Justine: A Sadian Transformation of the French Literary
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Justine: A Sadian Transformation of the
French Literary Fairy Tale
Ivy J. Dyckman
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THE FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
JUSTINE: A SADIAN TRANSFORMATION
OF THE FRENCH LITERARY FAIRY TALE
IVY J. DYCKMAN
A Dissertation submitted to the
Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Spring Semester, 2007
Copyright © 2007
Ivy J. Dyckman
All Rights Reserved
The members of the Committee approve the dissertation of Ivy J. Dyckman defended on
March 1, 2007.
Professor Directing Dissertation
Stanley E. Gontarski
Outside Committee Member
Aimée M.C. Boutin
Deborah J. Hasson
Lori J. Walters
William Cloonan, Chair, Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics
Joseph Travis, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
The Office of Graduate Studies has verified and approved the above named committee members.
The Greatest Dictionary of All
I wish to thank Florida State University's Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French
and Francophone Studies, which made possible a six-week summer session of research in Paris,
the Congress of Graduate Students for a grant in support of that research, and the French
Division of the Florida State University Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics for
the opportunity to serve as a lectrice at the Sorbonne during the academic year 2002-2003. I owe
special thanks to my adviser Dr. William Cloonan for his diligent advice and emphasis on
perfection and to the members of my committee--Dr. Stanley E. Gontarski, Dr. Aimée M.C.
Boutin, Dr. Deborah J. Hasson, and Dr. Lori J. Walters--for agreeing to serve. My experience as
a research assistant for Drs. Boutin and Walters helped me with my own scholarship. Four
professors at other institutions--Gaëton Brulotte, Philippe Roger, Ronald Schechter, and
Catherine Velay-Vallantin--as well as researcher Maryse Delisle generously contributed their
knowledge, advice, and time. Lastly, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to family and
friends for their persistent encouragement and hand-holding.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. «L'AUTEUR DE JUSTINE»
2. À QUOI SERVENT LES CONTES DE FÉES?
3. «L'INFORTUNÉE JUSTINE»
4. «ON NE TE DEMANDE POINT D'ÊTRE VRAI, MAIS SEULEMENT
5. «JAMAIS, ENFIN, JE LE RÉPÈTE, JAMAIS JE NE PEINDRAI LE
CRIME QUE SOUS LES COULEURS DE L'ENFER. JE VEUX QU'ON
LE VOIE À NU, QU'ON LE CRAIGNE, QU'ON LE DÉTESTE, ET JE
NE CONNAIS POINT D'AUTRE FAÇON, POUR EN ARRIVER LÀ,
QUE DE LE MONTRER AVEC TOUTE L'HORRREUR QUI LE
Although various writers have made fleeting references to fairy-tale aspects found in the
Marquis de Sade's libertine texts, no one has placed him squarely in the fairy-tale tradition. This
thesis argues that Sade's Justine, his maiden libertine publication that appeared during the
waning years of the French literary fairy-tale vogue (1690-1789), is in fact a tragic fairy tale.
Using conventional motifs and narrative forms associated with the fairy tale, Sade transformed
Justine into a tale that served to entertain and deliver a critical message of the mores and
especially the institutions of his era. Sade borrowed elements from all three waves of the onehundred year vogue to produce the darkest tale of all, which, placed in a socio-historical context,
reflected the tumultuous final years of the Enlightenment. The fairy tales of the earliest writers,
most of whom were women, served as models for other writers of the genre throughout the
vogue. Like the conteuses (early female fairy-tale writers), Sade used the frame-tale device to
communicate potentially subversive ideas. Justine resembles the Perraldian heroine in that she is
physically and spiritually beautiful and survives victimization with courage and dignity. The
influence of the second wave, characterized by the oriental tale, is felt in the exotic-erotic fantasy
tableaux in Justine and in his designation of the heroine as the storyteller. Finally, Sade
integrates satiric, parodic, and libertine features of the tales produced during the third wave.
Justine is a mélange of fairy-tale elements from each wave transformed into an original work of
dark extremes. Sade borrowed from past writers of the genre to create a story so provocative that
it was at once banned and influential. He continued the tradition of using the fairy tale as a
means of entertainment disguising social criticism. In the context of what many considered to be
a frivolous literary form, he spoke about the nature of power and its association with evil. He
used the fairy-tale format to portray crime and thus perpetuate evil through countless retellings.
« . . . L'HISTORIEN DOIT DIRE ET NE RIEN CRÉER, TANDIS QUE LE ROMANCIER
PEUT S'IL LE VEUT NE DIRE QU'IL CRÉE.» (SADE, PRÉFACE D’ISABELLE 21)
Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), arouses a variety of passionate
reactions. His tragic, adventurous life story is as compelling as his writings are controversial.
Notorious as he was, Sade owes his fame to the five libertine works written and/or published
between 1785 and 1800: Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome, ou l’École du libertinage (1785),
Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu (1791), La Philosophie dans le boudoir, ou les Instituteurs
immoraux (1795), Histoire de Juliette, ou les Prospérités du vice (1796 ?),1 and La Nouvelle
Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu (1800). The combination of sexual matters with the
presumably inherent brutality of man has had a singular impact on intellectuals, psychoanalysts,
and literary critics. On a more popular level, he attracts the curious and sensational-seeking
reading public. These works are not for the faint of heart; the material is neither light nor trivial.
Yet, Sade's Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu--or more simply Justine--exhibits elements of the
fairy tale, a genre often associated with a lack of seriousness. I will argue that Sade used the
conte de fées (French literary fairy tale), in vogue from 1690 to 1789, as the major structuring
device in Justine to make observations about the moeurs (mores), institutions, and the
philosophies identified with the Age of Enlightenment, particularly from the vantage point of its
waning years. Considering that Sadian scholars have traditionally approached the marquis as an
exponent of evil and sexual perversity, the association of Sade with the literary fairy tale is a
distinct way of looking at him.2
Sade was surely acquainted with the French literary fairy tales of the one-hundred year vogue.
Given his noble background, close family ties to men of letters (i.e., his father the count and his
uncle the abbé), and formal education at the prestigious Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Sade
was exposed to all sorts of literature. As an adult, he was a voracious reader, even while in
prison. In a catalog submitted to him by the clan of Parisian booksellers Mérigot during his
incarceration at Vincennes, we find references to fairy tales from the first and second phases of
the vogue (1690-1720) among the titles listed for his selection. They are: Antoine Galland's
translation/adaptation of Les Mille et Une Nuits, Mme d'Aulnoy's Histoire d'Hypolite, comte de
Duglas (1690 novel incorporating the trendsetting literary tale L'Île de la Félicité), Charles
Perrault's Histoires ou Contes du temps passé avec des moralités , and Anthony Hamilton’s
Oeuvres (H-U. Seifert 279, 283, 285).
Various writers have made fleeting references to fairy-tale aspects found in Sade's libertine
texts. Roland Barthes evokes the isolated château in Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome as:
. . . hermétiquement isolé du monde par une suite d'obstacles qui rappellent assez
ceux que l'on trouve dans certains contes de fées: un hameau de charbonnierscontrebandiers (qui ne laisseront passer personne), une montagne escarpée, un précipice
vertigineux qu'on ne peut franchir que sur un pont (que les libertins font détruire, une fois
enfermés), un mur de dix mètres de haut, une douve profonde, une porte, que l'on fait
murer, sitôt entrés, une quantité effroyable de neige enfin. (21-22)
John Phillips observes that in Sade's writings, characters that exude excess " . . . are essentially
adult fairy-tale figures . . . " (Sade 30). Gernande, the phlebotomist in Justine, is one such
example. For Phillips, Saint-Fond and Noirceuil in Juliette are "no less human-seeming" than
"the witch in Hansel and Gretel" (30). Like fairy tales, the libertine texts of Sade bring adult
readers face to face with horror (i.e., the darker side) via a filter of fantasy. Jean Paulhan, who
defended Pauvert's scholarly publication of Sade's complete works during the French censorship
trials of 1956-1957, states that Justine should be read as a fairy tale: "Je l'ai dit, Justine se lit, on
se devrait lire comme un conte de fées" (Marquis 46). However, Paulhan, like Barthes and
Phillips, does not go into further analysis. In her 1990 article, "Cendrillon and the Ogre: Women
in Fairy Tales and Sade," Carol de Dobay Rifelj makes the connection between the
representation of women in the writings of Charles Perrault and Sade. While her argument
centers on the heroine, a significant feature of the fairy tale, other essential elements are not
treated in depth.
The lack of scholarship establishing comprehensively and conclusively that Sade used the
literary fairy tale as his genre of choice for Justine suggests a need to pursue the idea further. In
that sense, this dissertation is a novel approach to Sade. Reading Justine from the fairy-tale
perspective radically alters our understanding of both the work and its author. I will show how
Sade derived inspiration from the fairy-tale writers of the vogue, especially those of the first
wave (1690-1703), to create his tale. In Justine, he employed the frame-tale structure used in
earlier tales and caricatured the virtuous Perraldian heroine. He incorporated traditional fairytale motifs that corresponded to both the forme (structure) and fond (intellectual content) of the
tales. Like many of the writers of the vogue, he used a socially valued literary form to generate
social criticism. Towards the end of the century-long vogue, he transformed the fairy tale into a
substantially darker work that mirrored the societal disintegration of the waning years of the
Enlightenment. He entertained readers with passages filled with fantasy and descriptions of
extreme libertine pleasures in order to challenge their social, cultural, religious, and perhaps,
Research for the Sadian focus of this dissertation deals with the author's life, his writings, and
the historic upheavals he lived through. Although the primary source is the Justine of 1791,
pertinent Sadian works and personal correspondence and notes serve as additional references.
Secondary sources include respected biographies and critical material in the form of books,
essays, and journal articles that have appeared from the Second World War to the present.
While very little has been said about the fairy-tale aspects of Justine and Sade's other libertine
works, there is an abundance of primary and secondary material available on the writers and
works associated with the literary fairy-tale vogue. Perrault may come to mind as the major
storyteller of the first wave if not the entire vogue, but his female contemporaries deserve credit
for inaugurating the genre. References to literary contributions of women writers, particularly
the conteuses of the initial phase, enrich the fairy-tale component of this thesis. Antoine
Galland's translation/adaptation of Les Mille et Une Nuits (1704-1717) launches the second
wave (1704-1720) and thereafter inspires the penchant for exotic-erotic fantasy appearing in tales
and other literary works published during the eighteenth century. The philosophical, parodic,
satirical, and licentious (pornographic) tales that characterize the third wave (1721-1789) reflect
the intellectual and critical spirit of the Enlightenment. Sade specially mines from the works of
the first and third phases to craft his own tale. A look at the literary production over the course
of the vogue helps to explain the creation of Justine, another literary fairy tale that superficially
entertains yet profoundly challenges societal mores and institutions.
Apart from this introduction, the dissertation consists of five chapters and a conclusion. I
begin with an examination of Justine. Chapter 1 covers history of publication, description of
plot, characters, language, intent of the author, and reception of the work. It also takes into
account genre classification. In order to establish Justine as a literary fairy tale, other
classification possibilities must be considered. For example, it could be argued that Justine is a
kind of conte philosophique. Justine is most commonly considered a novel, but its classification
becomes problematic when determining whether it is gothic, libertine, or picaresque. The notion
of parody further complicates the matter. Sade himself is vague about the genre: «Le dessein de
ce roman (pas si roman que l'on croirait) est nouveau sans doute…» (27).3 The ambiguity of the
literary genre allows opportunity for a discussion of Justine as a conte de fées. I conclude this
section with Sade's thoughts on the art of writing a novel as set forth in Idée sur les romans, an
essay that prefaced his collection of tales entitled Crimes de l'amour (1800). Although the
literary fairy tale is not the focus here, the functions he attributes to the novel are also applicable
to that genre: the creation of emotion through the depiction of vice and the attainment of
knowledge through "misfortunes (malheurs) and voyages" (Mercken-Spaas and Goulemot 38).
In Chapter 2, I explore the French literary fairy tale from a historical perspective. This
background is necessary in order to understand why Sade used that literary form as the major
structuring device in Justine and why this work can be placed in the tradition of the conte de
fées. I begin with a precise definition of the genre and then examine its birth and evolution. I
speak about its origins and lead up to the fairy-tale vogue, which happened to coincide with the
Age of Reason. Jack Zipes distinguishes three waves or phases of the one-hundred year vogue,
which I cover in some detail (Beauty xiv). Though it was the shortest, the initial wave (16901703) remains the most significant since it established models for all succeeding tales. During
this time, Perrault wrote and published his enduring Mother Goose tales. Women writers of the
period--the conteuses or the salonnières--also figured significantly; discussion of their
contributions helps us to understand the intellectual intent of the tales. Oriental tales became the
rage during the second wave (1704-1720) and introduced exotic-erotic fantasy into fairy tales as
well as other literary forms. Tales published during the final wave (1721-1789) were an eclectic
blend of the less serious comic and erotic and the more serious didactic. Sade borrowed features
from the tales of all three waves to create his fin-de-siècle fairy story, Justine.
Chapter 3 concerns the heroine, the heart and soul of the literary fairy tale. Sade appears to
have used a composite of Perrault's heroines as the model for Justine, even though she also
exhibits characteristics of the conteuses' female protagonists. Both men and women writers of
the first wave of the fairy-tale vogue attest to the importance of the female presence by
frequently using the heroine's name in the title, for example, Cendrillon, Griselidis, Belle Belle,
and Finette Cendron. Sade did likewise with Justine. Whether in Sade or the early fairy tales,
the heroine has numerous and contradictory associations; on the one hand, she can be
courageous, virtuous, and tenacious and on the other, passive condescending, and masochistic.
Brutality and cruelty towards virtuous women constitute a recurring motif in the fin-de-siècle
fairy tales. Almost a century later, Sade beleaguers us with the miseries of virtue endured by
Justine. Despite her victim persona, however, the heroine depicted by Sade and the early fairytale writers invariably demonstrates fortitude and self-assurance when faced with overwhelming
obstacles. In addition to spiritual beauty, their female protagonist is endowed with physical
beauty and is sensual in a subtle manner. The Sadian heroine, like the Perraldian heroine and the
female protagonist of the conteuses, has imperfections of character that may deny her a "happilyever-after" existence. Her actions, both good and bad, establish the implicit and explicit moral
messages of the fairy tale.
In Chapter 4, I discuss the extent to which Justine replicates the forme (structure) of the
French literary fairy tale. I begin with the concept of voice because of its fundamental role in
navigating the reader through a story. In Justine, Sade underscores the importance of his heroine
by having her relate her own adventures; she is the principal performer as both storyteller and
central figure of her tale. Through this technique, Sade creates a frame tale, a device used by the
conteuses and the author(s) of Les Mille et Une Nuits. I continue with a discussion of three
scholarly approaches--the folkloricist, the structuralist, and the literary--that support the
argument that Sade constructed Justine as a fairy tale. The folkloricist approach helps us to
isolate various fairy-tale motifs that Sade incorporated in his story. The motifs dealing with
magic and marvels are the most significant, since their presence in the text conclusively defines a
work as a literary fairy tale. In Justine, for example, Sade incorporates implausible escapes and
healings to ensure continuation of the story and to entertain the reader. The structuralist
approach focuses on the components that constitute the underlying structure of a tale. The work
of Russian formalist Vladimir Propp figures prominently in this section. Propp's paradigm,
which identifies thirty-one functions or acts common to wonder tales (contes merveilleux) all
over the world, applies to both the French literary fairy tale and Justine. Lastly, the literary
approach deals with the stylistic features that folktales (fairy tales) have in common. The Swiss
folklorist Max Lüthi is most associated with this approach. The stylistic features he identifies-"One-dimensionality," "Depthlessness," "Abstract Style," and "Isolation and Universal
Interconnection"--are echoed in Justine. Although no one of these conceptual approaches is
absolute, the structuring device at the heart of each viewpoint provides a vehicle for fairy-tale
writers of all periods to communicate potentially subversive messages.
Chapter 5 concerns the fond (intellectual content) of Justine as it relates to the literary fairy
tale. Many writers of the vogue communicated their thoughts and observations about society,
politics, and religion through the entertaining framework of the fairy tale. Sade was no different
and perhaps more memorable because of the exaggerated sex and violence in Justine. In this
discussion, I speak about those scholarly approaches that pertain to the fond, which are the
folkloricist, the psychoanalytic, the feminist, and the socio-historical. Returning first to the
folkloricist approach, I identify four motifs that bring to light the intellectual content of Sade's
tale; they fall under the headings labeled "Society," "The Nature of Life," "Religion," and
"Humor." I do not give as much space to the psychoanalytic and feminist approaches because I
believe that they convey an extremely subjective and very narrow interpretation of the fairy tale.
I conclude the final chapter with the socio-historical approach, which I consider the most
comprehensive of the four. This viewpoint, identified with Jack Zipes, takes into account both
the forme and fond of the tales as they relate to the social, cultural, and historical conditions of
the times in which they were written. Fairy-tale writers in each of the three phases of the vogue
managed to formulate magical tales that conveyed their discontent with societal mores and
institutions. Justine is an example of Sade's attempt to do the same. His tale, like many of those
composed by other fairy-tale writers of the vogue, purposely invited a myriad of interpretations
to avoid provoking potential censors among the authorities.
Chapters 1 through 5 establish Justine's place in the literary fairy-tale tradition. Since Justine
appeared during the waning years of the century-long vogue, it incorporated many of the features
of the tales that had preceded its publication in 1791. The heroine of the story resembles closely
the Perraldian protagonist who is physically beautiful and virtuous to a fault. Her many trials
test her virtue, but she ultimately succeeds in maintaining it. Unlike Perrault's heroines,
however, Justine receives a mortal blow as her heavenly reward for her pious beliefs and
devotion to God. In addition to the heroine figure, the structure of Justine follows in the fairytale tradition as well. Sade does not use the conventional omniscient third-person to narrate the
tale; he allows Justine to reenact her own tale of woe. In so doing, he recalls the female
storyteller of the oral tradition and the heroine of Les Mille et Une Nuits who call attention to
their talents as performers and dispensers of valuable lessons. By distinguishing Justine as teller
and protagonist of her story, Sade creates a frame tale, a device used in the tales of the conteuses
and in the oriental tales. Sade makes use of many traditional fairy-tale motifs, which contribute
to the structure and intellectual content of Justine. The presence of the marvelous, for example,
definitively defines the work as a fairy tale. Motifs that deal with tabus, ogres, deceptions, and
exceptional cruelty exemplify the dark side of the fairy tale; Justine abounds with these features.
While the structure superficially distinguishes the fairy tale from other genres, the intellectual
content conveys its moral message. Similar to many writers of the vogue, Sade employs humor,
sex, and violence to camouflage the serious intent of his text. Sade's extensive and varied
readings provided models for the forme and ideas for the fond of Justine. The citation that
announces this introductory portion of the dissertation speaks to his relationship with books and
literature. He distinguishes between the task of the historian and the task of the novelist, which
in this context applies as well to the fairy-tale writer. Sade opines that the historian does not
create but reports, whereas the novelist (fairy-tale writer) can, if he so prefers, relate only what
he creates. In Justine, Sade puts his energetic imagination to task to devise a fitting tale for the
nearly concurrent end of the literary fairy-tale vogue and the Age of Reason. Exceptionally dark
and provocative, Justine is fully emblematic of a time marked by civil strife, social upheaval, and
«L'AUTEUR DE JUSTINE»4
From its initial appearance on the market during the final decade of the eighteenth century,
Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu, shortened to Justine in this thesis, established a controversial
reputation that has endured well into our day. In fact, the clamor was so great that the author
sought to disassociate himself from the work with which he will forever be identified. As
desirable as anonymity was to him, Donatien Alphonse François de Sade achieved inevitable
fame through the publication of his sulfurous work. Justine has been dissected and analyzed
from every angle, including the political, philosophical, psychological, and of course,
pornographic. As noted in the introduction, this dissertation concerns an analysis that is literary
in nature. Justine's place in the French literary-tale tradition will be considered in depth in the
following chapters. In order to support this view and appreciate fully the controversy
surrounding Justine, the historical, linguistic, literary, and philosophical contexts must first be
taken into account.
Sade composed the first of three versions of Justine while imprisoned in the Bastille (17841789). The original, Les Infortunes de la vertu, written in only two weeks in the early summer of
1787, was meant to be included in a collection of tales entitled Contes et fabliaux du XVIIIe
siècle. Sade determined to convert it from a 138-page text to a full-fledged novel, and this first
version was not revealed to the public until its publication in 1930 (Paris: Fourcade) by "the
father of modern Sade studies," Maurice Heine (Phillips, Sade 33). By 1788, Sade was already
preparing to make major revisions. In an inventory of his substantial literary production in
various genres generated behind bars, the Catalogue raisonné des oeuvres de M. de S*** à
l'époque du 1er octobre 1788, Sade sketched his plans for the second Justine. Although he did
not formally list Justine among the novels and stories (romans et contes) he included in the ninth
volume of his Catalogue, he made a notation about it in the margin. He appeared to relish the
unique quality of its moral message, which could easily serve as a subterfuge for its otherwise
provocative content. The sufferings of the heroine inflicted by oppressors who never receive just
punishments for their crimes serve to glorify the quality of virtue. Sade communicates this
heavy-handed irony in the description of his expanded work:
Joignez à l'article des romans Les Malheurs de la vertu -- 1 v. -- ouvrage dans un
goût tout à fait nouveau. D'un bout à l'autre le vice triomphe, et la vertu se
trouve dans l'humiliation; le dénouement seul rend à la vertu tout le lustre qui lui
est dû, et il n'est aucun être qui en finissant cette lecture, n'abhorre le faux triomphe
du crime et ne chérisse les humiliations et les malheurs qui éprouve la vertu.
(Pauvert, Sade vivant 2: 489)
Thus, Sade may have begun the second version of Justine in the Bastille as well.5 One volume
expanded to become two octavo volumes or 474 pages when Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu
reached the reading public some three years later in 1791, about a year after Sade's initial release
from imprisonment during the Revolution.6 In 1800, his unpublished conte would be expanded a
third time to more than one thousand pages and be retitled La Nouvelle Justine.7
The second Justine raised eyebrows from nearly the moment it appeared in print, which,
according to Pauvert, was anywhere from August to the beginning of November 1791 (Sade
vivant 2:588-89). Erotica flourished in the eighteenth century, and with the increase of
antiroyalist sentiment, the combination of politics and pornography became commonplace during
the first two years of the Revolution. Given the illicit nature of Justine, it was not out of the
ordinary that the author remained anonymous and that the imaginary publishing house was
mentioned as being in Holland, a land known for its tolerance. In reality, it was printed in Paris
by Jean-Joseph Girouard,8 whose establishment was located coincidentally on the rue du Boutdu-Monde, site of a former major sewer. According to some, this was an appropriate reference
to Sade and his works (Lever, Sade 425). The frontispiece was an allegorical depiction of Virtue
with Licentiousness on one side and Irreligion on the other. In a well-known correspondence,
dated June 1791, to his lawyer M. Reinaud, at Aix-en-Provence, Sade admits to the provocative
potential of his forthcoming text:
Soyez parfaitement sûr que je n'oublierai pas de vous envoyer mes chétives
productions quand elles verront le jour. On imprime actuellement un roman de
moi, mais trop immoral pour être envoyé à un homme aussi sage, aussi pieux et
aussi décent que vous. J'avais besoin d'argent, mon imprimeur me le demandait
bien poivré, et je le lui ait fait capable d'empester le diable. On l'appelle Justine
ou les Malheurs de la Vertu. Brûlez-le et ne le lisez point si par hasard il vous
tombe sous la main. Je le renie, mais vous aurez bientôt le roman philosophique,
que je ne manquerai certainement pas de vous envoyer. (Laugaa-Traut 37)
Sade appears to account for the explosive content by laying the onus on his publisher's demands
and on his own pathetic financial circumstances. Before it was even in print, Justine's author
aroused controversy as to whether the intent of the work was a travail alimentaire or a serious
literary undertaking conceived at least three years before its publication. Perhaps Sade was
justified in vigorously denying authorship, which he would continue to do with his subsequent
third version as well.
According to Pauvert, we can speak of Justine as a relative success.9 However, he is
juxtaposing the impact of the public's reaction to Sade's work with dramatic events occurring in
France at about the same time: rumors of war, reprisals in the Vendée, general disorder brought
about by inexperienced members of the National Assembly, and economic woes (Sade vivant 2:
592). Nonetheless, an article that appeared in the mid-December 1791 edition (no 15) of the
Feuille de correspondance du libraire set the precedent for Sadian critique in the closing decade
of the eighteenth century and continuing into the nineteenth. The remarks, although negative and
rife with condemnation, acknowledged Justine as a deterrent to crime (Pauvert, Sade vivant 2:
590-91). About a year after its publication, a second and better-known article appeared in the 27
September 1792 supplement of Affiches, annonces et avis divers. Justine, «ce Roman bisarre
(sic),» was again pronounced «un ouvrage…monstrueux, » yet the author's imagination was
praised as «riche et brillante» (Laugaa-Traut 37-38). These reviews attest to Justine's ability
early on to arouse passionate reactions from its readership or at least from its critics.
With regard to the "best seller" potential of Justine, opinions remain divided (Lever, Sade
428). The two major Sadian scholars of the early to late mid-twentieth century, Maurice Heine
and Gilbert Lely, claim that six successive editions over the course of ten years bear out the early
success of the work. On the other hand, Maurice Lever, an important later biographer of Sade,
asserts that the editions are merely six reprints with different dates and formats, possible proof of
a noticeably diminished readership. He does not say why this is so, but one can logically
speculate that a variety of presentations was tried in order to boost sales. He goes on to say that,
in truth, it is difficult for us to determine both the real impact and the number of readers of
Justine. The police did not react to the early appearance of Sade's «livre…très dangereux» (qtd.
in the no 15 of the Feuille de correspondance du libraire), which may have signified either a more
relaxed/non-existent censor or a constricted circulation of the book. However, with the advent of
the puritanical Bonapartists, there seems to be evidence to the contrary. In late August-early
September 1799, an article in the tabloid Le Tribunal d'Apollon not only censured the
supposedly expired «infâme écrivain» and his «atroce roman de Justine ou les malheurs de la
Vertu» but also complained to the authorities that they underestimated the success of Justine:
«Observateurs actifs et utiles de la police, voilà le cas de veiller! Vous croyez que l'ouvrage ne
se vend pas. Vous êtes dans l'erreur.» (Laugaa-Traut 53-55; Pauvert, Sade vivant 3:252-54).
According to Pauvert, during the very decadent waning years of the eighteenth century,
Justine thrived: «La carrière de Justine n'a fait qu'embellir sous le Directoire» (Sade vivant
3:246). Notwithstanding, Justine did not prove to be the travail alimentaire that Sade spoke
about in his letter to Reinaud (see above). It did not afford him a healthy income but neither did
his other books, whether circulated clandestinely or officially. What he did not gain in money,
he earned in terms of a scandalous reputation. Lever tells us that Justine marks the beginning of
Sade's infamous association with evil: «L'oeuvre marque la naissance de la mythologie sadienne,
le moment où le mot sadien deviant épithète maudite, symbole du mal absolu» (Sade 428).
Fin-de-siècle journalists and chroniclers excoriated Justine and its author. During the
politically chaotic and corrupt years of the Directory, Sade's "anonymous, underground works
were beginning to arouse ominous attention" (Schaeffer 471). Scathing commentaries written by
Louis-Sébastien Mercier in his Nouveau Paris of 1798 and by the émigré Charles de Villers in Le
Spectateur du Nord of late December 1797-early January 1798 are representative of the attacks
on Justine and its "satanic" author (Pauvert, Sade vivant 3:246-50). Rétif de la Bretonne, known
for his own lurid moralistic writings, did not spare his fellow writer. In Les Nuits de Paris
(1795), Monsieur Nicolas (1796), Le Pied de Fanchette (1798), and of course L'Anti-Justine
(1798), he vilifies Sade, the «monstre auteur,» and Justine, his «exécrable roman» (Pauvert, Sade
vivant 3: 250).
The Napoleonic preoccupation with issues of morality and purification began to surface in the
summer of 1799. The authorities flexed their puritanical muscle, eliciting more vituperative
attacks by the press on the "decade's most infamous book" (Gray 370). The criticism that
indirectly led to his final arrest occurred in the Journal des Arts, des sciences et de literature of
22 October 1800. It took the form of a review of Sade's officially published collection of short
stories entitled Les Crimes de l'amour. The work was prefaced by Sade's intelligent essay Idée
sur les romans, which has since been published under separate cover. Journalist AlexandreLouis de Villeterque not only savaged the work but also suggested that D.-A.-F. Sade was the
anonymous author of Justine: «Livre détestable d'un homme soupçonné d'en avoir fait un plus
horrible encore; je ne sais ni ne veux savoir à quel point ce soupçon est fondé» (Pauvert, Sade
vivant 3: 289-90). Because of his notorious reputation in an increasingly repressive state, Sade
had his response published only in the form of a twenty-page pamphlet, L'Auteur des «Crimes de
l'amour» à Villerterque (sic), folliculaire (Lever, Sade 584). Lely likens Sade's furor to a great
lord who is giving his disrespectful servant a sound thrashing with his cane: «c'est 'la canne d'un
grand seigneur s'abattant à coups redoublés sur le dos d'un laquais insolent'» (qtd. in Lever, Sade
584). The extract below exemplifies the extent of the marquis's anger:
Villeterque, vous avez déraisonné, menti, vous avez entassé des bêtises sur des
calomnies, des inepties sur des impostures, et tout cela pour venger des auteurs
à la glace, au rang desquels vos ennuyeuses compilations vous placent
à si juste titre. Je vous ai donné une leçon, et suis prêt à vous en donner de
nouvelles, s'il vous arrive encore de m'insulter. (Lever, Sade 584)
Sade overstepped himself. His rebuttal attracted the attention of the authorities. Although
Villeterque maintained in the Journal des Arts, dated 5 January 1801, that Sade had sent him an
apologetic letter, the public invectives from both men had done their damage. On 6 March 1801,
the police arrested Sade on the premises of Nicolas Massé, publisher of both his official and
clandestine works.10 Sade remained incarcerated until his demise in Charenton Asylum on 2
December 1814. His confinement did not halt the circulation of Justine. Even in prison, Sade
pursued his profession as an homme de lettres while his «infâme roman» continued to haunt «la
France littéraire,» as it does to this day (Pauvert, Sade vivant 3: 434).
Notwithstanding its notorious reputation, Justine is quite unremarkable in terms of plot. The
simple story line does not reveal the extent to which the work is provocative. Sade's tale
conveys the proverbial struggle of good versus evil represented by two sisters, one who lives by
her libertine wits and thus prospers, and the other who epitomizes virtue but eventually perishes
on account of her adherence to uncompromising moral positions when faced with iniquitous
situations and persons. Sade sketches the story line in the Plan primitif for Les Infortunes de la
vertu, which he initially entitles Les malheurs de la vertu.11 He writes:
Deux soeurs, l'une très libertine vit dans le bonheur, dans l'abondance et la
prospérité, l'autre extrêmement sage tombe dans mille panneaux qui finissent
enfin par entraîner sa perte. (Sade, Œuvres complètes 2: 230, 242)
He continues with what appears to be a prologue, which restates the above synopsis in a more
Leur fortune délabrée les oblige à prendre des métiers, l'aînée se fait catin,
la cadette travaille; l'aînée prospère, la cadette devient de plus en plus malheureuse.
(Sade, Œuvres complètes 2: 230, 242)
Since, as Maurice Heine tells us, Sade decided early on to rework his story as a novel, the
manuscript/plan of Les Infortunes serves as a draft for Justine, ou les Malheurs de la vertu as
well (Lely, Les Infortunes 14). Given the length of the second version of Justine, there is some
deviation from the Plan primitif.
The Plan primitif of Les Infortunes reflects Sade's penchant for detail and precision. Justine,
his «premier grand texte,» exhibits on a larger scale the same perfectionist tendency manifested
in the plan for Les Infortunes/Les Malheurs (Pauvert, Sade vivant 2: 588). In the section
subtitled «Histoire de ses infortunes. Vertus vexées.,» Sade lists the ten virtues of the heroine,
whom he calls Justine-Sophie, not Justine-Thérèse as he does in the subsequent text of the
Justine trilogy. Beside each one, he describes the episodes that challenge her adherence to these
Christian attributes. Sade then details the young woman's perils from beginning to end.
Orphaned at the age of fourteen, Justine undergoes one trial after another in which she
encounters her libertine enemy or enemies who force her to engage in sexual acts, each more
heinous and depraved than the previous one. Despite her unshakeable belief that her piety and
virtuous behavior will result in heavenly rewards, Justine dies unjustly by the hand of Heaven
itself. Sade reiterates the plot, and thus the draft of Les Infortunes appears almost as redundant
as Les Malheurs does. The remaining sections revolve around the characters who, for the most
part, appear in the expanded version as well. They hail from all walks of society, and their
behavior is libertine despite the association of that term with aristocrats and nobles. Justine's
persecutors include two nobles, four monks, a usurer, a band of thieves--led by a male and
female--a surgeon, a merchant, a counterfeiter, and a judge. Sade summarizes each villain's
crime against the heroine and tells how each of her nemeses (including her own sister Juliette) is
rewarded for the acts perpetrated against society and/or committed against her. Sade's final lists
and descriptions of characters pertain to the debauched Benedictine monks and their female
victims.12 The cursory portraits of the friars and of the young women as well as the prominent
placement of the Sainte-Marie-des-Bois episode at the climax of the text underline Sade's
virulent contempt for religion, a dominant theme (motif) throughout Justine.
Although the plot and the characterizations are relatively uncomplicated, the intent of the
author is not so transparent. Without the benefit of a candid interview with Sade, we can only
conjecture his motives for writing Justine. If he was truly sincere, the dedication/preface and the
philosophical disquisitions reveal his intentions. The dedication, which also takes the form of a
preface, is addressed to his «bonne amie,» Marie-Constance Renelle (Mme Quesnet), with whom
he had a dedicated, loving relationship that began soon after his release from Charenton in 1790
and ended with his death in 1814. The tone of the dédicace is emotional, which complements his
nickname for her, «Sensible,» a quality referring to the acutely sensitive nature of the former
actress. Sade underscores the originality of his work, as previously indicated in his Catalogue
raisonné, dated 1788. By demonstrating the unconventional triumph of vice over virtue, Sade
purports to be critical of libertinage and the lack of religious belief. He claims to advocate a
virtuous lifestyle by demonstrating the nefarious effects of vice on an innocent being. He
elevates virtue by means of negative example. He claims to promote virtuous behavior, as did
other writers of fiction of the eighteenth century. Furthermore, Sade evokes the tear-inducing
works of his time when he declares that a sentimental reaction from Constance will determine
the success of his inverted lesson in morality. If this was an emotionally contrived
dedication/preface, as I believe it to be, it served as an artful way to prepare expectant readers for
his transcendent portrait of vice and his commentaries on society. A hypocritical explanation of
a provocative work serves simultaneously to seduce the public and thwart the authorities.
Sade uses his gift as a storyteller to lure his readers into absorbing his own blend of
philosophy, which Justine's libertine tormentors articulate after almost every licentious episode.
Whether count or thief, monk or surgeon, the libertine in question repeatedly delivers a variant of
Sade's philosophy in a consistently erudite manner. Having captivated his readers with orgiastic
passages, shocking even for the eighteenth century, Sade readies them for what may be his real
mission -- to acquaint them with his conception of the workings of the universe. Sade expresses
his philosophy in terms of the libertinage philosophique and the libertinage mondain that arose in
France at various times during the seventeenth century. Accordingly, to be truly free, man must
liberate himself from religion (the deity) and from the moral constraints of society. Writing
towards the end of the eighteenth century gave Sade the advantage of exposure to a great number
of authors associated with the Enlightenment. In Justine, the various scoundrels mouth Sade's
opposition to nature's inherent goodness, thereby undermining the beliefs of the great
philosophes of the eighteenth century, such as Rousseau, as well as the current of optimism.
Sade drew his atheistic materialism primarily from the Baron d'Holbach's Système de la nature
(1770) from which he liberally plagiarized. In addition, the writings of Julien Offroy de La
Mettrie and Claude-Adrien Helvétius influenced his stance against conventional Christian
morality. Sade further incorporated features from certain erotic novels, in particular Thérèse
philosophe ou Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du père Dirrag et de mademoiselle Éradice
(1748), attributed to the Marquis d'Argens, which served as a model for his own erotic
philosophical novels (Leduc 61). Reaching back to antiquity, Sade found in Aristippus and Nero
protoypes of his antimorale (Leduc 61-62). In the Sadian universe, man's survival depends upon
his ability to emulate the arbitrary cruelty of nature. Since man is alone in this endeavor, his
very existence is closely tied to the self, no matter the extent to which it is corrupt (according to
the ethics of society). This isolisme, a term invented by the marquis, represents Sade's own
distinctive philosophy (Phillips 21). From the moment Justine becomes an orphan, Sade
announces that she is «condamnée à l'isolisme» (35). Sade's apology for evil over good appears
to suggest an inchoate form of social Darwinism. In his claim to support virtue through negative
example, Sade manages to vindicate his patchwork philosophy that proclaims the survival of the
fittest, no matter the nature of the crime man commits to maintain his power and influence.
The language and style of Justine are inextricably tied to sexual pleasure. Sade makes it
impossible for the reader to ignore this aspect of the text. Roland Barthes, whose essays in Sade,
Fourier, Loyola describe the innovative language of each author, underscores the importance of
pleasure when discussing the Sadian voyage: «si le roman sadien est exclu de notre literature,13
c'est que la pérégrination romanesque n'y est jamais quête de l'Unique (l'essence de temps, de
vérité, de bonheur) mais répétition du plaisir» (153). Barthes's observation reflects La Mettrie's
influence on Sade, whose libertine characters parrot in both speech and action the philosopher's
view that the pursuit of pleasure is man's raison d'être (Phillips, Sade 20). Sexuality permeates a
great many linguistic and stylistic features of Justine, for example, names of characters
(onomastics), literal and figurative language, grammatical structures, cultural and class
references, dramatic effects, repetition and exaggeration, and use of parody and caricature.
Justine is traditionally the name of a female domestic (soubrette), connoting a person of the
lower classes, who falls prey to promiscuous behavior.14 Near the beginning of both Les
Infortunes and Justine, Sade renames the heroine the moment she accepts employment at the
home of the miserly Monsieur Du Harpin, surname evocative of Molière's Harpagon. Sophie,
the wise example of womanly Christian virtue in the first version, becomes Thérèse, the antiphilosophe in the second, who chooses to ignore the brutally realistic counsel of her libertine
persecutors. Sade's Thérèse recalls the heroine of Thérèse philosophe who, unlike his
protagonist, profited from an erotic lifestyle. Other names, such as Dom Clément and Madame
de Lorsange, falsely indicate the true nature of each debauchee.
Sade combines the flowery metaphor of the eighteenth-century novel with crude street
language to describe bold sexual situations. For example, he uses military imagery--feux,
péristyles, bélier, villes assiégées--to recount the bandit Cœur-de-Fer's sexual assault on ThérèseJustine and fills his pages with le foutre, appearing as both a graphic expletive and a bodily fluid
(Jean 341-42). In addition to vocabulary, the formal grammatical and syntactical style of the day
is also employed as a euphemistic device to convey an obscene event. Thérèse-Justine describes
Dubourg's tumescence to Madame de Lorsange in the following way:
Il se lève, et se montrant à la fin à moi dans un état où la raison triomphe
rarement, et où la résistance de l'objet qui la fait perdre n'est qu'un aliment de
plus au délire, il me saisit avec brutalité, enlève impétueusement les voiles
qui dérobent encore ce dont il brûle de jouir…(48; Phillips, Sade 103)
Sade may manipulate language to enhance erotic description but he also relies upon his
observation of everyday life and class division of the ancien régime to provide him with models
for his libertine characters, their mores, and their lifestyles. In Justine, he presents a sociocultural microcosm of France during the reign of Louis XV. The power brokers of Sade's youth
who, for the most part, enriched themselves in his Majesty's wars by means of corruption and
influence, resurface in print as Justine's exploiters (Barthes 134-35). The noblemen, the
financiers, the legal and medical professionals, the clergymen, and the thieves--robber barons
representative of each social class--sexually maneuver their subjects to establish control. While
we learn what the classes of mid-eighteenth-century France ate, how they dressed, where they
lived, we also witness the ongoing struggle between victim and victimizer, the former
personified by Justine, an ordinary bourgeois individual who can never vanquish the tyrant who
maintains authority through sexual prowess rather than through wealth.
Barthes tells us that Sade's passion was not erotic but theatrical (185). The marquis's
infatuation with the theater was inspired early on by the lavish productions staged by the Jesuits
during his three and a half years at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Later, his romantic dalliances
with actresses and his own involvements in acting, writing, and production attest to his enormous
attraction to the theater. In his libertine works, Sade incorporates theatricality, especially in his
orgiastic scenes; in his own way, he creates the necessary horror and suspense to first seduce the
reader and then to maintain his/her attention. Like a spectator in the audience, the reader
observes well-rehearsed productions whose decor, script, and players have been predetermined.
In Justine, Sainte-Marie-des-Bois is one of the somber, isolated settings where orgiastic
performances are staged. The four lubricious monks who administer the Benedictine monastery
engage Thérèse-Justine as an actor in their libertine spectacles. Preceding her maiden
performance, they show her various props in the form of "sadistic" paraphernalia, i.e., «des
disciplines, des verges, des férules, des gaules, des cordes et mille autres sortes d'instruments de
supplice…» (159). When she makes her appearance, they proceed to instruct her in the art of
submission, assuming the roles of both directors and co-actors (participants). At the end of the
ignominious production, Dom Severino remarks:
«Ah! . . . je ne jouis jamais d'une plus belle scène . . . » (165).
Repetition and exaggeration enhance the melodrama of Justine's peripatetic lifestyle.
Sade makes certain that the lesson given by her libertine victimizers following her forced
participation in their orgies is not forgotten. Once again, Sade relies on man's innate need for
sexual pleasure to intellectualize the universe in a manner similar to his own. By using sexual
desire as a ploy, Sade inculcates the atheistic materialism he so strongly proclaims into both an
attentive Justine and reader. Justine cooperates with her depraved persecutors but refuses to
adopt their way of thinking and thus continues to suffer at the hands of society's exploiters.
Sade, however, seizes the opportunity to convince his invisible readership that his concept of the
universe is the right one. No matter how monotonous it may seem, repetition, whether in the
form of licentious behavior or pseudo-philosophical diatribe, serves as a time-tested, powerful
Sade's penchant for exaggeration complements his use of repetition. Hyperbole, like
repetition, intensifies the drama of a scene and renders it unforgettable. His taste for Rabelaisian
abondance--the idea of physical and material excess--reveals an obsession for all things in the
extreme; moderation has no place in the Sadian world. As we have just seen, Sade's unrelenting
alternation of erotic and pseudo-philosophical passages is a sort of thematic abondance. On
examination of the Sadian orgy, we fail to discover the stereotypical bacchanal; in its place, we
find a carefully staged event, worthy of a twenty-first-century wedding planner. Sade's own
preoccupation with numbers and hierarchical systems is especially evident during the episode at
Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, the quintessential setting for the Sadian orgy. Naturally, he hyperbolizes
the preparations for the orgies; he makes use of scientific-like procedures to create a mechanical
sexual scenario. He imposes order on an event that is normally associated with great disorder.
He even turns an explanation of house rules at the monastery into an exaggerated, highly
structured lesson whose introduction sounds like the frame of a philosophical discourse.
Omphale, the young woman in charge of Justine's initiation to life at Sainte-Marie-des-Bois,
explains the meticulous rules to which the four monks' female prisoners must adhere. She begins
by telling Thérèse-Justine:
L'instruction que j'ai à te donner…doit se renfermer sous quatre articles
principaux; nous traiterons dans le premier de ce qui concerne la maison;
dans le second, nous placerons ce qui regarde la tenue des filles, leur punition,
leur nourriture, etc., etc., etc.; le troisième article t'instruira de l'arrangement
des plaisirs des moines, de la manière dont les filles y servent; le quatrième te
développera l'histoire des réformes et des changements. (172)
Omphale then describes in minute detail the particulars of the articles, which resemble clauses in
a legal document. Sade's penchant for order and regulation is as exaggerated as are his tableaux
of sexual excess. The compulsion to control even physical manifestations of human desire lends
a bit of dark humor to an otherwise repulsive episode.
Parody and caricature are natural extensions of Sadian language and style. The blending of
these features with eroticism creates an effective vehicle for satire. Whether the entire text of
Justine resembles a parody of the eighteenth-century English Gothic novel, conte moral, or
fictions of Rousseau is arguable; however, Sade uses parody within the text to ridicule certain
characteristics of the popular literature of the time. For example, Sade mocks the ton larmoyant
or "tearful tone," which underscores the sensitivity of the virtuous heroine in pre-romantic
novels.15 Catherine Cusset states that the Justine of all three versions sheds tears on average of
once every six pages (125). Instead of arousing pity, her tears excite the libertine oppressors into
producing a great deal of foutre. Sade caricatures these same persecutors; he not only portrays
them as entirely despicable members of their respective castes but also exaggerates their sexual
endowments and capabilities. Once again, the monks at Sainte-Marie-des-Bois serve as an
example. Sade's description of Dom Clément anticipates the horror that is soon to come:
Clément, dont le nom peignait on ne saurait moins la figure, était un homme de
quarante-huit ans, d'une grosseur énorme, d'une taille gigantesque, le regard
sombre et farouche, ne s'exprimant qu'avec des mots durs élancés par un organe
rauque, une vraie figure de satyre; l'extérieur d'un tyran; il me fit trembler…(152)
Through Clément's portrait, Sade communicates that the monk is, at least physically, the
antithesis of his name. Throughout Justine, parody and caricature give way to humorous irony,
as exemplified in the above citation. The discussion of Sadian humor will be continued at
greater length in the final chapter.
Establishing Justine's publication history and analyzing the work from a literary perspective
still leaves two final considerations. The first has to do with the text's longstanding scandalous
impact on the public and the authorities, and the other concerns genre classification, which is the
thrust of this dissertation. With regard to the first, it has been seen how sexual pleasure pervades
the structure and content of Justine. With this in mind, it is not surprising that, throughout its
existence, Justine has been classified as erotic, or even pornographic, if there is indeed a
difference between the two terms.16 Considering the extent to which pornography was produced
and circulated in the eighteenth century, especially between the years 1770-1800 (Bloch 58), we
can wonder why Sade's work provoked such an outcry. In other words, it can be asked what
made Justine exceptional among the libertine literature of the time. Maurice Lever has a very
simple yet persuasive answer. Far beyond its obscene content, Justine arouses fear and a sense
of panic. Sade not only calls society's moeurs and institutions into question but he also calls
attention to an ever-present danger existing outside the pages of his work. That is to say, he
reminds us of every human being's innate capability to harm or destroy his fellow man for the
sake of ensuring survival and maintaining power. Justine has the potential to subvert society and
the individuals who abide by its accepted laws and truths. According to Lever, it is for this
reason that «Justine, on la rejette en bloc, sans appel; on voudrait la voir anéantie; on fuit devant
elle comme devant une invasion barbare, par instinct de survie» (Sade 427-28).
In the dedication/preface of Justine, Sade appears not to know how to classify his own work.
At first, he refers to it as a novel, the English equivalent for the French roman. Yet, he
parenthetically seems to confess that it is "less a novel than one might suppose" (Seaver and
Wainhouse 455). In the original French, Sade tells us this when describing the intention or
objective of the work: «Le dessein de ce roman (pas si roman que l'on croirait) est nouveau sans
doute…» (27). Sade appears vague or even apologetic about the genre classification of his own
work. This may be due to the concept of the novel during the eighteenth century. At that time,
the novel was defining itself as a new genre. It was evolving into what we today recognize, quite
simply, as a lengthy work of fiction composed in prose (Abrams 190). Since formal rules were
not imposed on the form or content of their writings, novelists of the time were able to liberate
their imagination and express ideas that mirrored or even countered Enlightenment thought.
Ironically, some of these same free thinkers and literary experimenters condemned this emerging
genre. Whether acting out of self-defense or apologizing for having indulged in this type of
writing, such canonical novelists as Montesquieu, Prévost, and Rousseau are among those who
denounced the roman as "frivolous and morally corrupt" (qtd. in Lynch, French Novelists 1). By
the end of the century, when Sade began his career as an author, he was in a position to assess
the evolution of this genre and to incorporate its best attributes into his own literary production.
While this controversy surrounding the novel might explain his tentative approach to classifying
his work as such, this relatively new and as yet undefined form might have made an excellent
choice for an author interested in going beyond societal restraints and breaking new ground.
If Justine is indeed a novel, as Sade first suggests, we are compelled to ponder its
classification: what kind of a novel is Justine? Béatrice Didier labels it a roman noir, a French
version of the English Gothic novel (Roman français 118). Certainly, the gloomy, medieval-like
locales, the plot focusing on the adversities of the virtuous heroine in the hands of evil, lecherous
villains, and the sensation of terror created through mystery and horror justify this classification
(Abrams 111). However, in Idée sur les romans, Sade criticizes English Gothic novels,
denouncing them as " . . . these new novels in which sorcery and phantasmagoria constitute
practically the entire merit . . . " (qtd. in Lynch, French Novelists 174). He specifically
references the fiction of Ann Radcliffe and The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis to exemplify
what is wrong with this kind of writing: a great deal of reliance on make-believe and too little on
real-life situations. Sade may exaggerate sex and crime, but the pleasure and pain he depicts are
In Justine, we also find aspects of the picaresque narrative. Sade has nothing but praise for
works of this type written by the Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote de La Mancha)
and by the Frenchman Alain René Lesage (Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane) (Sade, Idée 2022). Like these picaresque fictions, Justine mirrors and satirizes the socio-cultural reality of the
time. Similarly, it consists of episodes linked together by the adventures of one person, Justine,
whose characterization remains more or less static throughout the narrative (Abrams 190-91).
Yet, Justine is not the typical picaro or roguish antihero; she may live by her wits, but she relies
strongly on her moralistic and religious beliefs to help her survive the ravages of her libertine
The depraved behavior of these villains further suggests another plausible classification, that
of the libertine novel. In Sade's hands, the unrestricted pursuit of pleasure, which is the
philosophical basis of this category of novel, no longer confines itself to the more refined
eroticism of the aristocratic salon, as exemplified in Crébillon fils's Les Égarements du coeur et
de l'esprit; pain and pleasure are indistinguishable in the somber lairs of the marquis's libertine
characters. Sade commits to an earlier materialistic philosophy grounded in atheism and in the
freedom to explore all variety of passions in the most brutal possible fashion.
Lastly, Justine integrates features of the bildungsroman, a novel of formation or education
(Trousson lvi). In this context, libertinage appears to be an unavoidable stage on the path to
adulthood. Sade traces Justine's turbulent passage from early adolescence to womanhood
through her adventures with a variety of depraved scoundrels. Although forced to participate in
their debaucheries, she never succumbs to libertinage. Her character never evolves since, from
the beginning, Justine holds steadfast to the triumph of human virtue over vice. Her stubborn
refusal to deny nature's innate goodness prevents her from adapting to a world where cruelty
towards one's fellow human beings is the key to survival. Justine fails to learn and to grow from
her experiences; hence, the classification of this work as essentially a bildungsroman is dubious.
Sade's enigmatic parenthetical phrase in the paratext of Justine: «(pas si roman que l'on
croirait)», opens possibilities for alternative genre classifications. If Justine is not a roman, as
Sade seems to suggest, two forms of narrative prose fiction are conceivable: the conte (tale) or
the nouvelle (novella). The conte is the more likely choice. Although length is sometimes used
as a superficial criterion to differentiate the two fictional literary genres, the true distinction lies
in their treatment of reality. The nouvelle attempts to represent a world that is recognizable to
the reader. Time, space, action, and characters are all plausible. The conte, on the other hand,
contains elements of fantasy, which take the form of supernatural events, beings, spheres woven
into the narration, and/or has a completely fanciful plot. In French, the conte is described as
being irréaliste (unrealistic). By the end of the seventeenth century it evolved into a literary
genre, and in the eighteenth century, the conte witnessed its l'âge d'or (golden age). On the
didactic side, Voltaire contributed the conte philosophique (philosophical tale), Candide, ou
l'Optimisme and Zadig being amongst the best known; Jean-François Marmontel created the
conte moral (moral tale) which depicted the ills of society and prescribed their cure. The conte
oriental (oriental tale), the conte libertin (libertine tale), and the conte de fées (fairy tale) made
use of fantasy and sensuality to entertain the public. If Justine is "less a novel than one might
suppose," then the latter type of conte comes closest to describing its literary genre. The conte
de fées, apart from having its own particular features, embodies characteristics of all the fictional
narrative prose literature just described.
The idea that Justine is a conte is neither unique nor irrational. In his article about Sade and
Rétif, identified as the dark writers of the Enlightenment, Barry Ivker classifies Justine as a conte
philosophique (Lynch, Marquis de Sade 50). Lynch supports Ivker's view and goes on to state
that content outweighs length as a criterion for designating a work as a conte. He argues that
Sade, unlike Voltaire, does not seem to concern himself with the issue of genre. However,
Sade's parenthetical remarks about Justine not being so much a novel as one might think still
speak to the genre quandary. Although Sade seems to be saying that Justine is not a novel, he
does not specify what else it might be. Lynch maintains that Sade subordinates genre to
message; in his Catalogue raisonné of 1788, Sade emphasizes the innovative nature of his work
rather than genre classification.17 In fact, according to Lynch, Justine is modeled along the lines
of Candide. He details the differences and similarities with regard to the narrative structure, the
depiction of and reaction to misfortunes faced by the protagonists, the characterization of the
protagonists themselves, the articulation of Manichean philosophy, the initial reference to Zadig,
the corruption of the clergy, the portrayal of evil, the unfavorable representation of women, and
the triumph of vice and crime (Marquis de Sade 48-50). Arguably, Candide and Justine are
parables, another kind of conte, given their philosophical and moralistic underpinnings (GardesTamine and Hubert 47). The lessons they intend to impart are announced in their subtitles.
Given that Justine is a conte, at least according to the above arguments, we can go one step
further and contend that it is a specific kind of conte, a conte de fées. This notion is not as farfetched as it may first seem. At the beginning of this chapter, I cited various authors who
recognized fairy-tale aspects in the libertine texts but who did not go into detailed analyses.
Referring to Sade's contes, «gais ou sombres,» and his «romans 'philosophiques,'»18 Pauvert
observes that Sade deftly combines both realistic and fairy-tale elements in these works (Sade
vivant 2: 490). Although he, like Didier, classifies Justine as a roman noir (Sade vivant 3: 29),
he points out Sade's curious reference to fairy tales in the paratext of Justine. In the «Avis de
l'éditeur» (publisher's note) printed in the first edition of 1791, which Pauvert attributes to the
marquis himself, Sade recalls that authors in the past created fantastic evil characters to ensure
the reader's attention. He then justifies his own work by stating that the ogres and giants have
been replaced by libertines. Both types of men embody vice, a major theme (motif) of Justine.
Nos aïeux, pour intéresser, faisaient jadis usage de magiciens, de mauvais génies,
de tous personnages fabuleux auxquels ils se croyaient permis, d'après cela, de
prêter tous les vices dont ils avaient besoin pour le ressort de leurs romans. Mais
puisque, malheureusement pour l'humanité, il existe une classe d'hommes chez
laquelle le dangereux penchant au libertinage détermine des forfaits aussi
effrayants que ceux dont les anciens auteurs noircissaient fabuleusement leurs
ogres et leurs géants, pourquoi ne pas préférer la nature à la fable?
(Pauvert, Sade vivant 2: 596)
It is significant that Sade opens his work with reference to universally recognized evildoers.
From the start, the reader is made to associate the giants and ogres of lore with the libertines in
Justine. At the very least, Sade was intuitively aware of the psychological imprint of the fairy
tale on the collective memory.
An appropriate conclusion to this chapter concerns Sade's thoughts on the art of writing. As
Pauvert notes, Sade was a fastidious author, especially with regard to Justine, his first great
work: «…Sade était un auteur tatillon, perfectionniste, surtout pour son premier grand texte»
(Sade vivant 2: 588). Idée sur les romans, the scholarly piece prefacing the eleven tragic and
heroic tales recounted in Les Crimes de l'amour (1800),19 demonstrates the seriousness of Sade's
devotion to his profession. He recognizes the novel as a literary genre. In the first part, he
historicizes the roman from classical times through his own era. This scientific-like approach to
the novel lends an authoritative air to his essay. The second part is a manual of sorts on the art of
novel writing. Some of the functions he attributes to the novel are also applicable to the literary
fairy tale. For example, the novel, like the literary fairy tale, must strike an emotional chord in
the reader, which can be accomplished through misfortune and travel (Lynch, French Novelists
175). Both genres utilize the aspect of vice to create the emotion necessary for the moral impact
of the narrative. The features he counsels against utilizing in the novel--moralizing and the
marvelous--are remniscent of motifs found in fairy tales; he makes use of both in Justine. By
stating what the novel is not, Sade has told us what Justine is.
À QUOI SERVENT LES CONTES DE FÉES?
In Idée sur les romans, Sade asks the question : «A quoi servent les romans?» (37). His
response would serve equally well if we substitute the term conte de fées for roman. He candidly
tells us that novels serve to portray humanity as it really is, that is, as its hypocritical and
perverse self: «A quoi ils servent, hommes hypocrites et pervers? -- car vous seuls faites cette
ridicule question --, ils servent à vous peindre tels que vous êtes . . . » (37). Fairy tales perform
much the same function. They are works of fiction that mirror humanity's true nature. However,
they incorporate just enough fantasy and magic to enhance the entertainment value and
underscore the underlying message. Like novels, they can be interpreted on at least two levels.
On the one hand, they provide a means of virtual and emotional escape; the word is the vehicle
through which the conscious and unconscious realms of the mind or spirit are provoked. The
text becomes an internal motion picture that triggers pleasurable or painful responses. On the
other hand, they serve as a means for subtle criticism of real problems that the ruling classes
refuse to acknowledge or agree to modify in order to maintain control over those under their
domination. The claim that Sade used the French literary fairy tale to at once entertain and
criticize in his maiden libertine publication Justine cannot be appreciated until we first examine
this form from a historical, literary, and socio-cultural perspective. I shall trace its
metamorphosis over the long eighteenth century, beginning with its initial appearance in the
latter part of the preceding century. In Sade's hands, the fairy tale experienced yet another
transformation, which mirrored the social, cultural, and political upheavals and undercurrents of
a society in transition. Sade's Justine, along with his other libertine tales, were poised to attack
the establishment of his time and the ills it generated. In this regard, his purpose was no different
from that of the male and female fairy-tale writers of the one-hundred year vogue.
The conte (tale) has a very long history. Initially, it was a product of the oral tradition of
storytelling. Eventually, tales were written down, as evidenced by their appearance in ancient
Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, and Indian literatures. Viewing the Old and New Testaments
from a literary stance, biblical writings incorporated adventure tales, wonder tales, tales exuding
intense human drama and passions, and tales imparting a moral or spiritual lesson. In France,
during the medieval period, an assortment of short narratives appeared, which, like the folktales
of the oral tradition, were didactic, entertaining if not downright bawdy, and anecdotal.
Marvelous tales, historical or pseudo-historical tales, tales exhibiting clever ruses, and beast
fables (bestiaires) graced the popular literary scene. The exempla written between the twelfth
and fifteenth centuries provided doses of religious instruction in the guise of entertaining stories
or anecdotes; they served to inspire many a preacher's sermon. Their engaging quality
distinguished them from hagiographies and stories of miracles, which were more serious in
nature and did not blend the sacred with the profane. The exemplum did not yet define a new
literary genre, but it did represent another step in the evolution of the conte. It incorporated
various types of narration, such as the fabliau, a short derisive tale in verse, and the bestiaire,
another short narrative in verse or prose in which animals personified as humans exemplified
aspects of human behavior. In contrast to these works of popular literature, the conte courtois
(courtly tale) appealed to a sophisticated audience, since it was written by those most familiar
with the manners and tastes of the nobility. Despite the elegant sentimentality, it is rooted in
folklore and is closely linked to the more lengthy chivalric romance drawn from Breton or Celtic
legends. The most familiar examples are found in the lais of the mysterious Marie de France,
who composed short narratives in verse probably at the Plantagenêt court during the late twelfth
century. These Breton lais recounted knightly adventures, elevated the emotion of love to a
psychological level, and integrated elements of the mythical and the marvelous. The latter
element is especially significant when we consider characteristics of the French literary fairy
Literary production of stories did not confine itself to France alone. Short narratives
composed in Italy during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance periods represented
another step in the evolution of the conte and the eventual birth of the literary fairy-tale genre.
The most well-known collection of short tales with fairy-tale motifs is Giovanni Boccaccio's
Decameron (1349-1350). His collection of tales fused elements of the texts mentioned above,
and like their medieval counterparts, they endeavored to entertain and instruct. They had a
universal appeal, which he succeeded in conveying through the characters, the content, and the
style. The nobles he created cleverly recount tales that speak not of courtly culture so familiar to
them, but of mundane events associated with the lower ranks of a rigid class system. Boccaccio
was a great stylist, as was Perrault more than three hundred years later. The Italian storyteller
"set a model for all future writers of . . . [tales] . . . with his frame narrative and subtle . . .
[sophistication] . . . " (Zipes,"Cross-Cultural" 852). Ultimately, Boccaccio's novelle or conti
influenced the tales of two other Italians, Giovan Francesco Straparola (c. 1480-1558) and
Giambattista Basile (1575-1632), who, according to Zipes, are the originators of the literary fairy
tale in Europe, not the French fairy-tale writers of the 1690s («Les origines» 66). Straparola was
the first European who retold isolated fairy tales originating from Europe or the Orient in the
vernacular and included them in his notable collection of novelle, Le piacevoli notti (1550/53).
Basile, on the other hand, transcribed and transformed Neapolitan oral folktales into original
fairy tales, thus creating the first integral collection of fairy tales in Europe (Zipes, Oxford 41).
Even before Perrault or the Brothers Grimm, Basile reworked oral folktales into the authored
literary tales comprising his Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille (16341636), also known as the Pentamerone. Although it is debatable whether Straparola and Basile
fathered the European literary fairy tale, it is essential nonetheless to recognize their influence on
the innovators of the French literary fairy tale. Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy, Marie-Jeanne
Lhéritier, Henriette Julie de Castelnau, comtesse de Murat, and Perrault are among the fairy-tale
writers of the 1690s who turned to Straparola and/or Basile for inspiration (Zipes, "CrossCultural" 857).
At this point in the discussion of the historical development of the literary fairy tale, it is
appropriate to attempt to define this genre, generally identified as French rather than Italian in
origin. (In the context of this study, the term "literary fairy tale" denotes the French literary fairy
tale unless indicated otherwise.) As noted above, certain types of medieval literature
incorporated fairy-tale motifs found in popular oral folktales. They again appeared in the
innovative tales conceived by mostly female writers at the end of the seventeenth century as well
as in those composed throughout the eighteenth. Raymonde Robert studied the works written
during that period and concluded that three distinctive features or motifs, all of which must be
present in the text, define the French literary fairy tale. In Le Conte de fées littéraire en France
de la fin du XVIIe à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Robert tells us that in the fairy-tale writing of this
1) The hero and heroine always benefit from protection against evil to ensure their
triumph in the end (assurance of a "happy ending");
2) The heroic couple exhibit exemplary moral and/or physical attributes that contrast with
the nefarious characteristics of their antagonists (a Manichean representation of the characters);
3) And finally, the heroic couple exist in a realm ruled by the marvelous or supernatural (a
closed universe whose harmonious state is challenged throughout the tale) (35).
Although Robert's description is respected and appears in various works about the literary fairy
tale, I will speak about other definitions, i.e., interpretations when discussing the structure of the
genre in Chapter 4.
For Robert, the presence of all three components of the literary fairy tale is necessary to
establish her definition of the genre; however, the most critical is the last one. Heroic couples of
impeccable virtue and prowess can be identified in all literary genres. This is not so with the
marvelous. This characteristic adds a touch of implausibility to a fictional account, which in
every other respect appears to reflect what we perceive as real. When we speak of marvels in
these tales, we are not necessarily referring to the presence of fantastic beings with supernatural
powers that hover over humans awaiting the precise moment to intervene in their lives in a
helpful or harmful manner. To be sure, these small magical beings, universally known as fairies,
are associated with the literary fairy tale, especially with the early contes de fées composed
during the final decade of the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth.
However, their presence is not needed to experience the sense of wonder, awe, and even hope
that the literary fairy tales project (Zipes, "Cross-Cultural" 848). The sense of the marvelous can
be portrayed through various sorts of magical objects, occurrences, and phenomena in the closed
universe created by the author. The manifestation of wonder is what distinguishes the literary
fairy tale from other short works of modern fiction. The notion of a "miraculous or fabulous
transformation" represents hope that the author wishes to share with the reader, which explains
the widespread appeal of this literary genre ("Cross-Cultural" 848-49). Literary fairy tales
provide textual miracles that are as heartening as those present in a religious or spiritual context.
They offer both an escape from the mundane and the possibility of positive change through
"magical intervention" ("Cross-Cultural" 849).
Having offered a definition of the literary fairy tale and having established the significance of
the marvelous in the fabric of the tale, it is time to resume the history at a pivotal point: the birth
and subsequent flowering of the fairy tale as a literary genre during the period 1690-1789. The
popularity of the published fairy tales was such that these one-hundred years are often described
as a vogue with three discernible yet overlapping divisions, referred to as waves or phases. From
a literary stance, they represent a novel invention resulting in the birth of a new genre. More
importantly, at least in the context of this thesis, they project the socio-cultural and political
turmoil identified with the Enlightenment. Examination of each wave tells us how this new
genre evolved as a literary form and social commentary. Sade's works occur towards the end of
the third wave, an era that marks a significant power shift in which the bourgeois industrialists
replace the medieval overlords as the new ruling class. He ignores neither history nor its sociocultural implications. During the waning decades of the eighteenth century, Sade again reworks
the literary fairy tale to comment upon the society of his time, and more broadly, to reiterate the
destructive capability of mankind. To understand Sade's ultimate transformation, it is imperative
to first examine this genre as it evolved over the three waves detailed below.
The initial wave (1690-1703) may be the briefest, but it is the most significant. The date 1690
marked not only the year of the publication of the first literary fairy tale but also the onset of a
century-long vogue initiated by mostly female writers. This occurred at a time when the literary
as well as the social, economic, political, and intellectual spheres were dominated by men.20
Since the first wave, and thus the vogue, originated in the Parisian salons of educated aristocratic
women, the years 1690-1703 refer to the period of the "experimental salon fairy tale" (Zipes,
Beauty xiv). Earlier in the seventeenth century, these women of the elite societal echelons held
gatherings in their homes to discuss subjects ranging from the intellectual to the intimate. These
précieuses, as they came to be called, rejected the "vulgar" speech of their gentlemen
counterparts and invented a more refined and clever manner of speaking and writing. From the
beginning, these précieuses distinguished themselves linguistically. They even attracted the
attention of Molière who mocked their exaggerated euphemisms and contrived speech and
manners in some of his comedies. Nonetheless, this movement known as préciosité, which did
eventually include aristocratic men as well, gave birth to such literary notables as Mlle de
Scudéry, Mlle de Montpensier, Mme de Sévigné, and Mme de Lafayette (Zipes, Beauty xi).
The women who dominated these salons used their linguistic invention to create entertaining
tales based on folk motifs passed on to them through their childhood governesses and nurses.
The reworking of these tales in a similar engaging manner became a type of parlor competition;
creation of a more compelling narrative challenged the women to refine and improve both style
and content. So that the tales would appeal to privileged classes, they incorporated the manners
and mores familiar to society's noble and upper bourgeois circles. Their fantasy creations
mirrored and even justified their own elitist way of life. At the same time, these women deftly
used this form of salon amusement to rebel against male domination. As has already been
shown, the formation of salons and the simultaneous creation of precious expression already
represented an act of rebellion. Their society games in the form of stories acted as a superficial
yet amusing means to express the innate desires of independence, freedom of thought, action,
and choice. These French upper-class women were well aware of the suggestive and escapist
qualities of fantasy. Zipes states that by the 1670s there are epistolary references to the fairy tale
as an accepted form of entertainment in salon circles (Beauty xi-xii).
The first "official" literary fairy tale is attributed to Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville,
baronne (or comtesse) d'Aulnoy (1650/51-1705). After Perrault, she is the most well known of
the early French fairy-tale writers. In 1690, the first published fairy tale appeared as a story
within Mme d'Aulnoy's larger work, the roman Histoire d'Hypolite, comte de Duglas. This prose
fairy tale, which appeared in later anthologies as «L'Île de la Félicité,» does not end "happily
ever after." Mme d'Aulnoy treats the ongoing power struggle between the sexes and suggests
that the love of a woman can provide the antidote to unhappiness and human destruction. The
dystopian ending reminds the reader about the inevitability of time and the futile quest for
perfect happiness. Her tale established the trend of salon fairy-tale writing, which lost
momentum between the first decade of the eighteenth century and the publication of Le Cabinet
des Fées (1785-1789) (Zipes, Beauty 195).
Mme d'Aulnoy not only inaugurated a literary genre but also gave it its name. The expression
contes des fées appeared as the title of her first four-volume collection of fifteen tales, Les
Contes des fées (1697-1698). However, she did not use the epithet to name her second fourvolume collection of nine additional tales, Les Contes nouveaux ou les fées à la mode (1698);
instead, she created a longer, more descriptive title which leaves little doubt as to type of tale
contained in the work. In her article, "The Poetics of Enchantment (1619-1715)," Christine
Jones calls our attention to the grammar of the expression contes des fées, which indicates that
the fairies represent the source of the stories not the content as in the designation conte de fées
(67). Evidently, the fée was a common symbol for the tales or for the women writers
themselves. Mlle Lhéritier used it as early as 1696 in the dedication of her tale «Les
Enchantements de l'Éloquence,» and Mme de Murat used both contes de fées and contes des fées
in titles of collections published in 1698 and 1710 respectively (Jones 72-73).
Mme d'Aulnoy's initial contributions to the vogue did not ensure the endurance of her tales or
the immediate association of her name with the fairy tale. She was not the concise stylist of her
famous contemporary, Charles Perrault, whose skills at weaving absorbing and concise tales in
verse and prose make him popular to this day. Like him, she incorporated folkloric material into
a great many of her tales; nineteen of twenty-five reflect her familiarity with the folktale tradition
(Zipes, Oxford 31). Both fairy-tale writers used the omniscient third-person to narrate
entertaining and instructive stories. Their tales ended with the formulaic verse moralité, the
contrived lesson derived from the text.
However, Mme d'Aulnoy had another subtle purpose in mind, which makes her particularly
pertinent to this dissertation. Her sentimental tale could be construed as a form of dissent. She
put her prolific imagination to work to paint the social, political, and cultural realities of her class
and era. Yet, she constructed her tales in such a way that they were at once an apology for her
own caste, that is, for the "aristocratic culture," and a critique of both "monarchy and masculine
power" (Duggan, Rev. of Naissance 123). Her female protagonists were able to protest the
constraints of a fictional patriarchal society. She juxtaposed violence and suffering--acts
associated with men--and love and tenderness--emotions associated with women--to display her
heroines' strength. Finette Cendron, La Chatte blanche, and Belle Belle mirror the idealistic
qualities personified by the perfect knight. While she did not always portray her secondary
female characters in a positive light, her heroines were just as, if not more, venturesome than
herself, the real Mme d'Aulnoy. «La Chatte blanche» illustrates these points. In this tale, a
young princess who has remarkable physical and spiritual beauty is raised by possessive,
vindictive fairies because her mother the queen had agreed to exchange her baby in order to
indulge her physical desires. Later, the daughter, like the mother, is punished for succumbing to
carnal and emotional cravings. The manipulative fairies change the beautiful princess into an
equally comely white cat who continues to exhibit intelligence and courage notwithstanding the
challenges of her metamorphosis.
Mme d'Aulnoy shared close friendships with other female writers who dominated the first
wave of the fairy-tale vogue. These salonnières--women of privilege who frequented the same
salons, exchanged literary creations, dedicated certain texts to each another, and influenced each
other's writings--formed a kind of professional support group. Not surprisingly, their sense of
«fraternité» resembled that of their earlier male counterparts, the libertine authors of the
beginning of the seventeenth century (Marin 479). Today, their names are not as widely known
as that of Mme d'Aulnoy, but they contributed to the development of the new genre and to its
popularity in noble circles. More importantly, like Mme d'Aulnoy, they couched criticism of
their male-dominated society in marvelous entertaining tales set in elegant aristocratic
surroundings and represented their female characters as intelligent, educated, and independent.
Catherine Marin remarks that «la plupart des contes . . . s'avèrent . . . riches en éléments qui,
directement ou indirectement, minent la morale patriarcale traditionnelle» (488). She also asserts
that the female storytellers «encouragent l'éducation, l'indépendance, et privilégient l'intelligence
et non la simple beauté physique» (487). Once again, «La Chatte blanche» serves as an
illustration. The regal Chatte blanche lived in palacial surroundings, and the prince whose fate
brought him to her door remarked on her intellect (cleverness). During his second sojourn at her
Versailles-like residence, he observed:
Il est vrai que Chatte blanche avait l'esprit agréable, liant, et presque
universel. Elle était plus savante qu'il n'est permis à une chatte de l'être.
Le prince s'en étonnait quelquefois: Non, lui disait-il, ce n'est point une
chose naturelle que tout ce que je remarque de merveilleux en vous:
si vous m'aimez, charmante minette, apprenez-moi par quel prodige
vous pensez et vous parlez si juste, qu'on pourrait vous recevoir dans
les académies fameuses des plus beaux esprits? (317)21
Mme d'Aulnoy's colleagues included other prominent conteuses (female fairy-tale writers;
salonnières): Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier de Villandon, Henriette-Julie de Murat, Charlotte-Rose
Caumont de La Force, Catherine Bernard, and the almost-forgotten Louise d'Auneuil. All were
recognized femmes de lettres, and the first four were elected to the Académie des Ricovrati de
Padoue. Unlike the Académie française, which disdained female authors because of their sex
and their refusal to adhere to constraints with regard to subject matter, the Académie des
Ricovrati de Padoue welcomed the membership of upper-class female writers of France in the
latter part of the seventeenth century (Marin 479). Like the early and contemporary libertine
authors, the conteuses expressed a certain libre pensée (individuality of thought). For example,
although they used, for the most part, a formulaic structure, i.e., a text in prose followed by a
moralité, the content and message deviated substantially from that of their male contemporary,
Charles Perrault, who tended to highlight the character flaws of his female protagonists. The
conteuses, to the contrary, placed intellect and wit (esprit) above physical beauty (Marin 487).
Their works disparaged the social order, which might explain why their popularity waned so
soon after their initial publication. The entertaining aesthetics of the conte de fées masked the
subversive underpinnings of their tales. Although the adjective "subversive" was a fairly recent
term in the late seventeenth century, it closely describes the underlying unorthodox and
provocative nature of the tales.22 About a century before Sade, Mlle de La Force noted «par
differens chemins on arrive au bonheur,/Le vice nous y mène aussi bien que l'honneur…»
(Marin 488). Contrary to his belief, Sade was not the first to create «[un] ouvrage dans un goût
tout à fait nouveau»23 where vice leads to happiness. For the conteuses, this meant disobeying
authority for the sake of following one's heart on an emotional, idealistic level. For Sade, vice
was an extension of nature's power; it could be self-gratifying but it could enhance the quality
of virtue as well.
Apart from their role in establishing a new literary form, the conteuses contributed to the
advancement of the status of women, or at least of those in upper-class circles. The "Quarrel of
the Ancients and the Moderns" (1687-1696) (la Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes),
launched in 1687 by their fellow conteur Charles Perrault, began as a literary battle between
those who defended the superiority of modern or contemporary writers over their Greek and
Latin predecessors. This debate had a secondary effect on the writers of fairy tales, the majority
of whom were women. Since their tales were a mixture of folklore, invention, and medieval
romance, they were decidedly Moderns, and thus a ready target for the Ancients. The fairy tales
themselves were not only criticized as anticlassical and frivolous, invalid models for literary
creations, but they also undermined patriarchal authority by inventing strong, intelligent heroines
and female fairies. In 1694, Perrault composed L'Apologie des femmes (The Vindication of
Wives) as part of his response to Réflexions sur Longin and «Satire X» (commonly referred to as
«Satire contre les femmes») published by the Moderns' leading critic, the noted satirist Nicolas
Boileau. Knowingly or unknowingly, Perrault was continuing an even older literary debate on
the status of women, the querelle des femmes. He probably meant well, but his defense appears
quaint and reflects a more traditional role for women. The conteuses themselves spoke on their
own behalf when they created the conte de fées to express their desire for emancipation in an
imaginary world where they were no longer looked upon as physiologically, spiritually, and
intellectually inferior to men. Their modern tales presented, for the most part, a utopian vision of
a world where they would play a more powerful role and were struggling to play in their own
day (Zipes, Beauty xiii).
The specific contributions of the most notable conteuses to the fairy-tale vogue are worth
mentioning. As we piece together the achievements of the individual writers, we can better
appreciate the creativity and boldness behind the birth of this collective literary phenomenon. As
the most prolific writer of fairy tales of her time, including the first published conte de fées,
Mme d'Aulnoy set the trend for the fairy-tale vogue in France. Acknowledgement of her profuse
imagination, talents, and achievements has been detailed above.
Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier de Villandon (1664?-1734) does not have the name recognition of
Mme d'Aulnoy; her stories are not nearly as enduring and engaging, nor are they as numerous.
Nevertheless, she was instrumental in initiating the fairy-tale vogue and in using a literary device
to defend the education of women and to denounce the inequality of the sexes. Interestingly,
Charles Perrault was her uncle, and it is not surprising that these relatives encouraged each other
and mutually influenced fairy-tale creations inspired from folktales. She incorporated her
meager production into larger works; her contes de fées tended to be somewhat long and very
moralistic. However, the latter characteristic proved to be her greatest contribution to the vogue.
If the term "feminist" were used in the latter part of the seventeenth century, it would certainly be
applied to her. As a Modern, she, like her medieval literary predecessor, Christine de Pizan,
defended the intellectual and ethical status of women in her fiction. She joined her uncle in
rebuking Boileau for his attacks on women. In «L'Adroite Princesse,» she cleverly demonstrates
how submissive yet prudent female behavior can triumph over masculine weakness and
impulsiveness. This tale represents Mlle Lhéritier's dual ability to convey traditional moral
lessons and champion the talents and strengths of women.
Mme de Murat, Mlle de La Force, Mlle Bernard, and Mme d'Auneuil also expressed social
concerns in the guise of fanciful tales. They, too, were prominent figures in the salons mondains,
although their names and works remain obscure for many modern readers of fairy tales. As in
the contes de fées of Mme d'Aulnoy and Mlle Lhéritier, love was a primary ingredient. To be
sure, it was idealized, but it also served as a means to criticize male-female relations, i.e.,
marriage, and the conventional social constraints of the elite. Henriette Julie de Castelnau,
comtesse de Murat (1670-1716) devised tales whose endings were as unpredictable as love itself.
In her three collections of contes de fées published in 1698 and 1699, the powerful fairies she
created resembled real-life authoritarian figures in that they were powerless when faced with the
vicissitudes of love. Charlotte-Rose Caumont de La Force (1654-1724) dealt with the sensual
side of love in her volume of eight tales, Les Contes des contes (1697); she defied the
contemporary psychological portrayal and relied on eroticism and narrative diversity, i.e.,
pastoral, mythological, chivalric sub-genres, to delight her readers (Zipes, Oxford 285). As
mentioned above, Mlle de La Force came closest to Sade in her defense of vice. In the libertine
tradition, she showed that women were capable of exploiting love for the sake of pleasure. «Vert
et Bleu,» perhaps her most erotic tale, contains a scene in which the heroine, while bathing nude,
delights in her ability to arouse her voyeuristic admirer's passions.
Like her contemporary, Mlle de La Force, Catherine Bernard (1662-1712) renounced
Protestantism around the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. It is purely
speculative whether these two women felt social or political pressure to convert in order to enjoy
the privileges connected with the aristocratic milieu. Whatever their reasons for conversion, it is
nonetheless interesting to note that both hailed from non-conformist backgrounds, albeit
spiritually rather than artistically. In addition to her Protestant background, Mlle Bernard
differed from the conteuses mentioned here in that she did not come from noble stock (Marin
478). However, she did have bloodlines to the great tragedian Corneille and his nephew
Fontenelle, precursor to the philosophes of the Enlightenment. Only two tales are attributed to
Catherine Bernard, both of which appear in her novel Inès de Cordoue, nouvelle espagnole
(1696). The most well known, «Riquet à la houppe,» presents love in a different aspect from that
offered in Perrault's tale of the same title published a year later in 1697. Like her
contemporaries, Mlle Bernard speaks critically of love and the tragic consequences that ensue
caused by marriage based on convenience rather than love. In that same story, she also makes a
statement about intelligence and women, a theme prized by Mlle Lhéritier as already noted.
Perrault, to the contrary, ends his version happily and more conventionally. Thanks to a fairy's
spell, the heroine overcomes her distaste for an ugly but kind and intelligent little man in order to
marry him; she learns that for a woman, the interior beauty of a spouse takes precedent over
appearance. For Mlle Bernard, the intelligence bestowed upon her protagonist leads to confusion
and tragedy, a likely consequence for a woman belonging to her own social circle. Both writers
express a lament for women's education from divergent perspectives.
Louise de Bossigny, comtesse d'Auneuil is the least known and the most enigmatic of the
conteuses under discussion. Mystery enshrouds even the dates of her birth and death. Her tales
appeared at the end of the first wave and the beginning of the second. Her most significant work
is a collection of fairy tales published in 1702, La Tyrannie des fées détruite. Superficially and
naively, the title indicates that the stories depict the wrongdoings of wicked fairies whose
domination is eventually destroyed. In fact, there is only one "good" fairy, la fée Serpente, with
limited powers. Alone, she cannot possibly help the heroine, a princess named Philonice, who
has been kidnapped by Serpente's "evil" fairy sisters. Ironically, she is not rescued by another
"good" fairy but by a human, la Princesse Souveraine, envoy of the «grand roi.» Mme d'Auneuil
metaphorically represents the latter years of the reign of Louis XIV; she at once praises the
«grand roi» and comments upon his penchant for war and European supremacy. Contrary to the
other conteuses, she substitutes human power for magical power. One tyranny is destroyed, only
to be replaced by another (Defrance, "Tyrannie" 61). In this context, then, the title and
subsequent text have political ramifications. From a literary perspective, the title suggested a
parody of a declining genre, not of a waning royal regime. Since the conteuses were sometimes
designated as fées, the title possibly served to remind contemporary writers that fairy tales were
still flourishing and in vogue (Defrance, "Tyrannie" 57). The subtitle, Nouveaux Contes,
indicates revitalization of the genre, thus reinforcing this position. Whatever the interpretation of
the intriguing title and the entire collection, it is evident that Mme d'Auneuil had more in mind
than plaisir (diversion or pleasure) when she created her Tyrannie.
Their fairy tales aside, the conteuses were talented, often prolific writers who demonstrated
their versatility in other genres. As noted, some inserted their tales in larger works or novels.
Mme d'Aulnoy not only produced more fairy tales than any of her contemporaries, including the
famous Perrault, but "she [also] published with great success novels, short stories, devotional
works, and collections of historical memoirs" (Zipes, Oxford 31). Mlle Lhéritier did not achieve
the everlasting fame of her fairy-tale writing uncle, but in her own day, she won prizes and
enjoyed recognition in literary circles and academies. She was exceptionally well educated for a
woman of her time and social rank. Fortunately, she found an outlet for her talent and ideas in
her poetry, novellas, essays, and histories. Mme de Murat published a political satire that
resulted in her exile from Paris, a pseudo-autobiography, and a novel. Mlle de La Force
authored poems and novels, and Mlle Bernard's literary production included novels, plays, and
Although a coterie of upper-class "professional" female writers primarily initiated the fairytale vogue and dominated the first wave, male authors made their contributions as well. Many
frequented the same literary milieus of the women mentioned in this study. They mutually
inspired one another's works, which sometimes resulted in variations of the same tale derived
perhaps from folklore or from another European author (see mention of «Riquet à la houppe»
above). One of the major male fairy-tale writers who helped initiate the new genre was the
Chevalier de Mailly (?-1724). In 1698, he published a collection of eleven tales, Les Illustres
Fées, contes galans dédiés aux dames, and possibly contributed to a later collection, Nouveau
Recueil de contes de fées, published anonymously and posthumously in 1731. His stories were
entertaining, yet he managed to poke fun at societal manners and mores through his light-hearted
style and use of contemporary fairy-tale motifs (Zipes, Oxford 311-12). Three other lesserknown authors had a hand in institutionalizing the genre. Paul-François Nodot (fl. 1695-1700)
reworked the medieval legend of the fairy Mélusine in works published in 1698 and 1700. Jean
de Préchac [1647-1720] established his career as a prolific romancier. Towards the end of the
first wave, he composed fairy tales that were used as propaganda to praise the reign of Louis
XIV.24 Finally, Eustache Le Noble (1643-1711), another prolific author, composed two fairy
tales, «L'Apprenti magician» and «L'Oiseau de vérité,» that appeared in the collection of stories,
Le Gage touché (1696-1697).
Ironically, it was a man--Charles Perrault--who came to exemplify in many minds a
genre devised and developed mainly by women. Perrault (1628-1703) began writing fairy tales
late in life, which brought him continuous fame from the time they were published until the
present. Before the appearance of his fairy tales, Perrault was an accomplished professional,
distinguishing himself as a lawyer, a poet, a writer, an academician, and a public servant. He
was elected to the Académie française in 1671, and from 1663 to 1683, he closely served JeanBaptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's influential finance minister. As previously mentioned, he
frequented the literary salons of the conteuses, where he mingled with the likes of Mlle Lhéritier,
his niece, and Mme d'Aulnoy as well as other men and women of his social class and intellect.
Because of his major role as a proponent of modernism in the "Quarrel of the Ancients and the
Moderns," he defended the fairy-tale genre as well as its female writers (see page 33). Out of his
belief that contemporary authors need not pattern their writings after those of ancient Greece and
Rome, he created contes de fées based on several popular folktales. Perrault wrote fewer tales
than Mme d'Aulnoy, but overall they were more charming, optimistic, concise, and stylistically
superior. These characteristics made his name, more than any other associated with the vogue,
synonymous with the French literary fairy tale. In 1694, he published his three tales in verse,
«Grisélidis,» «Les Souhaits ridicules,» and «Peau d'Âne» in one volume. Three years later, eight
tales in prose appeared in his celebrated work, Histoires ou Contes du temps passé avec des
moralités, popularly known as Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, the inscription on the frontispiece
depicting the stereotypical older female storyteller, i.e., a nourrice (childminder, wet nurse),
recounting tales to an attentive younger audience, intimately gathered before a blazing hearth.
Mother Goose (la mère l'Oye) is captivating her eager young listeners with stories about such
familiar protagonists as Sleeping Beauty (la Belle au bois dormant), Little Red Riding Hood (le
Petit Chaperon rouge), Bluebeard (la Barbe bleue), Puss-in-Boots (le Maître chat or le Chat
botté), Cinderella (Cendrillon), and Little Tom Thumb (le Petit Poucet).
As Zipes points out, to many if not most people, Perrault may be the "major representative
of this genre," but "[his] tales are not indicative of the great vogue that took place, nor are they
representative of the utopian (and sometimes dystopian) verve of the tales" (Beauty xiv). The
female writers borrowed traditional fairy-tale motifs from popular culture and/or invented
marvelous scenarios to vent their frustrations concerning love, marriage, and social or
intellectual status. In general, their tales were rather ponderous and tragic compared to Perrault's
concise, linear, cathartic stories that ended happily. Like the women writers, he combined the
plausible with the implausible to express his views on contemporary society. As a member of
the haute bourgeoisie with Jansenist inclinations, Perrault concerned himself with propagating
the cultural, social, political, and moral values of his emerging social class. The notion of
bienséance (propriety or civility) figured throughout his tales as a means to disseminate his socalled "bourgeois" progressive values. Perrault employed the customary moralités at the end of
each tale as a final reminder to observe the "bourgeois" morality imparted in his texts. Use of
familiar folktales to make public critical observations about society was a practical, modern use
of contemporary literature. Both he and the women fairy-tale writers recognized the utility of
popular culture as propaganda for advocating change and engaging in social criticism. This
realization would have made them potential candidates for corporate positions on Madison
Avenue. It is no wonder they sided with the Moderns.
Finally, I wish to make a relevant observation about the marginal nature of the fairy-tale
writers. Jack Zipes, who approaches the study of the fairy tale from a historical, sociological,
and ideological perspective, astutely observes "almost all of the major fairy-tale writers of the
1690s were on the fringe of Louis XIV's court and were often in trouble with him or with the
authorities" (Beauty xvi-xvii). This statement could easily describe the Marquis de Sade's social
and political plight some one hundred years later. Both inside and outside of prison and asylum
walls, Sade was a loner. He did not court the nobles or aristocrats of Versailles who were
positioned to advance his career and his wealth. Instead, he preferred the life of a feudal noble,
lording over his domain far away from royal influence, in provincial France. An admitted
libertine, he not only sought sensual pleasure but pursued "professions" involving the arts--acting
and writing-- that gave him intellectual pleasure as well. As a very observant outsider, he was
poised to express his views on controversial subjects. Like the fairy-tale writers, he veiled his
beliefs, for the most part, in fiction. The works of both the fairy-tale writers and Sade often
reflected the inner turmoil and/or social outrage that resulted from their marginality. Among the
important male writers of this wave, both the Chevalier de Mailly and Le Noble were
marginalized. The chevalier insisted that the aristocratic Mailly family recognize his bastard
status, and Le Noble was a libertine who had spent some time in prison.25 Mme d'Aulnoy, Mme
de Murat, Mlle de La Force, and Catherine Bernard were either banished from or not accepted at
court for objectionable actions or publications. Aside from their non-conformist behavior, the
success they achieved is even more amazing considering that they were not part of the literary
establishment as was Perrault. Yet, he too, was somewhat marginal. Following Colbert's death
in 1683, Perrault "fell into disfavor and opposed the official cultural policy of Louis XIV until
his death in . . . " (Zipes, Beauty xvii). In 1687, he ignited the "Quarrel of the Ancients
and the Moderns" with his poem, «Le Siècle de Louis le Grand.» The public reading of the text
before the members of the Académie française signaled the beginning of a more enlightened
attitude towards literary models.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the first wave of French fairy tales was in decline,
and a new phase was about to take its place. Zipes dates the demise of the first wave as 1703,
which seems to make sense, at least symbolically, since it was the year of Perrault's death and
consequently the death of a literary era (Beauty xiv). All three phases overlap, so the beginning
and ending dates of each are somewhat artificial, which might account for differences in
scholarly delineations of each wave. The second phase is that of the oriental tale, which Zipes
dates from 1704 to 1720, a span about as brief as the first. In fact, some scholars do not deem it
worthy of being a phase at all but rather a brief hiatus in the one-hundred year vogue. At that
time, publishing of fairy tales diminished and did not increase again until about mid-century.
As the conteuses were vanishing from the literary scene, a new type of marvelous tale was
making its appearance. In 1704, Antoine Galland (1646-1715), an eminent French orientalist
and philologist, began publishing his translation/adaptation of the Arabian tales entitled Les
Mille et Une Nuits. Twelve volumes appeared between 1704 and 1717.26 It is debatable whether
Galland was a faithful translator or whether he freely adapted the tales to suit French tastes. It
can be argued that, like the earlier fairy-tale writers, he wished to entertain his public and
therefore avoided a scholarly translation (Weizman 1842-43). Whatever his objective, the
popularity of his translated prose tales was indisputable. At a time of diminishing political and
cultural grandeur, the French public was eager to replace the fairy tale of the earlier period with
another implausible, magical literary diversion. The Arabian tales were exotic, unlike the
writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which were still being ignored as "modern" literary
models (Zipes, Beauty xx). Oriental motifs and settings heightened their escapist quality on both
an emotional and a practical level. French and eventually European readers could stimulate their
imaginations through these foreign, seductive tales and at the same time acquaint themselves
with the customs of the Middle East, a region where France had established commercial ties.
These "new" tales retained the entertainment value of the literary fairy tale, but they also
incorporated the "other." Since upper-class women were no longer the dominant writers, the
tales ceased to mirror aristocratic milieus and sentiments about love and marriage. The haute
bourgeoisie had no one to speak on behalf of its interests or morality either.
Like the fairy tales before them, the tales of Les Mille et Une Nuits had an impact on other
stories and genres written throughout the rest of the century. The second wave is particularly
characterized by writers who exploited Galland's success. They published collections of socalled authentic exotic tales and sometimes even gave them titles that suggested Galland's classic
work. François Pétis de la Croix (1653-1713) followed Galland's example by translating Les
Mille et Un Jours, contes persans (1710-1712).27 Abbé Jean-Paul Bignon (1662-1743) , also
inspired by Galland, published Les Aventures d'Abdalla fils d'Hanif (1712-1714), a collection of
oriental tales that he creatively adapted and infused with French folklore (Zipes "Cross-Cultural"
861). In his first collection of tales, Les Soirées bretonnes (1712), Thomas-Simon Gueullette
(1683-1766) included a story from Arab and Persian folklore that was later rewritten as a conte
philosophique by Voltaire who called it Zadig, ou la Destinée (1747) (Zipes, Oxford 221). He
also exploited the craze by publishing collections of stories purported to come from exotic lands
and giving them such imitative titles as Les Mille et un quarts d'heure, contes tartares (1712) and
Les Mille et Une Heures, contes péruviens (1733). In the same vein, François-Auguste Paradis
de Moncrif (1687-1770) retitled the subsequent edition of his oriental-inspired work or «conte
indien,» Les Aventures de Zéloïde et d'Amanzarifdine (1715), Les Mille et Une Faveurs (Aubrit
44). Anthony Hamilton (c. 1646-1720), the exiled English writer known for his French parodic
fairy tales, burlesqued the oriental tales as well. He presented two of his novel-length fairy tales,
«Histoire de Fleur-Épine» and «Les Quatre Facardins»--published posthumously in 1730 but
probably written in 1705--as continuations of Galland's Les Mille et Une Nuits (Zipes, Oxford
223). Later, Jacques Cazotte (1729-1792), who wrote fairy and fantastic tales, parodied oriental
titles in his works «La Patte du chat, conte zinzinois» (1741) and Les Mille et Une Fadaises,
contes à dormir debout (1742). Inspired by the revival of the literary fairy-tale towards the end
of the eighteenth century, Cazotte wrote a collection of serious tales entitled Suite des Mille et
Une Nuits on the eve of the French Revolution. Ironically, parody and imitation often serve as
the barometer of success. This was certainly true of the oriental tale; it is still stimulating the
imagination of writers and readers.
After 1720, writers began using the oriental tale for more than entertainment and cultural
edification. The new generation of authors perceived its erotic potential. The conteuses dealt
with the psychological, sentimental aspect of love. In that respect, they were forerunners of
Romanticism. As Mlle Bernard remarked, the feelings expressed by the characters had to be true
to nature: «Que les avantures fussent toujours contre la vray-semblance & les sentiments
toujours naturels» (qtd. in Barchilon, "Uses" 127).
For the women writers, physical love was
an extension of the more essential emotional bond between men and women. The oriental tale,
on the other hand, drew attention to sensual delight or pleasure. It exposed the mysteries of the
seraglio and fed the imagination with voluptuous thoughts that would be tabu in a conventional
setting. In this sense, the oriental tale is an avatar of the conte libertin (libertine tale),
embellished with exotic motifs and settings (Aubrit 44-45). Such literary notables as ClaudeProsper Joliot de Crébillon or Crébillon fils (1707-1777), Denis Diderot (1713-1784), and
Voltaire (1694-1778) spiced up some of their philosophical stories and novels with erotic
oriental tableaux. Crébillon's Le Sopha (1740), Diderot's Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748), and
Voltaire's Le Crocheteur borgne (1774) are among the works that underscore the imagined erotic
aspect of Middle Eastern culture.
Like the literary fairy tale of the first wave, the new strain that replaced it served as a vehicle
for social commentary. The marvelous and exotic aspects of the oriental tale made it possible to
criticize social and political institutions under the guise of entertainment. Oriental motifs found
their way into other literary genres as well. Montesquieu's (1689-1755) Lettres persanes (1721)
is a fictional example par excellence of social critique. Voltaire exploited oriental motifs in
several of his works to voice dissent; two of these have been mentioned above. Sexual innuendo,
magic, and cultural exoticism furnished the ideal backdrop for expression of libre pensée in a
repressive European society.
The third and final phase of the French fairy-tale vogue is characterized by the diversity and
quantity of tales that appeared between 1721 and 1789. It truly marked the eighteenth century as
l'âge d'or du conte (the golden age of the tale) (Aubrit 42). In this wave as in the preceding one,
male writers dominated the genre. Fairy-tale writing was no longer a collaborative activity
undertaken by intellectual women of the upper classes. Writers, for the most part, worked
independently and rarely based their tales on French folklore. The few women who made a
name for themselves wrote tales that still relied on sentimentality but exaggerated traditional
fairy-tale features, or they composed tales for educating/civilizing the public, especially the new
audience: children (Zipes, Oxford 178-79). Most of the tales differed from those of the first
wave. For the sake of simplicity, they can be categorized as parodic, satirical, licentious, and
didactic. However, they were more often a combination, and it is difficult to cite examples that
are purely one kind or another. Many were novel-like, due to their length and complexity and
were sometimes designated as novels, even though they were actually tales. Humor pervaded in
all but the didactic tales, and oriental-magical motifs continued to make an appearance. By this
time, the fairy-tale aesthetic was well entrenched in French society and acknowledged as an
accepted literary genre.
One indication of the popularity of literary works is the extent to which they are parodied.
The fact that nearly one-third of the fairy tales written in the eighteenth century employed parody
attests to their success among the masses (Zipes, Oxford 180). Writers began to exaggerate
fairy-tale conventions established during the first two waves. As early as 1705, Hamilton used
parodic devices in his fairy tales, which later influenced the works of other writers (see page 41).
Towards the middle of the century, the Comte de Caylus (1719-1792) attempted to ridicule the
fairy-tale genre in his collections entitled Féeries nouvelles (1741) and Contes orientaux tirés des
manuscripts de la bibliothèque du roi de France (1743) (Zipes, Beauty xxi). Charles Duclos
(1704-1772) wrote his parodic tale, «Acajou et Zirphile» (1744), as the result of a bet held in
Mlle Quinault's salon to see who could write the best fairy tale based on some engravings by
Voltaire was unquestionably the master of social and political satire in eighteenth- century
France. What he called his literary invention, the conte philosophique, was actually an ironic
commentary on French society. Voltaire is not known as a fairy-tale author, although he did
write «Le Taureau blanc» (1774), a marvelous tale where irony is used to criticize Old Testament
stories. He incorporated techniques of previous storytellers and mixed them with his own brand
of humor to create such memorable works as Zadig (1747), Micromégas (1752), and Candide
(1759). Oriental motifs and implausible situations were used to dispense "enlightened"
commentary, i.e., social commentary. Surprisingly, another philosophe, not known for satire,
wrote a fairy tale that ridiculed the monarchy, parenthood, bourgeois marriage, and women. It is
not clear why Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote «La Reine fantasque» (1754). He must
have felt some embarrassment, because he published it anonymously and criticized the
"unknown" author of the tale. Barchilon suggests, "Perhaps he was simply trying his hand at the
genre in vogue in some salons" ("Uses" 123).
The conte licencieux/libertin (the licentious/libertine tale) in French literature can be traced
back to the medieval fabliau. Erotic and pornographic literature has long been used as a vehicle
to symbolically attack societal institutions and vent pent-up grievances. This was clearly the
case in France before and during the Revolution. The licentious tale, like both the literary fairy
tale and the oriental tale, provided another opportunity for social satire, particularly of the
privileged classes. Crébillon fils, Diderot,28 Voltaire, and, yes, Rousseau all included exoticerotic descriptions in their tales to provide a hypocritical justification for the satiric and subtly
subversive/provocative content. The sensuality suggested in the oriental tales seemed to appeal
to these political and social observers and to their readers; its seductive and sometimes humorous
quality made it an acceptable and safe medium for satire. Lesser-known writers who
incorporated licentious or exotic descriptions in their satirical fairy tales included Louis de
Cahusac (1706-1759), the Chevalier de La Morlière (1719-1785), Henri-Charles de Senneterre
(1714-1785), and Claude-Henri de Voisenon (1708-1775).29
During this wave, women writers were not entirely out of the literary scene. Women
sponsored salons but not for the purpose of encouraging literary invention. Rather, the salons
were intellectual gathering places for the leading thinkers/philosophes and writers of the day.
Fairy-tale authors Duclos, Caylus, and Voisenon all attended Mlle Quinault's salon but wrote
their tales independently rather than collectively. The women writers followed suit. MarieAntoinette Fagnan (?-1770), Catherine de Lintot (c.1728-?), Marguerite de Lubert (c. 17101779), and Gabrielle Suzanne de Villeneuve (1685-1755) still wrote about the conflicts of love,
but their tales took on the length and intricacy of sentimental novels.30 Unlike the conteuses,
eighteenth-century women writers, for the most part, eschewed social commentary. The most
recognized of the above group is Mme de Villeneuve whose long, erotic «La Belle et la Bête»
(1740) served as a model for Mme Leprince de Beaumont's shorter, more familiar didactic
Along with the Bibliothèque Bleue--the series of cheap, popular works, including fairy tales,
disseminated among the lower classes--Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780), may
have done more to promote the fairy tale as a genre for all ages and classes than did any other
writer of the vogue. Unlike the women writers mentioned above, she wrote didactic fairy tales
for the purpose of instructing young ladies in manners and morals. Her tales were both dulce and
utile, since she conveyed moral messages through the magic of fairy tales, that is, she made
instruction pleasant rather than pontifical (Zipes, Beauty 132). Her many publications included a
series of pedagogical works, one of which, Le Magasin des enfants (1756), contained her major
fairy tales, including «La Belle et la Bête» (Beauty 131). By writing for children, she opened up
an important segment of the population to the literary fairy tale, which, up until the appearance
of her works, was essentially an "adults only" genre. That she retained the fairy-tale motifs and
folkloric elements of yore to promote exemplary comportment and moral behavior helped to
establish the literary fairy tale as an accepted pedagogical tool as well as a literary and cultural
institution in France. To that same end, Charles-Joseph de Mayer (1751-1825) published his
forty-one volume Le Cabinet des fées (1785-1789). In his massive anthology, he included a
great many of the tales published in France during the one-hundred year vogue. Mme Leprince
de Beaumont's influence remained evident in that erotic and satirical tales were excluded.
"Nevertheless, his collection, which was reprinted several times, had a profound influence
because it was regarded as the culmination of an important trend and gathered tales that were
representative and exemplary for the institution of a genre" (Zipes, "Cross-Cultural" 864).
On the eve of the French Revolution, the literary fairy tale had come full circle. Sade was
positioned to remodel it once again, and hence inspire the next generation of tale writers. To do
this, Sade would borrow motifs and structuring devices from other tales of the vogue and
combine them with his innovations. He would rework the role of the heroine and make
significant alterations in the tale's moral message. Justine would be dulce to some but certainly
utile to all. Like his predecessors, his dissatisfaction with his life and the times would inspire
him to create a tale blind to the confines of a particular era.
«L'INFORTUNÉE JUSTINE» (SADE, JUSTINE 362)
The above epithet «infortunée» occurs in the final paragraph of Justine. It describes the plight
of the protagonist throughout the tale, an unhappy series of events with a dystopic ending. The
heroine is something of a tragic figure, reminiscent of the female protagonist of classical drama
whose character flaws (i.e., mindset) lead to her premature demise. Justine may not live "happily
ever after" with her Prince Charming, but in most other respects, she resembles the heroine
portrayed in the French literary tales of the first wave of the vogue. She more closely typifies the
Perraldian heroine, a woman whose very survival depends upon her conforming to the formal
and tacit expectations set forth by a patriarchal society. Her physical appearance, character, and
demeanor reflect the feminine ideal created and desired by masculine upper classes of the time.
In Perrault's case, this meant the women of the haute bourgeoisie in particular. To the conteuses,
the salonnières who created the contes de fées, this meant women who not only depicted and
advanced their aristocratic and upper-middle-class way of life but who also rebelled against its
stifling intellectual, emotional, and social hold. Perrault catered to bourgeois civility and
traditional gender roles, the conteuses to aristocratic mores and libre pensée. Sade may have
based Justine on the Perraldian female prototype, but the moral message her character conveys is
as irreverent as that of the heroines fashioned by the conteuses.
Sade's appetite for knowledge and books most certainly rivaled his appetites for food and
sensual pleasure. Whether through his own collections, booksellers' catalogs, inexpensive
popular books of the Bibliothèque Bleue, oral storytelling, or a combination, Sade had to have
been exposed to the conte populaire and the conte de fées. For an author who so blatantly
plagiarized from d'Holbach and d'Alembert and alluded to such eighteenth-century philosophers
as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, La Mettrie, and Montesquieu as well as to such earlier sociopolitical observers as Molière and Machiavelli (Phillips, Introduction 102), it is not
inconceivable that he modeled his Justine with the heroines of Perrault in mind.31
The hero, or in this case the heroine, is unquestionably the principal character in the literary
fairy tale. Her exterior beauty and inner qualities (e.g., courage, virtue, and patience) help her to
weather the adventures and trials that her fictional life presents. The lesson(s) that she learns (or
does not learn in the case of Sade) are also those that the author wishes to convey to the reading
audience. Before the reader is even introduced to the heroine, her importance is established in
the title, which bears her name. Sade entitles his work Justine with the subtitle les Malheurs de
la vertu. Perrault uses the name of the female protagonist in the title of five of his eleven tales:
«Griselidis,» «Peau dÂne,» «La Belle au bois dormant,» «Le Petit Chaperon rouge,» and
«Cendrillon.» «Griselidis» is the only title that identifies the protagonist by her Christian name.
Perrault resorts to figurative language for the other names, recalling the tales' folkloric origins.32
It is as if Griselidis were the only heroine worthy of an official identity. She has come to be
known by the " 'conventional . . . [epithet]' . . . Patient Griselidis" (Abrams 82), the quality that
enables her to survive her husband's brutality. Feinson states the GS phonemes in her name
indicate "a quiet, internal strength" of a "behind-the-scenes person who prefers to facilitate
events rather than direct them firsthand" (159), an accurate description of her character. In
Chapter 1, I spoke about the association of the name "Justine" with that of a servant. At the
outset of her peregrinations, she assumes the name "Thérèse," an ironic reference to the
eponymous protagonist of the Marquis d'Argens's erotic philosophical novel.
The manner in which the tale is told further attests to the importance of the heroine. Perrault
uses the third person, the mode of narration typical of the literary fairy tale. Since the narrator is
someone outside the story, the author expressly creates a distance between the protagonist and
the reader. Unlike Perrault and the conteuses (and conteurs), Sade allows his heroine to speak
for herself. Most of Justine's story is recounted in the first person. Sade creates a more intimate
relationship between the reader and his protagonist, like Perrault's Mother Goose (mère l'Oye)
who, in the frontispiece, is retelling popular oral tales to her youthful listeners. We, the readers,
feel that Justine is relating her sorrowful tale to us as well as to her long-lost sister Juliette (i.e.,
Madame de Lorsange) and to Monsieur de Corville, Juliette's wealthy and influential amant
(lover). This scene recalls a similar setting in Les Mille et Une Nuits. Scheherazade's listeners
are none other than her sister Dinarzade and a rich and powerful masculine figure, her husband
the Sultan Shahryar. Justine's story is autobiographical and philosophical. Scheherazade relates
fascinating stories to impart wisdom about humanity and knowledge of Moslem society (Zipes,
Dreams 55-56). In both tales, the act of narration spares them their lives. Scheherazade stays
her execution by delaying the ending of each suspenseful tale she recounts to the sultan.
Justine's story is so compelling that Monsieur de Corville uses his influence as a «Conseiller
d'État» (35) to reverse her death sentence and become her protector.
The heroine is further distinguished as such by her physical description. She is always belle
(beautiful). In certain stories, her name reflects this quality. For Perrault, la Princesse is the
«Belle au bois dormant.» The conteuses recognize the importance of this trait as well. Mme
d'Aulnoy write about «La Belle aux cheveux d'or.» One of Mlle de La Force's heroines is «Plus
Belle que Fée.» Two of the most familiar characters named «Belle» are the heroines of Mme de
Villeneuve and Mme Leprince de Beaumont in their versions of «La Belle et la Bête.» Sade uses
Christian names, Justine-Thérèse, to call attention to his protagonist's social class and
philosophical orientation rather than to her physical attributes. Nonetheless, Sade adheres to the
fair-haired, fair-eyed "fairy-tale" concept of physical beauty. As John Phillips humorously
observes, in Justine, the marquis has depicted the stereotypical physical features of the modern
"dumb blond" (Introduction 87), which complements her ingenuous character. In Sade's words,
une physionomie douce . . . un air de Vierge, de grands yeux bleus, pleins
d'âme et d'intérêt, une peau éblouissante, une taille souple et flexible, un
organe touchant, des dents d'ivoire et les plus beaux cheveux blonds, voilà
l'esquisse de cette cadette charmante,33 dont les grâces naïves et les traits
délicats sont au-dessus de nos pinceaux. (32)
Perrault, whose style is concise, leaves much to the imagination in the descriptions of his
heroines. Nevertheless, he does succeed in imparting their comely appearances. In a single
stanza, Perrault presents his "fair" heroine Griselidis:
Elle aurait pu dompter les coeurs les plus sauvages;
Des lys, sont teint a la blancheur,
Et sa naturelle fraîcheur
S'étant toujours sauvée à l'ombre des bocages:
Sa bouche, de l'enfance avait tout l'agrément,
Et ses yeux qu'adoucit une brune paupière,
Plus bleus que n'est le firmament,
Avaient aussi plus de lumière. (191-92)34
Perrault goes into even less detail about his other female protagonists, making certain solely
that the reader knows they are belles. Peau d'Âne (la jeune Princesse) is initially described in
three short lines as the fairest in the land and as more attractive than her deceased mother (la
Reine), words that also suggest her physical appeal to her father (le Roi), i.e., her father's
incestuous attraction to her: «L'Infante seule était plus belle/Et possédait certains tendres
appas/Que la défunte n'avait pas.» (220). Later in the tale, Perrault reconfirms the disguised
princess's beauty, this time through the eyes of the young prince (le jeune Prince): «Quels que
soient les habits, la beauté du visage,/Son beau tour, sa vive blancheur,/Ses traits fins, sa jeune
fraîcheur/Le touchent cent fois davantage . . . » (226). In «La Belle au bois dormant,» the
princess's (la Princesse) beauty is predetermined by the youngest fairy (Fée) invited to her
baptism: «La plus jeune [la plus jeune Fée] donna pour don qu'elle serait la plus belle personne
du monde . . . » (224). Perrault continues to emphasize her beauty, even as she lies in a deathlike
sleep after having pricked her finger on the needle of a spindle: «On eût dit d'un Ange, tant elle
était belle; car son évanouissement n'avait pas ôté les couleurs vives de son teint: ses joues
étaient incarnates, et ses lèvres comme du corail . . . » (245). The prince (le Prince) is inspired to
rescue the sleeping princess because he has heard from a peasant that « . . . il y avait dans ce
Château une Princesse, la plus belle du monde . . . » (246-47). Both of the young neighbors that
la Barbe bleue was considering as a future wife were «fortement belles» (257). Finally, in the
story about Cendrillon, Perrault reminds the reader that she is not only prettier than her
stepsisters are--«Cendrillon, avec ses méchants habits, ne laissait pas d'être cent fois plus belle
que ses soeurs, quoique vêtues très magnifiquement.» (274)--but also the most beautiful princess
imaginable at the prince's ball--«il y est venu la plus belle Princesse, la plus belle qu'on puisse
jamais voir . . . » (277).
Both Perrault and Sade highlight the heroine's beauty right from the beginning of the tale.
This information is significant to the plot. An ugly heroine is uninspiring and repugnant for
readers of both sexes and is not sufficiently seductive to ensure the attention required to advance
the story line. Her beauty incites and excites the other characters to interact with her. Her
physical charms make her especially appealing to the conventional hero or antihero, i.e., her
future husband, as well as to such offensive types as the incestuous father and various male and
female monsters, human or otherwise.
The conteuses spoke about physical beauty as well. Carol de Dobay Rifelj observes that in
the women's tales, "the princes fall in love because of the princesses' beauty" and a little further
on makes a blanket statement that "the heroines are all beautiful princesses" (21). Since twothirds of the more than one hundred literary fairy tales published in France between 1690 and
1715 were written by women (Seifert, Nostalgic n.p.), it is not feasible to extract a description of
the beautiful heroine from each of these tales. I will cite only a few random examples. Mme
d'Aulnoy begins «La Belle aux cheveux d'or» with a testament to the eponymous heroine,
Il y avait une fois la fille d'un roi, qui était si belle qu'il n'y avait rien de si beau
au monde; et à cause qu'elle était si belle, on la nommait la Belle aux cheveux d'or
car ses cheveux étaient plus fins que de l'or, et blonds par merveille, tout frisés,
qui lui tombaient jusque sur les pieds. (22)
Mlle de La Force describes the newborn heroine Persinette as «la plus belle creature du monde»
(505). In «Le Prince des Feuilles,» Madame de Murat describes the king's daughter as having
«une beauté . . . merveilleuse»; not surprisingly, she is given the evocative name «Ravissante»
by a fairy closely related to her deceased mother «la reine» (557). Rosanie, the heroine of Mlle
Lhéritier's version of her uncle's «Riquet à la houppe»--«Ricdin-Ricdon»--has the " 'girly girl' "
physiognomy of Justine (Phillips, Introduction 87). Mlle Lhéritier, like many of her
contemporaries, seems to model the heroine Rosanie after the stylized fair beauty of the
medieval or renaissance periods. She is portrayed as a Botticellian figure depicted in words.
Mlle Lhéritier describes her thusly:
Il est vraie que Rosanie . . . enchantait les yeux de tous ceux qui la regardaient.
On lui voyait une taille fine et bien prise . . . . Ses cheveux qui étaient du plus beau
blond cendré, ornaient un front d'albâtre, au-dessous duquel on voyait briller de
grands yeux bleus aussi pleins de douceur que de vivacité: elle avait le nez dans
la plus juste proportion: elle avait la bouche petite, agréablement façonnée, et
enfin comme il faut qu'elle soit pour être parfaitement belle; les dents admirables;
le teint d'une blancheur à éblouir, et rehaussé d'un léger incarnat, qui lui donnait
tout l'éclat possible. (576)
Character is more complex than beauty. The heroine's positive and negative qualities create a
dichotomy. She is almost never the exemplary persona that we anticipate and idealize. At first
glance, she represents both corporeal and spiritual beauty. She is good-natured, modest,
sagacious, altruistic, ethical, innocent, and pure. Yet, she is less than perfect and has negative
features, i.e., negative according to the criteria determined by masculine authority figures at the
time. In Perrault, for example, we find heroines who are disobedient, willful, or too curious,
features which are considered admirable in our time and reflect an independence of spirit. These
so-called defects serve as the basis of many a Perraldian moralité. Sade fashions Justine in
similar dualistic terms. For Perrault and Sade, the heroine seems to represent a good fairy with
conspicuous flaws. The female protagonists of the conteuses may not be models of perfection
either, but their heroines appear more determined not to be victims.
The binary representation that comes most immediately to mind is that of virtue and vice.
Sade recalls this opposition in the subtitle of Justine, les Malheurs de la vertu. Unlike Perrault,
Sade does not depict virtue as an exemplary quality. For him, vice is a positive attribute, much
more powerful than virtue and a true representation of nature's unpredictable might. The
threshold of this discussion is the definition of "virtue" in terms of what it meant to the fairy-tale
writers and their audiences. As we shall see, the term encompasses many qualities, such as those
embodied by Mlle Lhéritier's Rosanie, who exhibits «douceur,» «modestie,» and «adresse»
(Seifert, Nostalgic 212, 217).
The first, second, and third editions of the Dictionnaire de L'Académie française, published
between 1694 and 1798, the period roughly encompassing the literary fairy-tale vogue, give
essentially the same definition of «vertu» (ARTFL: Dictionnaires). In 1694, the year that
happens to coincide with the publication of Perrault's three tales in verse--«Griselidis,» «Peau
d'Âne,» and «Les Souhaits ridicules»--«vertu» is defined as «Une habitude de l'ame, qui la porte
à faire le bien, & a fuir le mal» (635). The fourth (1762) and fifth (1798) editions, which
appeared first when Sade was a young man and again later in the century when he was a mature
author of libertine works, use the same definition with minor differences in spelling: «Habitude,
disposition habituelle de l'âme qui porte à faire le bien et à fuir le mal» (5th edition 732). All
three editions list usages that apply to the heroines of the fairy tales. In the first and fourth
editions, which Perrault and Sade may have respectively consulted, the following examples are
Vertu chrétienne, morale. Vertu intellectuelle. Vertus naturelles, acquises
surnaturelles ou infuses. . . . Vertu sublime, rare, éminente, héroïque, solide,
éprouvée. . . . La vertu de chasteté, d'humilité, de continence. . . .
C'est un homme, une femme de vertu, de grande vertu, de haute vertu. Instruire,
former à la vertu. S'avancer dans le chemin de la vertu. L'amour de la vertu.
Embrasser la vertu. Faire profession d'honneur & de vertu. Exemple de vertu.
Miroir de vertu. On a mis sa vertu à l'épreuve. Exercer sa vertu. (4th edition)
Although there are no contrasts in the examples cited, i.e., mention of evil, the definition of
«vertu» given in all three editions, brings to mind the Manichean universe and personalities of
the literary fairy tale. The heroine stereotypically represents goodness as opposed to evil. Her
physical and spiritual beauty reflects that quality. She is inclined towards doing what is right,
even if she happens to stray somewhat. In that instance, her "error" would serve as the basis of a
lesson in ethics. As in the case of beauty, the fairy-tale writers do not hesitate to declare the
heroine's inherent virtue. Examples follow.
Even before Sade begins the tale or describes Justine's physical endowments, he speaks of her
virtue in the dédicace. La Vertu is what Justine is all about. Either Sade is mocking this quality,
or he is ennobling it--if we are to believe his apology in the dédicace--or he is disguising his
ridicule with false admiration. In any case, very early on, Justine makes plain the association of
religion and virtue, that together they create her «philosophie» or system of moral beliefs. Soon
after she and her sister Juliette are expelled from the convent, Justine seeks out her lecherous
curé for help. With tears in her eyes, she asks in desperation: «Vous êtes le Ministre de la
Religion et la religion fut toujours la vertu de mon Coeur; au nom de ce Dieu que j'adore et dont
vous êtes l'organe, dites-moi, comme un second père, ce qu'il faut que je fasse… ce qu'il faut que
je devienne?» (34). Justine declares from her own lips that she is virtuous with respect to her
faith and implies that she is also virtuous in every other sense as illustrated in the examples cited
Although Perrault and Sade use the term «vertu» in their texts to refer to the heroine's
inherent spirituality that compels her to do good,35 they also associate it with the quality of
physical beauty. Thus, "magnificent beauty" goes hand in hand with "moral character (Seifert,
Nostalgic 212), which may encompass, for example, humility, gentleness or sweetness, a sense
of modesty or decency, and patience. Like Justine, Perrault's heroines embody attributes
ascribed to Christian women. Justine's «vertu» is manifest in her «pudeur,» «décence,» and
«timidité» (32). Upon his discovery of Griselidis in the woods, the sadistic Prince contemplates
all of her «beautés,» which include «pudeur,» «simplicité,» «douceur,» and «sincérité» (192).
Later, Griselidis apologizes for her husband's cruel behavior, saying that he is making her suffer
in order to awaken her «vertu languissante» (201). In the epilogue/apology, written as a letter to
an unidentified, possibly fictional gentleman (Collinet 305), Perrault alludes to these «réflexions
Chrétiennes de la Princesse, qui dit que c'est Dieu qui la veut éprouver» (215). In the end, her
patience saves her marriage, and she is a «parfait modèle» of «une vertu si belle» (213). Peau
d'Âne comes into the world with «tant de vertus,» (218) and like Griselidis, her «vertu» serves as
her shield and moral guide in defeating her father's incestuous advances. Towards the end of this
conte en vers, Perrault pays tribute to «vertu» in two verses that Sade seems to parody as the
moral message of Justine one-hundred years later. Perrault says, «Que la Vertu peut être
infortunée/Mais qu'elle est toujours couronnée» (232). For Sade, «vertu» can be ill-fated, but is
is clearly not rewarded as it is in Perrault. In «La Belle au bois dormant,» the Princesse also
receives «vertu» at birth; one of the fairies endows her with «l'esprit comme un Ange,» a
metaphorical representation of this quality. Finally, before he speaks of Cendrillon's beauty,
Perrault praises her as «une jeune fille . . . d'une douceur et d'une bonté sans exemple» (274). He
suggests at the very beginning of the tale that spiritual beauty takes precedence over physical
beauty. At the end, he weighs them equally, saying that «Cendrillon . . . était aussi bonne que
belle» (278-79). However, in the first stanza of the moralité, Perrault reaffirms the superiority of
a virtuous soul:
La beauté pour le sexe est un rare trésor,
De l'admirer jamais on ne se lasse;
Mais ce qu'on nomme bonne grâce
Est sans prix, et vaut mieux encore. (279)
Perhaps it is this inner beauty that really makes Cendrillon the "belle of the ball" and one of
Perrault's most beloved and memorable heroines. Justine's inner beauty does not achieve the
same result. In the end, she receives but a taste of material happiness followed by a violent
mortal blow despite having held to her righteous beliefs. Justine's «vertu» makes her memorable
not as a beloved heroine but rather as a tragic, spiritually uncompromising one.
Vice, like virtue, is a major preoccupation for both Perrault and Sade. It creates interest in the
story line but it also serves as a didactic device. Biblical stories and medieval fables are
examples of cautionary tales that rely on vice to underscore humanity's follies and foibles so that
a valuable lesson might result. The heroine, though inherently virtuous, may be used to expose
and comment upon unacceptable, even sinful behavior. She may stray from traditional societal
expectations; her perceived moral digression presents an opportunity to attack a particular vice,
at her expense, of course. In fact, Maria Tatar claims that "one of the lesser-known facts of
folkloric life . . . [is] . . . that women are rarely as virtuous as they are beautiful" (Heads 98). She
cites Cinderella and Snow White as exceptions to this notion.36 Perhaps this is so, but an
innocent detour off the path of righteousness does not vitiate innate goodness.
Sade indulges in offering an array of vices. In addition to the usual theft, murder, and
corruption, he spices up the text with an overabundance of particularly gruesome crimes that mix
sexual exploitation with gratuitous violence. Justine personifies the virtuous heroine who
encounters vice at every turn. Although she is forced to participate in her oppressors' crimes, she
does not become one of them either actively or philosophically. Unlike Perrault's heroines,
Sade's Justine does not willingly engage in the same sort of unchristian behavior that would
serve as the predicate of the moralité. In fact, in Sade's world, her «vertu» is her outstanding
vice. He attributes almost every sort of heinous act to the criminals. Nonetheless, Justine's
persistent adherence to godliness goes unrewarded, which implies the libertine belief that virtue,
i.e., piety, is folly. According to Sade, his topsy-turvy cautionary tale exalts virtue by
exaggerating vice, which he ascribes to every other member of society except Justine.
Perrault, on the other hand, focuses on vice in terms of the heroine's conduct rather than that
of the victimizer. Though inherently virtuous, i.e., good, she slips and deviates from what is
viewed as appropriate behavior for women in the eyes of western patriarchal society. In his
L'Apologie des femmes (The Vindication of Wives) as well as in his fairy tales, Perrault presents
an idealized portrait of the dutiful, upright Christian woman. Whether or not he would agree, he
gives the impression of advocating the " 'new' ideals of femininity that prevailed among
'moralist' writers of the 1690s and early 1700s" (Seifert, Nostalgic 203). Seifert states that these
views are actually "retrograde" when "compared to the protofeminist opinions expressed by
and/or attributed to many mid-century writers and salon circles"; they reflect bourgeois family
values as well as "the perception of a rise in female 'libertinism' " ( Nostalgic, 203). Perrault
would probably be aghast knowing that by today's standards his defense of women is considered
quaint or even as reactionary as Boileau's «Satire X».37 His heroines, like the women depicted in
the "moralist writings" of the day, "are enjoined to concentrate their energies on their divinely
appointed domestic and family duties" (Nostalgic, 203). Their "vices," then are digressions from
contemporary moral dictates. Perrault constructs certain plots and moralités in order to
underscore the indiscretions of his wayward heroines, whose foolish actions get them into
trouble. They alone are accountable for their misconduct. Truly virtuous Perraldian heroines do
exist, as in the cases of Cendrillon, Griselidis, and Peau d'Âne. Their vices, if any, are
unremarkable. Perrault exemplifies their spiritual qualities in the concluding moral lessons.
Le Petit Chaperon rouge and the wife of la Barbe bleue are most representative of virtuous
heroines whose " 'feminine' vices, such as "affection, selfishness, and deception," (Seifert,
Nostalgic 204) lead them astray. In the case of le Petit Chaperon rouge, her childish innocence
(ignorance) or feminine naïveté cause her own destruction. When she encounters «compère le
Loup»--"old neighbor wolf" (Zipes, Beauty 51)--in the woods en route to visit her grandmother,
who is recovering from a recent illness, he asks where she is going. Perrault emphasizes her
ingenuous response by prefacing it thusly: «la pauvre enfant, qui ne savait pas qu'il est
dangereux de s'arrêter à écouter un Loup. . . .» (254). Le Petit Chaperon rouge is not expressly
warned of this danger and does not have enough sense to figure out the wolf's real motive. In the
moralité, he instructs young girls not to listen to people like the Loup in the story. Perrault gives
the impression that unless young girls are told what to do in such instances, they have not the
sense to take heed of such wolfish types and are ultimately responsible for the danger that could
The wife of la Barbe bleue is likewise admonished for a "feminine" character flaw, curiosity,
which prompts her insubordination. If she had only obeyed her husband and had not entered the
forbidden room that housed his former wives, put to death by his own hand, she would not have
been subject to the same consequences. Instead of acknowledging her clever maneuvering that
at once spares her life and eradicates her evil husband, Perrault condemns her curiosity in the
concluding moral lesson. He unfairly criticizes the trait that is instrumental in ridding society of
a murderer. For women, especially, obedience takes precedent over inquisitiveness in a society
that values "maintenance of family and social order" above all (Seifert, Nostalgic 204).
Accordingly, he reiterates these sentiments:
La curiosité malgré tous ses attraits,
Coûte souvent bien des regrets;
On en voit tous les jours mille exemples paraître.
C'est, n'en déplaise au sexe, un plaisir bien léger;
Dès qu'on le prend il cesse d'être,
Et toujours il coûte trop cher. (262)
Once again, Perrault distorts the notion of virtue as it relates to one of his heroines. La Barbe
bleue's wife is justified in destroying such a malevolent being. She ought to have relied on her
inquisitive instinct to question the disappearance of her husband-to-be's former wives before
marrying him. That is her true vice.
Besides virtue and vice, there is one other significant binary aspect of the heroine. It concerns
the active and passive sides of her personality. In this respect, Perrault and Sade give similar
depictions. Both present female protagonists who are superficially passive but who, upon closer
examination, demonstrate strength of character («vertu»). The conteuses, on the other hand,
depict a relatively freethinking woman of the late seventeenth century, a female protagonist who
is able to use her wits to initiate action. Perrault and Sade's heroines appear as victims of
circumstances or their weaknesses of character or both. They depend upon inner strength born of
their Christian virtues to overcome predictable obstacles, for example, inhuman treatment by the
cruel spouse, the self-serving stepfamily, murderous criminals, and corrupt authorities. Because
the conteuses' protagonists are innately resourceful and intelligent, they are as capable as their
male counterparts of battling and defeating the enemy at hand, whether male or female.
The notion "passive" entails a variety of related characteristics. It does not simply mean that
the heroine is inactive. In fact, she performs most admirably when faced with difficult if not
impossible situations; however, she acts according to conventions instituted by society, i.e., men.
Perrault's heroines reflect his preoccupation with bienséance (decorum, propriety, civility). Sade
has no interest in bienséance, which he ridicules throughout Justine. Nonetheless, both writers
depict heroines who evoke images of passive individuals who conform to the contemporary
stereotype of the "weaker" sex. Their female protagonists are, for example, typically naïve,
gentle or sweet, sensitive, shy, and not very intelligent. In short, their inherent vulnerability
makes them ripe for victimization. Justine's Barbie-doll looks suit her ingenuous nature. At the
tender age of twelve, she already exhibits the physical and personality traits that do not prepare
her for the brutalities she will shortly face. In Sade's view, her materialist form predetermines
her actions, that is, her spiritual and corporeal atomical makeup preordains her actions and
reactions. His description of her recalls a nineteenth-century romantic heroine. She is not only
oversensitive but also somber and melancholy, a prefiguration of the mal de siècle heroine. In
that respect, she differs from the Perraldian heroine, who seems incapable of despair, even in the
most impossible circumstances. Sade introduces Justine by first describing her character, the
source of all her misfortunes. He says:
. . . elle était d'un caractère sombre et mélancolique, qui lui fit bien mieux
sentir toute l'horreur de sa situation. Douée d'une tendresse, d'une sensibilité
surprenante . . . elle n'avait qu'une ingénuité, une candeur qui devaient
la faire tomber dans bien des pièges. . . . on admirait de pudeur, de décence
et de timidité dans . . . [Justine] . . . (32)
Perrault's heroines may have a sunnier disposition, but they are as naïve and self-effacing as
Justine, who seems to be their eighteenth-century counterpart. His portrait of the heroine's
«vertu» incorporates the traits associated with a passive personality. For example, their
«douceur,» «sincérité,» and «bonté» immediately conjure up images of feminine docility, of an
unassuming persona easily exploited. Sade suggests that Justine's innocence would "cause her to
tumble into not a few pitfalls" (Seaver and Wainhouse 459). He signals the negative
consequences naturally resulting from a submissive personality. On the other hand, Perrault puts
the heroine's candor in a more positive light; it works for, not against her. In Griselidis's case, it
is her «patience,» an aspect of «douceur,» that helps her withstand the psychological abuse of her
husband the Prince and retain her title as the legitimate Princesse. Cendrillon, too, is able to
endure mistreatment from family members because she inherits the «douceur» and «bonté» from
her deceased mother, who was «la meilleure personne du monde» (274). She exhibits the same
long-suffering patience as Griselidis who, in the end, is also rewarded personally as well as
materially. Perrault relates that «La pauvre fille souffrait tout avec patience, et n'osait s'en
plaindre à son père qui l'aurait grondée, parce que sa femme le gouvernait entièrement.» (274).
The Princesse in «La Belle au bois dormant» suffers threats to herself and her two beautiful
children from her mother-in-law, the cannibalistic Reine-Mère «de race Ogresse» (249).
Certainly her «esprit comme un Ange» (244), one of the gifts bestowed at birth by one of the
fairies, enables her to loyally (patiently) await the return of her husband whose temporary
absence enables the murderous dinner plans of her mother-in-law. Each of these heroines
demonstrates that passivity viewed as an integral element of seventeenth-century «vertu» has its
rewards, especially when it comes to dealing with problematic family members.
On closer examination, Perrault and Sade's passive heroine may actually be an active
individual who is capable of demonstrating various degrees of courage. Outwardly, she may be
portrayed as a victim, someone whose virtuous nature is preyed upon by evil individuals. Yet,
she exhibits the strength required to endure trials of sometimes outrageous proportions. Both the
Perraldian and the Sadian heroine derive their pluck and fearlessness from their grounding in
Christian moral tradition. Perrault, of course, lauds this trait; Sade ridicules it. Nonetheless,
their female protagonists prove their mettle when thrust into precarious situations. In her final
resumé of her ordeals (354-55), Justine recounts all the unimaginable horrors she survived to
Madame de Lorsange, whom she does not recognize as her long-lost older sister. Her «vertu»
remains unshaken throughout experiences that no ordinary person could live to retell. Men and
women alike exploit her body and attempt the same with her soul but fail. John Phillips
succinctly, though not chronologically, describes Justine's «malheurs»:
. . [Justine] . . . is systematically raped, branded as a criminal, held captive in a
monastery by lubricious and murderous monks, savaged by dogs, her blood drained
by a vampiric Bluebeard figure, subjected to any number of perverse practices,
framed for a crime she did not commit, and, eventually, condemned to the gallows
by a corrupt judge. (Introduction 89)
The same moral fortitude that gives Justine the courage to withstand and escape brutalities also
inspires her to perform altruistic acts. She aggressively assists fellow victims of the "sadistic"
oppressors. In a Florence-Nightingale-like manner, she nurses physical and emotional wounds
resulting from sexual atrocities committed by such scoundrels as the debauched monks of SainteMarie-des-Bois, the bloodletting Comte de Gernande, and the necrophilic counterfeiter Roland.
Her actions bespeak those of an ordinary individual put to the test by extraordinary
circumstances. If Sade had depicted a truly passive heroine, she would have surely died early on
in the tale.
As demonstrated in the above discussions on «vertu» and passivity, Perrault's heroines, like
Justine, do not remain stagnant when challenged by dilemmas. They confront troublesome
situations or individuals, but do so in ways acceptable to the prevailing (masculine) social order.
They must rely upon idealized feminine virtues--«douceur,» «modestie,» and «adresse»--to help
them withstand the challenges presented and resolve untenable familial situations. In other
words, they do not initiate heroic acts; they are heroic because the strength they derive from their
spiritual formation motivates them to act in a way perceived as courageous or "Christian." They
conform to the stereotypical expectation of their sex. In this sense, Justine resembles her literary
forerunners. However, unlike Sade's heroine, Griselidis, Peau d'Âne, Cendrillon, and the
Princesse in «La Belle au bois dormant» are all rewarded with domestic bliss and material wealth
because their patience, courage, and sense of conventional morality inspire them to do what is
right, what is expected; Justine receives only death at the hands of Providence. The exception to
the typical Perraldian heroines is the wife of la Barbe bleue who, because she is disobedient,
discovers her husband's crimes and then simultaneously contrives her rescue and his welldeserved destruction. Certainly, readers today would cheer her bravery and resourcefulness.
The truly active heroines are those created by the conteuses. Their female protagonists
possess an interior quality that gives them the incentive to deal with whatever trial may befall
them (Rifelj 21). Nowadays, this attribute might be labeled self-motivation or self-direction, but
either term conjures up the image of a bold individual driven to action. Unlike the female
protagonists of Perrault and Sade, their heroines do not have to depend upon inherent saintly
virtues to help them endure life's challenges. Their courage does not derive from their ability to
survive as martyrs or heroic victims, for they have esprit, roughly translated as "intelligence."
With one possible exception discussed further along, Perrault and Sade do not endow their
heroines with esprit, rather they opt to enslave them with vertu which, while often admirable,
also gives the impression of simpleminded, subservient personae. The conteuses seem to
downplay the image of contemporary "ideal" women; they prefer to grace their heroines with the
very same wit and intelligence that they display as gifted writers and exceptional women of their
day. This is not to say that virtue is not an important quality for the conteuses. In the final four
lines of the moralité following the tale of «Belle Belle, ou le Chevalier Fortuné,» Mme d'Aulnoy
praises «vertu» by leaving the reader with these thoughts:
Le ciel pour l'innocence a toujours combattu:
Après avoir puni le vice,
Il fait couronner la vertu. (364)
Towards the end of «Plus Belle que Fée,» Mlle de La Force applauds virtue in a way that could
have inspired Sade's contradictory moral of Justine. She concludes, «Ainsi la vertu triomphe des
malheurs qu'on suscite. L'envie et la jalousie ne servent qu'à la faire briller, et souvent la justice
du Ciel permet qu'elle soit heureuse.» (504). However, the conteuses appear to connect
intelligence to "feminine virtue" (Seifert, Nostalgic 205), which makes their heroines thinking
rather than ingenuous characters whose naïveté causes them to easily fall prey to self-serving
fictional men and women. Sade's Justine and Perrault's Petit Chaperon rouge personify this
For the conteuses, esprit seems a worthy complement to beauté. In Mme d'Aulnoy's tale «La
Chatte blanche,» the beautiful queen («belle reine»), after being delivered from her condemned
state as a white cat, is described as being unique in beauty as well as in intelligence: «si elle était
unique en beauté, elle ne l'était pas moins en esprit» (332). Mme d'Aulnoy concludes the
introductory paragraph of «Belle Belle, ou le Chevalier Fortuné» with a pithy characterization of
the king's widowed sister, who may be proud, violent and somewhat unapproachable, but she
also possesses beauty and intelligence: «Cette princesse . . . avait de l'esprit et de la beauté, il est
vrai qu'elle était fière, violente, et d'un assez difficile accès.» (333). Carol de Dobay Rifelj
observes that the baby princess in another tale of Mme d'Aulnoy, «La Biche au bois,» receives
the gift of «esprit» from the fairies, which "emphasize[s] . . . [an] interior . . . [quality] and
make[s] her an active character" (21). Although she is endowed with beauty and virtue like her
Perraldian counterpart, the Princesse in «La Belle au bois dormant,» she is less "an ornament to
her society and a credit to her husband" (21). In fact, the wise fairies ensure that her education
includes heroic models by surrounding her with tapestries depicting various events from the lives
of heroes and other men (Lemirre 287). Masculine rather than feminine examples serve to instill
and inspire individuality, confidence, and courage.
It may seem that Mme d'Aulnoy has a monopoly on the representation of self-directed
heroines, but that may be due in part to the fact that she was a prolific author who out-produced
other contemporary female and male fairy-tale writers. However, Mlle Bernard and Mlle
Lhéritier provide examples of heroines who make use of their «esprit» as well. They are found
in tales that are variations on Perrault's more familiar «Riquet à la houppe.» As Seifert observes,
all three versions put beauty and intelligence into conflict (Nostalgic 214, 219); «esprit» clearly
takes precedent, but at some cost.
In the previous chapter, I spoke only of Perrault's and Bernard's versions, which share the
same title, «Riquet à la houppe.»38 Mlle Lhéritier's tale, «Ricdin-Ricdon,» like those of her
contemporaries, centers on a beautiful heroine who engages in a Faustian-like exchange. Each
author attaches intelligence to feminine virtue in order for the protagonist to resolve impending
dilemmas (Seifert, Nostalgic 205). As already noted, Perrault's Princesse utilizes the gift of
«esprit» to see only the interior qualities of the physically repellent but intelligent and very wise
Riquet à la houppe, that is, to see the spiritual qualities of an ugly man who would make a fine
husband. Perrault, whose concern, at least superficially, is bienséance, confines intelligence to
the domestic sphere, far from the salons where the conteuses have put it to creative use in a
freethinking environment. At one point in his «Riquet,» Perrault implies that «esprit» in a
woman may not be so good because it could impede her ability to make a sound decision. The
eldest Princesse, whom Riquet endowed with «esprit,» cannot decide upon a future husband.
Perrault then remarks on the formerly stupid but ever beautiful Princesse's new dilemma: « . . .
plus on a d'esprit . . . plus on a de peine à prendre une ferme resolution sur cette affaire» (283).
In Mlle Bernard's version, «esprit» brings both joy and tragedy to Mama, the heroine. On one
hand, it enables her to attract the love her life; on the other, it causes her torment when her
malicious husband Riquet transforms her lover into his double, thus confusing the man she
despises with the man she adores. Mlle Bernard ends her tale on an ambiguous note by stating
that lovers eventually become husbands. Reading between the lines, Mlle Bernard appears to
express the tragic condition of a woman born at a time when intellect was, for the most part,
admired in men but ignored or disparaged in women.
In «Ricdin-Ricdon,» Mlle Lhéritier explores the beauty-intelligence dichotomy, which Seifert
examines in depth. Of the three versions, hers is the only one that ends well for Rosanie, the
heroine, who marries the prince with whom she spends "many long years . . . in perfect union
and in extreme happiness" (Zipes, Tradition 624). Perrault's tale concludes with the formulaic
marriage as well, but only because the Princesse compromises her intelligence for the sake of a
harmonious relationship with a deformed and hideous little man. At first, Rosanie falls prey to
her own ego when she accepts the demonic Ricdin-Ricdon's magic wand to enhance her beauty
and weaving skills. In the end, she uses the knowledge imparted to her by her future husband the
prince to foil the villain's plans for her enslavement. Her «esprit,» not her physical attributes,
saves her from danger. The ending is not tragic because, as Seifert observes, she learns how to
"conquer the type of thinking that leads . . . to maliciousness or deviousness" (Nostalgic 216).
Mlle Lhéritier's tale offers a warning against masculine exploitation. Rosanie finally uses her
wits to vanquish "malicious influences" (Nostalgic 216). Even though Sade does not endow
Justine with «esprit,» she manages to flee her oppressors by outwitting them. Unfortunately,
these bursts of intelligence elude her when she repeatedly puts her trust into unsavory types.
Unlike Rosanie, she remains incapable of learning from her errors. Justine never quite makes the
connection between virtue and intelligence. In that sense, she is closer to the typical Perraldian
heroine, i.e., closer to the male model of a heroine.
Another dimension of virtue concerns sexuality. In editions of the Dictionnaire de
L'Académie française published from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, one of
the many examples of «vertu» is « . . . [la] . . . vertu de chasteté». In the sixth edition (18321835), this meaning was noticeably expanded and took precedent as the first to be cited among
the entries for «VERTU»:
VERTU se prend quelquefois dans le sens particulier de Chasteté, pudicité;
et il ne se dit guère qu'en parlant Des femmes. Au milieu d'un monde corrupteur,
cette femme a su conserver sa vertu. Cette femme ne parle que de sa vertu. Sa
laideur est le garant de sa vertu. (2: 927)
Despite its appearance in the nineteenth century, this is the definition that Perrault and Sade
incorporated into the portraits of their heroines. Part of the female protagonists' allure was their
virginal state. For both authors, innocence referred to their heroines' worldly and sexual naïveté.
Justine, the epitome of virtue, had «une ingénuité, une candeur qui devaient la faire tomber dans
bien des pièges» as well as «un air de Vierge» (32). Likewise, Griselidis and Peau d'Âne, for
example, radiated both «pudeur» (192, 226) and «douceur» (192) or, in the case of the latter,
«jeune fraîcheur» (226).
The reference to youth goes hand in hand with the authors' representations of their heroines'
virginity. Young unspoiled girls are ripe for exploitation and thus become perfect models for
victims whose beauty and inexperience make their sacrifices that much more disquieting and
delectable (Rifelj 13). Sade, who is obsessed with numbers, takes pains in his initial plan and
eventual publication of Les Infortunes/Les Malheurs to note Justine's age at the time of her
various sexual exploits. She, like many of Perrault's heroines, is not only young but also the
youngest sibling (la cadette). Justine is but twelve when her pubescent good looks and innocent
countenance inspire salacious thoughts in her parish priest. At the ripe age of twenty-six or
twenty-seven, she manages to retain her youthful beauty and ingenuousness despite her
unfortunate experiences with a variety of libertines. Although Madame de Lorsange, Justine's
long-lost older libertine sibling Juliette, does not recognize her sister when she encounters her in
a country inn, she is taken aback by the comeliness and innocence she sees in the prisoner en
route to Paris for confirmation of her sentence as a murderer, thief, and arsonist:
À un cri de surprise et d'horreur qui échappe à Mme de Lorsange, la jeune fille
se retourne, et laisse voir la plus belle taille du monde, la figure la plus noble,
la plus agreeable, la plus intéressante, tous les appas, enfin les plus en droit de
plaire, rendus mille fois plus piquants encore par cette tendre et touchante
affliction que l'innocence ajoute aux traits de la beauté. (41)
Perrault associates youth with sexual initiation as well (Rifelj 13). For him, the heroine's
uncorrupted state enhances her worth as a future spouse rather than an object of physical
pleasure as viewed by Sade. Given Perrault's concern for bienséance, her youth and thus
virginity represent valuable commodities for the upright bourgeois gentleman seeking the ideal
spouse. In the moralité of «Le Petit Chaperon rouge,» he cautions young girls to be wary of
sweet-talking wolves («les Loups douceureux») who seek to prey on their innocence:
On voit ici que de jeunes enfants,
Surtout de jeunes filles
Belles, bien faites, et gentilles,
Font très mal d'écouter toute sorte de gens,
Et que ce n'est pas chose étrange,
S'il en est tant que le loup mange.
Je dis le loup, car tous les loups
Ne sont pas de la même sorte;
Il en est d'une humeur accorte,
Sans bruit, sans fiel et sans courroux,
Qui privés, complaisants et doux,
Suivent les jeunes Demoiselles
Jusque dans les maisons, jusque dans les ruelles;
Mais hélas! qui ne sait que ces Loups douceureux,
De tous les Loups sont les plus dangereux. (256)
Perrault draws attention to the young age of other heroines in his tales. They are not children.
Rather, they are adolescents whose virginal state is an attractive asset to men in search of
virtuous, i.e.,"Christian" mates. When the Prince comes upon the Princesse in «La Belle au bois
dormant,» he is captivated by her youth as well as by her luminous and divine appearance. In the
old Château, he discovers «une Princesse qui paraissait avoir quinze ou seize ans, et dont l'éclat
resplendissant avait quelque chose de lumineux et de divin.» (247). Like Justine, the future wife
of la Barbe bleue is the younger of two marriageable daughters; Perrault reinforces her status by
initially calling her «la Cadette» (257). Griselidis is «une jeune Bergère (192), Peau d'Âne, «la
jeune Princesse (220), and Cendrillon «une jeune fille . . . d'une douceur et d'une bonté sans
Similar reference to the youth of the heroines appears in the tales of women writers. For
example, in the beginning of «Ricdin-Ricdon,» Mlle Lhéritier emphasizes this characteristic by
contrasting the physical description of Rosanie, «une jeune fille d'une beauté à éblouir,» with
that of her elderly guardian, «une vieille femme, d'une figure fort désagréable» (574). Mlle
d'Aulnoy's courageous heroine Belle Belle is not only another «cadette» (335-36) but also the
favorite of her father's three girls. In the mid-eighteenth century, Mme Leprince de Beaumont
writes about another valiant Belle, who like Mme d'Aulnoy's heroine, is also the «cadette» and
the father's preferred child.
The sexuality of the heroine has a dark side as well. She may be beautiful, virtuous, and
young but she may also harbor masochistic tendencies. Both Perrault and Sade imprison their
heroines emotionally and physically. As victims of both male and female villains, their female
protagonists, consciously or unconsciously, appear to accept their condition and rationalize it by
taking some sort of perverted pleasure in it. In other words, on the surface, they seem to enjoy
being victims. This is definitely the case with Justine. In each adventure, she endures
unconscionable crimes at the hands of a sampling of some of society's most despicable
individuals. Yet incredibly, she cleverly escapes each chamber of horrors. The reader, about to
breathe a sigh of relief on her behalf, soon discovers that soon after her flights to freedom she is
fatally attracted to another group of iniquitous characters. She is emotionally enslaved by her
own virtue which consistently leads to her affiliation with the worst sorts of society. Her belief
that Heaven reserves a special place for those who do good, compels her to fulfill her Christian
obligation to perform acts of charity, which only result in misfortune after misfortune. Justine
herself cannot consciously understand why good deeds lead to providential punishment.
Following a very ugly second encounter with Saint-Florent, the young Lyonnais merchant who
robbed and raped her earlier in the tale, Justine is once again moved to assist a seemingly
downtrodden individual. This time, after being mugged by a needy old woman, Justine
questions God's illogical rewards system. She bitterly cries out, «Grand Dieu! . . . il est donc
impossible que mon coeur s'ouvre à aucun mouvement vertueux sans que j'en sois à l'instant
punie par les châtiments les plus sévères!» (270-71). Yet, throughout the fifty or so remaining
pages, she continues to suffer at the hands of "new" scoundrels--the necrophilic counterfeiter
Roland and the corrupt and dissolute judge Cardoville--and "old, familiar" ones--the thief la
Dubois, the debauched monk Antonin from the monastery Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, and making
his third appearance, the merchant Saint-Florent. By the end of the tale, preservation of virtue
seems like a perverse excuse for so much personal and avoidable suffering. Even at the
conclusion, when Monsieur de Corville and Madame de Lorsange do everything possible to
avenge her libertine aggressors and ensure her happiness, she continues to wallow in misery and
melancholy. She reveals that that she was not destined for a joyful existence: «Je ne suis pas née
pour tant de félicités . . .» (359). For her, pleasure and pain appear indistinguishable.
Perrault's female protagonists seem to establish the precedent for masochistic behavior in the
literary fairy tale. Perrault's concern for observing social and cultural proprieties--respect des
bienséances--makes for more subtle, less flagrant depictions of masochism in his heroines. They
courageously endure difficult and often humiliating situations that test their virtue, i.e.,
«douceur,» «modestie,» «adresse,» and «chasteté.» Paradoxically, perhaps, they give the
impression of taking perverse pleasure in their mortification. This can be observed in the
examples cited below.
Given Perrault's concern for proper feminine behavior, he is refined about the way he injects
eroticism into his tales. Sade, on the other hand, is quite graphic, and his heroine appears
promiscuous in the midst of victimization. Whereas Justine is forced to participate in sexual
activities with libertine strangers, Griselidis, Peau d'Âne, and the Mariée of la Barbe bleue are
restricted to the confines of the family. This makes perfect sense because Perrault reflects the
late-seventeenth-century moralists' concern with restricting women to the domestic sphere. This
"grand renfermement" of women (Seifert, Nostalgic 203) extends to fairy-tale heroines who are
expected to obey without question sadistic patriarchal figures. Justine, too, submits to the
demands of masculine authority figures. Perrault excuses the vicious behavior of the Prince
towards his lowborn wife Griselidis as but a manifestation of his bilious nature and subtly
suggests mésalliance, marriage between individuals from different social classes, as an additional
motive for his actions. Griselidis, the humble Bergère, remains patient and obedient throughout
the ordeal, even when she is asked to serve her husband's future young wife, who just happens to
be the daughter of the Prince and Griselidis. The reference to incest heightens the heroine's
plight as both victim and masochist. To a present-day reader, it seems inconceivable, "sick," that
a woman would willingly endure such an unsavory situation. Perrault exaggerates her patience
to the point of ridiculousness, to the point where a masochistic response to the Prince's cruelty
seems like an alternative explanation for such consistently virtuous behavior.
Perrault is blatant about incest in «Peau d'Âne.» In this tale, the king (le Roi) makes known
his desire to marry his daughter (la jeune Princesse), the only possible replacement for his
beloved deceased wife. Peau d'Âne cannot fulfill her father's ignoble wish and decides to flee
disguised in the hide of a magical donkey--it excreted gold coins (without leaving an odor)--that
the king had killed and skinned as proof of his desire for her. Wandering about the land wearing
a donkey skin as a covering appears not only masochistic but fetishistic as well. Peau d'Âne also
manages to excite the voyeuristic eye of her future husband (le Prince) as he takes pleasure in
secretly observing her Sunday ritual of replacing the donkey skin with splendid garb. This, too,
has masochistic overtones. The Princesse seems to take perverse enjoyment in wearing articles
that recall the materialistic and sexual desires of her incestuous father.
It is difficult to determine whether la Barbe bleue's bride deliberately disobeys her monstrous
spouse because of masochistic tendencies--she takes pleasure in the forbidden act--or because of
mere curiosity. She knows that the wrath of her husband awaits her if she defies his interdiction.
However, because she manifests such shock when she discovers the bloody fate of la Barbe
bleue's former wives and then bravely stalls her fatal punishment, it is more likely that she had
simply yielded to her inquisitive nature. In this tale, the sadistic male protagonist is more
memorable than the masochistic/inquisitive heroine. Sade recalls Perrault's murderous antihero
in the characters of the monks at Sainte-Marie-des-Bois and the necrophile Roland, who also
delight in killing their female victims. Sade and Perrault may have modeled their "Bluebeard"
figures after the infamous criminal Gilles de Rais (le Maréchal de Retz).39 Whereas in this dark
tale Perrault implies that murder is the ultimate sexual stimulant, in Justine Sade openly declares
it to be:
Le meurtre, le plus exécrable des crimes serait-il donc pour eux [les moines de
Sainte-Marie-des-Bois] comme pour ce célèbre Maréchal de Retz une sorte de
jouissance dont la cruauté exaltant leur perfide imagination, pût plonger leur
sens dans une ivresse plus vive! (184)
Finally, Cendrillon demonstrates the same sort of benign masochism as Griselidis does. That
is, both heroines willingly and patiently consent to humiliating and unjust treatment by close
family members. Whereas Griselidis is the souffre-douleur (scapegoat) of her "bipolar" husband,
Cendrillon is the whipping "girl" of her self-serving stepmother and stepsisters. Unlike Perrault's
other heroines, Cendrillon is a victim of feminine sadistic behavior, as is Justine from time to
time. Despite the insensitive treatment that the three protagonists receive, they respond to their
tormentors with deference. Even at her moment of triumph, Cendrillon pardons her stepsisters
«de bon coeur» (278). In the end, Cendrillon and Griselidis are recompensed for their martyrlike stances; they are placed on temporal thrones. Justine, too, receives rewards, though only
briefly. However, for her, masochism represents a way of life. When she no longer has any
reason to rely upon it for survival, she expires. For Perrault's heroines, masochism in the guise
of virtue proves an asset that results in everlasting happiness.
I conclude this chapter on the heroine by discussing one final but significant negative
attribute. Besides masochism, the heroine is associated with another "m," which also begins the
word "marginality." As I mentioned in the previous chapter, many of the fairy-tale writers of the
first wave as well as Sade lived on the fringe of upper-class society. It is therefore conceivable
that they understood the nature and circumstances of the marginalized individual and were able
to write about this sort of character from a familiar perspective. According to Mireille Piarotas,
the female protagonist is «mal acceptée dans la société» (43). This depiction conforms to the
heroines of Sade and Perrault. Justine, especially, is not very well accepted in society. When
she is but twelve years old, she and her older sister Juliette are orphaned. They are consequently
ousted from the exclusive convent that has sheltered both of them from the outside world, a place
as corrupt as they century into which they were born (37). Juliette earns a rather good living as a
successful libertine. Justine decides to preserve her virtue and, in so doing, wanders from one
isolated place to the next--for example, the forest, the secluded castle, the mountain--where she
encounters otherwise upstanding citizens who engage in marginal activities. Like her, they feel
most at home away from society's judgmental eye. Justine may be the moral antithesis of her
fellow marginaux, but her will to preserve her virtue interferes with any psychological dilemma
over becoming one of "them." She participates in their perverse activities but is not
"brainwashed" by their «philosophie.» In the end, she dies when she rejoins the bourgeois
society of her youth.
Before Sade, Perrault appears to have established the model of the victimized marginal
heroine in the literary fairy tale. Although Perrault is concerned with appropriate feminine
behavior in society, the comportment and virtue of his heroines are tested in unconventional
places, far from the public eye and from the drawing rooms of the upper classes. Perrault, like
Sade after him, isolated his heroines in, for example, castles or forests in order to derive from
their actions moral lessons that could be applied to all. Since Griselidis is a shepherdess by
trade, she is automatically marginalized. Her provincial, lower-class origins contribute to her
feelings of alienation in the aristocratic company of her sadistic husband's caste. Peau d'Âne
marginalizes herself when she dons the donkey skin to escape her incestuous father. In «La
Belle au bois dormant,» the Prince finds the sleeping Princesse in a secluded castle, where he
falls in love with a stranger who has been in a time warp for one hundred years. Even after her
marriage, the Princesse must live with another marginal figure, her mother-in-law the Ogresse.
Cendrillon is isolated from society by her stepmother and stepsisters who exploit her as their
domestic. Her godmother, a former fairy--another marginal being--grooms her so that she may
participate in aristocratic circles. La Barbe bleue may be the true outcast in Perrault's most
sordid and possibly most unique tale, but his young bride displays marginal tendencies when she
willingly accepts isolation in order to marry a prosperous closet murderer.
When we compare Sade's Justine with Perrault's female protagonists, it is not difficult to see
the physical and spiritual features they share. First, and possibly foremost, they seduce us with
their incomparable exterior beauty. We cannot even begin to consider inner beauty without an
appealing visual conception. Spiritually, they are virtuous to a fault. However, each author
highlights this quality for different reasons. Perrault extols bienséance and defends feminine
domesticity as a Christian duty. Instead of defending virtue, Sade exploits it. Throughout all her
trials, Justine does not compromise her belief in performing good acts for heavenly reward.
Despite her persistent piety,a mortal blow from above. Perrault and Sade similarly depict their
heroines as victims of mainly male authority figures. This could be a consequence of male
authors creating female characters who conform to the stereotypical role models of their times.
Notwithstanding the torments they receive, Perraldian and Sadian heroines demonstrate courage
and grace worthy of a male protagonist. They lack only the esprit endowed by the conteuses to
their heroines so that they are able to determine their own destinies and act independently from
the male (and sometimes female) figures who exercise power over their lives. Sade reworks
Justine into an eighteenth-century Perraldian heroine. Unfortunately for her, she fails to become
enlightened and never finds her "way out of the woods" (Rifelj 23).
«ON NE TE DEMANDE POINT D'ÊTRE VRAI, MAIS SEULEMENT D'ÊTRE
VRAISEMBLABLE.» (SADE, IDÉE SUR LES ROMANS 41)
Sade begins his erudite essay Idée sur les romans by tracing the history of the
novel (roman) in western European culture and ends it by giving advice to individuals
contemplating the creation of such a text. One of his suggestions concerns the role of truth in a
work of fiction. His observation, as noted in the quotation, indicates that plausibility of the text
overrides concern for its veracity. The roman may be a work of fiction, but it is believable in the
sense that the adventures in print could conceivably happen. Similarly, the literary fairy tale
speaks about fictitious occurrences that give the impression of being true or real. However,
unlike the novel, the fairy tale interweaves magical elements. In fact, the insertion of le
merveilleux (the marvelous or miraculous) throughout the tale is the salient characteristic of the
genre, which derived from the wonder folktale, called the Zaubermärchen ("magic tale" in
German) or the conte merveilleux ("marvelous tale" in French) (Zipes, "Cross-Cultural" 847).
The probable and improbable aside, there are other features and devices that define the literary
fairy tale. In this chapter, I will discuss what is known in French as the forme of the text. That
is, I will demonstrate that the form or structure of Sade's Justine distinctly resembles that of the
literary fairy tale. Upon close examination, it appears that Sade borrowed copiously from the
fairy-tale tradition to construct the most effective narrative frame for his particular "philosophie"
or critical/moral message.
The structure of the tale begins with its voice. Face to face with the text, the reader
immediately becomes aware of who is telling the story. The point of view in the fairy tale
creates either a distance or an intimacy between the narrative and the reader. Perrault and the
conteuses, for example, tell their stories from the perspective of the omniscient third-person
narrator. These authors establish their authority by designating the reader as onlooker, as part of
the audience. Sade, on the other hand, deviates from this structure and reverts to the oral
tradition of storytelling from which the literary fairy tale is derived. For him, the act of listening
to a tale--especially for a libertine audience, as noted in the following quotation--makes a
stronger impression than merely reading a tale. He expresses this belief in the «Introduction» of
Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome (1785):
Il est reçu, parmi les véritables libertins, que les sensations
communiquées par l'organe de l'ouïe sont celles qui flattent davantage
et dont les impressions sont les plus vives. (qtd. in Pauvert, Osons 52)
Unlike most writers of the fairy-tale vogue, Sade has his female protagonist relate her own story.
Justine, like the oral storytellers of old, becomes the performer. The readers become her listeners
and occasionally voyeurs as she recounts in her own voice her lurid adventures and misfortunes
In the opening pages of Justine, Sade creates the requisite intimate ambiance for oral
storytelling. The readers join Madame de Lorsange (whom Justine does not recognize as her
older sister Juliette) and her lover and protector Monsieur de Corville at the cozy inn at
Montargis to hear with great relish the saga of her imprisonment and impending execution.
Justine, «la belle infortunée,» (42) responds to a request from the wealthy mysterious couple to
recount her remarkable odyssey. As in a prologue to a Greek tragedy, she makes an initial
reference to the gods. She declares the Supreme Being not responsible for her plight. Tearfully,
she tells her two listeners:
-- Vous raconter l'histoire de ma vie . . . c'est accuser la main du Ciel,
c'est se plaindre des volontés de l'Être suprême, c'est une espèce de révolte
contre ses intentions sacrées…je ne l'ose pas… (42)
With those opening words, Sade sets the stage for the theme of his tale, which is Justine's (and
Sade's) obsession with virtue in both the spiritual and sexual sense. Sade then proceeds to draw
the listeners (and readers) closer by enshrouding the comely yet innocent-looking criminal's
identity in mystery. She tells the magnanimous couple :
-- Vous me permettrez de cacher mon nom et ma naissance . . . ;
sans être illustre, elle est honnête, et je n'étais pas destinée à l'humiliation
où vous me voyez réduite. . . . (42)
Justine shares certain characteristics with Scheherazade, the heroine-raconteuse of Les Mille
et Une Nuits, the collection of exotic tales that announced the second wave of the fairy-tale
vogue and popularized the oriental tale in the eighteenth century. The most conspicuous of these
is that both protagonists are female storytellers. Furthermore, a death sentence looms over each
heroine, yet their lives are spared because their listeners are captivated and moved by their tales.
Scheherazade prolongs her life by entertaining and instructing the autocratic caliph with stories
that beg to be continued. Justine is saved from execution by recounting her trials in so moving a
manner as to inspire her listeners to act on her behalf. Unlike Scheherazade, however, Justine
narrates in the first person, like the traditional female tale-spinner; her story concerns her own
life's travails. Sade only briefly uses the third person to introduce and end his text. In similar
fashion to storytellers of old, both raconteuses recount their tales in intimate quarters at nightfall,
as an evening entertainment. Their audiences consist of two listeners: their respective sisters and
a male notable.
By having Justine tell her own story, Sade makes use of the device of the frame story or frame
tale. This technique is the narrative equivalent of a play within a play. One or more of the
characters engages in tale telling within the larger framework of the primary narrative. As noted
above, this device, which was prevalent in the "oral and written literature of the East and Middle
East" (Abrams 287), is used in Les Mille et Une Nuits. The stories that Scheherazade relates are
contained within the larger tale about life and death. Western European writers employed this
technique as well. In his Decameron (1349-1350), Boccacio frames his preliminary narrative
around a group of young nobles who take turns telling amusing tales against the background of
the plague raging in nearby Florence. During the Renaissance and Early Modern periods, two
other prominent Italian writers used the same compositional technique to frame stories that many
consider the precursors of the literary fairy-tale genre. Straparola imitates Boccaccio's frame in
his popular collection of novelle or short tales entitled Le piacevoli notti (1550/53). Similar to
the Decameron, Straparola's popular work revolves around a flight and a subsequent gathering of
distinguished personages who while away their time entertaining one another with an "eclectic
mix of various genres" that includes fourteen fairy tales (Zipes, Oxford 255). Almost onehundred years later, Basile, whom Zipes considers "the most original and brilliant writer of fairy
tales in Europe until the Germanic romantic E.T.A. Hoffmann came on the scene in 1814"
("Cross-Cultural" 855), produced another frame tale evocative of Boccaccio, but with a
proletarian and oriental flavor. His Lo cunto de le cunti, also known as the Pentamerone, (16341636), consists of forty-nine marvelous stories contained within a fiftieth and is considered "the
first integral collection of fairy tales in Europe" (Zipes, Oxford 256). The conteurs and
conteuses of the first wave of the French literary fairy tale found models for their stories in the
collections of Straparola and Basile.40 The women writers, especially, made use of the frametale format; their fairy tales are more complex than the linear tales of Perrault. Like them, Sade
was inspired to adapt the frame tale as a structuring device for Justine. Les Mille et Une Nuits
was a prominent work in the eighteenth century, listed, for example, among the works in a book
catalog submitted to Sade while in prison. Boccaccio, whose literary influence on the fairy-tale
writers of the first wave of the vogue is described above, "served as a model for Sade" (Lynch,
Marquis 65).41 The marquis had a "long-standing familiarity with Boccaccio's work" and greatly
admired him (May,"Novel Reader" 10).
One final word needs to be added about gender and the storyteller. Although Sade is
identified with victimization of women, he nevertheless creates in Justine a particularly strong
female character as both protagonist and storyteller. Here again, Sade was following an
established path. Women had a long association with tale-telling, extending back to the myths of
antiquity and the religious texts of Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions.42 The image of the
older woman by the hearth recounting tales suggests the nurse and the proverbial female
dispenser of simple truths. This is exactly the perception, for example, that Perrault gives in the
frontispiece to his Histoires ou contes du temps passé (1697), which evokes a veillée or
traditional French rural domestic evening gathering where the wise woman of the village passes
on stories to the next generation. According to Elizabeth W. Harries, Perrault used the image of
Mother Goose, the mythical storyteller, to represent the female voice and to confirm the "role for
women in the transmission of fairy tales: as patient, nurturing conduits of oral culture or as
spinners of tales" ("Fairy Tales" 159). In the collections of Boccaccio and Straparola, younger
women participate in storytelling, and in Basile, "ten grotesque lower-class women" (Zipes,
Oxford 256) and a princess recount the tales. Scheherazade, the storyteller in Les Mille et Une
Nuits, is young and desirable like Justine. Neither heroine represents the matronly figure seated
by the fire passing on homespun wisdom and traditional lore to a group of juvenile listeners. Yet
like their mature counterparts, both comely tale-tellers captivate their audiences with adventures
replete with violence, eroticism, and insight.
In her study on female storytellers, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their
Tellers, Marina Warner observes that "male authors often acted as mouthpieces for women's
firsthand experience" (xiii). Since the majority of authors who transcribed and rewrote oral
wonder tales were men, this statement may not necessarily be interpreted as criticism. Simply
stated, men, depending on class and occupation, were educated while women, for the most part,
were not. It is understandable, then, why men generally represented the female voice; however,
this did not always result in objective portraits. For example, in the previous chapter on the
heroine, I discuss how Perrault relies on the notion of bienséance to depict what the ideal woman
should or should not be. Sade, too, integrates "stereotypical" positive and negative character
traits into his fairy-tale heroine (see Chapter 3). Interestingly, though, from a psychological
standpoint, it has been posited that Sade projected himself in Justine as did Flaubert in Emma
Bovary. In her essay on Sade, Béatrice Didier speaks about masochism, a trait she identifies
with him rather than a negative characteristic that he depicts in his female protagonists:
Est-on autorisé à conclure au masochisme de Sade? On connaît
la célèbre thèse de Paulhan, à vrai dire bien séduisante. Justine, c'est
Sade, comme Madame Bovary c'est Flaubert. (89)
Now that I have established the significance of Justine as the narrator of her own story, I will
demonstrate my position that the tale itself is a literary fairy tale. In so doing, it is first necessary
to identify the precise elements that define this genre. What characterizes this literary form may
vary depending on the scholarly approach. In the twentieth century, the literary fairy tale was
examined from folkloricist, structuralist, literary, psychoanalytic, socio-historical, and feminist
points of view (Zipes, Oxford 17-21). All of these approaches have some validity when
attempting to isolate features of the genre; no single approach covers every aspect that
definitively describes the literary fairy tale. When discussing the form of Justine, elements from
the first three stated above lend credibility to the idea that Sade constructed his narrative as a
fairy tale. The last three, especially the socio-historical interpretation, speak to the intellectual
content of the tale. In the context of this chapter, I will examine the folkloricist, structuralist, and
literary approaches to underline how the form and features of Justine identify this work as a
literary fairy tale.
At first glance, folklore and Sade seem to have little if anything to do with one another.
However, a very brief historical background on the classification of tale motifs sheds some light
on this ostensibly odd association. Formal gathering of folktales began in Europe before the
eighteenth century (Garry and El-Shamy xix). On into the nineteenth, the Brothers Grimm
produced one of the most famous collections of folktales they had gathered from "educated
aristocratic and middle-class informants" and had subsequently "transformed . . . into exquisite
literary narratives" (Zipes, Fairy Tale Tradition 866). Collecting folktales soon led to an interest
in classifying tale types and narrative elements (motifs). In the early part of the twentieth
century, Finnish folklorists formulated the historical-geographic (or Finnish) method of
collecting and classifying international folktales that led to the publication of The Types of the
Folktale (1910) by the folklorist Antti Aarne. His index of tale types was eventually enlarged
and translated on two separate occasions (1928 and 1961) by the American folklorist Stith
Thompson who also undertook to cross-index the motifs in his six-volume Motif-Index of Folk
Literature (1932-1936; 1955-1958). Despite scholarly criticism of the catalogs, together the
Aarne-Thompson index and its companion Motif-Index of Folk Literature (1932-1936; 19551958) comprise "the most important reference work and research tool for comparative folk-tale
analysis" (Zipes, Oxford 1).43
The Motif-Index is of particular interest to this study because its broad subject headings and
corresponding descriptions make it possible to identify motifs common to the folktale and more
broadly "ballads, myths, fables, medieval romances, exempla, fabliaux, jest-books, and local
legends" (Garry and El-Shamy xx), all of which contributed to the birth of the literary fairy tale.
Garry and El-Shamy restate Thompson's definition of "motif" as "a unit of interest in a tale or
some other genre such as a proverb, joke, ballad, or riddle" (xv). They distinguish it from an
"archetype," "a recurrent pattern of primary significance with deep psychic resonance that also
occurs in various literary genres," and cite Thompson's example of the universal experience of
"mother" (archetype), which he contrasts with the more particular experience of "cruel mother"
(motif) (xv). Jungian archetypes such as the maiden, the heroine, the trickster, and the shadow
have been applied to literary theory and are easily recognizable in Justine. Sade's protagonist
embodies both the heroine and the maiden while her libertine oppressors, the antiheroes,
represent aspects of the trickster and shadow, who behave in ways contrary to the written and
unwritten laws of "civilized" society. The motifs are more numerous and not as "commonplace"
(xv). In Justine, many of them relate to the form rather than to the intellectual content of the text.
The discussion below is restricted to those motifs associated with the former.
In his Motif-Index, Thompson separates the magic and marvels motifs. Because both deal
with aspects of the supernatural, I prefer to discuss them as a single entity. Of all the motifs
mentioned in this chapter, the marvelous, which I will use to designate the fusion of magic and
marvels, is the most prominent feature of the fairy tale. Lewis C. Seifert, who has produced
scholarly writings on "the place of the marvelous (or merveilleux) in the literary and cultural
contexts of late-seventeenth-century France" states that "the marvelous recurs with great
frequency in literary fairy tales (as opposed to folktales)" ("Marvelous Realities" 131-32). The
merveilleux may not necessarily manifest itself by the presence of fairies. Marina Warner
observes that "shape-shifting" in the form of magical transformations and metamorphoses alone
define the genre (xix-xx). Exaggerations, enumerations, and repetitions can deliver similar
magical effects. The marvelous may include journeys to far-off hidden, unimaginable places and
closed universes as well. Fairy-tale writers throughout the vogue integrated all of these
marvelous features into their texts to provide amusement and to suggest the idea of wondrous
possibilities in a world of seemingly impossible realities.
In the texts of the literary fairy tales as well as in Justine, the blend of the real with the
marvelous is an outstanding narrative feature. Literary scholar François Flahault theorizes that
this juxtaposition is "the structural basis for folkloric narratives" ("Marvelous Realities" 132)
which, in Seifert's opinion, may be applicable to the literary fairy tale as well (Nostalgic 13).
Seifert shows how the advent of the literary fairy tale in the late seventeenth century culminated
in a crisis for the aesthetic notion of vraisemblance, which in early modern Europe was artfully
and purposely (politically) employed to represent reality indirectly, as analogy or allegory
(Seifert, "Marvelous Realities" 135). In the literary fairy tales as in the fictional narratives of the
nouvelle and the roman, vraisemblance, translated as verisimilitude or plausibility, was evolving
into a portrayal of reality, "the vrai" ("Marvelous Realities" 137); invraisemblance (or
implausibility) was becoming the merveilleux.
By the time Sade's Idée sur les romans appeared in 1800, the aesthetic notion of
vraisemblance as a fictional representation of empiric reality was an accepted feature of the
novel. The quotation that introduces this chapter and the subsequent commentary to the citation
provide evidence of this evolution. Justine, however, does not meet the vraisemblance criterion
that Sade sets forth for the roman in his essay. His use of invraisemblance to denote the
implausible aspects of Justine obstructs any attempt to classify the work as a novel. The
presence of marvelous and magical features alongside representations of the "real" world makes
it a fairy tale. There is sufficient evidence of these elements throughout the text to support this
observation. Sade excludes fairies, but he does make use of exaggerations, enumerations,
repetitions, and just plain implausible happenings and transformations to manifest the
merveilleux in the tale.44 I will illustrate these techniques with some representative examples
from the text.
The most conspicuous occurrences of the marvelous--the feature that most vividly establishes
Justine as a fairy tale--are found in Sade's hyperbolic and indeed tedious descriptions of the
sexual tableaux, which contributed to his notoriety as a scandalous and sensational author. The
scenes themselves are implausible because of the extent to which Sade exaggerates libertine
behavior.45 The episode at Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, in particular, demonstrates Sade's fixation for
numbers, classifications, categorizations, Rabelaisian abondance, and organized excess. Almost
every aspect of Justine's stay at the profane monastery is magnified beyond belief. When
Omphale, the thirty-year-old beauty in charge of Justine's instruction, introduces her pupil to
"monastic" life, she describes with great precision the classification of the female captives, the
rules they must follow, and the "arrangements concerning the monks' pleasures" (Seaver and
Wainhouse 584). Omphale's lengthy and exaggerated explanation is patently unbelievable, and
quite frankly, ludicrous.46 When called to perform, Justine witnesses and engages in all sorts of
outrageous sexual acts choreographed by the monks. These scenes, which are rather theatrical,
appeal to the voyeuristic tendencies of both reader and heroine. Like the conteuses, Sade
obsesses on detail to portray a closed universe where the horror he depicts in Justine is as
implausible as the extravagant opulence the women writers describe in their fairy tales.
The locations of the libertine degradations portrayed in Justine occur in isolated places
associated with the fairy tale--the castle, the mountain, the forest--far from the scrutiny of
"civilized" society.47 Sade takes pains to describe them in a foreboding manner. Consider, for
example, Justine's dramatic recounting of her approach to Roland the counterfeiter's «fort beau
. . . le jour d'ensuite nous [Justine et Roland] continuâmes notre marche
toujours dans la même direction. Sur les quatre heures du soir, nous arrivâmes
au pied des montagnes: là, le chemin devenant presque impraticable, Roland
recommanda au muletier de ne me quitter de peur d'accident, et nous pénétrâmes
dans les gorges. Nous ne fîmes que tourner, monter et descendre pendant plus de
quatre lieues, et nous avons alors tellement quitté toute habitation et tout chemin
frayé, que je me crus au bout de l'univers . . . Enfin nous vîmes un château perché
sur la crête d'une montagne au bord d'un précipice affreux, dans lequel il semblait
prêt à s'abîmer: aucune route ne paraissait y tenir; celle que nous suivons,
seulement pratiquée par des chèvres, remplie de cailloux de tous côtés, arrivait
cependant à cet effrayant repaire, ressemblant bien plutôt à un asile de voleurs
qu'à l'habitation de gens vertueux.
-- Voilà ma maison, me dit Roland . . . (273-74)
The remote settings in Justine recall the tales of Perrault and the conteuses where magical
transformations occur and iniquitous deeds are perpetrated by such marginal and fanciful
characters as la Barbe bleue and assorted ogres and ogresses, and wicked fairies.48 By contrast,
however, the evils that transpire in Sade's isolated locations are not only more grotesque but are
perpetrated by such pillars of society as clerics, nobles, and jurists. In the fairy tale, these
settings are often idealized as well. John Phillips indicates that Sade incorporated this aspect in
depicting the Sadian libertine lair as a "utopia of total sexual and ethical licence" (Sade 42).
The libertine sanctuaries present additional opportunities for merveilles (wonders). The
miraculous recoveries from unimaginable physical abuse by libertine tormentors are one such
example. Phillips observes that "Justine always makes a perfect and speedy recovery" (Sade 96)
but so do some of her fellow victims. In a grotesque gesture of welcome to his château, the
Comte de Gernande arouses himself by drawing Justine's blood until she passes out. In Sadian
fashion, she is almost back to her old self within a couple of days thanks to bed rest and regular
feedings of restoratives. Although he regularly performs the same act on his considerably
younger wife of three years every four days, the Comtesse still remains as physically alluring as
ever: «rien d'altéré…l'image d'un beau lis où l'abeille a fait quelques taches» (239). Furthermore,
applications of "quasi-magical healing potions" (Phillips, Sade 96) efficiently return the battered
heroine to her normal innocent and beauteous state. Near the end of the tale, the libertines
Cardoville and Saint-Florent and their youthful counterparts pause between brutal orgies in order
to quickly treat and heal Justine's wounds so that they may resume their lubricities; amazingly,
not the slightest trace of their savagery remains.49 Finally, in the same implausible way,
Monsieur de Corville and Madame de Lorsange (Juliette) arrange to have an excellent surgeon
remove all trace of the mark that Rodin, a surgeon with less than exemplary credentials, had
branded in back of Justine's shoulder to seal forever her identity as a thief: «Avec quelques soins,
un excellent chirurgien se chargea de faire disparaître cette marque ignominieuse, fruit cruel de
la scélératesse de Rodin» (358).
Other merveilles occur in the form of miraculous escapes (évasions magiques) from places
whose remote locations, impenetrable constructions, and strict surveillance call into question the
very idea of contemplating flight. Phillips humorously compares Justine to the "hero or heroine
of some modern comic-book adventure story . . . [who] . . . extricates herself with astounding
ease from all of those mortal perils that beset her" (Sade 97). It seems that when Sade is ready to
write a new episode about another misfortune, he contrives an escape for Justine.50 Sade depicts
her premeditated flight from Sainte-Marie-des-Bois with all the drama of an escape from
Alcatraz. On the other hand, at the château of the Comte de Gernande, she has but to walk out
the door. Gernande is in the midst of taking revenge on Justine for her attempt at escape when
he receives the news that his wife is dying due to his crimes. Distraught, he immediately
abandons Justine to attend to her, forgetting to lock the doors. Justine takes advantage of this
opportunity to flee; this time she meets with success. Similarly, she faces no difficulty in
escaping from the clutches of Roland the counterfeiter. In a short two-sentence paragraph, Sade
simply announces that thanks to a sympathetic change of command, Justine may leave: «Tout
changea dès le lendemain du départ de Roland. Son successeur, homme doux et plein de raison,
nous fit à l'instant relâcher.» (302). Sade disappoints the reader when he allows his heroine such
effortless escapes; one anticipates the same sort of drama associated with the scenes of libertine
Two final examples illustrate Sade's use of the merveilleux in Justine. As usual, both relate to
the heroine's sojourns among brutal libertines in whose company magical transformations are
customary. First, despite the many forms of sexual brutality committed against her, Justine
somehow manages to safeguard her virginity. This is quite remarkable. Sade does not offer a
scientific explanation of this phenomenon; rather he generates miraculous healings to account for
her perpetual state of chastity, which momentarily disappears but then reappears, contributing to
the element of fantasy in the tale. For example, after being branded and subsequently released
by the murderous surgeon Rodin, Justine consoles herself with the fiction that she still possesses
her «innocence» (147). Given that she was violated early on by the merchant Saint-Florent,
there remains no physical trace of the rape that, incidentally, she never felt either. Justine
Au fait, je n'avais été vraiment souillée que par un viol fait depuis cinq ans,
dont les traces étaient refermées... un viol consommé dans un instant où mes
sens engourdis ne m'avaient pas même laissé la faculté de le sentir. (147)
Towards the end of the narrative, Justine once again encounters Saint-Florent who this time
engages in a group rape with the judge Cardoville and the young libertines La Rose and Julien.
The latter, however, repairs all internal damage with a special "flask of spirits" (Seaver and
Wainhouse 733). Cardoville then exclaims that their ability to successfully cover up the
evidence of their crimes makes it impossible for female victims to lodge credible complaints
against them. From a legal stance, Sade offers a seemingly rational apology for his miraculous
restorations (351 n1). Only in the imagination of a teller of fairy tales could a woman sustain
such internal injury with no signs remaining of it.
The last example that illustrates Sade's use of the merveilleux in Justine concerns the lack of
verisimilitude "at the level of characterization" (Phillips, Sade 97). Phillips remarks that Sade's
libertine antiheroes are all able to "discourse like philosophers" (97) regardless of occupation,
gender, or social class. The idea that criminals (the thieves la Dubois and Cœur-de-fer and the
counterfeiter Roland), aristocrats (the Comte de Bressac and the Comte de Gernande), clergy
(the monk Clément), and the bourgeois (the surgeon Rodin) share the same intellectual and
philosophical views on religion and the law of nature and can express themselves so eloquently
on these subjects again illustrates Sade's deviation from reality into the realm of the
implausible.51 In this case, all of Justine's tormentors metamorphose into a single voice to
pronounce over and over a similar disquisition on Sadian ethics.
Although the presence of magic and marvels most defines the literary fairy tale, there are
other significant motifs that Sade incorporates in Justine as well. I will examine these other
characteristic fairy-tale motifs which are listed as broad subject headings in the Thompson
Motif-Index (Garry and El-Shamy xxv-xxix). They include: "Tabu," "Ogres," "Tests," "The
Wise and the Foolish" (i.e., individuation), "Deceptions," "Reversal of Fortune," "Chance and
Fate," "Rewards and Punishments," "Captives and Fugitives," "Unnatural Cruelty," "Sex," and
"Traits of "Character." Discussion of motifs relating more to intellectual content, i.e., "Society,"
"The Nature of Life," "Religion," "Humor," and "Good and Evil" will be included in the next
Beginning with the motif "Tabu," it could be said that Justine in its entirety deals with
multiple aspects of the forbidden. This in great part explains the scandal it provoked (and in
some quarters may still be provoking) since its initial publication in the final decade of the
eighteenth century. Aside from explicit passages whose social, political, ethical, and moral
content may offend certain sensibilities, there is another more tangible manifestation of this
motif in the text. In fairy tales, the "forbidden" can refer to a chamber, more specifically a
hidden space where unconscionable acts occur. The tale that comes readily to mind is Perrault's
«La Barbe bleue». Overcome by curiosity, la Barbe bleue's latest young wife la jeune Mariée
discovers the forbidden chamber of horrors where her husband has executed and displayed the
bloody corpses of his former wives. As previously mentioned in this chapter, the brutal crimes
the libertines commit take place in remote places, where conventional moral codes do not exist,
and where outsiders are prevented from entering or leaving (should they unfortunately fall
captive). Justine witnesses and participates in the most violent and perverted acts in the
forbidden chambers of such isolated places as castles, forests, and monasteries. Like la jeune
Mariée, Justine is surprised to discover corpses in a few of these concealed locations. During her
circuitous escape from Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, she is horrified to find on the grounds the socalled cemetery where the murderous monks cast their victims' bodies without so much as giving
them a proper burial. Roland the counterfeiter introduces her to a subterranean vault whose
walls are decorated with the skeletal remains of victims he murdered as part of his necrophilic
Ogres have an association with forbidden chambers, since they eat, "or at least threaten to eat"
(Goldberg 228), human flesh in their own private spaces, out of public view. Perrault does not
indicate whether la Barbe bleue had butchered his wives in order to further enjoy them at the
supper table, but he does include such creatures in some of his tales. In «La Belle au bois
dormant, » the heroine's mother-in-law is an ogress who wants the young queen and her two
children served up with a delicious «Sauce-robert» (250-51). «Le Petit Poucet» contains not
only the cruelest ogre but also his seven little ogress daughters who "were not very vicious as
yet, but they showed great promise, for they had already begun to bite little children to suck their
blood" (Zipes, Beauty 28). The wolf in «Le Petit Chaperon rouge» personifies the subhuman
ogre figure that devours both the little heroine and her grandmother.
All of Justine's libertine tormentors symbolically represent the monster aspect that the ogre
projects. They metaphorically slaughter their victims to satiate their sexual appetites. During
one of the brutal orgies at the monastery, Justine refers to the monk Clément as a cannibal
because he is biting her breasts with his teeth: «une nouvelle cruauté le décide: ma gorge est à la
merci de ce brutal, elle l'irrite, il y porte les dents, l'anthropophage la mord, cet excès détermine
la crise» (163). The Comte de Gernande comes closest to representing the ogre figure; he
requires that blood be drawn in order to achieve sexual gratification. Historically, the Maréchal
de Retz, Gilles de Rais, mixed blood with lust as well. On occasion, Perrault and Sade evoked
this infamous fifteenth-century villain to depict their fictional monsters. It is popularly believed
that Perrault modeled his Barbe bleue figure after the murderous Marshal of France who
accompanied Joan of Arc into battle. During her instruction at Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, Justine is
told that the girls whom the monks retire from their service never reappear. Omphale, the
instructress, suggests that, like Gilles de Rais, they kill their victims in order to derive erotic
pleasure. She exclaims to Justine:
Nous avons autant de preuves que notre solitude nous permet d'en acquérir,
que les filles réformées par les moines ne reparaissent jamais; eux-mêmes
nous en préviennent, ils ne nous cachent pas que cette retraite est notre
tombeau, mais nous assassinent-ils? Juste ciel! Le meurtre, le plus
exécrable des crimes serait-il donc pour eux comme pour ce célèbre
Maréchal de Retz une sorte de jouissance dont la cruauté exaltant
leur perfide imagination, pût plonger leur sens dans une ivresse plus vive! (184)
The motifs concerning "Tests" and "The Wise and the Foolish" or individuation (the process
of becoming a unique individual in society) seem to complement each other. They address the
process of achieving self-identity. The manner in which the individual responds to life's
challenges helps to form or delineate character and resolve the tension between personal
expectations and those of society (El-Shamy 263). In fairy tales, the hero or heroine goes on a
psychological, and/or physical and sociological quest that involves various tests in order for him
or her to achieve wisdom or maturity. Essentially, the tales are a kind of bildungsroman in
which the protagonist undergoes a variety of difficult experiences to recognize his or her
"identity and role in the world" (Abrams 193). Thomas C. Foster states that the quest is
educational, that the reason for going is always self-knowledge (3). This explains why the
protagonists (questers) are "so often young, inexperienced, immature, sheltered" (3). The trials
that beset them in their journeys are meant to serve as lessons for growth even if the quest results
in failure (6). Cendrillon and Griselidis instinctively cope with difficult family situations to learn
that patience has its rewards, especially if it results in achieving or maintaining a happy
marriage. Like Perrault, the conteuses pave the road to happiness (i.e., matrimony) for their
young heroines with obstacles posed by a patriarchal society. Mme d'Aulnoy's Belle Belle,
disguised as the Chevalier Fortuné, learns that she is capable of surviving rude tests with great
courage, and as a result, she becomes the queen of the monarch for whom she holds deep
affection. From the time that Justine becomes an orphan and must make her way alone, she is
put through brutal ordeals that test her belief in God and her ability to maintain her virtue,
especially her virginity, so that she might be rewarded by Providence. She discovers that she is
capable of displaying courage, resourcefulness and, in her view, of remaining chaste. In the end,
she briefly receives earthly rewards but is betrayed by Heaven.
Thompson states out that the motifs classified under the "Wise and the Foolish" heading are
"directed primarily to the mental quality of the character" whereas the motifs dealing with
"Deceptions" are chiefly "given to action" (Garry and El-Shamy xxix). Deceptions constitute
some of the tests that the protagonist experiences along the way to becoming an independent
mature individual. The characters who deceive or attempt to deceive the hero or heroine are
thieves and every sort of rascal imaginable (xxvii). They engage in activities such as abductions,
"escapes, seductions, adultery, disguises, and illusions" (xxvii). Deceptive characters fulfill
dramatic and didactic roles in the fairy tale. They underscore the importance of distinguishing
reality from superficiality, truth from fiction, and trust from distrust. In Perrault, the wolf in «Le
Petit Chaperon rouge» and the murderous Barbe bleue exemplify this clever character type who
easily disguises his criminal inclinations from the ingenuous heroine. The conteuses included
deceptions in their tales as well. To survive in the male-dominated socio-cultural milieu of their
time, they had to know how to recognize, understand, and utilize the art of deception. Catherine
Bernard expressed this reality in her version of «Riquet à la houppe.» The heroine Mama uses
her gift of intelligence to cuckold her hideous husband who in turn dupes her by transforming her
lover into a mirror image of himself.
Sade, too, makes use of this motif to underscore the dark side of the fairy-tale tradition.
Justine is deceived by the upright appearances her tormentors project to society at large. Once in
their lairs, far from public scrutiny, she sees them for what they really are. She is tended by a
talented surgeon who heads a school for young boys and girls that is actually a cover for his
murderous experiments and sexual perversions. At Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, she is imprisoned by
four monks who have much to confess about the lubricious and unholy activities they perform in
their remote monastery. She rescues a man (Roland) trampled and left for dead on the highway
who then expresses his gratitude by enslaving her in his den of counterfeiters. In the end, she is
even deceived by God.
Motifs under the headings "Reversal of Fortune" and "Chance and Fate" concern the role
destiny or fate plays in the young life of the hero or heroine. The rags-to-riches phenomenon
appears in Perrault's «Cendrillon» and « Griselidis.» After suffering emotional and material
hardships, both heroines are rewarded with happy and prosperous marriages to noblemen.
Marriage is the means by which women of humbler backgrounds may legitimately enter a higher
social class. In the fairy tales, fate becomes matchmaker so that all may end well for the virtuous
but less affluent heroines. Sade also employs the "Reversal of Fortune" motif, but he modifies
the traditional formula. As the youngest daughter of a wealthy Parisian banker, Justine is
accustomed to a comfortable life until a precipitous bankruptcy contributes to the demise of her
father and mother. Fate plays a role in her riches-to-rags-to-riches story. Left an orphan on the
verge of puberty, at a sexual crossroads of maidenhood and womanhood, she must learn how to
survive and how to defend her virtue in a world of lascivious predators. Destiny, stupidity, or a
combination leads her from one libertine cloaca to the next. Unlike her Perraldian sisters, Justine
does not improve her social standing by marrying into nobility. Instead, destiny intervenes to
arrange a chance encounter with her materially successful sister Juliette and lover Monsieur de
Corville who rescue her from a death sentence and terminate the libertine cycle. They
reintroduce her to a life of material ease that does not last because of another twist of fate:
Justine is struck down by Providence itself. For Sade, marriage signifies neither happiness nor
closure nor the beginning of a new life cycle. He realistically or perhaps cynically opts for death
as Justine's destined reward for her "perverse" attachment to God and to the divine love of virtue.
Motifs under the terms "Rewards and Punishments," "Captives and Fugitives," and
"Unnatural Cruelty" appear to form another logical grouping for discussion because they deal
with the overall Manichean theme of good and evil. Fairy tales are in part so attractive because
of the violence they project and the inevitable retribution of wrongful acts. Perrault's «La Barbe
bleue» serves as an example once again. La Barbe bleue does not abduct his latest young bride,
but he keeps her in virtual captivity at his country residence. After only a month of marriage, he
tests her wifely obedience by announcing a six-week absence during which time she could invite
and entertain close friends, but he says nothing about being able to leave the premises. He
returns unexpectedly to discover that she had disobeyed his order forbidding her to enter a
certain little room. She would receive the same grisly punishment as her predecessors. The
Barbe bleue character has come to represent the epitome of spousal cruelty. Perrault's story is a
unique fairy tale in that it associates marriage with murder rather than eternal bliss, thus
portraying it as "life-threatening" (Zipes, Oxford 56).
The conteuses did not shrink from representing brutal acts either. Jack Zipes states that "cruel
events, torture, and grotesque transformations . . . were not exceptional in the fairy tales written
by women" (Beauty xviii). In Mme d'Aulnoy's «La Chatte blanche, » for example, a princess is
held captive in a tower by fairies, one of whom is even appropriately named Violente. For
refusing to marry the ugly dwarf that her surrogate mothers, the fairies, had selected for her, they
have her lover/secret husband devoured in her presence by the terrible dragon they ride. They
then punish her by metamorphosing her into a white cat. Only a prince who resembles the
husband they eliminated can break the evil spell. All ends well, though somewhat violently
again, when an identical young prince must gruesomely kill the white cat in order to transform
her into the beautiful princess that she was. Like Perrault, Mme d'Aulnoy heightened the drama
in her tale by incorporating the motifs of captivity, punishment and reward, and extreme cruelty.
Justine is replete with these same motifs, which again underscore the dark side of the fairytale. The libertine criminals hold the heroine captive in their dens of iniquity until Sade creates a
fortuitous escape for her. The monks of Sainte-Marie-des-Bois abduct women from
distinguished families, "no younger than twelve nor older than thirty" (Seaver and Wainhouse
587), to serve their perverse needs. The cruelty perpetrated by all of Sade's monsters goes
beyond the imagination of either Perrault or his female contemporaries. In the Sadian fantasy
world, the pleasure of sexual activity increases in proportion to the violence involved. Justine
encounters libertines who can only reach orgasm by performing brutal practices, such as
vivisection and phlebotomy, which are variations of murder. As for the motif "Reward and
Punishment," Justine receives, for the most part, neither earthly nor celestial retribution for her
martyrdom. Towards the end of the tale, Madame de Lorsange (Juliette) and Monsieur de
Corville grant the heroine a brief emotional, physical, and material respite from her trials before
she undergoes one last punishment, this time from God, for ironically upholding her faith and
protecting her virtue. From the Sadian perspective, good things do not deservedly happen to nice
Those who think of fairy tales as sanitized stories fashioned for children and general
audiences are either very naïve or have not done a close reading of the texts. Motifs dealing with
sex are quite prevalent. They run the gamut from conventional marriages and births to an array
of sexual relations and perversions (Garry and El-Shamy xxviii). Perrault may have been
concerned with bienséance (propriety) in his contes, but he still managed to address sexuality in
both subtle and not-so-subtle terms. He spoke of traditional marriages and children, but he also
presented an aggressive, non-romantic aspect of sexuality. One of the most prominent examples
occurs in «Le Petit Chaperon rouge, » which ostensibly is about the consequences of disobeying
parents. In fact, Perrault issues a warning to young women to be wary of sweet-talking seductive
gentlemen, which he reiterates in the moralité, cited in its entirety in Chapter 2. If «les jeunes
Demoiselles» (256) are not careful, they, like the naïve heroine, will find themselves undressed
and in bed with a lecherous wolf that will "devour," i.e., rape them. «La Barbe bleue» depicts a
violent dimension of fairy-tale sexuality as well. The combination of blood with lust accounts
for the appeal of Perrault's most gruesome story. He is not reticent on the subject of incest
either. In his two tales in verse, «Griselidis» and «Peau d'Âne,» both royal father figures openly
declare their intentions to marry their respective daughters. On the other hand, Perrault is
capable of revealing the sensual aspect of sexuality. In «La Belle au bois dormant,» he suggests
that the Prince awaken the Princesse from her virginal sleep, and when finally he marries her,
Perrault alludes to their sexual activity by explaining that "they slept little, the Princess didn't
have a great need to . . ." (Seifert, Nostalgic 119). Adult readers cannot fail to overlook the
double meaning of this statement; Perrault certainly meant to evince a knowing smile.
The conteuses, like Perrault, adhered, for the most part, to the seventeenth-century literary
convention of bienséance (Seifert, Nostalgic 118). They, too, incorporated the obligatory marital
unions and births and tended to avoid "descriptions of physical sexuality" (Nostalgic 118).
However, there are instances where the use of metaphor and erotic description give expression to
feminine sexuality. Patricia Hannon cites as an example a passage from the first of two stories
embedded in Mme d'Aulnoy's frame tale «La Chatte blanche.» The pregnant queen's
"consuming desire" for the fairies' delectable fruit alludes to "the repression of forbidden
passion" and to "proclivities for passions of the flesh" (Hannon, 83-85). In another of her tales,
«L'Oranger et l'abeille,» Seifert notes how d'Aulnoy uses images from the natural world to
portray physical desire between the hero and the heroine. She metamorphoses them into a bee
(the heroine Aimée) and an orange tree (the hero Aimé) so that they may "express their mutual
attraction both verbally and physically" (Nostalgic 123). Mlle de La Force defies convention
through explicit sexual allusions in several of her tales, the most daring of which is «Vert et
Bleu» (Nostalgic 125). In this tale, she describes the mutual sensual pleasures felt by the
voyeuristic Prince Vert and the object of his erotic gaze, the Princess Bleu, whom he observed
bathing nude in a fountain (Nostalgic 126-27).
Mme d'Aulnoy, Mlle Lhéritier, and Perrault were also able to conform to bienséance while
bringing to light in certain stories the controversy surrounding sexual and gender identity. We
tend to classify transvestism as a perversion and might be surprised if not horrified to discover
that it is a submotif in some seventeenth-century literary fairy tales. In Mme d'Aulnoy's «Belle
Belle ou Le Chevalier Fortuné, » the youngest daughter (naturally) disguises herself as a male in
order to help her impoverished aging father carry out the king's command to join the army. She
(He?) cuts such a handsome, charming figure that the king's sister wishes to marry her (him?). In
the end, Fortuné's identity is revealed, and the king rewards his «cher favori» (362) by taking her
hand in marriage. Mme d'Aulnoy closes her story with the obligatory union between male and
female, but she creates an unorthodox tale by crossing gender lines within the narrative itself.
Three years earlier, Mlle Lhéritier composed a tale about female transvestism, «Marmoisan.» In
her gender-bending story, "a young woman dons the clothing of her dead twin brother,
successfully passes for a man, and carries on with the brother's duties as a courtier, as a soldier,
and even to a certain extent as a lover" (DeJean xvi). Joan DeJean argues that Mlle Lhéritier
collaborated with her uncle Charles Perrault and the transvestite abbot François-Timoléon de
Choisy in the authorship of another story about cross-dressing, this time concerning a transvestite
woman and man who are unconditionally accepted and tolerated by their aristocratic peers (viixxv). Histoire de la Marquise-Marquis de Banneville ends with what is outwardly a traditional
fairy-tale marriage of a couple who delight privately in their sexuality, but who engage publicly
in unconventional and extravagant cross-dressing. Keeping track of gender identities poses a
challenge to readers of all three tales, which are baroque in their complexity and seemingly
The advent of the oriental tale during the second wave of the literary-fairy-tale vogue and the
licentious tale during the third introduced a more overtly sexual dimension to the genre. Sade
capitalized on this trend and made extremely explicit what was rather implicit in the earlier
contes de fées. It goes without saying that much has been written about Sade's literary treatment
of sex. The sexual component probably comes first to mind at the mention of his name. It is not
my purpose to analyze or enumerate the perversions he incorporates in his texts. I have nothing
to add to the discussion about the Sadian orgy or the nature of Sadian transgression. Obviously,
he deals with the motif of "Sex" in a way that is polar opposite to its representation by Perrault
and the conteuses. The entertainment and voyeuristic aspects of the tale aside, the explicit sex in
Justine has a pivotal role in conveying the moral message about the virtues of vice. Sade is an
eighteenth-century libertine, a product of the ancien régime and the Lumières (Enlightenment),
who has no interest in conserving literary bienséance, observed by the earlier fairy-tale writers.
In Justine, the physical representation of sexuality overrides the psychological. Sade ignores
allusion, nuance, and any sort of indirect description. Marriage and procreation have no place in
his system. Neither does love nor romance. Sex represents only power and physical pleasure.
For him, it is a "base reality" (Seifert, Nostalgic 118) that has no bounds. Justine's tale centers
on sexual excess, which may have been a personal fixation of Sade, but in a literary sense, it
contributes to the entertainment and dramatic aspects of the text. More importantly, Sade uses
the motif "Sex" as a device to seduce the reader into taking serious notice of the libertines'
disquisitions and the moralité of his tale.
The last topic in the discussion on motifs concerns "Traits of Character." The authors of
literary fairy tales portray their characters in very black and white terms. Their traits are either
favorable or unfavorable, and their depictions generally lack depth, subtlety, and nuance. This is
not necessarily negative, because in order to draw a moral or communicate a lesson, the trait
under consideration must be delineated in a very clear, unequivocal fashion. For instance,
Perrault professes the quality of patience in women through the character of Griselidis, whose
forbearance and tenacity give her the strength to withstand the psychological abuse of her
husband whom she is expected to obey. On the other hand, he condemns the "curiosity" of
wives in «La Barbe bleue. » Likewise, Mme d'Aulnoy warns against "curiosity" as a feminine
weakness in the moralité of «Serpentin vert.» Surprisingly, characters representing the duality of
good and evil do not appear in this category. Thompson consciously houses them in the
miscellaneous section of the Motif-Index because of their symbolic and psychological
implications (Garry and El-Shamy xxix).52 It seems, however, that the concept of duality
logically pertains to character traits. Sade, like other writers of contes de fées, creates characters
whose physiognomies as well as temperaments identify them as representations of one
contrasting trait or the other. Justine represents the epitome of "virtue" (good) whereas her sister
Juliette and her libertine opponents exemplify "vice" (evil). Almost one-hundred years earlier,
Mme d'Aulnoy extolled her heroine Belle Belle for her "virtue," but unlike Justine, she would
receive the conventional heavenly rewards for defeating "vice," as symbolized by the "evil,"
calculating queen. Together, "good" and "evil" represent character traits that are integral to the
plot and eventual outcome of the tale. In contes de fées--and I include Justine--each feature
relies on its opposite to illuminate its own particular qualities.
Whereas the folkloricist approach to defining the literary fairy tale deals with identifying and
cataloguing motifs and tale types, the structuralist approach focuses on the components that
constitute the underlying structure or form of a tale. The individual most associated with this
view is the Russian formalist and literary scholar Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) who, in 1928,
published his Morphology of the Folktale. In his famous and influential study, based on tales
No. 50-No. 151 from Aleksandr Afanasyev's Russian Fairy Tales (1855-1863), he argues that
thirty-one functions or acts "constitute the fundamental components of a tale" (21). They are
carried out by a limited cast of characters he calls "dramatis personae." The functions always
occur in the same fixed order, though every function need not be present in the tale. From these
observations, he determined that all fairy tales have the same structure. Despite criticisms of
Propp's work, it is often cited in scholarly discussions about the narrative structure of the fairy
tale. With regard to Justine, it is interesting to note how Sade's work conforms to Propp's
principles. In her closing comments about this work, Béatrice Didier observes that the characters
and their functions fit the Russian structuralist's paradigm, despite the lack of variation of the
characters' functions, which can be described as a succession of clashes between the victimized
heroine and her libertine tormenters (365). A closer look will corroborate Didier's remarks.
Propp's list of "dramatis personae" consists of seven characters, most of whom can be
identified in Justine. Justine's libertine opponents can be categorized as "villains" or, depending
on the point of view, as "false heroes" (antiheroes). "Donors" and "helpers" are few, but they are
present in the form of Madame de Lorsange, Monsieur de Corville, and a smattering of victims
who provide consolation and offer advice when they are not forced to participate in the
obligatory orgies or when they are not snuffed out by the criminals. Justine is her own
"dispatcher," since she freely or more often forcibly enters the spaces occupied by villains.
There is no "princess" or similar "sought-for person," and her "father" is practically non-existent
with only a cameo appearance at the beginning, but it is through him that we learn of her social
class; when he dies, Justine's adventures begin, and she must accustom herself to surviving
among human monsters.53
As Didier remarks, the functions of the characters in Justine are not numerous. They consist
primarily of repetitive, seemingly monotonous, disturbing acts involving an array of villains
from all social classes. Justine is not a complex tale; a little more than half of the functions do
not apply, and the ones that do may occur at another place in the designated sequence. The
following are conspicuous in the tale:
1. One of the members of a family absents himself from home (absention).
5. The villain receives information about his victim (delivery).
6. The villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or
his belongings (trickery).
7. The victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps his enemy
8a. One member of the family either lacks something or desires to have something
9. Misfortune or lack is made known . . . .
11. The hero leaves home (departure).
12. The hero is tested, interrogated, attacked, etc. . . . .
14. The hero acquires the use of a magical agent (provision or receipt of a
17. The hero is branded (branding, marking).
22. Rescue of the hero . . . (rescue).
23. The hero, unrecognized, arrives home or in another country (unrecognized
27. The hero is recognized (recognition).
28. The false hero or villain is exposed (exposure).
29. The hero is given a new appearance (transfiguration). (qtd. in Tatar, Classic
Functions numbered 18, 30, and 31 all deal with reward and punishment. Sade reverses the
"traditional" fairy-tale ending where villains are defeated and punished and the hero is rewarded
with an auspicious marriage. In Justine, none of the primary villains receives punishment for
crimes committed; on the contrary, "fortune overwhelms them with favors" (Seaver and
Wainhouse 737). Furthermore, the heroine does not live to wed and "[ascend] the throne" (Tatar,
Raymonde Robert elaborates on Propp's observations about narrative structure in her own
tripartite definition of the literary fairy tale (Hannon 162; Seifert, Nostalgic 23-25). As recalled
in Chapter 2, Robert defines the literary fairy tale--which "she christens 'l'écriture féerique' "
(qtd. in Hannon, 162)--in Manichean terms. Good triumphs over evil in the closed universe of
the fairy tale. Heroic and exemplary protagonists or couples redress the misdeeds committed
against them by the antagonists (villains). Seifert points out that Robert's definition excludes
cautionary or tragic tales in which misdeeds are not redressed, "but [are] left intact at the end"
(26).54 He further states that her definition "does not provide a way of analyzing how these fairy
tales can critique or subvert ideological systems and how they can serve a utopian function" (26).
Justine conforms to Robert's definition in that there is a virtuous heroine whose misfortunes are
compensated by her sister and her sister's lover/protector who save her from the gallows and
provide her with a life of ease and luxury. However, Sade tweaks his story so that it becomes a
cautionary and tragic fairy tale. Although Justine is rewarded for maintaining her virtue amidst
challenging circumstances, she does not live happily ever after; the worst of her antagonists do
not suffer for their transgressions but instead are well recompensed both materially and
professionally. In her closed universe, Justine enjoys but a brief moment of happiness that she
eventually finds difficult to endure. She is overcome by masochistic sentiments, and Heaven
soon finishes off the virtuous heroine with the thrust of a lightning bolt. Sade's tragic and
didactic tale embodies social critique, which will be discussed in the next chapter, but in no way
serves "a utopian function," except for, perhaps, libertines. The dystopian ending reaffirms the
notion of survival of the nastiest or, in Sadian terms, of the most powerful elements of Nature.
The third and final approach to the fairy tale concerns style. In his classic work, The
European Folktale (1982), Max Lüthi (1909-1991), the Swiss folklorist and professor of
European literature, rejects motifs and structure as features that make "the folktale a folktale"
(3).55 His method for studying folktales (fairy tales) differs from Propp's in that he does not limit
his research to a single ethnic corpus; he compares folktales from all over Europe to identify the
stylistic features they have in common. Lüthi is concerned with "why it [the folktale] is
composed as it is" rather than "how the folktale is put together" (xix). With regard to motifs,
Lüthi believes that the motifs themselves do not belie "the secret power of the folktale"; rather, it
is the way they are employed, that is, the form they take in the tale (xix). To him, the motifs may
change, but the form or "manner in which . . . [the folktale] uses them" remains constant (xix).
Lüthi argues that the following features are essential to the creation of the folktale (European
"One-dimensionality": the coexistence of real and enchanted worlds
"Depthlessness": characters lack psychological depth
"Abstract Style": a lack of realism and a tendency towards extremes, contrasts, and
"Isolation and Universal Interconnection": the lack of sustained relationship
between characters (Canepa 17-18; Zipes, Oxford 448)
In Justine, Sade echoes Lüthi's special style as just described above. Justine and her libertine
opponents are not psychologically complex characters, but starkly black and white, representing,
quite simplistically, the eternal struggle between good and evil, the powerful and the powerless.
Justine does not coexist harmoniously with her antagonists; the only relationship that exists
between them is that of victim and victimizer. The same distant connection occurs between
Justine and her sister Juliette from whom she has been estranged for more than ten years. Juliette
is a libertine, and like the others of her kind in the tale, constitutes the evil component of the
doppelgänger or opposition between good and evil that Justine and her sister represent. Justine
spends seemingly timeless periods among the libertines who inhabit closed universes of evil that
exist in the crevices of "civilized" eighteenth-century society. The cruelties perpetrated upon
Justine were seemingly vraisemblable with respect to the behavior of real people during Sade's
time--recalling his condition for the roman stated in the quotation which begins the chapter--but
in their totality, they enter the realm of the invraisemblable. Put simply, it would be impossible
for anyone but a fairy-tale heroine to undergo such exaggerated ordeals and to emerge with her
body and spirit unscarred. The acts they practice are not just unconscionable; aggregated, they
are invraisemblable. Sade lures us into a magic realm of cruelty and perversion. His universe is
indeed abstract and one-dimensional, and its fictional inhabitants neither evolve psychologically
nor do they form enduring emotional bonds with other characters; they are essentially isolated
and alone. To use a Sadian term, they are condemned to «isolisme.»
The structure (forme) of Justine defines this work as a literary fairy tale. Sade's tale conforms
to each approach discussed in this chapter. For example, Sade makes use of many familiar fairytale motifs and incorporates characters, spaces, and plots identified with the genre. Most
importantly, he inserts the merveilleux, the feature--more than any other--that defines the literary
fairy tale. As in other tales of the genre, his characters may remain within the realm of the
vraisemblable, but their actions and universes often strain and exceed credibility. By utilizing
the fairy-tale structure for Justine, Sade was able to create a work that appealed to both prurient
and intellectual tastes and, in so doing, provided a vehicle to convey his provocative/moral
message. In the final chapter, I will show that, like the writers of the vogue before him, Sade
used the literary fairy tale as an entertaining ploy to critique contemporary mores and
«JAMAIS, ENFIN, JE LE RÉPÈTE, JAMAIS JE NE PEINDRAI LE CRIME QUE SOUS LES
COULEURS DE L'ENFER. JE VEUX QU'ON LE VOIE À NU, QU'ON LE CRAIGNE,
QU'ON LE DÉTESTE, ET JE NE CONNAIS POINT D'AUTRE FAÇON, POUR EN
ARRIVER LÀ, QUE DE LE MONTRER AVEC TOUTE L'HORREUR QUI LE
CARACTÉRISE.» (SADE, IDÉE SUR LES ROMANS 52)
In Chapter 4, I demonstrated how Sade used traditional features intrinsic to the framework
(forme) of the literary fairy tale to create his own tale, Justine. Since it is problematic to arrive at
a definitive description of the genre, a variety of approaches was examined to isolate the key
characteristics. Folkloricist, structuralist, and literary approaches all contributed to the position
that Sade constructed his text as a fairy tale. Yet, a literary fairy tale is more than its form. It is,
so to speak, a "package" of implicit and explicit messages. Restricting the definition to structure
or style overlooks social and cultural concerns embedded in the text. Although various
interpretations--philosophical, political, psychological, to name a few--have been attributed to
Sade's message(s) in Justine, there can be no doubt that he had in mind more than just the mere
telling of a tragic story. The intellectual content (fond), however one may interpret it, is clearly
present and has established the reputation of Justine as a celebrated work or, more commonly, as
a cause célèbre.56 In this final chapter, I will discuss the fond of Justine as it relates to the
literary fairy tale. I will begin by returning to the folkloricist approach to examine relevant
motifs. I will continue with a brief discussion of Justine viewed from psychoanalytic and
feminist perspectives and will conclude the chapter with a look at the socio-historical context of
Returning to Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk Literature discussed in the previous chapter,
we can identify a small group of folktale motifs that speak to the intellectual content of the
literary fairy tale.57 The folkloricist approach allows us to look at particular motifs that serve as
a means of placing society under a textual microscope for closer observation. What one sees or
reads may be humorous or appalling but the astute observer/reader will detect the provocative
nature of the text. The four motifs under discussion--"Society," "The Nature of Life,"
"Religion," and "Humor"--are meant to arouse the passions and stimulate the intellect. They call
into question traditional ideas and viewpoints in order to subtly or not so subtly suggest changes
It could be assumed that motifs dealing with the social system would be quite numerous
considering the complex and diverse make-up of society. On the contrary, they make up "the
least developed area of the Motif-Index" (Garry and El-Shamy xxviii). The heading "Society" is
restricted to motifs dealing with features of the social order, such as customs, classes, professions
within the classes, and administrative acts (i.e., pertaining to law or war) (xxvii-xxviii). The
fairy-tale writers of the first wave (1690-1703) injected recognizable images of late seventeenthcentury French society into their tales. Towards the end of the third wave (1721-1789), Sade
followed their example in Justine, depicting features of the ancien régime. The portraits of
society in the tales of the conteuses, Perrault, and Sade provided a realistic or plausible
(vraisemblable) dimension to the tales, which served a dual purpose. Readers were able to detect
and relate to elements in their own society, and this familiarity allowed the authors to make
critical observations within the structure of a literary work. As in the previous chapter, I will
give representative examples that illustrate this and each successive point discussed in the
The conteuses of the first vogue set the scenes of their fairy tales in imaginary sumptuous
courts reminiscent of Louis XIV's Versailles. Ostensibly, their literary creations resembled a
kind of propaganda that condoned absolutism not only as a form of rule but as an accepted way
of life. On the other hand, the reflection of aristocratic lifestyle and values gave them a means to
express their desire for a better world, especially one in which women of the upper classes could
freely express themselves emotionally and intellectually. In «La Chatte blanche,» Mme
d'Aulnoy recalls the luxurious physical surroundings and spectacular activities of a Versailleslike court. That a white feline lives in such a style is preposterous (invraisemblable), but it
allows the author to make a statement about controversial issues as diverse as female intelligence
and eloquence and class rivalries (Hannon 86-87).58
In his contes, Perrault dealt with the motif of society in a less extravagant, more correct
fashion. He did not focus so much on maintaining aristocratic values, mores, and materialism as
he did on portraying upper-class (aristocratic and haut bourgeois) civility (civilité) and propriety
(bienséance). In the «Préface» to his Contes en vers (1694), Perrault commits to writing nothing
that would offend modesty or propriety: « . . . le désir de plaire ne m'a jamais assez tenté pour
violer une loi que je me suis imposée de ne rien écrire qui pût blesser ou la pudeur ou la
bienséance» (183). He subscribed to the same conventions of upper-class conduct as the
conteuses, but unlike his female contemporaries, he introduced the bourgeois elite into his tales.
In this way, he was acknowledging their newly ennobled upper-class status and validating their
standards for civilized behavior (Zipes, Subversion 26-27). The practice of misalliance
(mésalliance), i.e., "intermarriages between persons of unequal social status" (Hannon 52),
portrayed in Perrault's tales mirrored the civilizing and socialization processes in motion during
his time (Zipes, Subversion 22-23). As a member of the upwardly mobile bourgeois class,
Perrault used the literary fairy tale as a fictional means to shed a positive light on the ascendant
bourgeoisie as well as on the controversial marital practice between unequal bloodlines, which
had been occurring since medieval times (Hannon 52). Perraldian heroes and heroines of
humble origins manage to climb the social ladder and/or marry above their class because they
personify the ideal "homme civilisé" or "femme civilisée" of the "bourgeois-aristocratic elite"
(Zipes, Subversion 23-26). Griselidis, Cendrillon, and la cadette in «Les Fées» marry well
because they are "beautiful, polite, graceful, industrious, properly groomed, and . . . [know] . . .
how to control . . . [themselves] at all times" (Subversion 25). Le Chat botté, Riquet à la houppe,
and Le Petit Poucet are "active, pursue their goals by using their minds, and exhibit a high
degree of civility," and "their virtues reflect upon the courtly bourgeoisie during King Louis
XIV's reign, if not upon Perrault's very own character" (Subversion 26).
The motif of society is quite pronounced in Sade's tragic tale of Justine. Unlike the
seventeenth-century fairy-tale writers mentioned above, he portrays all classes and institutions of
society in an unflattering fashion, without any regard for civility or propriety. His antiheroic
figures represent a variety of libertine monsters who reject formal and informal societal restraints
instituted by the State (i.e., laws) and by convention (i.e., civilité and bienséance). Like Perrault
and the conteuses, he may have been motivated to depict his characters from the point of view of
his own social and civil status, which, during the time of Justine's writing, was ignominous. For
Sade, his situation as a prisoner may have impelled him to condemn those responsible, regardless
of their rank or social position during the ancien régime. In this light, his tale could be
"conceived as a satire, attacking the corruption of contemporary institutions, including the
judiciary, banking, the bourgeois-dominated world of finances in general and, above all, the
Catholic Church" (Phillips, Sade 94). Whatever his actual motive(s) for writing Justine or
whatever the interpretation of the text (e.g., political, philosophical, psychological), it is clear
that Sade made observations, albeit unfavorable, about the diverse groups that wielded degrees
of power during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI: marginalized inferiors (e.g., thieves,
counterfeiters), upstanding bourgeois (e.g., merchants, physicians-surgeons, judges), clergy
(monks, priests), and those of his own class (aristocrats).
Whereas the "Society" motif allows us a glimpse of class groups, dynamics and institutions,
which invites constructive critique, the motif entitled "The Nature of Life" speaks to ethical
concerns of the social order. According to Thompson, the motifs gathered under this heading are
"of a homiletic tendency" (qtd. in Garry and El-Shamy 445) and derive "mostly from fable
literature"(xxviii). He notes that the sole purpose of the tale is to show the nature of life, a
"[t]hus goes the world" text (qtd. in Garry and El-Shamy 445-46). The description of this motif
reflects the didactic quality of the fairy tale, especially considering its roots in the fable, and I
would add, in the medieval exemplum and conte moral as well.59 The "Nature of Life" motif
imparted in the marvelous context of the fairy tale often appears as a moral or maxim and
addresses such concerns as justice and injustice, good and evil, and correct and incorrect modes
of human behavior.
Fairy-tale writers of the late seventeenth century justified the literary value of their fairy tales
by concluding them with verse morals, moralités, or by interspersing maxims throughout their
texts (Seifert, Nostalgic 52).60 In this way, they could argue the legitimacy of their literary genre
by demonstrating that it adhered to the dulce et utile dictum, that is, it was both pleasing and
instructive. During the famous literary debate la Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes (16871696), conteurs of both sexes could effectively defend the aesthetics of their works against
critical attacks by demonstrating the instructive component provided by the morals or maxims.
In the «Préface» to his Contes en vers, Perrault reinforces the serious aspect of his "frivolous"
tales by emphasizing the presence of the moral that fulfills the utile requirement of the classical
dictum. In other words, the tales are pleasing so that they may be instructive. He states:
. . . ces bagatelles [Contes en vers] n'étaient pas de pures bagatelles,
. . . elles renfermaient une morale utile, et . . . le récit enjoué dont elles étaient
enveloppées avaient été choisi que pour les faire entrer plus agréablement dans
l'esprit et d'une manière qui instruisît et divertît tout ensemble.
(181; qtd. in Seifert, Nostalgia 52)
In the dedication to Histoires ou Contes du temps passé (1697), the moral component is again
underscored when the dedicatee Mademoiselle (great niece of Louis XIV) is told that « . . . [les
Contes] renferment tous une Morale très sensée . . . » (242).
The implicit moralizing in the story lines, explicitly restated in the final verse moral message
or intercalated maxims, reaffirms the Manichean view of the universe. For the most part, in
literary fairy tales of the first wave good triumphs over evil and justice and virtue prevail. The
"happy ending" has a moral basis and thus adheres to the utile requirement of canonical literature
(Seifert, Nostalgic 52-53). Perrault, for example, reassures his readers in the «Préface» to the
Contes en vers that the folkloric tales he recounts communicate an ethical lesson in vice and
virtue. He declares:
Partout la vertu y est récompensée, et partout le vice y est puni.
Ils [les contes de nos aïeux] tendent tous à faire voir l'avantage
qu'il y a d'être honnête, patient, avisé, laborieux, obéissant,
et le mal qui arrive à ceux qui ne le sont pas. (183)
Like the fairy-tale writers of the first wave, Sade incorporates the "Nature of Life" motif in
his tale Justine through both the implicit moral embedded in the narrative of the tale and the
explicit moral which he announces in the dedication and reiterates in the final paragraph. Since
his moral speaks of virtue and vice, it fulfills the utile function of a serious literary work.
However, Sade turns the initial literary fairy-tale portrayal of virtue triumphant and vice
vanquished upside down. He, too, extols virtue, but he does so by contrasting it with a vivid
array of libertine vices. That is to say, he fulfills the minimum criterion for the moral message,
while at the same time regaling the reader with an impressive variety of immoral scenes.
In the dedication of Justine to his companion Marie-Constance Renelle (Mme Quesnet), Sade
underscores the novelty of his work and decries the hackneyed portrayal of virtue recompensed
and vice punished:
LE DESSEIN . . . EST NOUVEAU SANS DOUTE; L'ASCENDANT DE
LA VERTU SUR LE VICE, LA RÉCOMPENSE DU BIEN, LA PUNITION
DU MAL, VOILÀ LA MARCHE ORDINAIRE DE TOUS LES OUVRAGES
DE CETTE ESPÈCE; NE DEVRAIT-ON PAS EN ÊTRE REBATTU! (27-28)
He goes on to say in an immodest way that by presenting various tableaux of vice triumphant
and virtue a victim he has offered up one of the loftiest and most original moral lessons ever
given to man:
MAIS OFFRIR PARTOUT LE VICE TRIOMPHANT ET LA VERTU VICTIME
DE SES SACRIFICES . . . DANS LA SEULE VUE D'OBTENIR . . . L'UNE DES PLUS
SUBLIMES LEÇONS DE MORALE QUE L'HOMME AIT ENCORE REÇU; C'ÉTAIT
ON EN CONVIENDRA, PARVENIR AU BUT PAR UNE ROUTE PEU FRAYÉE
JUSQU'À PRÉSENT. (28)62
In the final paragraph of Justine, Sade restates his case for extolling virtue by embellishing
vice; he wants to make sure that the reader does indeed grasp the message of his tale by
hammering it in one last time. Like the fairy-tale writers of the first wave, he aims to end his
story on a serious, moralistic tone. He expresses the hope that the reader will "extract from this
story the same moral" (Seaver and Wainhouse 743) as Justine's dissolute sister Madame de
Lorsange (Juliette), who is so moved by Justine's horrendous demise--Heaven's "reward" for her
sufferings--that she decides to devote her life to the pursuit of virtue and consequently hastens to
Paris to join the Carmelite order. He further reinforces the religious aspect of his moral and/or
tale, by emphasizing the conclusion that virtue may be beset with punishment in the temporal life
but rewarded in the hereafter:
Ô vous, qui répandîtes des larmes sur les malheurs de la Vertu;
vous, qui plaignîtes l'infortunée Justine; en pardonnant les crayons peut-être
un peu forts que l'on s'est trouvé contraint d'employer, puissiez-vous tirer
au moins de cette histoire le même fruit que Madame de Lorsange! Puissiez-vous
vous convaincre avec elle, que le véritable bonheur n'est qu'au sein de la Vertu,
et que si dans des vues qu'il ne nous appartient pas d'approfondir, Dieu permet
qu'elle soit persécutée sur la Terre, c'est pour l'en dédommager dans le Ciel
par les plus flatteuses récompenses. (361-62)
Sade's insertion of Christian theology at the end underscores the didactic value of Justine and
suggests to readers that they have been exposed to a "morally uplifting tale" (Phillips, Sade
In addition to the morals stated at the beginning and ending of Justine, Béatrice Didier claims
that Sade uses Justine's other sympathetic listener Monsieur de Corville, Juliette's "sugar daddy,"
to communicate the ethical or moral underpinnings of his tale (279 n1). When recounting her
adventures at the lair of the counterfeiter Roland, she pauses at one point because she does not
wish to offend her intimate audience with additional horrors.
Monsieur de Corville insists that she continue but not for prurient reasons. He states that her
story is useful, for it helps to further the understanding of human behavior, that is, to
comprehend the nature of the human heart, one must not ignore its monstrous side (278-79).
"Religion" logically follows the "The Nature of Life" in the sequence of motifs. Both motifs
address morality and human behavior from a Christian perspective. The moralités and maxims
incorporated in fin-de-siècle literary fairy tales not only justify the literary value of the texts, i.e.,
they are instructive as well as pleasing, but also reinforce the religious belief that good or proper
actions are always preferable to bad or improper ones and, as a result, that virtue prevails. Apart
from highlighting virtuous acts and personality traits, the conteuses, as advocates and
practitioners of libre pensée (see Chapter 2), did not use their tales as literary arms of traditional,
perhaps even reactionary, church teachings and institutions. However, the rite that did interest
them and that they wrote about with great frequency was marriage, because in their fairy-tale
inventions it represented an idealized state of reciprocal love and tenderness between men and
women. Perrault, on the other hand, was especially concerned that his tales conformed to
Christian ethics and practices or bienséance, which served him well when arguing the literary
superiority of folkloric over classical or pagan models during the literary debate between the
Anciens and the Modernes. Griselidis is able to withstand the cruel treatment of her husband le
Prince because she carries out God's will as a patient and obedient Christian wife. The marriage
between la Belle and le Prince Charmant is performed by «le grand Aumônier» (chaplain) in the
«Chapelle du Château» (castle chapel) (249). La Barbe bleue's latest young wife tearfully begs
him to allow her a little time to pray to God--«prier Dieu»-- (260) before he murders her.
"Religion" is a prominent motif in Justine. As noted above, Sade manipulates the moral so
that his tale gives the appearance--at the very least for the benefit of the censors--that it does, in
fact, conform to Christian morality. He extols virtue by way of exaggerating libertine vice. Sade
combines debauchery and crime to depict an unsavory portrait of vice, so that the reader, like the
characters Madame de Lorsange and Monsieur de Corville, may be inspired to love and pursue
virtue in order to receive "Heaven's most dazzling rewards" (Seaver and Wainhouse 743). Some
of Justine's libertine oppressors argue the contrary in their disquisitions; they are militant atheists
with a materialist orientation who have no use for virtue much less God. They play devils'
advocates to Justine's "naïve" belief in the existence of God who, in the afterlife, exacts justice
on earthly behavior by punishing the evildoers and rewarding the righteous. The bandit Cœur-
de-fer tells Justine-Thérèse that there is no God, that nature is capable of providing for its own
needs: «Non, Thérèse, non, il n'est point de Dieu, la nature se suffit à elle-même; elle n'a
nullement besoin d'un auteur . . . » (75-76). A little further on, the Comte de Bressac echoes and
upholds Cœur-de-fer's viewpoint:
-- Toutes les religions partent d'un principe faux, Thérèse . . . toutes supposent
comme nécessaire le culte d'un Être créateur, mais ce créateur n'exista jamais.
Rappelle-toi sur cela les préceptes sensés de ce certain Cœur-de-Fer qui
m'as-tu dit, Thérèse, avait comme moi travaillé ton esprit; rien de plus juste que
les principes de cet homme . . . (95)
Towards the end of the tale, Justine-Thérèse again encounters the thief la Dubois who, like the
other two criminals, tries in vain to convince her of «les routes dangereuses de la Vertu» and
«un Dieu vengeur . . . [qui] n'est qu'une chimère dont la sotte existence ne se trouva jamais que
dans la tête des fous . . . » (328-29).
In Justine, the "Religion" motif is not only depicted theologically but ritualistically and
symbolically as well. Whereas the disquisitions serve to involve Justine in an intellectual debate
about the tenets of her faith, the debaucheries provide visual and tangible evidence of a quite
unintellectual variety: irreverent and indeed blasphemous practices. These Gothic tableaux recall
the dark side of the literary fairy tale. For example, the four Benedictine monks at the SainteMarie-des-Bois monastery clandestinely celebrate the yearly feast of their miraculous Virgin by
subjecting a chaste young woman to a sacrilegious orgiastic ceremony. Justine recounts the
. . . ils [les moines] font mettre nue cette enfant [Florette], ils la couchent
à plat ventre sur une grande table; ils allument des cierges, ils placent l'image
de notre Sauveur au milieu des reins de la jeune fille et osent consommer sur
ses fesses le plus redoutable de nos mystères. . . . On me place au même lieu
que Florette; le sacrifice se consomme, et l'hostie…ce symbole sacré de notre
auguste religion…Severino [l'un des moines] s'en saisit, il l'enfonce au local
obscène de ses sodomites jouissances…» (212-13).
Another libertine criminal, Roland, leads Justine to a subterranean chamber where he exposes
her to the site of his necrophilic pleasures. The scene that she describes evokes the crucifixion in
a similarly profane and macabre fashion.64 She relates her horror to Madame de Lorsange and
Monsieur de Corville:
. . . un cercueil qu'entrouvrait le spectre de la mort armé d'une faux
menaçante; un prie-dieu était à côté; on voyait un crucifix au-dessus, placé
entre deux cierges noirs; à gauche l'effigie en cire d'une femme nue . . . elle
était attachée à une croix, elle y était posée sur la poitrine de façon qu'on voyait
amplement toutes ses parties postérieures, mais cruellement molestées; le sang
paraissait sortir de plusieurs plaies, et couler le long de ses cuisses . . . (281)
The final motif dealing with the intellectual content of literary fairy tales concerns humor,
which comes as a welcome interlude to the sort of passages described above. Zipes states that
the fairy tales of the first wave were generally "very serious in tone and intent" and that "[o]nly
here and there in the works of D'Aulnoy and Perrault do we find ironic and humorous touches"
(Dreams 43). His observation may be valid to a certain extent, since the conteuses were
concerned with at once expressing their desire for emotional and intellectual freedom and
representing the interests of the elite classes to which they belonged. Yet, since the tales began
as a form of salon entertainment, they aimed to amuse, and this feature spilled over in their
literary productions. Exaggerations, anthropomorphic animals, magical interventions, ironic
passages, statements, and morals as well as descriptive names are but a few of the devices used
by the female writers to elicit a smile. On a more sophisticated level, their stories could be read
as satire of court life and, broadly, of fin-de-siècle patriarchal society. Perrault's tales could also
be interpreted as social satire, which both he and his female contemporaries artfully disguised as
pleasing tales that sought to instruct through the addition of morals and maxims. His stories
were entertaining, in part, because he used humorous and comic devices similar to those
mentioned above, with one outstanding exception. Despite his concern for bienséance, Perrault
peppered some of his tales with scatological and sexual innuendo, mildly reminiscent of the
ribald humor (grivoiserie) that characterized medieval fabliaux. In three of his tales--«La Belle
au bois dormant,» «Le Maître Chat ou le Chat botté,» and «Le Petit Poucet»--Perrault alludes to
the phallic connotation of the word designating a type of everyday footwear, "boots" or «bottes»
(Soriano, Contes 460). The donkey in «Peau d'Âne» excretes gold coins (without leaving an
odor), and Cendrillon is vulgarly nicknamed Cucendron by her malicious elder stepsister.
The humor in Justine is easy to overlook because of the powerful presence of sex and
violence as well as the darker philosophies of the Enlightenment, in which Sade echoed such
materialist philosophers as d'Holbach and La Mettrie. However, with the exception of
anthropomorphic animals, in Justine Sade combined the comedic and humorous devices used by
the first-wave fairy-tale writers with the parodic, satirical, and licentious conventions of the third
wave (1721-1789) to inspire thought-provoking laughter (or at the very least, a knowing smile).
Before discussing five prominent aspects that exemplify Sadian humor in Justine--parody, satire,
licentiousness (or pornography), language, and black humor (l'humour noir)--I wish to quote
from a letter in which the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) expresses his
reaction after reading the third version of Justine. Although La Nouvelle Justine is a "much
extended and more openly obscene final version of Justine's adventures" (Phillips, Sade 88), I
believe his observations are equally applicable to the second version, the subject of this project.
Here are the initial comments of the lengthy critique written to Swinburne's friend Richard
Monckton Milnes in August 1862:
I have just read "[La Nouvelle] Justine ou les Malheurs de la Vertu." As
you seemed anxious to know its effect on me I mean to give you a candid record,
avoiding paradox or affectation. . . .
At first, I quite expected to add another to the gifted author's list of victims; I
really thought I must have died or split open or choked with laughing. I never
laughed so much in my life: I couldn't have stopped to save the said life. I went
from text to illustrations and back again, till I literally doubled up and fell down
with laughter -- I regret to add that all the friends to whom I have lent or shown the
book were affected in just the same way. . . . (rpt. in Bongie 285)
Of course, Swinburne was expressing disappointment in his erstwhile literary hero whose writing
resembled "the ludic hyperbole of smutty schoolyard wordplay" (285). But, at least he
recognized the humor resulting from gross exaggeration.
Actually, much of Sade's humor in Justine does not project the sexual farce that Swinburne
found so hysterically funny. Rather, it is quite sophisticated; Sade incorporated parodic,
satirical, and licentious features that characterize the literary fairy tale during most of the
eighteenth century. In fact, to identify and understand the humor, one needs to be familiar with
the tales as well as novels of the period, their respective authors, and prominent motifs.
Although Sade did not write parodic literary fairy tales, as was commonly done during the third
wave, he did make use of the device for humorous and comedic effect. In Justine, a
knowledgeable reader can readily spot parodies of Voltaire, Rousseau, the "tearful tone" (ton
larmoyant) of the conte moral, and the Gothic mode.
Sade admired Voltaire and said as much in Idée sur les romans: «Et, malgré toutes les
critiques, Candide et Zadig ne seront-ils pas toujours des chefs-d'œuvre?» (27). Lawrence W.
Lynch states that Sade begins all three versions of Justine "with an appropriate reference to
Zadig: there is no evil from which some good does not result" [«il n'y aucun mal dont il ne naisse
un bien» (29)] (Marquis 48-49), which sets the tone for Sade's inverse moral. He also remarks
that Voltaire's conte philosophique Candide might have served as a precedent for Justine (4849).65 Both protagonists exude naïveté despite the evil they encounter during their peregrinations
through their Manichean worlds. Candide survives his trials and so does Justine, up until the
moment she is struck down by a bolt from her beloved Deity. Justine's optimistic view of virtue
destroys her; Candide's optimistic view of everything is not destroyed, but he is advised to tend a
garden, which Voltaire offers as "a practical means of forgetting the insoluble problems which
beset humans" (Marquis 50). Sade's parody is decidedly more damning of optimism than
Rousseau is another of Sade's parodic targets. Although he praises the philosopher's ability to
express tenderness and feeling in the novel «L'Héloïse,» in his essay Idée sur les romans (27-28),
Sade turns around and mocks Rousseau's sentimentality and emotion (sensibilité) in his tale
Justine. Specifically, Sade takes aim at l'innocence persécutée, which also appears as a popular
theme in other fictional works of the period (Werner 105). Sade exaggerates Justine's
persecutions to the extent that her improbable survival becomes ludicrous (Werner 105). The
repetitious pattern of her adventures--capture/encounter, imprisonment, torture, and escape--is
another feature of the parody (Werner 105). This theme evokes several traditional fairy-tale
motifs exploited by both seventeenth and eighteenth-century writers.66
Sade further derides the excessive emotion portrayed in the eighteenth-century conte moral,
which depicts societal manners and mores in need of correction through the narrative structure of
the story. In Idée sur les romans, he expresses disapproval of Jean-François Marmontel (17231799), the self-appointed creator of this new genre (Aubrit 46), whose "overly mannered and
precious style" resembles that of the playwright Marivaux (1688-1763) (McMahon 13). Sade
derisively refers to Marmontel's Contes moraux as «des contes à l'eau-rose» (Idée 29). In
Justine, he parodies the ton larmoyant ("tearful tone"), indicative of the surplus of sensibilité in
these contes as well as in other fictional writings of the period (see above). Justine's excessive
tears only move her insensitive libertine captors to produce excessive foutre.67 Sade sets the
parodic tone by alluding to the power of tears in the melodramatic dedication-preface of Justine.
He writes that a single tear shed by his hypersensitive companion Constance, whom he
appropriately nicknamed «Sensible» and to whom he dedicates Justine, would determine the
success of his work. The dedication-preface concludes with an overly emotional tribute to virtue
made even more sublime when accentuated by misfortunes and tears:
. . . UNE LARME DE TES YEUX DÉTERMINERA-T-ELLE MON TRIOMPHE?
APRÈS AVOIR LU JUSTINE EN UN MOT, DIRAS-TU, «Ô COMBIEN CES TABLEAUX
«DU CRIME ME RENDENT FIÈRE D'AIMER LA VERTU! COMME ELLE EST SUBLIME
«DANS LES LARMES? COMME LES MALHEURS L'EMBELLISSENT!» (28)
Sade brings closure to Justine's tale with the same tearful sentimentality. Phillips states that the "
'recognition scene' " . . . in which the characters long separated are tearfully reunited" is "a stock
situation of the genre" (Sade 95). Indeed, Propp includes it among his list of fairy-tale/wondertale functions.68 Didier observes that this fateful encounter is characteristic of the «roman
sensible de la fin du XVIIIe siècle» (357 n1). Whichever genre it typifies, the "recognition
scene" has all the melodrama of a soap opera, which makes a serious moment in the action
suddenly and ironically comical:
Et les deux soeurs étroitement serrées dans les bras l'une de l'autre
ne s'entendaient plus que par leurs sanglots, ne s'exprimaient que par
leurs larmes. (357)
Apart from the ton larmoyant, Sade also appears to lampoon the subtitles of the contes
moraux, which suggest the moral thread of the work. One of Marmontel's first contes is entitled:
«Le Scrupule, ou l'amour mécontent de lui-même» (1756). Surely Sade wore a sourire moqueur
when he composed the subtitles for Justine (ou Les Malheurs de la vertu) and for Juliette (ou Les
Prospérités du vice).
Parody also underlies the horror that typifies many of the passages in Justine, which are
reminiscent of traditional dark fairy-tale motifs.69 They reflect the " 'gothic' mode of sensibility
that emerged in the early eighteenth century and brought with it the attractions of horror and the
poetics of death" (Werner 107). Unlike some writers of Gothic fiction, Sade does not set Justine
in the Middle Ages nor does he make use of ghosts or other supernatural beings or occurrences.
In fact, in his treatise on literature he criticizes the genre for the feature he parodies in Justine:
the tiresome repetition of "all the misfortunes with which the wicked can assail men" (McMahon
14-15). However, Justine is replete with reminiscences of Gothic prose fiction. The longsuffering innocent heroine endures unspeakable trials imposed by cruel and lustful villains who
perform their horrific acts (e.g., poisonings, torture, murder, debauchery) in isolated locales (e.g.,
castles with dungeons, subterranean passages, and burial grounds). Werner observes that Sade's
depictions of horror "are not meant to strike fear into the hearts of readers"; rather, "[t]hey are
bits of window dressing, ironic bows to a literary convention viewed as exhausted and unworthy"
Like the fairy-tale writers of the first wave, those of the third found the genre a useful vehicle
for social, political, and philosophical satire. Perrault and the conteuses were more circumspect
and subtle in their critique of court life and the manners and mores of elite society, but with the
advent of the Enlightenment, writers became more audacious. As mentioned in Chapter 2,
Voltaire not only used his conte philosophique to deliver ironic commentaries on French society
but also wrote a marvelous tale, «Le Taureau blanc» (1775), that took aim at Old Testament
stories, i.e., religion. Rousseau was bold enough to express his discontent outright; he did not
use the subterfuge of the conte philosophique to make critical statements and observations. Yet,
he did write one fairy tale, «La Reine fantasque» (1754) that ridiculed the monarchy, parenthood,
bourgeois marriage, and women. Other writers of the period capitalized on the genre's
"predictable structures . . . moralizing pretext . . . [, and] (purported) innocence" to satirize
"religious and political personages and, occasionally, social and philosophical norms" (Zipes,
Oxford 179-80). Justine can readily be interpreted as a satire of all of the above. Sade ridicules
the libertine monsters who appear outwardly as respectable members of society. He virulently
attacks religion and the Church's insistence on virtuous acts and character as a means of attaining
heavenly rewards. He utilizes the same theme of virtue to at once tout the philosophy of his
"beloved" Enlightenment materialist philosophers d'Holbach and La Mettrie and condemn
Rousseau's «pacte social.»
Much like the satirical tales of the eighteenth century, licentious tales also went after societal,
political, and philosophical norms of the period. Many contes de fées of the third wave included
erotic or pornographic descriptions, which in the guise of humorous diversion, served as "often
highly coded critique" (Zipes, Oxford 180). As mentioned in Chapter 2, well-known
Enlightenment figures as Diderot and Rousseau are included among the writers who utilized
erotic and licentious passages as a cover for satire. Sade was no different. The pornography in
Justine, which is considered "strong stuff" (Gray 318) even for the eighteenth century, «un siècle
entièrement corrompu» (29), can be interpreted as a device to attack the hypocrisy of
contemporary social classes and secular and religious institutions. It is questionable whether
Sade uses pornography in Justine to critique the political realities of the ancien régime. He does
demonstrate, however, that the strong always overcome the weak (and virtuous) and consistently
attain earthly rewards no matter the number of crimes they commit. The energetic sexual
practices of Justine's libertine oppressors illustrate this commonplace.
To conclude the discussion of the motif "Humor" in Justine, I will make brief mention of
Sade's language and l'humour noir (black humor), which are somewhat related. One of the most
surprising aspects of Sade's writing in Justine is the lack of obscene language to describe the
escapades of the libertines. Even though his descriptions of orgies and violence are quite strong,
he succeeds in projecting visual images of such scenes using euphemism and metaphor. As
Raymond Jean points out, Sade writes in the classical manner of his time, that is, characterized
by «des subtilités précieuses . . . et de raffinements grammaticaux» (342). Professionally, Sade
considers himself an author, an homme de lettres, and takes pains to demonstrate his literary
ability. Of course, the same preoccupation with language allows him to circumvent censure and
"helps to create nice touches of an ironic humour, born of contrast and form" (Phillips, Sade
103). Some of the metaphors used to describe erotic activities are symbolically expressed in
botanical, military, and even religious terms (Sade 103). Thus, Sade can be paradoxically
sexually explicit and refined at the same time. Jean cites as an example the passage in which
Justine recounts Cœur-de-fer's assault (assaut) on her; the double meaning of feux, péristyles,
autel, bélier, and villes assiégées is noteworthy:
. . . dès que je fus comme il le désirait, m'ayant fait mettre les bras à terre,
ce que me faisait ressembler à une bête, la Dubois apaisa ses feux en approchant
une espèce de monstre, positivement aux péristyles de l'un et l'autre autel de la
nature en telle sorte qu'à chaque secousse elle dût fortement frapper ces parties
de sa main pleine, comme le bélier jadis aux portes des villes assiégées. (341)70
From time to time, though, Sade deviates from metaphorical and flowery language to inject a
crude term. For example, Justine overflows with «foutre» (Jean 342).
The comic style in the above passage can best be described by its surrealistic designation
l'humour noir or black humor. The erotic transgression and gratuitous violence in themselves are
not funny, but when Sade uses elegant language and syntax to describe the scene, the result is
both shocking and humorous. Perrault, unaware that this type of humor had a name,
incorporated it in his charming contes. The Ogresse mother-in-law in «La Belle au bois
dormant» had a taste for little children and expressed her desire to have her granddaughter
Aurore served with a «Sauce-robert» (250). When le Petit Chaperon rouge undressed and
jumped into bed with her Mère-grand, the Loup in disguise, she expressed amazement to see
how her Mère-grand appeared in her «déshabillé» (255). The incongruities of such horrible
passages, like the Sadian passage cited above, make the reader at once wince and laugh.
Humor is a complex and significant motif in literary fairy tales. Much more could be said
about comic irony, comic indifference, language, sarcasm, and so on. This discussion could
easily be the subject of a chapter or even a book. However, what is important to remember is
that during all three phases of the fairy-tale vogue the humor incorporated in the stories delighted
and amused audiences but it also alerted them to what was wrong with societal, political,
philosophical, and religious norms.
The psychoanalytic and feminist conceptual approaches to fairy tales, like certain motifs of
the historicist approach, also speak to the fond or intellectual content of the fairy tale. Both
viewpoints deal with a myriad of interpretations, all of which lie in the realm of the theoretical
but nonetheless deserve some attention because they represent innovative ways of interpreting
fairy tales and are relevant to contemporary thought. When the fairy-tale writers of the lateseventeenth and eighteenth centuries sat down to compose their tales, they could not have
imagined that almost three centuries hence researchers, not necessarily literati like themselves,
would assign meanings to their texts that they could not have even contemplated. Interpretation
of fairy tales from psychoanalytic or feminist viewpoints is problematic because these conceptual
methodologies are so subjective. For this reason, I intend to acknowledge these approaches only
Fairy tales, like dreams, easily lend themselves to psychoanalytic interpretations, especially
with regard to their violent and sexual contents. As I have pointed out, literary fairy-tale writers,
of whom I consider Sade to be one, filled their pages with sex and cruelty. For them, the harsh
images served at least three important purposes: they held their readers' interest in the story
(entertainment); they implicitly or explicitly communicated warnings or lessons (instruction);
and they " . . . [reflected] the particular cultural and historical contexts in which they . . . [were]
produced" (social criticism) (Zipes, Oxford 20). Psychoanalytical critics look at fairy tales from
a developmental point of view, which is how they explain the dark side of human nature. For
them, "the violence and conflict in the tales derive from profound instinctual developments in the
human psyche and hence represent symbolical modes by which children and adults deal with
sexual problems" (Zipes, Dreams 77). I seriously doubt that the literary fairy-tale writers, and
especially Sade, had this in mind when they composed their stories. Nevertheless, it is
interesting and sometimes helpful to examine their tales from a psychoanalytical perspective. In
the latter decade of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, German
psychiatrists were influential in rehabilitating Sade. In his Psychopathia Sexualis (1895) Richard
von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) viewed Sade's literary "aberrations" as having scientific value
(Gray 415). Dr. Iwan Bloch (1872-1922), who published the first limited edition of Les Cent
Vingt Journées de Sodome in 1904, stated that " ' . . . [Sade's] works show how closely linked
our life is to the sexual instinct, which, as he had recognized . . . influences the near totality of
human relationships.' " (qtd. in Gray 415). Later, Freudian and Jungian critics were especially
insightful in their analyses of fairy tales, which, I believe, pertain to Sade as well. Jungians
showed us the "links between archetypes, the collective unconscious, and fairy tales" (Zipes,
Dreams 78). The previous discussions on the heroine and motifs (Chapters 3 and 4, respectively)
alluded to their point of view. The orientation of the Freudians made us aware of the nature of
sexuality in fairy tales and its subsequent relationship to human development. Even though
psychoanalytical approaches ignored aesthetic and cultural aspects of fairy tales, they did "shed
light on the symbolical meanings of the tales" (Zipes, Dreams 78).
The feminist approach examines the fairy tale from the perspective of gender and sexuality.
Much of the focus has centered on the heroine. According to more critical feminist approaches,
she is traditionally portrayed as the victim of the patriarchal social system. She is the
quintessential Perraldian heroine who is physically and spiritually beautiful and always obeys her
spouse or other dominant masculine figure. On the other hand, less critical approaches tend to
view these same heroines as courageous, resourceful, and assertive. This remains as true for the
Perraldian protagonists as it does for the more "enlightened" protagonists of the conteuses. As I
pointed out in the discussion on the heroine (Chapter 3), Justine can be viewed both ways as
well: as a comely victim of libertine vice or as a lovely young woman who is "intelligent and
self-assertive in debates with her libertine captors, who always listen respectfully to her
arguments and at times even compliment her reasoning" (Phillips, Sade 111). In The Sadeian
Woman, British writer Angela Carter (1940-1992) states that "she is the heroine of a black,
inverted fairy-tale" (39) whose moral warns of the lethal consequences of living a passive life
(77). For Carter, who viewed herself as a socialist feminist, Justine is "the bourgeois
individualist in its tragic aspect" whereas "her sister, Juliette, offers its heroic side" (Sadeian 77).
Carter's most acclaimed work, The Bloody Chamber (1979), is a rewriting of ten classic fairy
tales in which she "gives substance to the courage and multiple desires of her heroines, who
struggle in specific cultural and historical contexts" (Zipes, Oxford 90). Simone de Beauvoir
(1908-1986), a well known feminist author and trailblazer, also wrote about Sade and the fairy
tale, but unlike Carter, did not connect them both with the heroine; rather, she wrote about them
separately from a feminist perspective. With regard to the depiction of the heroine, the focus of
this discussion, she criticized fairy tales for their negative stereotyping of women, which is not
surprising. Her essay «Faut-il brûler Sade» (1951) serves as both rehabilitation and critique of
Sade the man and his works.
Feminist criticism, with its emphasis on gender differences, presents a narrow view of the
fairy tale. Even though it has helped to bring attention to traditional sex roles and social and
political sexual inequalities, it has generally overlooked broader socio-cultural concerns and has
relied on simplistic interpretations of texts and as such, is not particularly pertinent to my
I will conclude this chapter on the intellectual content of the literary fairy tale with a
discussion on the socio-historical approach, which I believe, offers a comprehensive
interpretation of both the forms and the contents of the tales. This approach, pioneered by Jack
Zipes, views the fairy tale as a reflection of social and historical conditions. It takes into account
both the forms and contents of the tales in light of the social, political, and cultural contexts in
which they were written (Zipes, Spell ix). The magical or marvelous elements of the tales
allowed writers or tellers of tales to "deal with real social issues of their time" (Zipes, "CrossCultural" 860), which they would not be permitted to address directly. In other words, the
implausible features were employed to camouflage social critique or even subversive potential.
Fairy-tale writers in each of the three phases of the vogue combined the plausible with the
implausible to convey criticism in the guise of entertainment. Sade used this technique in
During the first phase of the vogue (1690-1703), fairy-tale writers managed to convey
concerns about social and political issues of their time and express utopian desires for change
through the structure and content of their tales. During the final decades of Louis XIV's reign,
the financial drain of his wars and the years of famine took a toll on his subjects and set the stage
for widespread discontent (Zipes, Beauty xv). Since the censor prevented the fairy-tale writers,
or for that matter all writers, from directly criticizing the king, they found narrative strategies to
circumvent the law and express hope for change. Elite women in particular were responsible for
creating a new genre that grew out of salon entertainments. Structurally, they were able to
incorporate their sophisticated games and conversations and precious language into literary fairy
tales largely inspired by the oral tales of peasants. Superficially, they mirrored the language and
splendor of the court; between the lines they spoke of "concerns that covered the role of precious
women, the relations and conditions of court society, tender and natural love, war, duplicity,
class status, taste, morality, and power relations" (Zipes, "Cross-Cultural" 860). Perrault, too,
had a concern for bienséance with regard to language and subject matter. He used the aesthetics
of the new genre to speak on behalf of the upwardly mobile bourgeois class, comment upon the
appropriate role of women in society, and address the questionable practice of mésalliance, for
The tales of the second and third phases (1704-1789), continued the practice of portraying the
implausible as "a rational endeavor . . . to illuminate the irrational and destructive tendencies of
their times" (Zipes, Beauty xix). Galland's translation/adaptation and subsequent publication of
Les Mille et Une Nuits (1704-1717) offered fairy-tale writers an exotic setting for venting
criticism of the decaying ancient régime. Concerning language and structure, Zipes informs us
that fairy-tale writers of the eighteenth century were still aware of the importance of conversation
and continued to embed their tales "within frame narratives which highlighted the exchange of
literary fairy tales and dialogue" ("Cross-Cultural" 863). The diversity of tales that blossomed
included certain forms--philosophical, parodic, satirical, and licentious--that continued to utilize
the fairy-tale aesthetic of the first vogue to voice social and political critique.
And then Justine appeared at the end of the third phase. Sade continued the early tradition of
voicing criticism through the framework of the impossible. Like the fairy-tales writers before
him, he managed to depict his age and criticize its shortcomings in the guise of recounting a tale
about vice and virtue. In fact, in Justine, he calls indirect attention to himself as one of those
"perverse" writers of his time, «cette époque fatale pour la vertu» (31), who wish to immortalize
crime through its depiction in their writings:
. . . il [le moine Clément] est . . . comme ces écrivains pervers, dont la corruption
est si dangereuse, si active qu'ils n'ont pour but en imprimant leurs affreux
systèmes, que d'étendre au-delà de leur vie la somme de leurs crimes; ils n'en
peuvent plus faire, mais leurs maudits écrits en feront commettre, et cette douce
idée qu'ils emportent au tombeau les console de l'obligation, où les met la mort
de renoncer au mal. (210-11).71
Of course, to many, the monk Clément, about whom he is writing, is the embodiment of the
author who uses very proper classical French to comment about the social, political, and cultural
realities in a direct, violent manner. Sade does not frame his tale in a splendid setting and
suggest what is wrong only between the lines. He is straightforwardly bold, energetic, and
shocking. Through the disquisitions, we learn about the darker side of the Enlightenment, i.e.,
the merits of atheism, materialism, and libertine behavior. He condemns the lettres de cachet,
the pillars of society, and familial-societal ties; he was a victim of all three during his lifetime.
He apologizes for his ignoble tableaux of vice by confirming that only by contrasting virtue with
the most horrible crimes can it be extolled. Whether Sade was condemning virtue or vice is
irrelevant to the idea that Justine, like a good many of the literary fairy tales, portrayed the worst
aspects of its time.
The quotation that introduces Chapter 5 represents Sade's rationalization as to why crime
should be described with brutal candor in the novel. Or, perhaps to avoid censure for his own
writings, he was attempting to justify the actual portrayal of crime in that genre. Clearly, his
theory of how crime should be displayed in a novel exemplifies how he actually depicted it in
Justine. In fact, two sentences later, the reader of the essay encounters his disclaimer to the
authorship of «le roman de J…» (52). Sade seems to protest too much. Whether or not he is
playing cat and mouse with the censor is unimportant. What matters is his observation that to
understand the nature of crime, it must be shown in all its horror. One does not have to read
between the lines to recognize his moral message. Like the literary fairy-tale writers throughout
the vogue, he creates an implausible story to act as a mirror that reflects all within its scope,
including what the reader may not want to see. Sade, in similar fashion to other writers of the
genre, succeeds at opening the mind to multiple interpretations of the fairy tale.
«QUE VEUX-TU QU'ON FASSE SANS LIVRES? IL FAUT EN ÊTRE ENTOURÉ
POUR TRAVAILLER, SINON ON NE PEUT FAIRE QUE DES CONTES DE FÉES,
ET JE N'AI PAS CET ESPRIT-LÀ.» (SADE, LETTRES À SA FEMME 98)
The quotation is extracted from a letter that Sade wrote to his wife Renée-Pélagie during the
early years of his incarceration in Vincennes. The date was probably March or April 1779, and
the remark appeared towards the end of the letter. He complained that he had no work for his
valet La Jeunesse who was in charge of copying his manuscripts. He implied that in order to
produce serious work, he needed books without which he could only make up frivolous tales,
fairy tales. This statement may seem antithetical to what I am arguing in this dissertation--that
Justine was a fairy tale--but, in fact, it offers proof that Sade was familiar with the genre as
reader or listener. Furthermore, the statement underscores the reputation of fairy tales as
writings of a less serious nature which lacked intellectual content and appeal. Sade was asserting
his literary arrogance, suggesting that he was not the type to write those kinds of texts. But, Sade
was not always to be believed. In the last chapter, we saw how he overtly denied any ties to
Justine's authorship. He may have pooh-poohed the contes de fées in 1779, but when his literary
drive took hold during his years in the Bastille, the fairy tale, I contend, was his genre of choice
for Justine. It allowed him an outlet for his energetic imagination and a vehicle to make critical
observations about the age in which he was living, the Age of Enlightenment. The result was the
work that established his reputation as an impure, infamous author.
Throughout this thesis, I have pointed out on a few occasions that Sade was a voracious
reader and an avid collector of books covering a variety of topics. I was curious to see if literary
fairy tales of the vogue were found in his libraries, if they were among his requests for reading
material, or if they were listed in book catalogues received during his detention. A cursory
glance at the result would seem to reflect his remark about fairy tales; that is, there are some
contes but not a profusion. However, the assortment of his readings provided material for the
intellectual content (fond) of Justine. He was able to make references to the socio-cultural
concerns of the long eighteenth century as well as to other literary, cultural, and historical eras.
In fact, to fully appreciate the critical observations of his work, the reader must have some
familiarity with, for example, Voltaire (29-30), Rousseau (133), d'Holbach (103), Condillac
(199), Molière (50-55), d'Argens's Thérèse philosophe (1748),72 Captain Cook (252), and
French and even Chinese history (294-595).73 Sade demands an erudite reader of Justine, a work
far above the chapbooks of the popular Bibliothèque Bleue. As an homme de lettres, Sade made
it plain through the formality of his language and the intellectual and topical references that
Justine was not just frivolous, sensationalist, and erotic-pornographic.
To visualize the quantity and diversity of books in Sade's libraries, one only has to consult
Hans-Ulrich Seifert's comprehensive study of his reading, Sade: Leser und Autor, which he
compiled from "catalogues at Lacoste, references and requests in the letters, lists of effects from
the various prisons as Sade was moved on, footnotes in his works" (Warman, Materialism 87).
One such catalogue or list supplied to Sade by Mérigot, a clan of Parisian book dealers, during
his incarceration at Vincennes (1778-1784) gives an indication of the titles offered for his
selection. Included in the «Catalogue de Livres choisis» are the texts of writers associated with
the first and second phases of the fairy-tale vogue: «histoire ou contes du tems passé par m.
perrault. La Haye 1752.,» «histoire d'hypolite, Comte de Douglas par mde D'Aul(l)noy. Paris
1757 in-12.,» «mille et une nuit, contes arabes, traduit par m. Galland, paris 1745. 6 vol. in-12.,»
and «œuvres du comte Hamilton 1762. 4 vol. in-8.» (H-U. Seifert 283, 285).
Pauvert tells us that Sade kept track of his readings in notebooks he designated as «cahiers de
lecture» (Œuvres complètes 1: «Notice bibliographique»). The number of these notebooks
remains a mystery; the fourth is the only one known to have survived. The latter, «Catalogue des
Livres du Marquis de Sade à la Bastille,» gives us another idea of the number and kinds of books
he assembled while in prison. This list is divided into categories--«Histoire,» «Belles-Lettres,»
«Poésie et Poétique,» «Romans,»--and ends with a listing of specified «Comédies» (Pauvert,
Œuvres complètes 1:546-48). Under «Romans,» he included Les Fabliaux, Les Mille et Une
Nuits, one of Sade's favorite texts (Gray 265), and Œuvres, de Caylus. The three collections
represent distinct periods in the evolution of the fairy tale, yet they have in common the element
of social criticism camouflaged by diversionary narratives. Superficially, they contained no
cause for concern among the prison authorities or censors as to what radical thoughts they might
excite in someone as potentially troublesome as Sade.
While he was a prisoner at Vincennes, he wrote to his wife that he was denied two works that
had attracted the attention of the government: Rousseau's Confessions and d'Holbach's Système
de la Nature.74 Perhaps he admired and condoned the explosive contents of both works; Justine
would evoke a similar hue and cry. Unlike the fairy tales, neither veiled the authors' intentions
with amusing tales full of marvels and magic. The Confessions was a tell-all autography,
original for its time, which "still sets the standard for a narrative of self-revelation and artistic
development" (Edmonds and Eidinow 2). Although Rousseau completed the Confessions in
1770 and read the work "to rapt audiences until forbidden by the authorities" (Edmonds and
Eidinow 296), it was not published until 1781, three years after his death. Sade may not have
agreed with Rousseau's philosophy, but he recognized him as both «une âme de feu» and «un
esprit philosophe . . . deux choses que la nature ne réunit pas deux fois dans le même siècle»
(Idée sur les romans 28). The Système de la nature voiced the darker side of Enlightenment
«philosophie.» Later, Sade would plagiarize extensively from d'Holbach whose materialistic
philosophy was regurgitated by Sade's atheistic libertine antiheroes. In the second passage
quoted from the letter that was probably written at the end of November 1783, Sade asserts that
the Système is the basis of his philosophy and that he would suffer martyrdom defending the
work.75 The excerpts from both letters express sarcastic indignation and puzzlement as to why
he was refused these inflammatory books:
Me refuser les Confessions de Jean-Jacques est encore une excellente chose,
surtout après m'avoir envoyé Lucrèce et les dialogues de Voltaire; ça prouve un
grand discernement, une judiciaire profonde dans vos directeurs.76 Hélas, ils me
font bien de l'honneur, de croire qu'un auteur déiste puisse être un mauvais livre
pour moi; je voudrais bien en être encore là. (Lettres à sa femme 390)
Comment voulés vous que je puisse goutter la refutation du sistème
de la nature [due à l'abbé Bergier (1771)], si vous ne m'envoyés pas en meme
temps que la refutation, le livre qu'on refute c'est comme si vous vouliés que
je juge un procès sans voir les pièces des deux partis. Vous sentés bien que
c'est impossible, quoique le sisteme c'est bien rellement et bien incontestablement
la baze de ma philosophie et j'en suis sectateur jusquau martir sil le fallait . . .
(Lettres à sa femme 425-26)
According to Alice Laborde, the most telling and faithful indication of Sade's tastes in
readings, which range from the literary to the political and philosophical, are reflected in two
separate inventories of Sade's library at his medieval château of La Coste (Bibliothèque 15). In
this remote corner of Provence, he was able to freely acquire the publications he desired without
having to be overly concerned about the watchful eyes of the police. In the two preceding
paragraphs, I pointed out the relatively innocuous inventory of books in the Bastille as well as
the fallout that occurred as a result of two potentially subversive requests. Alain Mothu has
provided a transcription of two inventories of Sade's library at La Coste: the first is dated April
12, 1769 and the second is given as 1776-1778 («Lectures» 311).77 The two combined account
for more than six-hundred works, a good number of which were "banned," which Mothu
describes as: «érotiques, hérétiques (réformés, gallicans, jansénistes), antichrétiens, déistes,
matérialistes» («Lectures» 311).
A perusal of the indexes of the authors and the works in his library reveals that Sade does
include writers from the beginning of the fairy-tale vogue--Mlle de La Force, Nodot, Préchac,
Mme d'Auneuil, Mlle Lhéritier, and the Chevalier de Mailly--but their names appear beside their
other works, not their fairy tales. The two authors who epitomize literary fairy-tale writing,
Perrault and Mme d'Aulnoy, are noticeably absent. As I have pointed out throughout this thesis
and will shortly re-emphasize, Justine shares many features with the early literary fairy tales;
however, Sade may have considered these works unsuitable or puerile for inclusion in his "adult"
collection because of their contemporary association with children's literature. The serious
nature of the fairy tales of the first phase, i.e., their moralistic overtones, may have also left Sade
disinclined to place them in his controversial library. Surprisingly, the inventory does show an
entry for Jean-François Marmontel's Contes moraux (1761),78 which Sade regards as infantile,
meant for women and children: «D'ailleurs que sont ces contes? Des puérilitiés uniquement
écrites pour les femmes et les enfants . . .» (Idée sur les romans 29). This remark from his
literary treatise would seem to reflect his reasoning for not placing the works of the early French
fairy-tale writers on his shelves at La Coste.
Fairy-tale writers and their respective works of the third phase (1721-1789) of the vogue have
a minor but conspicuous place in Sade's household library. Based on the content of his own
libertine texts, it is not surprising that the oriental-exotic, philosophical, parodic, satirical, and
erotic-pornographic forms of these fairy tales appealed to Sade's tastes. Among his literary
erotica, Sade includes Hamilton's parodic Le Bélier, conte (1730); Crébillon fils's three
licentious-parodic-exotic tales: Tanzaï et Néadarné, histoire japonaise [better known as
L'Écumoire (1734)],79 Le Sopha, conte moral (1742), and Ah, quel conte! (1754); and Fougeret
de Monbron's licentious Le Canapé couleur de feu (1741). Interestingly, he lists La Princesse
Sensible et le Prince Typhon (1743), whose author, Mlle de Lubert, was not known for writing
licentious and parodic contes. Her long and "extraordinarily imaginative and complex" fairy
tales, received praise from such Enlightenment luminaries as Fontenelle and Voltaire (Zipes,
Beauty 148). Sade may have appreciated these features as well as her penchant for the theatrical,
grotesque, and bizarre, which are also evident in Justine (Beauty 148).
In regard to social criticism, Labord makes a striking observation about the category of books
that Mothu refers to as «ouvrages prohibés» («Lectures» 311), that is, the "banned books" that
dominate Sade's impressive collection. Although a variety of genres comprises this category, all
of the disparate works have the same objective. They aim at unsettling societal customs and
manners (moeurs), attitudes, and institutions. Labord specifically notes the «contes libertins,»
which, like the fairy tales of the early vogue, offer a pleasing story in order to deliver a serious
message («plaire pour instruire»). Their erotic exterior provides an appealing disguise for more
sober discussions or observations about the social, political, religious, and intellectual
establishments, which is what Sade does in Justine. He uses erotica-pornography to expose ideas
and foment radical, if not disturbing, thoughts about the social system. The «contes libertins»
together with Sade's other provocative volumes, form an imposing literary arsenal on the eve of
the French Revolution (Labord, Bibliothèque 18-19). Sade's eclectic library at La Coste
constitutes the reservoir of intellectual content for his own potentially subversive fairy tale,
Despite the lack of early literary fairy tales in Sade's libraries, it is nonetheless evident that
Justine belongs to the one-hundred-year vogue as a manifestation of its final transformation. The
framework (forme) resembles that of the earlier fairy tales and all their successive imitations and
innovations. Like its predecessors, Justine is at heart a quest, not for a precious object, but for
intellectual growth and maturity. The heroine goes from libertine to libertine who, apart from
physically and sexually abusing her, try to persuade her logically and rationally that her thoughts
about virtue and God are false. Unlike the heroine in a bildungsroman, she learns nothing from
her libertine philosophers, and thus her tale ends tragically in a failed quest. Sade creates a
Manichean microcosm where evil apparently vanquishes good, and like some of the early tragic
or cautionary tales, the ending is dystopic. Life is not fair for the beautiful and virtuous
Perraldian-type heroine who relives while she relates her own sad adventures over and over as if
she suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each time she begins, the reader can
imagine the traditional introductory fairy-tale formula: "Once upon a time . . . ." Sade peppers
his lengthy tale with easily identifiable fairy-tale motifs that correspond to the simplistic good
versus evil concept. In other words, like the fairy-tale writers of the long vogue, he writes about
tabus, evil beings, deceptions, reversals of fortune, chance and fate, rewards and punishment,
unnatural cruelty, sex, and traits of character. The motif that decisively defines a text as a fairy
tale is the inclusion of magic and marvels. The fairy tale intertwines a recognizable world with
an implausible one. In the utopic story, this closed universe represents wonder, awe, and hope
for a better situation. This does not happen in a dystopic tale, such as Justine. The marvelous
exaggerates the worst but it also allows for improbable occurrences as well as escapes from the
unbelievable horrors. The marvelous does something even more important: it is a superficial
cover for the intellectual content of the fairy tale.
Sade, like his fellow fairy-tale writers, took great pains to construct a story that would engage
his readers. His Plan primitif of the first Justine, which is the basis of the other two lengthier
versions, is a detailed sketch of its plot, characters, and «Vertus vexées.» It is apparent that he
put considerable thought into the design of a tale that would eventually serve more to instruct
than to entertain, that would voice more «philosophie» than «pornographie.» Sade created a
narrative in which to house provocative ideas that he gleaned from his diverse readings. As the
early fairy-tale writers and the later writers of satiric, parodic, and libertine tales already knew,
the fairy tale provided the ideal literary pretense for communicating controversial ideas about
society and its institutions. The socio-historical approach capitalizes on this notion. The escapist
structure offers a vehicle for intellectual content in the form of social criticism. For Sade, this
meant a polemic of the "isms" of his time with special emphasis on atheism and materialism. He
used the "revolutionary ideological disquisitions" (May, "Novel Reader" 9) to create "a parody of
the ideology of the Enlightenment" (Judovitz 172). Like other storytellers of the vogue, he relied
on traditional motifs to rattle his readers with unsettling thoughts about society, its members, and
its institutions. In Justine, Sade incorporates fairy-tale motifs dealing with the social system, the
nature of life, religion, and humor. In typical literary fairy-tale fashion, Sade concludes with a
moral that does not faithfully reflect the intention of the text. Like the conteurs and the
conteuses, he pretends to extol the quality of virtue by contrasting it with vice. By appealing to
the readers' minds rather than their emotions, he demonstrates another view of vice, that however
horrific it may be, it is integral to the nature of man. He indulges in depicting the very darkest
side of the fairy tale by way of reason in the final years of the Age of Reason.
It is of some consequence and rather paradoxical that the literary fairy-tale vogue (1690-1789)
and the Age of Enlightenment (1690-1790) (Jacob vii) span almost exactly the same hundred
years.80 Both occur during periods of social and political crisis. Both open the door to
marginalized thinkers and writers who feel compelled to voice their discontent of decaying
institutions and societal norms. And, as the century moves forward, both manifest dramatic
transformation in their form and expression. Near the close of the eighteenth century, Sade
appears to conflate the new, experimental literary genre with the innovative and radical ideas of
his era in a most terrifying way. Raymonde Robert identifies Rétif de la Bretonne, Sade's
literary archenemy and writer of pornography, as one of the last fairy-tale writers of the vogue,
but the description is more appropriate to Sade.81 He brings the vogue full circle with his
disturbing portrayals of a world that takes enlightened thought to its extreme; the interests of
society are forsaken for those of the individual. Through the subterfuge of exaggerated sex and
violence, Sade reveals how nature's weakest members are inevitably overcome by its most
powerful, no matter how virtuous and upstanding the face they present to society. If fairy tales
aim to disturb or «inquiéter,» to use a Gidian term, then Sade, like many of the writers of the
genre, succeeded in exposing the darker side of human nature, the side that is difficult to
confront if change or some sort of realization is to occur. Perhaps this is why the works of the
conteuses and Sade disappeared from official--as opposed to clandestine--circulation not that
long after publication. Their tales, especially, were among the most provocative, if not
potentially the most subversive, of the vogue.
Sade's Histoire de Juliette merits study as a literary fairy tale as well. It is his longest work,
length not being a characteristic of the genre, and exponentially it contains much more
«fantaisie,» «philosophie,» and «pornographie.» Subsequent scholarly research may establish
that it is perhaps the best example of the literary fairy tale composed during the waning years of
Sade's transformation of the fairy tale influenced writers of diverse genres in the two
centuries following his death. He bequeathed to them a legacy of fictional evil which they would
interpret as another facet of beauty (e.g., Baudelaire), or in true Sadian form, as a means to
stimulate thought and possibly action as well as to superficially shock, disgust, seduce, arouse,
and horrify (e.g., Lautréamont, Angela Carter). Sade demonstrated how evil could be
perpetuated through writing, thus creating the perfect crime that would outlast its author. In
Histoire de Juliette, he voices this wish in a memorable discourse between the heroine and her
lover Mme de Clairwil:
I would like . . . to find a crime which, even when I had left off doing it,
would go on having perpetual effect, in such a way that so long as I lived, at
every hour of the day and as I lay sleeping at night, I would be constantly the
cause of a particular disorder, and that this disorder might broaden to the point
where it brought about a corruption so universal or a disturbance so formal that
even after my life was over I would survive in the everlasting continuation of my
wickedness . . . (Clairwil)
For the fulfillment of your aims, my dear . . . I know of little else than what may
be termed moral murder, which is arrived at by means of . . . writings . . . .
(Juliette) (Wainhouse 525)
The literary fairy tale served Sade's purpose; he did indeed create the perfect, perpetual crime.
He still continues to make us shudder, although he might speak in cynical self-defense in the
same manner as the fictional Sade in the 2000 film Quills. Responding to the reactions provoked
by the presentation of his salacious play performed by the inmates of Charenton, he declares
beguilingly, "It's only a play." Called to account for Justine, instead of denying authorship as he
invariably did, he could have responded in similar seductive fashion, "It's only a story."
Pauvert writes the following about the questionable publication date of Juliette:
«Histoire de Juliette. Publié clandestinement à Paris en 1801, sous la fausse date de 1797
(une première version, plus courte, en aurait peut-être été imprimée en 1796. C'est
douteux).» (Osons 224)
From his middle-aged debut as a writer in the late eighteenth century, Sade is identified with
pornography and sexual perversity. He established his reputation with graphic descriptions of
highly structured, violent orgiastic scenes. His libertine texts reflected the turbulent, irreverent
period of the French Revolution, and the public read them enthusiastically. Napoleon's
authoritarian mentality set the puritanical tone for the nineteenth century, throughout which Sade
and his writings were condemned as satanic filth. Although his works were concealed from the
public, the marquis's influence remained and was manifest in the works of such notables as
Charles Baudelaire, Alphonse de Lamartine, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Guy de
Maupassant, Émile Zola, George Sand, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Rachilde. The twentieth
century witnessed his rehabilitation. Guillaume Apollinaire's rediscovery of Sade--«le Divin
Marquis»--in the enfer (forbidden works section) of the Bibliothèque nationale initiated his
acceptance as a serious author. The surrealists embraced him for his liberating amatory
scenarios while post-World War II critics associated Sade's eroticism with the terror of Nazism.
Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, and Pierre Klossowski shared a fascination with Sade,
which was reflected in their works. The scholarly writings of Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan,
and Michel Foucault, to name but a few, focused on antihumanist aspects of the Sadian text
(Gallop 3). Among women authors, Simone de Beauvoir and Annie Le Brun commented on
Sade's works and philosophy from a feminine perspective.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Justine are taken from Didier's edition.
After the title of the first edition of La Philosophie dans le boudoir, Sade (or his publisher)
noted that the anonymous author of the work also wrote Justine: «ouvrage posthume de «l'auteur
de Justine» (Lely 5). Since Sade denied authorship of Justine, the mysterious writer was referred
to as «l'auteur de Justine.»
According to Pauvert, Sade possibly began composing Justine, ou les Malheurs de
la vertu in the Bastille in 1788 or 1789 (Osons 223).
When the National Assembly officially abolished the lettres de cachet in March
1790, Sade was released from Charenton Asylum. He remained free until his arrest in December
1793 for his openly atheistic views, which conflicted with Robespierre's desire to halt the
excesses of the de-Christianization movement during the Terror. Despite his noble origins, in
October 1794 Sade was liberated by the Thermidorians for his patriotic service during the
Pauvert states that Sade expanded Justine to four volumes, retitled it La Nouvelle Justine, ou
Les Malheurs de la vertu, suivie de l'Histoire de Juliette sa sœur, and published it clandestinely
«en Hollande» (in Paris) in 1800 rather than in 1797, a false date of publication and the one most
frequently cited (Osons 224).
Girouard's given name is Jean-Joseph, not "Jacques" as he is commonly referred
(Pauvert, Sade vivant 3:122).
«Peut-on vraiment parler d'un succès? «Relativement, oui» (Pauvert, Sade vivant
The purpose of this arrest was to locate and confiscate copies of the recent illicit
publication of the ten-volume illustrated edition of La Nouvelle Justine, ou les Malheurs
de la vertu, suivie de l'Histoire de Juliette sa soeur.
Maurice Heine included the Plan primitif des Infortunes de la vertu in the first
edition of Les Infortunes, published in 1930. When working at the Bibliothèque nationale,
Guillaume Apollinaire discovered the original conte philosophique among the Nouvelles
Acquisitions françaises conserved in the voluminous manuscript 4010; in 1909 he published an
extract from this first version of Justine in L'Œuvre du marquis de Sade.
In Les Infortunes, Sade identifies the monks as Recollet friars who belong to a strict
branch of the Franciscan order. They are members of the Benedictine order in the second
At the time this work appeared, Sade had been recently published in paperback (after 1968)
but had not yet been accepted into the literary canon. His works finally appeared in the
prestigious Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in the early 1990s (Didier, Le Roman français 118).
In early 1777, Sade was once again embroiled in scandal, this time at his château in La
Coste, a village in the Vaucluse. The incident involved the recent hire of an adolescent
domestic, Catherine Trillet, whom Sade renamed "Justine." Upon suspecting her involvement in
the marquis's libertine escapades, her father, a local weaver, went to the château with a pistol to
retrieve his daughter.
The ton larmoyant is also associated with Diderot's theater.
During an interview on 5 February 2005, Philippe Roger, author of La Philosophie dans le
pressoir, stated that he sees no difference in meaning between eroticism and pornography.
The exact quotation is cited at the beginning of this chapter.
Pauvert is referring specifically to Sade's epistolary novel Aline et Valcour, which is
subtitled le Roman philosophique. He believes that this could have also applied to Justine (Sade
vivant, 2: 490).
These eleven tales figured among the fifty written in the Bastille between 1787 and 1788.
He listed and categorized them in his Catalogue raisonné.
Between 1690 and 1715, two-thirds of the tales published were composed by women
(Zipes, Oxford 174).
Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the women writers are taken from Lemirre's
edition of Le Cabinet des fées.
"Subversive (adj.) is first recorded in 1644; the noun is from 1887" (Online Etymology
See the quotation cited from Pauvert in Chapter 1, pages 8-9.
According to Lewis C. Seifert, "Préchac is the first French writer of fairy tales to make
such explicit and sustained allusions to historical reality, a technique frequently employed during
the 18th century (albeit more often in the satirical mode)" (Zipes, Oxford 400).
Coincidentally, Sade was related to the Mailly family through his mother and served a great
deal of prison time for his libertine behavior and eventually for his libertine writings.
The final two volumes were published after Galland's death in 1715.
In reality, most of the stories are from a Turkish collection translated from Persian, and
others are Indian in origin. (Bahier-Porte 23)
Diderot wrote one fairy tale, a conte licencieux, entitled L'Oiseau blanc, conte bleu (c.
Cahusac, Grigri, a novel-length tale (1739); La Morlière, Angola, a novel-length tale
(1746); Senneterre, a collection of contes licencieux entitled Nouveaux Contes de fées (1744);
Voisenon, Zulmis et Zelmaïde (1745) and Le Sultan Misapouf et la princesse Grisemine (1746),
Fagnan, Kanor, conte traduit du sauvage (1750) and Minet bleu et Louvette (1753); Lintot,
Trois Nouveaux Contes de fées, «avec une préface qui n'est pas moins sérieuse» (par l'abbé
Prévost) (1735); Lubert, six novel-length fairy tales: La Princesse Camion (1743), La Princesse
Couleur-de-Rose et le prince Celadon (1743), Le Prince Glacé et la princesse Étincelante (1743),
La Princesse Lionnette et le prince Coquerico (1743), La Princesse Sensible et le prince Typhon
(1743), and Sec et Noir, ou la Princesse des fleurs et le prince des autruches (1737); Villeneuve,
«La Belle et la Bête» in La Jeune Amériquaine et les contes marins (1740) and Les Belles
Francine du Plessix Gray states that Sade plagiarized "extensively" from Baron d'Holbach's
Système de la Nature, "inserting large chunks of Holbach's text into his fictional protagonists'
polemics against the notions of Soul or Deity" (263). In his «Notice bibliographique, » Pauvert
refers to Sade's plagiarism of both d'Holbach and d'Alembert: «…le professeur Jean Deprun a
très bien montré comment, jusque dans Juliette, il transporte, parfois recopie d'Holbach ou
d'Alembert sans jamais en être le plagiaire : il y a rencontre, assimilation, retouche
éventuellement rectification, puis recréation profondément originale» (Œuvres complètes; 1).
In many of her titles, Mme d'Aulnoy used the name of the female protagonist as well. She,
too, used imagery to denote the heroine, for example, «La Belle aux cheveux d'or,» «La
Princesse Printannière,» «La Princesse Rosette,» «Finette Cendron,» «Plus Belle que Fée,» «La
Chatte blanche,» and «Belle Belle ou Le Chevalier Fortuné.»
Justine is the younger sister of Juliette, whose character traits and physical features are
diametrically opposed to those of her sibling.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Perrault are taken from Soriano's Charles Perrault:
Justine may be a literary example of the existence of "the God gene" as put forth by Dean
H. Hamer. Hamer states, "Our genes can predispose us to believe. . . ." (Broadway, par. 9).
Seriously, she faces trials that could easily discourage her belief in a greater being. Sade's
materialism may have influenced the creation of a heroine whose chemical or atomical make-up
produced her tenacious spirituality.
I would add Griselidis to this list, since she is consistently obedient despite spousal abuse
and is rewarded for her patience in the end. Peau d'Âne is virtuous as well, since she runs away
from her incestuous father and supports herself in a humble manner. In the end, she is
"crowned" for her «Vertu.» Both are blessed with physical and spiritual beauty.
See Chapter 2, page 33.
It is not possible to determine whether Perrault imitated Bernard's version of «Riquet à la
houppe» or whether both appeared at the same time (Seifert, Nostalgic 205-06). Lhéritier's
«Ricdin-Ricdon» was published in 1705.
«Gilles de Rais, maréchal de France et compagnon de Jeanne d'Arc, . . . fut exécuté en 1449
. . . pour plusieurs meurtres abominables» (Soriano, Perrault 416).
"It is apparent that Mlle Lhéritier was very familiar with his [Basile's] tales, and three of
hers, "The Discreet Princess," "The Enchantments of Eloquence," and "Ricdin-Ricdon," depend
heavily on three of his stories. In fact, the Italian influence in France during the . . . [1690s] . . .
was much more profound than scholars have suspected. At least six of Mme d'Aulnoy's fairy
tales can be traced to Straparola's fiabe; two of Mme de Murat's tales owe a great dept to
Straparola; and three of Mailly's tales and two of Le Noble's are very imitative of Straparola's
works. Finally, almost all of Perrault's tales have models in the collections of Straparola and
Basile." (Zipes, "Cross-Cultural" 857).
Lynch reminds us that in Sade's «Projet de refonte» (1803-1804), "he arranged his more
frivolous tales under the heading 'Le Boccace français' " (Marquis 65-66). Lynch extracted this
information from Lely's edition of Sade's Œuvres completes, 2: 527-28.
In her study, From Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, Marina Warner
discusses the Sibyls, the cult of St. Anne, and the Queen of Sheba, in whom she finds the
archetypal Mother Goose (xxiv).
In the Arne-Thompson index, classification of most folktales and fairy tales are found
under the broad heading entitled "Ordinary Folk-Tales" (Zipes, Oxford 1). Tale types and their
variants containing supernatural elements are numbered 300-749 and are further catalogued
under the subheading "Tales of Magic."
Seifert states that exaggeration is a manifestation of the marvelous. He says that "the
marvelous is an estrangement of empirically defined reality since it is either an exaggeration of
the real or an assertion of the impossible" ("Marvelous Realities" 132).
In the early part of the eighteenth century the Regent set the standard for debauchery, and
the dauphin, the future Louis XV, followed suit. During the remaining decades of the ancien
régime libertine behavior was outrageous to the point of being grotesque at times, but Sade's
portrayal of the orgy and the debauchee transcended even the most brutally known practices. His
use of exaggeration deliberately makes the sexual conduct of the libertine monsters implausible
thus contributing to the marvelous element of his tale.
Omphale's instruction appears as a caricature of the formalities imposed on the court of
Louis XIV. This is another example of the fairy tale being used to camouflage social
commentary that could result in censure or imprisonment if it were not disguised in a magical or
Sade makes it plain that these settings are hidden from "civilized" society. Although they
are non-existent, he orients us towards their location by naming actual places along Justine's
route. If it has not already been done, it is possible to map the heroine's travels around what is
now geographically known as France. This is another example of Sade's use of the fairy-tale
device of juxtaposing the plausible and the implausible.
It has been suggested that Sade's experiences as a prisoner and debauchee may have
inspired the remote settings of his libertine monsters.
Béatrice Didier observes that in Sade, the victim always makes astonishingly rapid
recoveries, that this is typical of his «irréalisme.» The victim recuperates instantly in order to
resume physical abuse: « . . . la victime recouvre instantanément une fraîcheur nouvelle pour de
nouveaux sévices» (347 n1).
Didier notes that, as in the case of Justine's flight from Gernande, Sade creates nearmagical escapes for his heroine when he wants a change of venue for her torments. She says,
«Voici encore un exemple de ces évasions quasi magiques qui brusquement s'offrent à l'héroïne,
lorsque Sade désire changer le cadre de ses supplices.» (259 n1).
Refer to the discussion on vraisemblance and invraisemblance in this chapter, at the
beginning of the section on motifs dealing with magic and marvels.
Thompson did not use "psychological principles . . . as indexing devices"; he claimed that
they did not provide " 'much practical help toward the orderly arrangement of stories and myths
of a people' " (Garry and El-Shamy xxi)
Maria Tatar provides a list of Propp's "dramatis personae," in which the "princess" or
"sought-for person" and her "father" are grouped together (Classic 387).
Seifert cites Perrault's «Le Petit Chaperon rouge» as an example of a cautionary tale and
d'Aulnoy's «L'Île de la Félicité» as an example of a tragic tale (Nostalgic 26).
Since many of the fairy tales/literary fairy tales are derivatives of folktales, they have a
great number of characteristics in common. Thus, his observations about the European folktale
are equally relevant to this discussion.
Although Sade's libertine texts will always be considered a cause célèbre, this was
especially true over the course of the nineteenth century when his works were clandestinely
circulated. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire initiated a positive, open approach towards the
examination of Sade's writings at the beginning of the twentieth and that trend has continued to
the time of this writing.
Since the folktale contributed in large part to the birth of the literary fairy tale, most (if not
all) of the motifs in Thompson's Motif-Index are found in both types of tales.
Mme d'Aulnoy indirectly praises the literary talent and intellectual ability of female salon
writers (salonnières) like herself when she describes Chatte blanche as «plus savante qu'il n'est
permis à une chatte de l'être» (317; Hannon 86). A little further on in the tale, she exposes class
rivalries between cats and rats in the form of a naval battle, which is reminiscent of class warfare
among members of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie (Hannon 86 n27). However, unlike the
reigning sovereign Louis XIV, Mme d'Aulnoy's Chatte blanche advocates reconciliation between
the rivals since the so-called inferior rats contribute to the well-being of the realm as well:
«Chatte blanche ne voulut pas qu'on détruisît absolument ces pauvres infortunés. Elle avait de la
politique, et songeait que s'il n'y avait plus ni rats, ni souris dans le pays, ses sujets vivraient dans
une oisiveté qui pourrait lui devenir préjudiciable.» (320; Hannon 86 n27).
The conte moral is related to the medieval fabliau, but it is generally longer, contains
Christian supernatural or marvelous elements, and is not as earthy and derisive; to the extent that
it supersedes the didacticism of the exemplum, it is sometimes referred to as a conte pieux
Seifert states that about half of the tales conclude with a verse moral. D'Auneuil, Mailly,
and Nodot are among those first-wave fairy-tale writers who did not use this convention
The hackneyed portrayal of virtue triumphant and vice punished appeared in the majority of
fairy tales of the first wave as well as in novels and stories throughout the eighteenth century.
The notion that good overcomes evil was also grounded in Christian theology. Given Sade's
atheistic orientation and energetic imagination, it is not surprising that he decided to glorify
virtue in a novel way in Justine.
These tableaux or examples of vice triumphant and virtue a victim are depicted in the
dedication and include "sensitive" Justine portrayed as the "toy of villainy . . . the target of every
debauch" who is "exposed to the most barbarous, the most monstrous caprices; driven witless by
the most brazen, the most specious sophistries; prey to the most cunning seductions, the most
irresistible subordinations" (Seaver and Wainhouse 455-56). Sade's use of the superlative in the
dedication recalls its use in modern movie trailers for the purpose of "hyping" a film. Sade is
ahead of his time in using such promotion techniques.
The final paragraph of Justine is an example of Sade's irony. Despite her pious devotion to
God, Justine has just been struck down by Heaven--her final «infortune.» Yet Sade concludes
that the same God who took the life of an indomitably virtuous woman in such a seemingly
wrathful fashion will bestow heavenly rewards upon her.
Didier states that this necrophilic episode represents a parody of the crucifixion
See Chapter 1.
See Chapter 4.
See Chapter 1.
See Chapter 4, page 90.
See Chapter 4.
I refer to this passage in Chapter 1
In a footnote, Didier states that this passage is one of Sade's clearest statements on the role
of the writer: «Voici une des déclarations les plus nettes que Sade ait écrites sur sa conception du
rôle de l'écrivain.» (211 n1).
In his article «Les Sources de l'athéisme et de l'immoralisme du marquis de Sade,» Jean
Leduc states that there is a structural resemblance between Thérèse philosophe and Sade's
principal novels, specifically the alternating scenes of orgies and philosophical diatribes. This is
an outstanding feature of Sade's style in Justine. D'Argens's presentations, however, lack the
energy and violence of Sade's. Sade's later and more shocking work Histoire de Juliette has
more in common with Thérèse philosophe (36). Interestingly, by the mid-eighteenth century,
Rousseau was the highest-paid author in Europe, but the most highly read work in France was
d'Argens's Thérèse philosophe (Edmonds and Eidinow 34).
The numbers in parentheses refer to the pages in Justine where Sade makes direct
references to the authors and subjects cited.
Sade wrote to his wife in July 1783 that he was refused Rousseau's Confessions. In two
consecutive letters written to her in November 1783, he stated that he was denied d'Holbach's
Système de la nature, which he had not read since 1776, but that he needed it in order to
comprehend Abbé Bergier's argument against d'Holbach's work.
I alert the reader to Sade's inattention to spelling in the passage extracted from the second
Sade is referring to his wife's spiritual advisors/confessors at the convent of Saint-Aure in
Paris where she resided during most of his incarceration at Vincennes and at the Bastille. He is
suggesting tongue-in-cheek that they exert too much influence over the books that he requests of
his wife. The «directeurs» may have also had sway over her decision to obtain a separation from
her husband at his release in 1790.
Warman observes that the work of Hans-Ulrich Seifert and Alain Mothu "offers the most
complete idea of Sade's reading available" (Materialism 87).
See Chapter 5, pages 104-05.
L'Écumoire is a particularly significant work because it not only cost the author a brief spell
in prison but it also launched a succession of French libertine fairy tales in which Crébillon used
"sophisticated narrative techniques" (Zipes, Oxford 113).
Outwardly, it seems paradoxical that a genre generally considered frivolous would make its
appearance during a period of enlightened social, scientific, political, and religious thought.
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Ivy J. Dyckman, a native of Washington, D.C., majored in French/West Europe area studies
at The American University, where she received the BA degree summa cum laude. She earned
an MA in French at Middlebury College and a PhD in French at The Florida State University in
April 2007. She has taught at a variety of academic levels, was a lectrice at the Sorbonne, and a
visiting instructor at the College of William and Mary. She has been published in Romance