Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

THE MARQUIS DE SADE

Marriage of Convenience

In 1762, after two years of serious negotiations with a number of noble families, Comte de Sade appeared to have found a marriage partner for his son who was suitable to his purposes. More than one potential bride had ultimately declined to be wed to the Marquis on the basis of his reputation for licentious behavior. However, the parents of Renee-Pelagie de Montreuil, members of the bourgeoisie with powerful connections to the King's court, were amenable to the count's proposition. Pelagie, as she preferred to be called, was a woman of plain features and modest intellect, but it was her dowry that most concerned the count. By marrying off his son, he hoped to free himself of two burdens at once: money and the Marquis himself. "As far as I'm concerned, the best thing about the marriage is that I'll be rid of that boy, who has not one good quality and all bad ones," Comte de Sade wrote to his brother. "I couldn't have paid too high for the pleasure of not hearing about him anymore."

Portrait of Pelagie
Portrait of Pelagie

Donatien had plans of his own, however. Having fallen in love with a woman in Provence, he made it clear to his father that he was in no hurry to leave and be wed to a woman he had never met. This romance had complications of its own, not the least of which was the fact that the Marquis had contracted a case of gonorrhea, a calamity he blamed on his lover who had since left him for another. "I admit that I shall not hide it (the disease) from my rival and that it won't be the only confidence I'll share with him. I swear, I'd be capable of every possible horror," he threatened.

While Donatien had not yet returned to Paris, news of his disease had, terrifying his father who was toiling in preparation for the wedding day which was set for the middle of May. "He's still capable of messing up the deal (emphasis added)," he wrote to his sister. And, to further complicate matters, the Comtesse de Sade appeared for the festivities, making a rare appearance in the life of her son. She did, however, refuse to let Donatien stay with her while she was in Paris. "My son will have to stay with me," the count complained to his brother. "His mother no longer wants him."

Twenty-four hours before his own wedding, the Marquis de Sade finally relented and arrived in Paris. The ceremony was held on May 17 in the Church of Saint-Roc. Settling in to his new life with the de Montreuils went smoothly for the Marquis, who was attentive and loving towards his new bride, as well as charming and gracious towards his new in-laws. Pelagie's mother had the title of the "Presidente" because her husband had been appointed to a prestigious judgeship and, upon his retirement, he retained the honorary title of President. The "Presidente," was quite taken by Donatien, and though she had her suspicions about his fidelity as a husband, she willingly cast them aside as she grew to adore her new son-in-law. The newlyweds were housed with the de Montreuils, and for the first few months, life proceeded gaily, as a playful and affectionate rapport was established between the Marquis and the "Presidente." Donatien's mother-in-law had also grown quite fond of his uncle, the abbé, and wrote to him in glowing terms of the rakish young marquis: "She (Pelagie) will never scold him. She will love him beyond one's wildest expectations. That is fairly simple: he is lovable. Thus far he loves her mightily, and no one could treat her better."

However, as the "Presidente" herself was to find out, she had spoken too soon and too generously of the young man whose reputation and character she had first come to suspect in the early days of his marriage. Indeed, the true nature of the Marquis de Sade, the shadow side, which he had heretofore tucked within the labyrinth of his heart, would soon come to light and provide a very real basis for the "Presidente's" initial misgivings.

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