Archive for January, 2013

France Owns De Sade

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 by Lorne


In continuing rare book & manuscript news, the Bibliothèque Nationale wants to repatriate the manuscript for De Sade’s 100 Days of Sodom, surely one of the filthiest and most depraved works ever written. Below is Elaine Sciolino’s article on the fracas.  Of interest to us is Ms. Sciolino’s assertion that  “There is nothing erotic about it.” Is that true? Probably not, even as a general claim; but certainly not for those who are turned on by filth and depravity – a topic on which I remain more or less agnostic (I mean, at my age, I’m willing to be turned on by whatever works; but, somehow….). Read on:


PARIS — “The 120 Days of Sodom,” by the Marquis de Sade, is one of the most perverse works of 18th-century literature.

It tells the story of four rich “libertines” who lock themselves in a remote medieval castle with 46 victims (including eight boys and eight girls, ages 12 to 15). The men are assisted by four female brothel keepers who arouse their hosts by recounting their outlandish (and embellished) experiences.

The work describes orgies and acts of abuse — sexual and otherwise — including pedophilia, necrophilia, incest, torture, rape, murder, infanticide, bestiality, violent anal and oral sex acts and the use of urination and defecation to humiliate and punish.

Sade called it “the most impure tale that has ever been told since our world began.”

There is nothing erotic about it.

Even Bruno Racine, director of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the National Library, calls it “depraved.”

But that hasn’t stopped him from negotiating long and hard to buy Sade’s manuscript. He has convinced the Foreign and Culture Ministries of its importance. He has argued in front of the Commission of National Treasures to declare it provisionally a “national treasure” that needs to be preserved in the library. And he is ready to pay more than $5 million to get it.

“The document is Sade’s most atrocious, extreme, radical work,” Mr. Racine said. “But we make no moral judgment about it.” A rambling, unfinished draft, “120 Days” has been praised and vilified. Simone de Beauvoir defended it as an important contribution to the dark side of humanity in her essay “Must We Burn Sade?”

The American feminist writer Andrea Dworkin branded it a “vile” story written by a woman-hating pornographer. In a 1975 film Pier Paolo Pasolini set the story in an imaginary Italian republic as a condemnation of Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

Sade wrote the draft in 37 days in 1785 in the Bastille, where he had been imprisoned under a royal order initiated against him by his mother-in-law. (In his youth he had been repeatedly arrested for acts of sexual mistreatment, sodomy and violence.) He wrote in tiny script on both sides of a sheaf of narrow paper, whose sheets he attached into a single 39-foot-long roll. Fearing that his work would be confiscated, he hid the roll in a crevice in a stone wall of his cell.

Days before the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, Sade was transferred at night to a prison for the insane. He wrote that he “wept tears of blood” over the manuscript’s loss, and he went to his grave in 1814 without knowing its fate.

But it was recovered, sold, resold and then published for the first time by a German doctor in an error-filled version in 1904.

In 1929 Viscount Charles de Noailles, whose wife, Marie-Laure, was a direct descendant of Sade’s, bought the manuscript. The couple, wealthy and passionate patrons of the arts, handed it down to their daughter, Natalie, who kept it in a drawer at the family’s estate in Fontainebleau. She would sometimes unroll it and show it to guests; the Italian writer Italo Calvino was one of them.

“My mother showed me the manuscript when I was a boy,” Carlo Perrone, an Italian newspaper publisher who is Natalie de Noailles’s son, said in a telephone interview from Rome. “I remember the handwriting was so small, and that there were no corrections. It gave you the impression that paper was very scarce and precious for him, and that he had to fill up every space.”

Ms. de Noailles eventually entrusted both that manuscript and the manuscript of Stravinsky’s ballet “Les Noces” to a friend, the publisher Jean Grouet.

Mr. Grouet turned out to be a swindler. In 1982 he smuggled the Sade manuscript into Switzerland and sold it to Gérard Nordmann, a Swiss collector of erotica, for about $60,000.

Ms. de Noailles sued. After a long legal case, France’s highest court ruled in 1990 that the work had been stolen and must be returned. (The family was able to retrieve the Stravinsky manuscript, which had remained in France.)

Since Switzerland had not yet signed the Unesco convention requiring the restitution of stolen cultural objects, Ms. de Noailles was forced to sue again in that country. In 1998 the Swiss federal court ruled in Mr. Nordmann’s favor, saying that he had bought the manuscript in good faith.

Afterward, the manuscript was kept at a cultural foundation in Switzerland.

Then, last January, Mr. Nordmann’s heirs offered to sell the manuscript to a French collector. Mr. Perrone intervened.

“Anyone who wants to buy the manuscript in France needs my consent,” he said in the interview. “My mother had a very strong wish that one day the manuscript would be given to the Bibliothèque Nationale, which is my wish as well. It’s an important historical document, a piece of French history.”

Enter Mr. Racine. Since taking over as director of the Bibliothèque Nationale in 2007, he has sought to have important manuscripts classified as “national treasures” in order to acquire them for the library.

Among other purchases, he has bought Casanova’s memoirs with $9.6 million from an anonymous donor; the archives of the French philosopher Michel Foucault; and the archives of the French Marxist theorist, writer and filmmaker Guy Debord (preventing them from leaving the country and going to Yale).

“I don’t know of any director of a world-class library today who is making the kind of brilliant strategic acquisitions that Bruno Racine is making at the Bibliothèque Nationale,” said Paul Le Clerc, the former head of the New York Public Library and the director of Columbia University’s programs in Europe.

Now Mr. Racine is negotiating with Mr. Perrone and the heirs of Mr. Nordmann to buy the Sade manuscript and give each party a cut. The estimated sale price — more than $5 million — would be raised from private donors.

Mr. Racine’s goal is to put the manuscript on display, along with other Sade works in the library’s collection, for the 200th anniversary of Sade’s death next year.

“It is a unique, exceptional work, and a miracle that it survived,” he said. “It is part of our cultural heritage. Whether we like it or not, it belongs in the Bibliothèque Nationale.”




Bread & Roses: The Strike That Changed Everything

Friday, January 11th, 2013 by Lorne

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the beginning of the Lawrence Textile Strike, one of the signal events of 20th-century American labor history. This was the strike that put the IWW on the map, the strike that invented the moving picket line (to get around anti-loitering laws) and, most importantly, the first successful, large-scale strike in U.S. history to be carried out primarily by and on behalf of immigrant women. The Lawrence Strike has come to be known as the “Bread And Roses Strike,” because young women strikers were seen carrying banners that read, “We Want Bread, but Roses Too!,” quoting a line from James Oppenheim’s poem “Bread and Roses” (though labor folklore has attributed the source of Oppenheim’s poem to the Lawrence strike, it was actually written a year earlier, to commemorate the struggles of Chicago women workers). The poem was set to music in 1974 by Mimi Farina and has since become a labor-folk standard. Our favorite version is by the great Utah Phillips. Here it is (sorry for the link; we’ve been unable to succed at embedding the video for some reason):

The woolen mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts were by all accounts horrific places. Hard as it is for us to imagine today,  the men and women who worked in them, mostly non-English speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe and Quebec, died at the average age of 26.  The mortality rate for children under six was fully 50%. Loom operators were paid less than $10 a week — for 56 hours of work. They lived and worked completely at the whim of their employer, the American Woolen Company, subject to arbitrary layoffs and pay reductions at any time. So when, in January of 1912, the company announced that it would be reducing its workers pay by 32 cents a day — a reduction of more than 20% — the workers had finally had enough. They struck, and against all odds they won. They won despite the state’s trumped-up murder charge against the strike’s organizers, Joe Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti; despite violent suppression by the local militia, who in their noble attempt to preserve law and order turned fire hoses on the strikers in the heart of winter; despite the efforts of a local patriot who tried to frame the strikers by planting dynamite bombs around the city of Lawrence (he was an undertaker, so we assume a certain amount of self-interest may have guided his actions). Above all, they won because of the tenacious and novel strike tactics of the IWW, the most militant labor organization American has known before or since, especially under the leadership of the legendary Big Bill Haywood. The Wobblies took a sort of perverse pleasure in outwitting the (admittedly dim-witted) public officials of Lawrence, inventing such tactics as the “revolving picket line” to get around strict anti-loitering laws.

Needless to say, few strikes in American history have generated as much literature, music or folklore as did Lawrence. Given our interest in the art and literature of social movements, we’re unavoidably drawn to this material, as are our customers — it tends to come and go with some regularity. Here are a few recent acquisitions that are still with us, each interesting for its own reasons:


Hard to believe that a woman with sufficient intelligence and perspicacity to write  a full-length novel on the subject could wind up so far on the wrong side of history, but that’s exactly what the devoutly Catholic author Mabel Farnum accomplished in her  staunchly anti-labor novel about the Lawrence Strike, The Cry of The Street — a mill-town melodrama reminiscent of similar works such as The Factory Girl and Thrilling Events in the Life of Mira Dana, written in the mid-19th century. Fay Blake, whose The Strike in the American Novel (Metuchen: 1971) is by far the best study of its kind, calls Farnum’s novel “surprisingly old-fashioned” and “nonsensical,” but the novel illustrates what was certainly the majority view of Lawrence’s non-laboring citizens at the time of the strike.

The first book to conflate James Oppenheim’s 1911 poem “Bread and Roses” with the Lawrence Strike was Upton Sinclair’s 1915 anthology The Cry For Justice. It’s a key early work of American social protest literature, collecting “five thousand years of writing about the working man.” Sinclair’s hope was that this “Socialist Bible” would supplant that of the Christians, but after years of looking I regret to say that I’ve never found a copy in a hotel dresser-drawer.


Pretty much from Day One, artists have attempted portrayals of the Lawrence Strike, including noteworthy drawings by such radical cartoonists as William Gropper and Fred Ellis. One of our favorites is this iconic 1977 painting by the self-taught New York painter and labor organizer Ralph Fasanella, who died in 1997. We’ve just catalogued this nicely inscribed poster reproduction, which came to us from a collection of radical graphics in the Bay Area.

And, finally, to anyone interested in reading a good, scholarly (if slightly partisan) account of the Lawrence Strike, we recommend William Cahn’s Lawrence 1912: The Bread & Roses Strike (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1980). We don’t have any copies in stock, but the book is easily available from many second-hand booksellers, including our pals at Bolerium Books in San Francisco.