1740 was the birth year of the Marquis de Sade, a man linked to such infamy that his very name became a byword for the most heinous acts of licentiousness and cruelty. 1740 is also the name of a fragrance created by Histoires de Parfums, a French niche perfume house founded in 2000 by Gérald Ghislain, that seeks to encapsulate the essence of historical figures in olfactory form.
At first glance, the choice to immortalize the Marquis de Sade in scent might seem to be an odd one. After all, his actions often amounted to an extreme form of sadism, and there is debate as to whether all the women involved actually consented. Many were prostitutes which would seem to negate much free will in the matter (even if others loved him to the every end). Plus, the ideas expressed in de Sade’s books are rather unpalatable, taking matters outside the arena of “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotica. (Not that I’ve read the latter, as I’ve heard the writing is atrocious.)
However, there is a new school of thought regarding the infamous Marquis which puts him in the context of the aristos’ behavior of the time, as well as the precarious political situation of the Ancien Regime. In The Marquis de Sade: A New Biography, Donald Thomas explains that the Marquis shared the sexual proclivities of many “grand seigneurs,” such that there was even a law going back to 1319 providing fines for various levels of sexual misconduct. His acts were nothing new, particularly at the highest levels, like the notorious Regent, the Duc d’Orleans, who ran the country for an infant Louis XV. Sade’s difficulties came not from unorthodox behavior, but from having that behavior made public in the press at a time when the Ancien Regime was teetering on political revolution. So, he was made a convenient scapegoat, one designed to draw attention from many similar acts happening at Versailles. Whether he deserve the full extent of his subsequent infamy is the subject of debate, but Donald Thomas’ book is one that I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in the matter.