While imprisoned in the Bastille in 1785, the infamous writer and depraved libertine the Marquis de Sade wrote the manuscript for his most disturbing work The 120 Days of Sodom in 37 days on one continuous 12 metre long sheet of paper. When the Bastille was raided 4 years later in the midst of the French Revolution, it was believed that the manuscript was stolen by looters. However, it was revealed that the manuscript had remained in the Marquis’s cell, but was not published until the early 20th century. The work features basically every disgusting act from rape to coprophagia to incest to mutilation to good old fashioned intestinal removal. Andrea Dworkin called it filth, Camille Paglia considers it satire, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s big screen adaptation is considered one of the most shocking and controversial films ever made. Regardless of your own thoughts, it’s safe to say that the original manuscript is part of both historical and literary history.
Having been bought and sold numerous times over the years, the original roll of text, still unfinished, is to go on display in a Parisian museum to commemorate the 200th anniversary of de Sade’s death. The ownership of the manuscript has been a contentious issue legally for many years. The National Library of France attempted to purchase it but lost out to a private buyer who specialises in rare books and paid about 7 million Euros for the privilege. Part of the money is being paid to a direct descendent of de Sade (now there’s an ice-breaker at parties).
The 120 Days of Sodom is still in print and available to read. It’s disturbing as all hell, as expected, but it’s also pretty shoddily written in terms of prose. De Sade had many strengths but writing really wasn’t one of them. He’d have fit right in at 4Chan.