3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Wine, sodomy and the lash...and plenty of incense burning,
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This review is from: Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The OUP livery finally gave me the push to try my luck with one of de Sade's novels, but perhaps it should not have been. I must assume, not being an authority, that it is a seminal text, of interest to students of crime, philosophy, the philosophy OF crime, social history in France of the period, and of course sexuality. But let's be frank: this is dismal stuff.
Justine and her sister are orphaned and forced to make their way as best they can. Whilst her sister chooses vice as a means of securing her own material prosperity, Justine is determined to live virtuously, to be honest and trustworthy and to guard her chastity. Thereafter follows an odyssey of misadventures as she moves from place to place, encountering aristocrats, professionals, robbers, etc., being betrayed, abused and raped by all and sundry.
Nearly every encounter follows the same pattern: our hapless heroine is taken in and promptly imprisoned, misused, and then they engage in a lengthy debate as the lecherous one explains their own version of the libertine's credo with passionate intensity and the certainty of experience; this in contrast to the poor girl's Christian principles which are expressed pathetically in the moment, stubbornly and with the certainty of blind faith. There is truth on both sides, but the overall picture is a distortion of the world, and a horrible one. And the repetition of suffering, foolishness, extreme sexual cruelty, fruitless debate and unlikely liberation, eventually becomes samey and boring.
It hardly seemed to matter whether I read the final pages or not.
What is remarkable is that this book seems to catalogue all the most grisly sex acts you've heard of, or glimpsed on the information super highway, and if it is the fountain point, the manifesto for adherents of sadomasochism, the Gospel according to Sodomy, than we must wonder how different the world might have been had the Marquis never put quill to parchment. Still, just as Justine is the virtue which gives the crime its savour, so great writing and noble thoughts are more richly illuminating when there's also contrasting sludge and detritus.
I was hoping for a comedy. I was disappointed.