Deeper into Jeopardy! XXXIII: French Lit – $1600

Jeopardy! category: FRENCH LIT (11-12-2014)

$1600 clue: “120 Days of Sodom” by this man was published in 1904, nearly 100 years after his death

Correct response

The gist: Boy, he’s a racy subject for a Jeopardy! clue. Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, better known and remembered as the Marquis de Sade, was a French nobleman born in 1740 in Paris. He had a typical noble upbringing, studying in a Jesuit school, fighting in the Seven Years’ War, and marrying a wealthy girl. But any of his accomplishments in those noble pursuits have long been overshadowed by the one thing he’s remembered for today: his “sadistic” sexual proclivities, which in fact bear his very name. Not wanting to offend anyone’s sensibilities, nor cause anyone trouble for possibly reading this blog at work, I’ll leave out the worst of the details of his attitudes and likes, but they seem to have begun (publicly, at least) in his early twenties, when he hired several prostitutes of both genders to work in his large estate, the Château de Lacoste. Several left his employ and complained of mistreatment and abuse to authorities, a trend that would continue up to his death, albeit with numerous pauses during his many imprisonments. He was put in the Bastille in 1784, and spent around five years there, being transferred to an insane asylum on July 4, just ten days before the prison was stormed. He was released from incarceration in 1790, during the French Revolution, and became an active member of the National Convention, representing a far left viewpoint, and becoming an admirer of Marat and critic of Robespierre. He was thrown in prison again in 1793, this time for political reasons, and was forced to sell his estate. From 1803 to his death in 1814, he lived in an asylum.

120 Days of Sodom, his magnum opus, was never actually finished. It described in shocking detail the story of four depraved French gentlemen who retreat from society in order to fulfill their debased sexual fantasies without interference from the outside world. Divided into four sections, the story delves into deeper and more disturbing perversions as it progresses, although he only finished writing the first – in printed versions today, the last three sections are usually presented as Sade’s own shorthand notes. Covered up by his family for a century, the book was first published in 1905, and only became widely available in the mid-20th century. It continues, understandably, to be extremely controversial and banned in certain jurisdictions, but it has also been a very culturally influential work, having been adapted into other media by the likes of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. Peter Weiss’  1963 play Marat/Sade imagines a play directed by the Marquis and starring his fellow asylum inmates portraying the death of Jean-Paul Marat, and was made into a  movie in 1967.

A 1760 portrait of the Marquis de Sade, the only known portrait he actually sat for

The clue: Jeopardy!’s a family show, so they certainly can’t go into any details about the book’s sordid plot, so instead they just give a bit of its history. What the clue tells us are its title and the approximate date of publication (some 100 years before 1904). The mention of “Sodom” might bring to mind sexual deviance, which could suggest Sade as Frenchman famous for just that. The bit about the publication delay also suggests controversy, not too directly and not in a very useful way in the context of a Jeopardy! game.

In Jeopardy!: Monsieur Sade appears in 22 clues in the J!Archive, and only two of them mention the work in question here. His novella Justine and dramatic dialogue Philosophy in the Bedroom, both comparatively tame but still quite risqué, are mentioned three and two times respectively. The rest of the clues that are about Sade himself, rather than portrayals in other works, and all touch on, in one way or another, his cruelty, libertinism, or, of course, sadism. Marat/Sade is in four clues, and the play and film Quills, starring Australian actor Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis, is in three. Another case of an individuals’ reputation dominating their clues rather than their work, but probably more justified this time than last Friday’s.

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