At Home with the Marquis de Sade
Francine du Plessix Gray

Winsome. An apt word for a fine biography.

Three moments illustrate the grace that runs entire throughout; two of exits and one an emblem of eternal comings and goings. In a book appreciative of the main protagonist's aspirations for theatrical recognition, one becomes sensitive to the narration's ordering of entrances and exists. There is an astute use of the aside to command attention and mark the moment. A chapter closes with two paragraphs: the penultimate, a summing up of a daughter's relation and the last, shorter paragraph, promises another appearance by a mother-in-law:

For the time being, we must take leave of Pélagie as a central character of the Sadeian epic. [...] Although she will make another cameo appearance, it is also time to bid adieu to the Présidente de Montreuil. One marvels equally at her amazing wits and at the fidelity of her rage, without which the Marquis de Sade would never have become a writer and would have remained ignored as just another tedious debauchee.

A similar mastery is evinced in the segues that refocus each turn of attention from the writings and then to the life and then to the writings once again. In turning from a discussion of the novel Juliette and its twentieth-century commentators to a description of another site of Sade's many incarcerations and its early nineteenth-century inmates, the reader is invited to imagine and to consider contexts of reception:

These are bold ideas. I leave the reader to imagine the effect that the books in which they are stated, particularly Juliette, might have had on the prim Jacobins, many of them former Robespierrean terrorists, like Fouché, who filled the higher ranks of France's police ministry in 1801.

The biography closes with an epilogue that winds itself almost like a travelogue to the site of the Fountain of Vaucluse and there meditates upon an andro-morphing of landscape thrusting:

Set in a narrow gorge surmounted by steep cliffs that are strikingly akin to the sinister landscapes of Sade's fiction, the Fontaine de Vaucluse, one of the world's most powerful resurgent springs, first comes to sight as a round, calm pool of eerie greeness -- a lustrous peacock-feather green, the most radiant green I've seen in any liquid element. And then, from the edge of that deceptively tranquil basin, its waters bound down the mountain with thunderous speed, becoming a torrent, generating huge mounds of white spume, surging over rocks and wooded banks with an imperiousness that always strikes me as Dionysian and utterly male.

O the strange and aptly winsome shape form takes. The conclusion calls to mind a text by Marilyn Hacker, lines from a stanza from a sestina for Marie Ponsot entitled La Fontaine de Vaucluse, lines approaching the image and the emblem of the spring from an alternative route and still with their own different style and their own different nuances express the happy-well themes that stream from du Plessix Gray's reading of Sade's letters, express them in the idiom of work and love. Hacker writes of the "[...] homage the source calls up/ or force we find here. There is another source/ consecrate in the pool we perch above:/ our own intelligent accord that brings/ us to the lucid power of the spring/ to work at re-inventing work and love./ We may be learning how to tell the truth." And true to the sestina form, as the final line of a stanza, the sentiment expressed in the mode of precious possibility is taken up again as the first line of the next: "We may be learning how to tell the truth." Neither happy nor well. Or happy and well in the learning. Or blessed with being secularly bien heureux. Very singularly blessed.

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