Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE MARQUIS DE SADE

The Little Girls' Affair

The orgy that Sade had in mind for the winter months at La Coste marked a significant and horrifying departure from his already brutal fetishes. Already well-practiced in the art of preying on the poorest and most defenseless whores of France, the Marquis had developed a sexual appetite for those with even less recourse than common whores children. With Pelagie's consent and assistance, Sade had six teenage girls hired to work at La Coste, ostensibly as domestic servants. However, Sade's version of servitude had ghastly implications for these young adolescents. As a preliminary smoke screen, Pelagie instructed their lawyer not to disclose that it was she and her husband who had hired the youngsters, but to respond to any inquires on the subject by claiming that another distant member of the family had made the hires.

Once the site of the local jail, the isolated castle of La Coste played host to the torment and abuse of these six girls. Within these dreary stone walls, referred to by some as a "laboratory of sadism," the Marquis de Sade held sway over every moment of the girls' day. While no official record of events exist, it is not difficult to delineate from his writings and former actions the type of behaviors on which Sade must have engaged, and forced upon his young charges. In Sade's later writings, characters were depicted as partaking in elaborately orchestrated orgies, with one character (most likely modeled after Sade himself) directing all actions.

So it must have been for six weeks at La Coste. Assisted by his wife, two other young adult women domestics, and his valet, Sade assembled his captives daily for a mélange of activities: masturbation, fellatio, sodomy (both hetero and homosexual), sodomy chains, and, of course, scourging. The very acts with children that cause most people of reason and morals to recoil in terror provided the Marquis with sensations of ecstasy: the physical and emotional domination of another and the violent destruction of youthful innocence. This ecstasy is portrayed by one of the protagonists of Philosophy in the Boudoir, who exclaims, "How delicious to corrupt, to stifle all semblances of virtue and religion in that young heart!"

It is impossible to know how long the bacchanals of La Coste would have lasted had they gone unchecked. As it happened, Sade's unthinkable orgy ran uninterrupted for six weeks, until parents of some of the girls began to make legal inquiries as to their whereabouts and well being. Residents of the local village began to gossip about the goings-on at La Coste. While legendary for his debauches, Sade nonetheless had retained the affection and good will of his peasant charges throughout the years. However, while most villagers were willing to cast a blind eye towards how the nobles carried on amongst themselves, Sade's transgression against the young girls far exceeded the bounds of acceptable noble behavior. As the gossip grew more widespread, Donatien and Pelagie conspired once again, this time to silence the girls lest they reveal details of the past six weeks to the authorities. One by one they were taken to local convents, where the unsuspecting nuns were instructed not to pay to heed to the girls' ravings. One of the girls was sent to stay with the Abbé de Sade. Although he protested, Pelagie made it clear that should he decide not to assist them that she had enough information about his own activities to make real trouble for him with the law.

While immediate legal action was not taken against Sade, the orgy had commenced a series of events that would lead to his final incarceration. The "Presidente," who had sworn to avenge her family's honor against the Marquis who had stained it so deeply, put Inspector Marais back on the case. She continued to fret over her daughter's unwavering support of the Marquis and the affect she herself had on him, writing to a friend, "Never expect her to hear a complaint from her. She would allow herself to be chopped to pieces rather than admit that he could ever do her harm. When he's in his castle with her, he thinks of himself as too powerful, too secure, and he permits himself all kinds of excesses."

Sade's activities were hardly in keeping with those of a man who was wanted by authorities for escaping from prison. Yet, such was his arrogance, his undying belief that, as a member of the nobility, he was entitled to carry on as he pleased, and that his own sense of righteousness superseded any of the laws governing morality and conduct. This illusion was dispelled when, in July of 1775, police authorities raided La Coste in an attempt to apprehend and imprison him. Sade barely escaped by hiding in the eaves of his estate, and came to the conclusion that La Coste was no longer the safest refuge for him. He fled the country for Italy, accompanied by Carteron. Yet the Marquis was no more secure on foreign soil than he had been at home. The "Presidente" made certain that the fervent Inspector Marais monitored his every move. Between 1775 and 1777, Sade traveled back and forth between France and Italy, enjoying the company of a number of paramours, and taking in the cultural events of Italy like any other inquisitive tourist.

However, as it had been throughout his life, Sade's own arrogance and boundless self-confidence were his own downfall. In late 1776, Sade had returned to La Coste, accompanied by a number of young women procured for him by none other than a local member of the clergy, a Father Durand. However, events quickly degenerated: when word of his deeds reached his abbéy, Father Durand was immediately dismissed from the premises. The father of the young women, meanwhile, stormed La Coste in order to extract vengeance from the Marquis. A skirmish ensued, during which the man's pistol fired. While the cartridge was blank, the possibility of being murdered within his own home caused Sade to finally give serious thought to his perilous legal standing within French society.

In what would prove to be a serious miscalculation, Sade concluded that it was high time for him to make amends with his in-laws and the King's court. Against the advice of his lawyer, he set forth for Paris. Pelagie followed in a separate carriage, and the two adjourned to separate quarters upon their arrival. Sade's ability to logically foresee the outcome of such a journey must have been seriously compromised, for his mother-in-law was in anything but a forgiving frame of mind. Quite to the contrary, she had been plotting his arrest for years, a fact that Sade himself was well aware. Therefore, it should have come to no surprise to the Marquis when, upon opening the door of his apartment on February 13, 1777, he found Inspector Marais holding an arrest warrant, signed by King Louis XVI himself. By the end of the day, the Marquis de Sade was a prisoner once again, incarcerated within the walls of the fortress of Vincennes in Cell 11.

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