A sadist has come to be thought of as one who delights in cruelty. In psychology, however, sadism is the association of sexual gratification with the infliction of pain on others. The word was derived from the name of Count Donatien Alphonse Frangois de Sade (1740-1814).
The Count de Sade (he preferred to be called Marquis) came from a prominent French family and received, beginning at age fourteen, the expected military training for a person of such standing. The marquis, however, found that such service interfered with his life of pleasure, and so he gave up the military.
His pleasure, which consisted in deviant sexual satisfaction, was expensive, and so a marriage was arranged with Renee Pelagie de Montreuil, the daughter of a wealthy man. Despite the marriage, de Sade continued to have affairs with other women, mostly prostitutes, enjoying a form of sexual perversion that he pursued for the rest of his life. His favorite romantic pastime, his great, uncontrollable urge, was to abuse sexually and even torture his partner. For such activity, de Sade was arrested and imprisoned, but once released, he would continue to seek gratification of his deep-seated desires, and would be arrested again. He was even sentenced to death in 1772 in absentia for committing «an unnatural offense». (The Marquis had fled the country to avoid further imprisonment.) After three years, he decided to return, and he was arrested and imprisoned for the next thirteen years. He escaped the guillotine during the Revolution.
While confined in the Bastille, de Sade decided to write, in novel
form, about his sexual compulsion to torture his partner Justine, Philosophic dans le boudoir, les crimes de Yamour, and others). He completed his writing, but with a change of scenery — in the Charenton Lunatic Asylum. De Sade was eventually discharged, but was rearrested seven years later as an incorrigible, and spent the rest of his days at Charenton, from 1803 to 1814.
The marquis realized that he was subject to mental aberrations and contended that no treatment could cure him. He wrote: «As for my vices — unrestrainable rages — an extreme tendency in everything to lose control of myself, a disordered imagination in sexual matters such as had never been known in this world, an atheist to the point of fanaticism — in two words, there I am, and so once again kill me or take me like that, because I shall never change». His last written words were, «The ground over my grave should be sprinkled with acorns so that all traces of my grave shall disappear so that, as I hope, this reminder of my existence may be wiped from the memory of mankind». So long as the name-word sadism exists, however, de Sade’s memory will be kept alive.