‘Retaliation’ by Marquis de Sade, translated by Margaret Crosland

Born five years after the death of Jonathan Swift, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) – as Camille Pagila argues in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (snappy!) – is best categorised as a satirist rather than a pornographer. Sade would have denied both and all forms of literary taxonomy. Iconoclastic, anti-clerical, revolutionary, Sade even contradicted his own psychopathic sexuality. In Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms sadism and masochism (after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch) to describe active and passive sexual pleasure derived from pain. If anything, taking as clues Sade’s sexual preferences in his novels, the Divine Marquis was a masochist. In this masochistic and funny short story, Sade attacks everything – the Church, the State, marriage, literature, himself and finishes with Carry On-like ribaldry. The Crimes of Love and The Misfortunes of Virtue and Other Early Tales (both Oxford World’s Classics) act as literary foreplay to the longer philosophic prose orgies.

In De Sade Quartet, Peter Owen, 1963. Online here