The French government is appealing for help to purchase the original manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s notorious The 120 Days of Sodom.
The works, named “the most impure tale ever written since the world began” has been valued at £3.9m.
Les 120 Journées de Sodome ou l’École du Libertinage was written in extremely small text in 1785 on a 12-metre long and 11 centimetre wide scroll and hidden in the wall of his prison cell in the Bastille by the Marquis de Sade.
De Sade was being held in the Bastille for his involvement in sex scandals and in 1789 he was moved to an asylum, leaving the manuscript behind.
It survived the storming of the Bastille and was kept by a Provençal aristocrat’s family for more than a century before being sold to a German collector, who, in 1904, allowed it to be published for the first time in 1904, by sexologist Iwan Bloch.
The scroll was then obtained by the Noailles family, descendants of De Sade, in 1929. In 1982 it was stolen and smuggled over the border to Switzerland, where it was sold it to a collector of erotica, Gérard Nordmann. It was acquired by a private foundation in 2014 for display in Paris, then in 2017 it was classified as a national treasure and banned from being exported out of France.
The French government is now looking for help from corporations to help purchase the manuscript. French companies are told that they could benefit from a corporate tax break if they help the French government with the purchase.
The 120 Days of Sodom is described as “the most radical and the most monumental” of De Sade’s works and is uniquely influential and of “capital importance” in the oeuvre of De Sade.
After its ban in 1950s England, it became a Penguin Classic in 2016. Translator Will McMorran said that “its author will take his place alongside the great figures of world literature – many of whom would no doubt turn in their graves at the news that their club now counted Sade among its members”.
“The 120 Days is not a work that seduces its readers: it assaults them,” he wrote in the Guardian. “Reading it is, thankfully perhaps, a unique experience.”