Put simply this edition offers a collection of short stories that characterise Sade's obsession with the concept of virtue. Each tale offers a virtuous character or two who are invariably subjected to a range of misfortunes at the hands of unscrupulous, deceitful and amoral characters. Most of the crimes of love are motivated by an unbridled pursuit of carnal pleasure, which sees honour and love as weaknesses of the human psyche. Sade's libertines are animals of the jungle who take what they want, when they want, and remain unrestrained by moral conventions and religious dogma. In this godless world only the strong and most devious succeed. Or do they? Interestingly Sade's villains often come a cropper which is in sharp contrast to the unpunished "heroes" of his more notorious works. As stated in various biographies, Sade did write to earn money and, for me, these novels show certain sensitivity to the realities of publication. Nevertheless Sade's evil doers do push the boundaries of late eighteenth-century mores, particularly the lengths they will go to accomplish their aims and with whom they commit their crimes. I found all the stories and additional material interesting and I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the emergence of transgressive literature. This edition has an excellent introduction by the translator.
The Marquis produced some works which are engaging, mainly his short stories and Gothic tales, and some which achieve distinction only because they managed to make violent sex a boring thing. This anthology is somewhat in the middle; no lows of the second kind, but fewer highs of the first. The introductory "Essay on Novels" is interesting as the only Sadeian example of literary criticism, which shows he was aware of the history of novels and made me wonder what better works didn't survive. The shorter fiction (and an angry exchange of letters with one of the Marquis' reviewers) which follows, is radically different to "Justine", "Juliette", "Philosophy in the Bedroom" and "120 Days of Sodom", not least because the villains and heroes are less two-dimensional than those of the aforementioned books. The brigands and aristocratic libertines are less sex-crazed; their villainy is more psychological and philosophical, revealed in conversation and asides. What sex there is remains much less graphic, too, although "Eugenie de Franval" manages to shock without endless descriptions of torture, rape and overeating. "Ernestine, A Swedish Tale" is one of the highlight of the collection, concerning a libertine who kidnaps the victim-heroine of the piece, and her lover, who gets entangled with a female libertine of the sort so familiar from "Justine" and Juliette. The story was drawn from some real life sources and is fairly well presented (in translation, anyway), having apparently been influenced by English period novels. Another noteworthy novella is "Florville and Courval", which is a tragedy of ill-starred marriage, death, untimely revelation of dark secrets and a totally unexpected ending. One fateful event follows another to turn the heroine into a villain herself, making great drama out of a short work.It reminded me a little of minor Jacobean revenge plays like "Tis Pity She's a Whore" Not for everyone, but nothing Sade has written will ever be that. If you have any interest in his work, this collection shows a side of Sade which usually is overlooked. His situations and characters are better fleshed-out, and through them he explores liberty (and libertinism) in a new light. Check it out