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Sade: A Biography (Harvest Book) Paperback – July 15, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

PW selected this stylish biography as one of the best books of 1993.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Lever is the French editor of the Marquis de Sade's correspondence, and thus in a particularly good position to check and curb much of the mythical fervor that surrounds the writer everyone thinks he knows all about and almost no one does. By modern French surrealists and leftists, Sade has been championed as an archangel of revolution, of sexual revolt; by the general public, as evil and cruelty incarnate. The facts support both and neither, though Lever works upon the framework constructed most seminally by Gilbert Lely in the Fifties. Sade's noble Provencal family related to Petrarch; his feverish libertinage and real crimes of perversity; his first imprisonment (during which he wrote the first of his novels, The 120 Days of Sodom); his second imprisonment, during Robespierre's Terror; his authorial ambitions (not especially pure or demonic sometimes: Sade acknowledged the popular taste for ``spicy books'' when he was writing Justine); the two remarkable women who put up with him as wife, then companion; his rearrest and reimprisonment during the Napoleonic reaction to Jacobin excesses; the end of his days spent in the mental ``hospital'' at Charenton, where Sade ran the loony bin's semi- psychodrama theatricals. What Lever brings across, in a vigorous, unpedantic, well-translated style, is how much (and also how merely) a writer Sade would become--with the largeness and smallness that goes with it--after his aristocratic sexual frenzies burned themselves out early in life. Like many writers, Sade thought most about money. But nobleman that he was, he knew nothing about people; and Lever is right to mention (though the book is almost devoid of literary analysis) that Sade's greatest distinction as an imaginative writer was to create a self-contained repetitious rhythm--of impossible sexual acts that have no relation to what real people would do (or want to do)--the likes of which have never been repeated in prose. Demythologizing, level, and consistently fascinating. A must. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (July 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015600111X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156001113
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,123,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By johnnyk71 on May 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was my introduction to the Marquis de Sade. I was expecting (and hoping for) a narrative portrait of the cruel beast so often alluded to in popular culture and vernacular speech, along with a laundry list of his misdeeds. What I got instead was a fascinating life history of a man who was at best a product of his own culture and upbringing, an avaricious, often petty noble, who took the libertinage of many of the members of the Ancien Regime to incredible lengths; at worst he was a captive of his own twisted fantasies, a soul who arguably lacked the even the most basic of built-in moral "stop signs" that most members of society both acknowledge and use as guidance. The most interesting aspect of this voluminous work was the thorough narration of the familial, political and administrative twists and turns that Sade endured during his life. The accurate and detailed accounting of the buildup to the French Revolution was enthralling and unexpected. In summary, if I had thought I was beginning a nearly 600-page history of societal and governmental France, I doubt I would have made it past the Prologue. Having just finished the book, though, I can say that this is one of the most satisfying and informative reads I have ever undertaken.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Charles Copeland on July 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Sade has a host of apologists (Roland Bathes, Micheal Foucault, Camus, a lot of the surrealists), intellectuals who see in his porn a sexual liberation. The bio appears to be fair -- it pleads the guy was a good writer but a a bit of a jerk -- but, the thing is, he was more than a bit of a jerk. The writer treats Sade as more of a recalcitrant frat boy than the actual monster that he was. Not enough is made of the fact that if he pulled those stunts today that he did at La Coste, he'd be looking at some serious time. He was responsibile for the death of an infant. Lever doesn't condemn him enough. Andrea Dworkin was a soapbox loon, but i have to say her essay on Sade was more on the mark than books like this. Still, the epistolary fashion of the bio works well, and gives good insight to the times De Sade lived in and the penal system that he had to deal with. Overall a good read.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lena Tumasyan on January 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
PROS: This is a very well-researched book. The author, Maurice Lever, went thru great pains to find the journals, notes, letters upon this book was created. Then he delves deep into the recesses and reads between the lines to verify if the information in the letters was true to life. For example, when Sade cries in his letters for more money and says he is desperately poor, the Lever tells us that in reality, Sade was not so bad off, that Sade exaggerated his condition., and reminds us that it is Sade's character to constantly beg and we shouldn't believe his letters outright.

CON: This is a ridiculously long book. A total of 568 pages of reading (notes and biblio take an additional 58 pages). I read it every night for 20 min and needed almost 2 months to finish it. It is tedious, full of minor details in letter that are irrelevant and hinder the progress of learning about Sade's life. This entire book cold have been shortened into 200 pages. And it's NOT easy reading. The translation from French into English, makes the sentences long, cryptic, and nonsensical. Even after reading and re-reading Sade's letter or Lever's text I STILL don't understand what he meant. Too many negatives upon negatives and that make for a confusing letter. Even if Lever wanted to include the original Sade's letter, as Sade wrote it (confusing and all), then he should have summarized it in one or two sentences below. What Lever does wrong, is include 1.5 book pages (sometimes 3 full pages) letters and just Expect you to understand. Then he goes to the next part. INSTEAD what Lever should have done is include one or two sentences that stand out from the letter and summarize the rest. Then he should have connected it to the greater context. They just don't make sense.
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