$11.2m brings 'Gospel of Evil' home

By Henry Samuel in Paris

Gerard Lheritier, founder of the private Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris. Photo / AFP
Gerard Lheritier, founder of the private Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris. Photo / AFP

The Marquis de Sade's novel The 120 Days of Sodom, the depravity of which earned it the name "the Gospel of Evil", has returned to France after a 30-year legal battle and in time for the 200th anniversary of the revolutionary politician's death.

A private collector bought the well-preserved scroll, considered a national treasure despite its perverse and pornographic content, for €7 million ($11.2 million).

Sade called it "the most impure tale that has ever been told since our world began" and considered it his masterpiece. Since he scrawled the work in 1785 in tiny handwriting while he was imprisoned at the Bastille, the 12m scroll has been hidden, stolen, sold and fought over in courts.

It recounts the story of four wealthy male libertines who lock themselves in a secluded French castle with 46 victims, including girls and boys as young as 12.

It catalogues 600 types of perversion from orgies to humiliation, torture, rape, bestiality and murder, leading French writer Jean Paulhan to pronounce it "the Gospel of Evil".

After the Bastille was stormed in the 1789 revolution, the parchment was recovered from a crack in the cell wall, sold several times, and published by a German doctor in 1904.

In 1929 the husband of Marie-Laure de Noailles, a direct descendant of Sade, bought the manuscript, passing it down to her daughter Nathalie. She entrusted it to a friend who sold it to Gerard Nordmann, a Swiss collector of erotica.

France's high court ordered the work to be returned in 1990. But in 1998 the Swiss federal court ruled Nordmann had bought the work in good faith. When Nordmann's heirs offered to sell the manuscript to French collector, Gerard Lheritier, in 2012, Sade's heirs tried to claim it.

"It took me three years of tough negotiations," said Lheritier, founder of the private Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris.

The money from the sale was split between Sade's heirs and the scroll's Swiss owner.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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