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Culture

Sade's 120 Days of Sodom to return to France after two centuries' adventures

media The manuscript of 120 Days of Sodom written by Sade in 1785 AFP/Martin Bureau

One of the most notorious works of erotica in the history of world literature is to be returned to France. The Marquis de Sade's Les 120 Journées de Sodome (120 Days of Sodom) has been hidden, lost, stolen and sold since it was written in the infamous Bastille prison just before the French revolution.

This year marks the bicentenary of the death of the man who gave his name to sadism thanks to the reputation of his books, one of the most shocking was 120 Days of Sodom.

"This exceptional manuscript, stolen in 1982, reported to Interpol, and fought over by two familes, is at last coming back to France, at the end of an utterly incredible history," its new owner, Gérard Lhéritier, told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

Lhéritier, who has set up a website and a private museum devoted to historic documents, said he paid a total of seven million euros to acquire the document.

Part of the money goes to the Serge Nordmann, the son and heir of Swiss collector Gérard Nordmann, who bought it in the 1980s.

But it would have been confiscated if he had brought it to France without an agreement that some of the proceeds from the sale go to Carlo Perrone, heir to Nathalie de Noailles, from whom it was stolen in 1982.

Lloyds has insured the document for 12 million euros.

Lhéritier says that he has proposed handing it over the French national library after five years but that the culture ministry has failed to reply to his offer.

Twentieth-century French writer Georges Bataille commented that nobody finishes reading 120 Days of Sodom unless they are ill.

It tells the story of four middle-aged aristocrats, who have amassed huge fortunes through murder and corruption and practise 600 perversions on 90 boys and girls, not to mention a number of animals, most of their victims eventually dying in agony.

Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini made a flim based on the book, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, transposing it to the Salo fascist republic that preceded the fall of Mussolini.

The bizarre history of 120 Days of Sodom:

  • 1740: Birth of the Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade in Paris;
  • 1777: Sade imprisoned for sexual violence committed on a number of young girls;
  • 1785: Sade writes Les 120 Journées de Sodome (120 Days of Sodom) on a roll of paper 12 metres long and 11.5 centimetres wide and conceals it in the wall of his cell at the Bastille;
  • 1789: Revolution - Sade is transferred to an asylum at Charenton after urging the crowd to burn down the Bastille from the window of his cell - Bastille stormed, manuscript sold to the Marquis de Villeneuve-Traps;
  • 1790: Sade is freed;
  • 1801:Sade is interned in an insane asylum;
  • 1814: Sade dies, believing the manuscript has been destroyed;
  • 1904: Psychiatrist Iwan Bloch, who bought the manuscript at the end of the 19th century, publishes a version containing several errors;
  • 1929: Marie-Laure Noailles, a descendant of the Marquis, and her husband Charles buy the manuscript and publish a subscribers-only limited edition to avoid censorship;
  • 1982: Their daughter, Nathalie, lends the manuscript to publisher Jean Grouet, who pretends it has been stolen from him but has sold it for 300,000 francs (50,000 euros) to Swiss erotica collector Gérard Nordmann;
  • 1990: A French court rules that the manuscript has been stolen and must be returned to the de Noailles;
  • 1998: A Swiss court rules that Nordmann bought the manuscript legally and in good faith;
  • 2004: The manuscript is exhibited to the public for the first time at the Bodmer Foundation near Geneva;
  • 2014: Nordmann's son Serge sells the manuscript to Gérad Lhéritier for seven millions euros with an agreement that the de Noailles will receive part of the money.

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