This blog post is centered around sound recordings dealing with the life and work of the infamous French writer The Marquis De Sade (1740-1814). Reproduced below are the liner notes to a 3-LP box set of dramatic recitations of De Sade’s novel “Justine: Or The Misfortune of Virtue”, recorded and issued in New York in 1966. A cursory google search reveals little about both the elusive “Minta Records” and the “esoteric record club” mentioned in the set, of which Justine “…is the first of a series of recordings for adults only which the ESOTERIC RECORD CLUB will issue of the world’s most daring literary classics long hidden in private or restricted libraries.” I wonder if there are other unpublished recordings of erotic literary classics in existence by the same label, and what the planned titles would have been (perhaps a recitation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs)? I also wonder how this box-set in particular was distributed or advertised: clandestinely? in pornography/sex shops? under the counter? advertised in smutty magazines? The liner notes only tell us that “JUSTINE was recorded privately and read by a distinguished repertory company.” The question is, by whom? I appreciate contact from anyone that knows something about the voice actors or people who produced this set.
Following the liner note texts is a brief discography of sound recordings dealing with or inspired by De Sade’s life and writings.
— Michael Alexandratos
January 20, 2021.
De Sade — For the first time on records abridged but unexpurgated – Justine: Or The Misfortune of Virtue
JUSTINE, OR THE MISFORTUNES OF VIRTUE, has been called the most shocking, the most scandalous, the most dangerous novel ever written. It has been systematically suppressed since its first publication 175 years ago, the first time by Napoleon Bonaparte.
On first reading, or listening, the reader may be shocked, or perhaps amused, by the long passages of violence and almost incredible cruelty in which the devout Justine suffers unthinkable torments at the hands of one sadistic libertine after another. Or he may be bored by the long philosophical arguments which attempt to justify the actions just described. JUSTINE is a long nightmare, or a bizarre serialized adventure, in which the same implausible events occur over and over again. But these flaws are antiquated devices of 18th century fiction, and are by no means the full measure of this unique chronicle.
The unique values of JUSTINE, and of all the writings of Sade, are rather his incredible boldness and irreverence, his insistence that cruelty and crime can be manipulated so as to enhance sexual pleasure, and his sweeping criticism of society and religion—criticisms that are equally applicable today. Other writers hint at the dark, deranged corners of human nature—Sade trumpets them boisterously, savagely, and uses every logical and illogical argument at his command to justify what other writers only suggest. Sade’s orgy scenes, which do not employ mere smut or “four letter words,” are grotesquely graphic and full-blown, piling one horrifying detail on top of the next, as if to prove to the reader just how far a deranged, obsessed mind can go. Speaking through Roland, the master counterfeiter, Sade declaims:
“It is not the beauty of a woman which stimulates the true libertine, but rather the type of crime that the law has associated with the possession of this woman. The more criminal the possession, the more one enjoys it. The man who seduces his neighbor’s wife feels far more pleasure than the man who merely enjoys his own wife. So one works to increase the prohibitions upon this possession in order to increase the pleasure, and one ends by compounding the criminal element, by every imaginable device to make simple pleasure as criminal as it can possibly be.”
The devices whereby pleasure is made criminal are explored in JUSTINE at tremendous length and in overwhelming detail.
Sade might well be called the first existentialist. His philosophy is a relentless attack upon society—God, marriage, laws, customs, conventions, and even economics. He seizes society as if it were a hornet’s nest and hurls it at the reader’s head. Tear off your blinders, he seems to say, and you will see the world as it really is—a welter of corruption and vice. What is religion but a device for the rich to enslave the poor? If there is a God, why does he not reveal himself in terms that rational man can accept? Why not free the world of this dichotomy of virtue and vice, so that all human behavior will be permitted, and people may be allowed to live in whatever way they chose? For what is virtue but a handy way of getting along in the world—a far inferior way to vice, however, since the world is irrevocably vicious and corrupt. If you would succeed in this evil atmosphere, be strong, ruthless and violent. Remove your rivals, and don’t let sentiment stand in your way. By criminal acts we merely further the work of Nature in her vast, impersonal and destructive crucible of life. And finally, since Nature has implanted these thoughts in our minds, how can she consider them evil?
Sade commands attention in his arguments that the human mind is much wider, deeper and blacker than is generally accepted. There are, dear reader, he seems to say, abysses in the human soul you never dreamed of, never imagined, thoughts you never dared to think, dreams you have never put to words, ideas you are too blind to comprehend—until now. But I, Sade, have thought them just for you, and built them into my nightmare JUSTINE, and they will survive me, and you, and my censors. And since I, like you, was created by Nature, can I be any worse than you? Or are you better than I? I hardly think so!
THE MARQUIS DE SADE was born in Paris in 1740 to a noble family proud of its long heritage and high connections. He was delicate and attractive as a small child, and later declared himself hopelessly spoiled by overindulgent female relatives. At 17 he was drafted and during the Seven Years War served riotously in Germany. At 23 he was released, and to correct his dissolute and undisciplined ways his family married him off to a pious and aristocratic young lady, Renée de Montreuil, who loved him—although Sade was at the moment madly in love with another woman.
Within a year of his marriage Sade was keeping several different petites maisons in Paris where he arranged extravagant and orgiastic parties, usually involving the flagellation of women. He was well known to the many Madames of Paris for mistreating and abusing their girls, and a mere 6 months after his marriage he was refused entrance to the brothels and actually jailed for his bad habits—all of which was not too remarkable in the dissolute circles in which he moved. He also indulged in a lengthy affair with his wife’s headstrong younger sister, Anne!
Sade’s notoriety was assured, however, following an episode involving a young woman down on her luck who approached him on the street asking for assistance. Sade offered her a position in a respectable household (the same offer made to Justine by Gernande, St. Florent and Roland), and once she was in his petite maison he tied her up and began a ritual of torture that consisted of opening little cuts in her skin and pouring hot wax in the wounds. The woman managed to escape, but the aftermath cost Sade 2400 pounds and seven months in prison.
Another scandal six years later resulted from his taking over a brothel in Marseilles, where during a wild party of drinking and flagellation he fed the girls sweets containing a strong aphrodisiac—a fairly common stimulant of the day—which made them too ill to continue the evening’s diversions. He was accused of sodomy—then punishable by death—and to escape French justice he fled to Italy—stopping only to remove his willing sister-in-law from a convent on the way.
Sade’s eventual return to France resulted in his arrest; from that time on he spent 27 years in 11 different prisons. Each time he was released he resolutely plunged into his former activities—surrounding himself with actresses, dancers, prostitutes and compliant servant girls (but always eschewing respectable married women) until some new scandal or new publication removed him from the scene.
Every attempt to “rehabilitate” him met with total failure. His wife’s powerful family, resentful of his treatment of both their daughters, secured a dreaded lettre de cachet against him—a letter bearing the king’s seal which ordered lifetime confinement without appeal. JUSTINE was written in prison in 1787, published a year or two later, and immediately suppressed. It has been published clandestinely many times, and recently published openly in France and the United States.
The Revolution freed Sade from prison in 1790 as a victim of the King’s injustices, and for a decade he occupied himself writing and acting in bawdy plays, quarrelling with his wife and eventually divorcing her (all the while living with Constance Quesnet, an actress, whom he apparently loved), worrying about money, and dabbling in politics. In 1801 he authored a pamphlet bitterly critical of Napoleon, which landed him again behind bars for life—this time in Charenton. This was an asylum where the insane, the undesirable, the criminal and the unlucky were all confined, and it was here that he wrote and directed the plays which inspired the successful MARAT/SADE play by Peter Weiss. Sade died in 1814 in Charenton, attended by his son and Constance, to whom he had dedicated his first publication of JUSTINE.
MANY PARADOXES lie behind these few facts. Sade was a dangerous and uncontrollable neurotic, perhaps a psychotic. But his “crimes” and publications of about a dozen more or less pornographic works hardly seems serious enough to have deserved nearly 30 years in prison. Certainly he was a victim of legal injustices, and small wonder that some of his most loathsome villains were judges. He bitterly protested this incarceration, but at the same time insisted: “rather than part with my principles I would sacrifice a thousand lives and a thousand liberties—if I had them. These principles, and these tastes—I am still their fanatic adherent.”
Sade seemed to delight in his incorrigibility, and the fact that society could not digest him, but only remove him from circulation. Had he not been jailed, perhaps these involuted, rambling novels of richly embroidered sensuality and philosophy might never have been penned. He boldly preached violence and cruelty, yet was revolted by the violence of the Reign of Terror, and at some risk to himself succeeded in saving a number of his friends from the guillotine. Admittedly he was obsessed with sex, yet his only lasting and stable relationship was with Constance, whom he met in his 50th year.
In spite of this obsession he wrote as a man who is impotent or senile, who needs the most elaborate and diverse exterior sexual stimulation. Each sexual episode in all his works is embroidered with detailed descriptions of setting, dress, appearance and mood, as if to create a whole private world quite untouched by reality. And in later life Sade came to regard himself as somewhat of an authority on bizarre sexual aberrations. He considered his magnum opus, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM, to be a scientific catalogue of abnormal sexual practices—generations before Kraft-Ebing. Psychologists have theorised that early neglect by his mother, a distracted lady-in-waiting to a branch of the royal family—initiated his life-long compulsion to torture and degrade women. But like many of the dissolute aristocracy of the time he indulged in homosexual escapades, and like Doctor Rodin in JUSTINE, “sacrificed at whatever altars were available.” In spite of his obsession with women, a homosexual hatred of them may have been extremely strong in this strangely repellent man.
IT WOULD BE UNFAIR to dismiss Sade without a word about the dissipated and decadent aristocracy of the 18th century to which he belonged. A number of the bizarre and evil practices suggested by Sade were in fairly common practice—procuring, pimping on a large scale, kidnapping for prostitution, male prostitution, a dedicated pursuit of libertinism by wealthy men and women, prostitution for sport among titled women, the use of aphrodisiacs, elaborate sexual charades and nude parties, flagellation, alcoholism, erotic writing and painting, corruption of minors and extremely young virgins (with a special taste for former nuns), homosexuality and lesbianism, debauchery among the clergy, legal injustice and widespread corruption of the police and public officials. And Lyon, where much of JUSTINE takes place, was considered one of the wickedest towns in France. Paris itself was the world-wide capital of vice, and wealthy libertines from all over Europe kept elaborate establishments there. The King himself, Louis XV, set the style in debauchery and gaudy high living with his mistress Mme duBarry.
And along with the vices of the Age of Enlightenment Sade shared the prevailing philosophies that were argued in all the salons and bedrooms of France: that intelligent men should discard their traditional conventions and cultivate all their desires, even the anti-social ones, since they, too, originated in Nature, and could not therefore be evil. Sade was exceptionally well read in all the literature, science, fiction and pornography of his own period, and of antiquity, which was much admired and discussed by intellectuals. It was a period of atheism, revolt, social and political experiment, and eventually, social upheaval. And Sade, violent and dangerous though he was, was not one of those who sent hundreds of men, women and children to be guillotined in the Place de la Concorde. Against such a background, Sade may seem somewhat less removed from the confines of society.
No one who has read Sade is ever quite the same again, after exposing himself to such a strange intelligence. But in this age when Freud has become not only a household word but a household joke, and in an age when violence and crime have mushroomed insanely and beyond belief, Sade should be accepted as a beacon of light, indicating the depths to which the human mind can sink, the violence that still lies hidden in the human heart, and the ferocity with which human intelligence can attack the institutions of its own creation.
A NOTE ABOUT THIS RECORDING:
The script for this record set is freely translated from the French, necessarily abridged heavily, but not expurgated; in fact this dramatic reading is more frank and modern in its interpretation of the saga of Justine than many printed volumes claiming to be “complete”. JUSTINE was recorded privately and read by a distinguished repertory company.
De Sadeian Discography
Sound recordings consisting of recitations or singing of Marquis De Sade’s writings, abridged or unabridged
(n.d.) Justine Ou Les Malheurs De La Vertu (Volume 1). In French, LP album, France.
Disques BS: DER 1003.
(n.d.) Justine Ou Les Malheurs De La Vertu (Volume 2). In French. LP album, France. Disques BS: DER 1004.
(1965) Selections From The Marquis De Sade, read by Patrick Magee. In English. LP album, U.S.A. Caedmon Records: TC 1214.
(1965) Walter Kohut Spricht Marquis De Sade – Die Hundertzwanzig Tage Von Sodom / Gespräch Eines Sterbenden Mit Einem Priester (Walter Kohut reads from the 120 Days of Sodom & Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man). In German. LP album, Austria. Preiser Records: UN 308. Note: reissued on CD in 1999 by Preiser Records.
(1966) Justine, or the misfortunate of virtue. In English. 3-LP box set, New York City, U.S.A. Minta Records: 1001-1003.
(2003) Verbrechen Der Liebe (The Crimes of Love). In German. CD album (as an audiobook), Germany. Argon Hörbuch: ISBN 3-87024-635-9.
(2011) Justine: Gelesen Von Ulrike Grote Und Alexander Simon (Justine: read by Ulrike Grote & Alexander Simon). In German. 3-CDs (as an audiobook). Hearst Communications, Inc: ISBN 978-3-89903-075-4.
(2014) Die Philosophie Im Boudoir (Philosophy of the Boudoir). In German. 3-CDs (as an audiobook), Germany. Der Hörverlag: ISBN 978-3-8445-1457-5.
(2016) Robert Filliou Sings Marquis De Sade. In English. Cassette album, U.S.A. Goaty Tapes: #73. [Note: it is unknown exactly which excerpts of De Sade’s writings Filliou is singing a capella. The original tapes were reportedly found in a basement and the exact date of the recording is also not known, although it obviously predates Filliou’s death in 1987].
(2018) Justine (unabridged), read by Polly Edsell with Nicholas Boulton. In English. 10 CDs (as an audiobook). Naxos Audiobooks: ISBN 978-1-78198-134-4.
Records inspired by the life and work of Marquis De Sade
(1965) (Unknown artists) Tortura No. 2: The Sounds Of Pain And Pleasure… — An Evening With The Marquis De Sade. LP album, U.S.A. Bondage Records: BR-LPM 6900.
(1966) Lalo Schifrin — The Dissection And Reconstruction Of Music From The Past As Performed By The Inmates Of Lalo Schifrin’s Demented Ensemble As A Tribute To The Memory Of The Marquis De Sade. LP album, U.S.A. Verve Records: V6-8654
(1966) The Royal Shakespeare Company, Directed by Peter Brook — The Persecution And Assassination Of Marat As Performed By The Inmates Of The Asylum Of Charenton Under The Direction Of The Marquis De Sade. 3-LP box set, U.S.A. Caedmon Records: TRS 312.
(1967) Marat/Sade: Open End Radio Interviews With Music. LP album, U.S.A. United Artists Records: UA-Marat Int.
(1969) Lord Buckley — Bad Rapping Of The Marquis De Sade. LP album, U.S.A.
World Pacific Records: WPS-21889.
(1969) Billy Strange Orchestra — De Sade. LP album, U.S.A. Tower Records: ST-5170.
(1970) Bruno Nicolai — Marquis De Sade’s. LP album, Italy. SR Records: SP 119.
(1983) Anne Linnet — Marquis De Sade. LP album, Denmark. CBS: 25658.
(1990) Expect No Mercy — The Dreams Of Marquis De Sade. CD album (also released as an LP), Germany. Metal Enterprises: ME 549 CD.
*”Marquis De Sade” is also the name of numerous bands, most notably a French post-punk and new wave band founded in 1977.