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Francine du Plessix Gray
Related: Marquis de Sade - biography
ProfileFrancine du Plessix Gray, born in 1930 in the French Embassy in Warsaw, where her father was a member of the diplomatic corps, emigrated to the U.S. with her Russian-born mother after her fatherís death with the Free French Forces during World War II. She is the author of numerous books, including the novels Lovers and Tyrants and October Blood; a study of the attitudes of women in the Soviet Union in the Gorbachev era, Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope, and, most recently, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, a biography focusing on Sadeís intense relationships with his wife, his mother-in-law, and his three children (forthcoming in November, 1998). She has been decorated by the French government as Chevalier de líOrdre des Arts et des Lettres and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- At Home With the Marquis De Sade: A Life - Francine Du Plessix Gray [Amazon US]
It often seems difficult for anyone reading a biography of the Marquis de Sade to approach the task objectively for the simple reason that his life and writings precede him in a way unlike most writers and historical figures. Thus, the noun precedes him--"sadist"-and the adjective-"sadistic"-our language itself fixing the man's transgressions before the fact of his biography, making the biography appear superfluous in light of the enormity of the man's crimes. But there was, indeed, a real human being behind the noun and the adjective--Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade--and Francine du Plessix Gray's "At Home With the Marquis de Sade" provides an insightful, sympathetic, well written picture of that human being in all his complexity.
Gray's biography concentrates largely on the relationship de Sade had with two women-his first wife, Renee-Pelagie de Sade, and his indomitable mother-in-law, Madame de Montreuil. De Sade's wife remained a constant companion to the erstwhile Marquis for more than a quarter century, suffering his sexual excesses (including dalliances with her younger sister, Anne-Prospere), the ensuing scandals and, ultimately, the many years of imprisonment. His mother-in-law, a social climbing women of fierce and irrepressible will who at first found the Marquis charming, ultimately became his worst oppressor, driven like the Eumenides to avenge de Sade's seduction of her virginal younger daughter, Anne-Prospere. She was, in Gray's characterization, a woman who exemplified "primitive female fury, a rage that is unquestioning in its self-righteousness." And it was Madame de Montreuil who unstintingly worked to keep the Marquis imprisoned for over thirteen years, freedom coming only with the fall of the Bastille in 1789, when the Marquis was forty-nine years old.
Gray deftly uses correspondence and other contemporary historical documents to illuminate de Sade's life, including his prominent involvement as "Citizen Louis Sade" in the Revolutionary government of France, his role in saving his hated mother-in-law from the guillotine in 1793, and his subsequent incarceration in the Charenton asylum from 1799 until his death in 1814, where he carried on as an author and director of numerous theatrical productions staged by the inmates of the asylum and by professional actors. Gray also puts de Sade's early life and sexual excesses in context, showing how his actions, while transgressive and freely chosen, were also the product of a society and an upbringing which allowed libertinism to flourish among the pre-Revolutionary French nobility and clergy. Finally, Gray provides illuminating, albeit brief, discussions of de Sade's literary works, putting his writings in historical context and showing that the excesses of the man's life did not attain the excesses of his imagination.
"At Home With the Marquis de Sade" is, in short, a carefully researched, lucidly written life of the historical figure who has come to symbolize sexual transgression, a biography that eludes the imprisonment of culturally fixed meanings to get at the real life behind the "Sadist". --
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