appreciate their literary heroes, even those who wrote shockingly explicit fantasies of sexual torture and violence.