Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Fire of my soul"; "Fire of my loins."

"The Marquis de Sade is a larger-than-life character who, two hundred years after his death, has that rare twenty-first century commodity: the power to enrage and shock," writes Janet Street-Porter in a 2003 forward to the Hesperus published novella, Incest, by the infamous Marquis de Sade. "In an age when pornography is freely available and any fantasy can be catered for - providing that you are prepared to pay for it - his name stands as a symbol for all that is most perverted and vile."

Not much as changed for the Marquis in my eyes. If he had lived two hundred years after his death, surely he'd find some kindred spirits whose debauchery is displayed openly. Still, he'd be seen as a demon, a monster - a product of his sexual addictions.

Some may call the works of de Sade erotica - I call them philosophy. I do not read his works for the sheer thrill of reading 18th century smut, but enter the mind of a man who made attempts to break the bounds of religious babble in a time when being an atheist was a great offense - blasphemy, I should correct myself.

So the pages of Incest - a cautionary, moralistic tale dealing about the consequences of a man who is fueled by the sickest offense in the western world - were far from being erotic in my eyes. Published in The Crimes of Love as "Eugenie de Franval. A Tragic Tale," follows the misdeeds of M. de Franval, whose life mirrors that of de Sade, and his incestuous relationship with his own daughter - Eugenie. The antagonists - who we are led to see as the heroes of the story - are  his wife and his mother-in-law, Mme de Franeille.

Like most of de Sade's works - to be honest, I've only read Justine,  about half of The Crimes of Love, and a piece called "Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man" - Incest is down right depraved. Compared to Nabokov's Lolita in the Introduction by the translator as "what we know to be the hellish world of child abuse." I find Andrew Brown's comparison to Lolita unfair to both writers. While Lolita deals with similar decadence, if read closely, it is nothing more than a dark comedy about a man making an attempt to justify his lust for his step-daughter who is far from an innocent party - have we all forgotten the several times she used Humbert Humbert's own lust against him, eventually running away with Quilty?

No, the crimes in Incest are far worst. Unlike Humbert, whose sole reason - it would seem - was to relive the short love life of his adolescent self, Franval's reasons are less than misguided; he knows full well exactly what he wants and how to get it. Upon her birth, Franval whisks Eugenie away from her mother and hides her away from all social norms - religion (I don't consider this a social norm) and relationships. While he does hire the daughters of house servants and swears more than once that he isn't keeping Eugenie against her will, we pretty much see the deviance that thrives from each chamber of his heart.

And unlike Humbert, who continues to believe that he only did what was expected of him - doesn't he say more than once (in different variations) that all wise men have relationships with younger girls? - Franval sees the error of his way. While Humbert doesn't grow much as a character in the end, Franval does what is expected of him in the end - repentance for his sins.

Incest is the first translation of "Eugenie de Franval" that I've read - I own three translations. I never got around to reading it in The Crimes of Love (it's the last story), nor have I even cracked the translation featured in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, & Other Writings - which also features "Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man." I have plans to read the other translations, hoping that each will give me another insight to the moral tale. What I do know, each will provide their own special chills down my back.

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