The most important existing manuscript of the Marquis de Sade has long been considered lost: it is the first draft of the novel “The Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom”, a work with an extraordinary history.
Written in 1785, during his imprisonment in the Bastille prison, the object itself is unique: a roll of 12 meters long, consisting of 33 glued sheets, 11.3 centimeters wide.
Sade was transferred from the Bastille on July 4, 1789, ten days before the French Revolution, and instructed his wife Renée-Pélagie to collect his belongings from the cell, including the manuscript: his wife did not remember until July 14, and the Marquis lost his items, including, it was thought, the manuscript itself.
It was recovered only many years later, in 1904, by the psychiatrist Iwan Bloch, who printed it believing that it was an exceptional document also from the scientific point of view, given the descriptions, in the novel, of many cases of psychiatric interest. Purchased in 1929 by Viscount Charles de Noailles, it was reprinted in the thirties, without the translation errors of the version published by Bloch. Then purchased in 1982 by collector Gérard Nordmann, it was then bought again, for 7 million euros, in 2014 by entrepreneur Gérard Lhéritier. After Lhéritier’s company went into liquidation, the manuscript was declared a “national treasure” in 2017 and subsequently returned to the market: 4.55 million euros were needed to secure it, and the French state, at the beginning of the year, launched an appeal, through the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, to find patrons willing to pay the sum.
The appeal finally struck a chord: the banker Emmanuel Boussard, founder of the Boussard & Gavaudan investment fund, responded by making available the entire sum needed to complete the purchase. Boussard’s grandfather was the curator of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal between 1943 and 1964, and so, explained the French Ministry of Culture, the businessman wanted to demonstrate his attachment to the institution.
The manuscript of “The Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom” will be presented at a conference in 2022, in the presence of specialists and intellectuals, with the aim of analyzing the figure of Sade, the reception of his work over the centuries and its significance today.
“This exceptional enrichment of the national collections,” communicates the French Ministry of Culture, “is one of the most important in recent years for the BnF. The Ministry of Culture and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France would like to thank the patrons who contributed to these acquisitions.”