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Rtif, Sade, and the Origins of Pornography: Le Pornographe

as Anti-Text of La Philosophie dans le boudoir

Amy S. Wyngaard

Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Volume 25, Number 2, Winter 2012-13, pp. 383-406


Published by University of Toronto Press


For additional information about this article

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Rtif, Sade, and the Origins of
Pornography: Le Pornographe
as Anti-Text of La Philosophie
dans le boudoir
Amy S. Wyngaard

Nicolas-Edme Rtif de la Bretonnes 1769 Le Pornographethe
work from which the term pornography is derivedis not in
itself pornographic, and scholars working on the history of
pornography emphasize the works lack of substantive links to
the modern pornographic genre. In this article, I will elucidate
the role that Le Pornographe played in the development of
pornographyand in particular in Sades literary production
by proposing a reading of Sades La Philosophie dans le boudoir
(1795) as a parody and perversion of Rtif s text. Sades dramatic
dialogue, which presents a perverted family tale, subverts the
sentimental model that Rtif s text explicitly elaborates. The
Revolutionary pamphlet that it frames, which presents plans to
establish houses of prostitution for men and women, appropriates
and distorts elements of the reform treatise in Le Pornographe,
as Rtif himself perceived. By reading the two texts in concert,
I show not only how Sade may have been less revolutionary
than reactionary in his writing, but also how Rtif s work can be
inserted into the history of pornography as a pivotal text.

Amy S. Wyngaard is associate professor of French and Francophone
Studies at Syracuse University. Her book Bad Books: Rtif de la
Bretonne, Sexuality, and Pornography is forthcoming from University
of Delaware Press.

Eighteenth-Century Fiction 25, no. 2 (Winter 201213)

ECF ISSN 0840-6286 | E-ISSN 1911-0243 | DOI: 10.3138/ecf.25.2.383
Copyright 2013 by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, McMaster University
384 amy s. wyngaard

For modern readers, it is perhaps one of the greatest ironies

of eighteenth-century French literary history that Nicolas-Edme
Rtif de la Bretonnes Le Pornographethe work from which the
term pornography is derivedis not in itself pornographic.
Much like other bad books of the time,1 however, this text on
the reform of prostitution (with its title derived from the Greek
porn, prostitute, and graphein, to write) was subject to cen
sorship and condemned by critics as immoral, libertine, and
disgusting when it was first published in 1769.2 Despite creat
ing an initial scandal and piquing public interest enough that the
author published an expanded edition in 1775 (dated 1770) and
a third edition in 1776 (not to mention the counterfeit editions
1As Lynn Hunt has established, the category known as pornography, along with
the word itself, did not exist before the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Hunt, Introduction: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 15001800, in
The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500
1800, ed. Lynn Hunt (New York: Zone Books, 1993), 1314. Throughout the
eighteenth century, books about sex were classified with other works offensive
to the state, religion, and morality under the general rubrics of mauvais livres,
livres interdits, or livres philosophiques. For more on these categories, see
Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New
York: Norton, 1995), 8788; Jean-Marie Goulemot, Ces livres quon ne lit que
dune main: Lecture et lecteurs des livres pornographiques au xviiie sicle (Aix-
en-Provence: ALINEA, 1991), 1819; and Hunt, Introduction, 1620.
2Rtif states that his first censor, Chenu, me [le] rendit en disant que ctait
lgaliser un tat immoral. Rtif de la Bretonne, Monsieur Nicolas, ou le cur
humain dvoil, ed. Pierre Testud, 2 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), 2:176.
Rtif undertook a three-month rewrite, but the censor Philippe de Prtot also
refused the book. With the help of the bookseller Valade, Rtif obtained a
new censor named Marchand, who, the author says, gave Sartine, lieutenant
general of police and director of the Librairie, a positive account of the con
tents and ultimately approved the work (Monsieur Nicolas, 2:199). Rtif was
disappointed in critics reception of his text. Denis Diderot, for example, wrote:
Il est incroyable quun homme qui a quelque style, des ides, de lrudition,
la connaissance des langues et des murs anciennes, passe son temps nous
dbiter des rveries sur un sujet aussi dgoutant [...] Cest un excellent livre de
garde-robe. Cited in Daniel Baruch, introduction to uvres rotiques de Restif
de la Bretonne, ed. Baruch (Paris: Fayard, 1985), 19. In his Mmoires secrets
dated 19 July 1769, Louis Petit de Bachaumont wrote: Ce livre, qui nest ni dun
dbauch, ni dun jeune homme, ni dun fol, ni dun sot, ni dun cynique, prouve
quel point dgarement le prtendu esprit philosophique nous a conduits;
lorsquon voit un auteur grave, rudit, sage, honnte et profond, traiter une
matire sur laquelle il aurait eu honte dans un autre temps de porter mme ses
regards: pour prvenir les suites du libertinage, en donner un trait complet,
et vouloir rduire en principes dadministration lcole du vice et dinfamie?
Cited in Annie Le Brun, preface to Le Pornographe, in uvres rotiques de
Restif de la Bretonne, ed. Baruch, 27.

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rtif, sade, and the origins of p orno graphy

that circulated in the provinces), after the Revolutionary period

the work was largely forgotten.3 If nineteenth- and twentieth-
century medical doctors and social reformers sometimes looked
to Le Pornographe for inspiration, and contemporary scholars
periodically remind us of the importance of its title, it seems
that since Rtif s time little attention has been paid to the works
actual contents.4 This oversight is reinforced by the existence
3Scholars disagree about the number and status of the various authorized
versions of the work: Le Pornographe, ou ides dun honnte homme sur un
projet de rglement pour les prostitues (London and The Hague, 1769); Le
Pornographe, ou ides dun honnte homme sur un projet de rglement pour les
prostitues (London and The Hague, 1770 [1775]); and Le Pornographe, ou ides
dun honnte homme sur un projet de rglement pour les prostitues (London
and The Hague, 1776). Rtif appears to have considered the second edition of
1775 (dated 1770) the definitive edition, and the 1776 version a reprinting. The
second edition that I consulted at Harvard University is consistent with Rtif s
description, containing two appended texts, Reprsentations Mylord Maire de
la ville et cit de Londres, sur les filles entretenues de France, vulgairement dites
courtisanes, ou demoiselles du bon-ton, attributed to Mathieu-Franois Pidansat
de Mairobert, and Jean-Pierre Mots Code de Cythre, ou lit de justice dAmour
(181252 and 389476) and notes O (on luxury); P (on abuses of priests); and
Q (on Ninon de Lenclos; Pierre Testud erroneously states that note Q was
added to the third edition). The second edition also contains an introductory
Avertissement des libraries and, at the end of the work, a summary of critics
comments on Le Pornographe and La Mimographe and Rtif s responses, as
well as details of his plans for Les Gynographes. The 1776 edition that I consulted
at Cornell University is identical to the second edition, with the addition of
a supplment au Pornographe et suite de la note Q (47792) consisting of
an alphabetical list that adds information to the text; gives the names and
addresses of various Parisian madams; and discusses at length Guilbert de
Prval, the doctor who, Rtif states, found a way to prevent and cure syphilis
but was persecuted for it. See Monsieur Nicolas, 1:929n4, 2:199n6, 2:903. On the
counterfeit editions of Le Pornographe (at least three), see Rtif de la Bretonne,
Mes ouvrages, in Monsieur Nicolas, ed. Testud, 2:902; and James Rives Childs,
Restif de la Bretonne. Tmoignages et jugements (Paris: Briffaut, 1949), 21214.
4Although Alexandre Parent-Duchtelet, in his 1836 De la prostitution dans la
ville de Paris considre sous le rapport de lhygine publique, de la morale et
de ladministration, dismisses Le Pornographe along with other texts (je ny ai
trouv que des erreurs et des ides fausses, lexception toutefois de quelques
notions historiques dont jai su profiter), Alain Corbin notes Rtif s influence
on Parent-Duchtelets classification of prostitutes. See Parent-Duchtelet, La
Prostitution Paris au xixe sicle, ed. Alain Corbin (Paris: Seuil, 1981), 61, 61n2.
In the early twentieth century, medical doctors such as Jean Avalon and R.-F.
Picardeau signalled the value of Rtif s ideas for reforming prostitution and
stopping the spread of venereal disease. See Kathryn Norberg, From Courtesan
to Prostitute: Mercenary Sex and Venereal Disease, 17301802, in The Secret
Malady: Venereal Disease in Eighteenth-Century France and Britain, ed. Linda
E. Merians (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 3940. Sbastien
Dulac, editor of a 1994 edition of Le Pornographe, suggests that legislation to

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of numerous incomplete modern editions, two of which go so

far as to excise the sentimental epistolary narrative entirely and
reproduce only the reform treatise that it frames.5
To be sure, Rtif is known for the poor quality of his writing
as well as for his verbosity; these editors may well have believed
that they were doing the reader a service by abridging a lengthy
tome and reprinting what they saw as the essence of the work.
Such practices, however, have contributed to a number of misun
derstandings about the textincluding its lack of substantive links
to the modern pornographic genre. In 2006, James A. Steintrager
proposed a rethinking of Le Pornographe within the history of
pornography, stating that Rtif s simultaneous insistence on
the need for the bureaucratization of prostitution and on the
paramount value of intimacy was precisely what the radicals of
later eighteenth-century libertine writing such as Sade active
ly, if largely unconsciously, sought to negate.6 He argues that
modern pornography came to be ... by defining itself against
Rtif s text; by getting rid of the prostitute and shifting the focus
away from social issues and political allegory, pornography took
on its modern guise as dirty books focused on bodies and
pleasures.7 While I agree fully with Steintragers arguments about

regulate prostitution put forth in France by Jol Le Tac in 1979 was inspired
by Rtif s text; Dulac includes Le Tacs proposal in his edition. See Rtif de la
Bretonne, Le Pornographe, ed. Sbastien Dulac (Monaco: G. Rondeau, 1994),
10, 113. Scholars working on the history of pornography routinely absent the
work from the genres development by emphasizing its non-pornographic con
tent despite its originating title. See, for example, Darnton, 86; Joan DeJean,
The Reinvention of Obscenity: Sex, Lies, and Tabloids in Early Modern France
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 136n30; Goulemot, Ces Livres,
14; and Hunt, Introduction, 13.
5Henri Bachelins edition, available in many university libraries and often cited
by critics, excises Rtif s preface and frame narrative and publishes only the
treatise, along with DAlzans discussion of compensation and part of note A
on the tat actuel de la prostitution. See Rtif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe,
in Luvre de Restif de la Bretonne, ed. Henri Bachelin, 9 vols. (Paris: ditions
du Trianon, 193032), 3:946. B. de Villeneuves edition also excises the frame
narrative, while it includes notes AN and the text of Code de Cythre, ou lit de
justice dAmour in an appendix. See Rtif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, in
Luvre de Restif de la Bretonne, ed. B. de Villeneuve (Paris: Bibliothque des
curieux, 1911).
6James A. Steintrager, What Happened to the Porn in Pornography: Rtif,
Regulating Prostitution, and the History of Dirty Books, Symposium 60 (Fall
2006): 190. DOI: 10.3200/SYMP.60.3.189-204
7Steintrager, 2001.

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rtif, sade, and the origins of p orno graphy

the importance of LePornographe in the genealogy of pornog

raphy, I believe that the literary relationship between Rtif s text
and later pornographic worksspecifically Sades La Philosophie
dans le boudoir (1795)is traceable and concrete. In this article,
I will examine the role that Le Pornographe played in pornog
raphys development, in particular in Sades literary production, by
proposing a reading of La Philosophie dans le boudoir as a parody
and perversion of Rtif s text.
As a number of scholars have established, pornography in a
modern sense developed at the end of the eighteenth and the
beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Lynn Hunt and Walter
Kendrick trace the advent of the regulatory category of pornog
raphy to increased fears about the accessibility of licentious
workstraditionally available exclusively to a male eliteto the
lower classes and women.8 In addition, Hunt emphasizes the trans
formation in content that occurred during this time: whereas early
modern pornography was linked to social and religious critique,
modern pornography focused almost exclusively on pleasure.
Sades worksLa Philosophie dans le boudoir in particularwere
central to this transition. Paradoxically, although his texts were
socially and politically subversive, they paved the way for the devel
opment of the modern, apolitical genre by attacking every aspect
of conventional morality; according to Hunt, pornography thus
became identified with a general assault on morality rather than
on specific criticisms of Ancien Rgime systems, and increasingly
needed no other justification. After 1799, political pornography
was virtually nonexistent, having been replaced by novels that
subsumed explicit sexual scenes to sentimental narrative and that
developed into a distinct genre associated with the underside of
bourgeois and domestic life.9
Le Pornographe played a key role in pornographys evolution
not only by giving name to the modern genre, but also by serving
as a Sadean anti-text. Rtif s work was in Sades library at the
time of Sades death in 1814 and, I will argue, was likely one of
the principal sources from which he borrowed, rewrote, and
8See Hunt, Introduction, 1213, 36, 4445; and Walter Kendrick, The Secret
Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (New York: Viking, 1987), 2631,
4850, 5758.
9See Hunt, Pornography and the French Revolution, in The Invention of
Pornography, 3025, 33032, 33839.

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distorted material in composing La Philosophie dans le boudoir.10

Rtif himself noted a connection between his work and Sades,
complaining bitterly about Sades twisted appropriation of his
text: Le monstre auteur propose, limitation du Pornographe,
ltablissement dun lieu de dbauche. Javais travaill pour arrter
la dgradation de la Nature; le but de linfme dissqueur vif, en
parodiant un ouvrage de ma jeunesse, a t doutrer lexcs cette
odieuse, cette infernale dgradation!11 In turn, Rtif produced
his own parody in the pornographic LAnti-Justine (1798), which
he presented as a voluptuous antidote to Sades cruelty.12 Rtif s
claim cannot be dismissed as mere vanity since Le Pornographe,
the most well-known treatise on prostitution circulating in
France at the time, spawned numerous responses and imitations,
including that of Sade.13
10On the contents of Sades library, see uvres compltes du marquis de Sade,
ed. Gilbert Lly, 16 vols. (Paris: Au Cercle du Livre Prcieux, 196667), 2:590;
and David Coward, Rtif critique de Sade, tudes rtiviennes 10 (1989): 76.
11Rtif de la Bretonne, Juvnales, in Monsieur Nicolas, ou le cur humain dvoil,
ed. Testud, 2:103233. Rtif refers to Sades La Thorie du libertinage in his
1796 comment; as Testud explains, the title refers to a trilogy, the first volume
of which is La Philosophie dans le boudoir (Monsieur Nicolas, 2:1035n1).
Rtif s account of Sades parody, which evokes Sades description of houses of
prostitution with offices selling tickets that allow clients to perform various
tortures, ostensibly refers in detail to the second volumeLes Conversations
du chteau de Charmellewhich has been lost. See Monsieur Nicolas, 2:451n8;
and Pierre Testud, Rtif et Sade, Revue des Sciences Humaines 83, no. 212
(1988): 11718. A handful of scholars have reprinted Rtif s comments: see
Coward, 7677; Michel Delon, introduction to Dialogue entre un prtre et un
moribond, Les Cent vingt journes de Sodome, ou lcole du libertinage, and
Aline et Valcour, ou le roman philosophique, in uvres du marquis de Sade, ed.
Delon, 3 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 199098), 1:xxviixxviii; and La Philosophie
dans le boudoir, ed. Jean Deprun, in uvres du marquis de Sade, ed. Delon,
3:1279. In addition, Pamela Cheek, Hunt, and Steintrager suggest that Sades
discussion of prostitution in the Revolutionary pamphlet was a response
to Rtif. See Pamela Cheek, Sexual Antipodes: Enlightenment Globalization
and the Placing of Sex (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 11213;
Hunt, The Family Romance of the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1992), 137; and Steintrager, 199. To my knowledge, no one
has analyzed fully the textual links between Rtif s and Sades works.
12Rtif de la Bretonne, LAnti-Justine, ou les dlices de lamour, in uvres rotiques
de Restif de la Bretonne, ed. Baruch, 394.
13Four treatises on prostitution were published in eighteenth-century France
before Rtif s text: Bernard Mandeville, A Modest Defence of Publick Stews
(1724), translated into French as Vnus la populaire, ou apologie des maisons
de joie (1727); Jean-Pierre Mot, Code de Cythre, ou lit de justice dAmour
(generally thought to have been published in 1746), which Rtif appends to

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rtif, sade, and the origins of p orno graphy

As critics such as Jean Deprun, Lucienne Frappier-Mazur, and

Julie Candler Hayes document, Sade was a serial emprunteur
abusif or practitioner of literary incest and literary parricide,
who, throughout his corpus, appropriates, radicalizes, and subverts
passages taken from other authors.14 Scholars note the presence
of several anti-texts in La Philosophie dans le boudoirincluding
Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Julie, ou la nouvelle Hlose (1761), mile,
ou de lducation (1762), and Du contrat social (1762), and Pierre-
Ambroise Choderlos de Lacloss Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782)
although, for reasons already mentioned, Le Pornographe is nota
bly absent from such lists.15 But Rtif, whom Sade excoriated in

the 1775 edition (dated 1770) of Le Pornographe; Denis Laurian Turmeau de la

Morandire, Reprsentations Monsieur le lieutenant gnral de police de Paris
sur les courtisanes la mode et les demoiselles du bon ton (1760); and Henri
de Goyon de la Plombanie, LHomme en socit, ou nouvelles vues politiques
et conomiques pour porter la population au plus haut degr en France (1763).
Critics such as Erica-Marie Benabou and Cheek emphasize the influence that
Rtif s treatise had on subsequent works on prostitution, among them the
anonymous Code, ou nouveau rglement sur les lieux de prostitution dans la
ville de Paris (1775); Jourdan Lecointe, La Sant de Mars, ou lart de conserver
la sant aux gens de guerre (1790); and the unsigned Les Demoiselles Chit-Chit
du Palais-Royal (thought to have been published in 1793). See Benabou, La
Prostitution et la police des murs au xviiie sicle (Paris: Perrin, 1987), 49499;
and Cheek, 111. See also Steintrager, 19192, 19798.
Jean Deprun, Quand Sade Rcrit Frret, Voltaire et dHolbach, in Roman
et Lumires au xviiie sicle (Paris: ditions Sociales, 1970), 333. Julie Candler
Hayes argues that the intra-literary relationships visible in Sades theatre
based on techniques of distortion, displacement, and denialreplicate the
confused and perverted (family) relationships played out in his works. Hayes,
Identity and Ideology: Diderot, Sade, and the Serious Genre (Philadelphia:
John Benjamins, 1991), 122, 10540. Lucienne Frappier-Mazur notes two
parodic techniques in Sades work, the first linked to parody in a strict sense
(borrowings, parodic passages) and the second associated more generally
with subversive discourse, that is, his use of parodic structures related to the
motif of the orgy, such as circularity, specularity, transgression, inversion, and
heterogeneity. She mentions Le Pornographe as a Sadean anti-model without
going into detail, seemingly referring to the reform treatise exclusively in
citing the works esprit bourgeois, sa morale du travail, son utilitarisme,
son paternalisme, son civisme, son galitarisme et son souci populationniste.
Frappier-Mazur, Sade et lcriture de lorgie: Pouvoir et parodie dans LHistoire
de Juliette (Paris: Nathan, 1991), 6, 126.
The phrase la mre en prescrira la lecture sa fille that appears on Sades title
page evokes statements from the prefaces of both Rousseaus Julie and Lacloss
Les Liaisons dangereuses. In the preface to Julie, Rousseau famously writes:
Jamais fille chaste na lu de romans. Rousseau, Julie, ou la nouvelle Hlose,
ed. Michel Launay (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1967), 4. In his preface to

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his Ide sur les romans and in his personal correspondence, was
likely his ultimate (and not surprisingly unavowed) target, for Rtif
represented all that Sade disdained in literature. Unlike Henry
Fielding and Samuel Richardson, whom Sade admired, Rtif was
a popular, prolific author whose convoluted style and sentimental,
moralistic plots were highly predictable, with virtue always tri
umphing over viceanathema to an author whose purpose in
writing Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu (1791) was to offrir
partout le vice triomphant et la vertu victime de ses sacrifices.16
Rtif, for his part, returned Sades enmity in full, objecting to the
cruelty and violence manifested in his personal life and in his
textsthereby adding plenty of fuel to Sades fire.17
Les Liaisons dangereuses, Laclos states: Loin de conseiller cette lecture la
jeunesse, il me parat trs important dloigner delle toutes celles de ce genre.
Laclos, Les Liaisons dangereuses, ed. Ren Pomeau (Paris: Flammarion,
1996), 75. See also Goulemot, Beau marquis parlez-nous damour, in Sade,
crire la crise, ed. Michel Camus and Philippe Roger (Paris: Belfond, 1983),
11920. For discussions of Sade and Du contrat social, see Scott Carpenter,
Sade and the Problem of Closure: Keeping Philosophy in the Bedroom,
Neophilologus 75, no. 4 (1991): 526. <
n23k4qj1vp368456/> Frappier-Mazur (12425) and Marcel Hnaff discuss
Sades overturning of Rousseau more generally in his oeuvre, while Philippe
Roger compares and contrasts La Philosophie dans le boudoir and Les Liaisons
dangereuses. Hnaff, Sade: The Invention of the Libertine Body, trans. Xavier
Callahan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 99100, 127.
Roger, Sade: La Philosophie dans le pressoir (Paris: Grasset, 1976), 6787.
See also Depruns excellent notes to La Philosophie dans le boudoir in the
Pliade edition of Sades works, which document the authors borrowings and
manipulations of material from other writers.
16Sade, Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, in uvres du marquis de Sade, ed.
Delon, 2:129. In his Ide sur les romans, composed in the 1780s and published
with Les Crimes de lamour in 1800, Sade writes: R... inonde le public, il lui
faut une presse au chevet de son lit; heureusement que celle-l toute seule
gmira de ses terribles productions; un style bas et rampant, des aventures
dgotantes, toujours puises dans la plus mauvaise compagnie; nul autre
mrite enfin, que celui dune prolixit ... dont seul les marchands de poivres le
remercieront. Sade, Ide sur les romans (1800; Paris: Palimugre, 1946), 39. He
continues: On na jamais le droit de mal dire, quand on peut dire tout ce quon
veut; si tu ncris comme R... que ce que tout le monde sait, dusses-tu, comme
lui nous donner quatre volumes par mois, ce nest pas la peine de prendre la
plume; personne ne te contraint au mtier que tu fais; mais si tu lentreprends,
fais-le bien (46). See also Sade, Ide sur les romans, 3336, 48; and Maurice
Heine, Le Marquis de Sade, ed. Gilbert Lly (Paris: Gallimard, 1950), 28690.
17Rtif attacked Sade in his Nuits de Paris (178894), where he stages an orgy
that recalls the affaire de Marseille and a scene of human vivisection that
evokes the affaire dArcueil (Testud, Rtif, 1089). Rtif calls Sade various

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In both its structure and its content, La Philosophie dans le

boudoir can be seen as an act of writing against Rtif. The texts
dramatic dialogue, which presents a perverted family tale, subverts
the sentimental model that Rtif s text explicitly elaborates. The
Revolutionary pamphlet inserted into the dialogue, presenting
plans to establish houses of prostitution for men and women,
appropriates and distorts elements of the reform treatise in Le
Pornographe. I will read the two texts in concert, showing not only
how Sade may have been less revolutionary than reactionary in his
writing, but also how Rtif s work can be inserted into the history
of pornography as a pivotal text: one that, if dismantled by Sade
at the end of the eighteenth century, was recuperated by narrative
models associated with the emergence of modern pornography at
the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The Frame Narrative
Following on the heels of the publication of Rtif s first novels,
which feature letters posing as translations from the English
in the style of Mme Riccoboni, Le Pornographe combines the
sentimental, epistolary genreat the height of its popularity
following the publication of Rousseaus Juliewith the reformist
mania taking root in mid-century France.18 The reform project is
embedded in the epistolary narrative: DAlzan, a libertine on the
path to salvation, includes in his letters to his friend Des Tianges
the project for the reform of prostitution, which he sees as the

names, including goste vicieux, excrable auteur, sclrat, and monstre

(Coward, 7475). Further, in Monsieur Nicolas, the revolutionary Danton is
portrayed reading the sadistic passages of Sades Justine before committing his
own acts of cruelty (1:1044). For discussions of the two authors, see Maurice
Blanchot, Sade et Restif de la Bretonne (Paris: ditions Complexe, 1986);
Delon, introduction to Dialogue entre un prtre et un moribond, xxviiixxix,
lviin2; Barry Ivker, On the Darker Side of the Enlightenment: A Comparison
of the Literary Techniques of Sade and Restif, Studies on Voltaire and the
Eighteenth Century 79 (1971): 199218; Gilbert Lly, Le Marquis de Sade et
Rtif de la Bretonne, Mercure de France 1130 (October 1957): 36466; Sade,
uvres compltes du marquis de Sade, ed. Lly, 2:48387; and John Phillips,
Critique littraire et intertextualit: Le Cas de Sade et de Rtif de la Bretonne,
in Critique, critiques au 18e sicle, ed. Malcolm Cook and Marie-Emanuelle
Plagnol-Dival (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 26980.
Le Pornographe inaugurates Rtif s series of reforms entitled Les Ides
singulires: subsquent volumes include La Mimographe on theatre (1770);
Les Gynographes on women (1777); LAndrographe on men (1782); Le
Thesmographe on laws (1790); and Le Glossographe on language (unfinished).

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source of all societal ills. DAlzan has a double in the Englishman

Lewis Moore introduced in the works preface, similarly a repentant
libertine who, after wallowing in immorality in France for five
years, returned to his native country to pen a reform project that
supposedly inspired Le Pornographe.19
The epistolary narrative provides both a cover story and a coun
terpoint for the discussion of prostitution. DAlzan, repenting a life
of debauchery and its suites fcheuses (ostensibly syphilis), falls
under the tutelage of Mme des Tianges (Adlade), the virtuous
wife of his newlywed friend M. des Tianges, who has been away
for three months on business in Poitiers.20 Her attempts to lead
her student from a life of vice to virtue centre on a plan to unite
him and her sister, Ursule de Roselle, in marriage. As she puts it to
her husband: Il ne faudrait plus quun amour honnte, lgitime,
pour achever de laffermir dans le bien (55). DAlzan, for his part,
agrees that love and marriage are the solution to his woes, telling
M. des Tianges: Je suis enfin convaincu quil y a des femmes
dignes dtre adores [...] Ton bonheur a excit mes dsirs (58).
Mme des Tianges shepherds the couple through the awkwardness,
uncertainty, and excitement of first love, advising the young Ursule
to be cautious and telling the worldly DAlzan to be sure of his
intentions. As it turns out, DAlzans uncle, DAlzan de Longepierre,
had been in love with the mother of Ursule and Adlade and had
wanted his nephew to marry Ursule; overjoyed to hear that his
nephew plans to do so, he promises to leave all of his money to
DAlzan after his death. The machinations of La D, DAlzans
spurned mistress, nearly bring the couples courtship to a tragic
end. After receiving a letter from Mme des Tianges accusing him
of two-timing Ursule with this femme perdue (who had shown
Mme des Tianges [altered] love letters that DAlzan had written her
showing recent [false] dates), DAlzan falls gravely ill. Thanks to his
uncles intercession, DAlzan is able to establish his innocence with
the two women and marries Ursule in his sickbed. The epistolary
narrative ends with M. des Tiangess joyful return to a home now
shared by his wife, sister-in-law, and best friend.
19As Cheek notes, Rtif s Englishman may be a nod to Mandevilles A Modest
Defense of Public Stews (112).
20Rtif de la Bretonne, Le Pornographe, ed. Annie Le Brun, in uvres rotiques
de Restif de la Bretonne, ed. Baruch, 55. References are to this edition, unless
otherwise noted.

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Throughout the text, a number of scenes convey the acute

sentimentality made popular by the works of contemporary
authors and artists. DAlzans account of a supper shared with
his uncle, Ursule, and Mme des Tianges echoes the family values
and togetherness evoked in Denis Diderots drame bourgeois and
Jean-Baptiste Greuzes genre paintings, complete with a loving
patriarch and an adoring younger generation: Jamais partie
bruyante ne ma satisfait comme ce souper tranquille, srieux
mme, chez un vieillard respectable, au milieu dune famille
sense. La joie a brill quelquefois, mais ctait le rire de la raison.
Pour mon oncle, il tait dune humeur charmante [...] Il lui
[Ursule] adressait de temps en temps la parole, et toujours pour
lui dire des choses flatteuses. Je ne puis texprimer combien cette
remarque ma fait de plaisir [...] je sens, depuis que jaime Ursule,
augmenter ma tendresse pour mes parents (141). Even more
emotional is the moment when the uncle describes the pathetic
state of his lovesick nephew and how he had to help carry him
to bed: Il ne me reconnaissait pas, il ne me voyait pas! Joignez
cela une fivre brlante, des sanglots, de longs soupirs, cest
le tableau de la situation. Jai moi-mme aid le porter dans
son lit (147).21 In yet another scene, DAlzan spies on Mme des
Tianges and Ursule as Adlade counsels her sister on men and
love: Elles se sont embrasses, mon cher Des Tianges. Je les
voyais, je me contenais peine. Durant quelques moments, elles
ont form un groupe ... . O mon ami, lart nest rien: comment
pourrait-il excuter ce divin modle! [...] Adlade! ... divine
Adlade, que vous tes digne dtre la sur dUrsule et la femme
de mon ami! (86). The sisters embrace captures the extreme and
often ambiguous intimacy that permeates the tale. The letters
trace a complex web of relationships that propose a variety of
intimate configurations among the friends and family members.
Adlade is portrayed as lover and wife to Des Tianges and as
sister and mother-figure to Ursule and DAlzan (55, 86, 150); Des
21Steintrager also notes Rtif s appropriation of prevalent sentimental models
and his use of the Diderotian term tableau (Steintrager, 195). Rtif
developed parallels with Greuzes patriarchal family scenes throughout his
career. Another prominent example can be found in La Vie de mon pre,
which contains scenes that echo Greuzes Pre de famille qui lit la Bible ses
enfants (1755). See the prefatory matter to Rtif de la Bretonne, La Vie de mon
pre, ed. Gilbert Rouger (Paris: Garnier, 1970).

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Tianges perceives DAlzan as a friend and a brother (114); DAlzan

proclaims that his attachment for Des Tianges rivals that of his
wife (141). The four are united in the douce intimit wished for
by Des Tianges that has multiplied and intensified their ties as
sisters, brothers, husbands, and wives (114).22
While focusing on the emotional satisfaction derived from close
friendships and family ties, the frame narrative emphasizes that
marriages combining love and desire, such as that of M. and Mme
des Tianges, are the pinnacle of human relationships. As DAlzan
writes to Des Tianges when criticizing divorce and adultery:
Vous ne vous tes pas maris de la sorte, la belle Adlade et toi:
vous vous tes pouss tout de bon [...] Une femme, jeune, plus
touchante que les Grces, vive, enjoue, faite pour le monde et
pour lamour, vit dans la retraite parce que son mari est absent,
souhaite imbcilement son retour, compte les semaines, les
jours, les heures qui doivent scouler sans le voir (56). DAlzan
replicates this ideal in his marriage to Ursule. Using a vocabulary
that combines suggestions of physical passion (volupt, dsir,
ardeur) with the more lofty sentiments of love (flicit, union
dlicieuse, mes troitement unies), he describes his happiness
to his friend: Ah! Des Tianges! Mon cur nage dans une mer de
volupt! ... Jai dsir, avec toute lardeur dont je suis capable, la
main de Mademoiselle de Roselle; depuis que je lai obtenue, je sens
ma flicit plus vivement encore que je ne lai dsire [...] Comment
se trouve-t-il des hommes qui craignent cette union dlicieuse de
deux mes troitement unies par les mmes affections, les mmes
biens, par ces tres innocents qui leur doivent le jour, en un mot
par les lois les plus saintes de la socit? (15051).
In underscoring his characters quest to unite love, sex, and
marriage, Rtif upholds the relational ideals proposed in novels
such as Rousseaus Julie, which fostered notions of mutual ten
derness and monogamy in marriage and invited readers to
consider the roles of spouse and lover as one and the same.23
22On these points, see also Cheek, 11112; Steintrager, 196.
23See Niklas Luhmann, Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, trans.
Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1986), 10920; Ren Pillorget, La Tige et le rameau. Familles anglaise et
franaise xviexviiie sicle (Paris: Calmann-Lvy, 1979), 4380; and James
Traer, Marriage and the Family in Eighteenth-Century France (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1980), 4878.

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Le Pornographe distinguishes itself from other fiction of the time

in its explicit elaboration of these ideals. Marriage is presented not
merely as a prescribed ending, but as a moral and social contract
(un engagement durable que lon contracte [142]) for private and
public good, resulting in individual happiness and fulfilment, as
well as, perhaps most importantly, robust families and a strong
nation. Rtif s epistolary tale functions as a kind of treatise on
sentimentality that exposes its ideological program. It presents
itself as an exemplary sentimental text not only by enumerating its
narrative formulas, but also by expounding on its philosophya
philosophy of the (marital) bedroom that in many ways is just as
extreme as Sades, and is ripe for parody.24
The narrative of La Philosophie dans le boudoir, in the form of
a dramatic dialogue, distorts this sentimental tale. Sades version
echoes Rtif s in that two male and two female characters are
bound by an extreme version of the ties of family and friend
ship. The education undertaken is not sentimental and socially
(re)productive, but sexual and libertine: Mme de Saint-Ange, the
married mistress of M. de Mistival (and whose name, not coin
cidentally, rhymes with des Tianges),25 assumes at his request the
sexual initiation of his adolescent daughter Eugnie with the help
of Mme de Saint-Anges brother, the chevalier de Mirvel, and his
friend M. Dolmanc, the works main philosophizer. The intimate
configurations seen in Le Pornographe, where blurred relation
al boundaries underline the intensity of the emotional bonds
between characters, are developed to their fullest extent as incest and
homosexuality: Mme de Saint-Ange has sex with her brother and
with Eugnie; the chevalier de Mirvel and Dolmanc are established
lovers. The dramatic dialoguea generic form associated with
24In this way, Rtif s text combines the two prevalent discourses about
marriage in the eighteenth century, as discussed by Chris Roulston: marital
advice literature and the marriage novel. Roulston, Narrating Marriage in
Eighteenth-Century England and France (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing,
2010), 1593.
25Laurent Versini points out Sades perverse predilection for giving his liber
tine characters names containing the word ange. Sades naming of Mme
de Saint-Ange establishes compelling parallels and reversals with Rtif s
central virtuous pedagogical figures, the aptly named des Tianges, while also
calling up characters such as Lacloss Ccile and Mme de Volanges. Versini,
De quelques noms des personnages dans le roman du xviiie sicle, Revue
dHistoire littraire de la France 61, no. 2 (1961): 18485. <http://gallica.bnf.

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philosophical libertinage that allows for strategic allusiveness, in

contrast to the identification and sympathy generated by the senti
mental epistolary formfacilitates the theatrical action that defines
the book.26 Eugnies libertine instruction progresses through care
fully staged sexual acts that punctuate the discussion and illustrate
its main points, mostly invoking the primacy of pleasure in the
name of nature, which according to Dolmanc trumps the notions
of virtue and reciprocity that Rtif presents as being at the heart
of the sentimental union (Une seule goutte de foutre jacule
de ce membre, Eugnie, mest plus prcieuse que les actes les plus
sublimes dune vertu que je mprise; Il nest point homme qui ne
veuille tre despote quand il bande).27
If Le Pornographe emphasizes the deliciousness of the emo
tional bonds between man and wife and the sweetness of
friendship, La Philosophie dans le boudoir uses the same lexicon
to describe sexual pleasure: the deliciousness of sodomy and
orgasm; the sweetness of perversion. Sexual actsorchestrated
and executed with precision and performed in groups (Rabaissez
vous-mme la culotte de ce jeune homme [...] que le devant ...
et la derrire [...] se trouvent votre disposition ... Quune de
vos mains sempare maintenant de cet ample morceau de chair
[...] et que lautre [...] chatouille ainsi lorifice du cul [148])are
devoid of intimacy. The emotional transports of Le Pornographes
correspondents are transformed into the ahs and blasphemies
that accompany moments of physical pleasure and release; tender
words of love are turned into graphic commands (Chatouille-
moi, mon ange [...] Poussez! ... Poussez! [114]). Romantic love is
rejected as an emotion based on physical desire that leads to mad
ness. Dolmanc exhorts his pupil to pursue the ultimate objective
of lovepossessionwhile avoiding any emotional attachment:
Foutez, divertissez-vous, voil lessentiel; mais fuyez avec soin
lamour [...] Je le rpte, amusez-vous; mais naimez point; ne vous
26See Florence Lotterie, Hybrides philosophiques: Quelques enjeux du dia
logue matrialiste dans Le Rve de dAlembert et La Philosophie dans le
boudoir, Recherches sur Diderot et sur lEncyclopdie 42 (April 2007): 59
60. <> Patrick Reilly discusses Sades
perversion of the Socratic dialogue through the use of theatrical elements and
monologism in Sade et les dialogistes de la subversion dans La Philosophie
dans le boudoir, in Lire Sade: Actes du premier colloque international sur Sade
aux USA, ed. Norbert Sclippa (Paris: LHarmattan, 2004), 10720.
27Sade, La Philosophie dans le boudoir, ed. Yvon Belaval (Paris: Gallimard,
1976), 67, 259. References are to this edition.

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embarrassez pas davantage de ltre: ce nest pas de sextnuer en

lamentations, en soupirs, en illades, en billets doux quil faut; cest
de foutre, cest de multiplier et de changer souvent ses fouteurs, cest
de sopposer fortement surtout ce quun seul veuille vous captiver,
parce que le but de ce constant amour serait [...] de vous empcher
de vous livrer un autre [...] qui deviendrait bientt fatal vos
plaisirs (173). Discourses exploring love and relationships are dis
proved and displaced by Dolmancs logic and reasonhowever
illogical or contradictoryas he systematically dismantles notions
at the core of the moral and social order in eighteenth-century
France: the belief in God, parental authority, the criminality of
murder, the abjectness of cruelty.
In an unequivocal upending of Le Pornographe, where marriage
and family are presented as primary human goals, these institutions
are condemned in La Philosophie dans le boudoir as undermining
individual freedom and happiness. In scenes that mirror M. and
Mme des Tiangess discussions with their pupils about the joys and
sanctity of spousal relationshipsin which marriage is repeated
ly portrayed as a union of hearts and souls leading to flicit,
tendresse, and bonheur (8586, 15051)Mme de Saint-
Ange tells Eugnie that marriage (described as [un] joug, [une]
contrainte, and even as a source of douleur for women) is absurd
and unjust and that adultery is justified based on natural rights
(87). Along the same lines, in the name of liberty and the pursuit of
sex, she argues that girls and women should prostitute themselves
in order to experience the widest range possible of partners and
pleasures, as she herself has done (8384, 103). Opposite Rtif s
characters, who see children as the fruits of a secure and happy
union, Mme de Saint-Ange and Dolmanc expound on the liber
tine philosophies and practices against procreation: Dolmanc
argues that the propagation of species is not a law of nature, but at
most une tolrance in the quest for sexual pleasure (160); both
characters instruct Eugnie in various methods of birth control
and avoiding pregnancy (9597); Mme de Saint-Ange states that
she would cease being Eugnies friend the moment Eugnie be
came pregnantbut that if it were not the girls fault, she would
aid her in aborting the fetus or in killing her infant (12223). As
for concerns about depopulation (an eighteenth-century obsession
and a dominant theme in Le Pornographe), Dolmanc soundly dis
misses them because, like creation, he tells Eugnie, destruction

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is also a law of nature; further, he asserts, France suffers from a

parasitic problem of overpopulation (158, 7778).
The ultimate blow to (sentimental) constructs of the family is
struck at the end of the book, when the morally upright Mme
de Mistival arrives to rescue her daughter from the libertines
clutches. The group has been warned of her arrival by a letter
from M. de Mistival, who, taking notions of spousal authority
to the extreme, asks that they punish her rigoureusement
(266). The group undertakes the task with perverted cruelty,
with Eugnie taking part in the beating, whipping, and rape
of her mother. After a syphilitic servant is brought in to infect
Mme de Mistival, Eugnie sews up her vagina, afin que vous
ne me donniez plus ni frres ni surs (283).28 The final act of
violence involves Dolmancs commanding the mother to beg
her daughters forgiveness for her abominable conduite envers
elle and Eugnies slapping her face and kicking her out the
door. The work concludes with Dolmancs perverse invocation
of his libertine family, which can be seen as a tongue-in-cheek
evocation of Le Pornographes happy foursome: Pour nous, mes
amis, allons nous mettre table et, de l, tous quatre dans le
mme lit. Voil une bonne journe! Je ne mange jamais mieux, je
ne dors jamais plus en paix que quand je me suis suffisamment
souill dans le jour de ce que les sots appellent des crimes (287).
The twisted refashioning of the traditional family unit, starkly
played out in the tale of Eugnies being pimped by her father and
participating in her mothers violation, is completed here by the
total evacuation of family ties: Mme de Saint-Anges brother, the
Chevalier, who leaves to take Mme de Mistival home, is replaced
by her gardener Augustin, demonstrating that Sades family is
comprised of a rotating cast of characters who are linked not by
blood or love, but by sex and shared ideologyincluding the belief
that the most intense sensations come from doing ce quil y a de
plus sale, de plus infme et de plus dfendu (102). Ironically, of
course, Sades characters are dependent on traditional values for
their libertine pleasures, just as Sades literary perversions hinge
upon and reify Rtif s sentimental narrative.
28Hunts classic reading of this scene emphasizes the (Revolutionary) Freudian
fantasiesthe absent father and the obsession with the bad mother and
engenderingat work behind Sades dismantling of the family (Hunt, The
Family Romance, esp. 14143).

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The Reform Treatise

In Le Pornographe, the discussion of prostitution is presented in

contrast to the happy domesticity depicted in the frame narrative.
DAlzan, having frequented brothels in the past, sees prostitution
as the cause of immorality and social declinethe antithesis of the
virtuous and productive lifestyle he now seeks to lead. He paints
prostitution as un mal ncessaire with moral and physical dangers
that must be attenuated through legislation (6566). He proposes a
pornognomonie or la rgle des lieux de dbauche in his letters
to Des Tianges, which the friends proceed to debate (60). DAlzan
advocates for the establishment of parthnions, or brothels, which
all prostitutes would be forced to join under threat of corporal
punishment and which would be regulated by the state. The
project encompasses everything from parthnion administration
(establishment of a governing council of twelve elected citizens,
appointment of gouvernantes and a Suprieure within the brothel,
presence of a guard force) to its physical set-up (a building
located in a sparsely occupied neighborhood, with a courtyard,
two gardens, and hidden entryways), to the daily occupations
of the inhabitants (organized around work, exercise, meals, and
recreation) and their appearance (baths every two days, tasteful
clothing, no creams, perfume, or makeup), to the punishments
incurred for various infractions (treated with clemency the first
two times, except in cases of lying to a client about a pregnancy or
trying to trick him into marriage, which carry sentences of hard
labour). The plan also includes transactional details: clients pay
varying fees at a ticket office, which entitles them to choose among
women staged according to their age and beauty along different
corridors; men (amants en titre) can also pay a daily fee to keep
a prostitute (fille entretenue) for themselves. Several articles focus
on the issue of venereal disease, describing the system in place
to ensure the health of the prostitutes and clients. Women are
examined for disease every day, treated by an in-house physician
the moment symptoms occur, and kept sequestered until they are
perfectly healthy. Clients are examined upon entry and fined if
they show signs of illness (106).
Significantly, the plan addresses in detail issues surrounding
pregnancy and child rearing. Not surprisingly, given the concerns
about depopulation voiced throughout the text, reproduction was

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encouraged, with birth control prohibited and abortion criminal

ized. Attempts were made to alleviate physical and emotional
burdens of motherhood: pregnant women who were not kept as
mistresses would be separated from the general population and
given special care; after childbirth, a woman would place the
baby with a wet nurse and be given the opportunity to see the
child every week. Amants en titre had choices too: have the baby
nursed by its mother or place the child elsewhere; take the child to
have him or her raised secretly, or as their son or daughter; leave
the child in the care of the brothel, from which the child could
be reclaimed at any time; or designate the child to inherit the
biological fathers fortune. Physically adept boys who remained
in the brothel were destined to become soldiers, serving the state
in various capacities according to their skills and merit; others
would be given a profession such as tailor, shoemaker, gardener,
or labourer. Less attractive girls would be trained to become
dressmakers or hairdressers; others would be given a ladys edu
cation in art, music, dance, and fashion and granted a dowry to
marry, with preference being given to marriages that united them
with other brothel offspring. After grown children left the brothel,
the council would serve in loco parentis, stepping in as necessary to
ensure that they fulfil their social and spousal duties.
The establishment of a family-like structure within the brothel
is presented as being for the good of the nation. DAlzan clearly
summarizes this purpose: Voil donc un moyen presque infaillible
[...] de mettre dans ltat une ppinire de sujets qui ne lui seront
pas directement charge, et sur lesquels il aura une puissance
illimite, puisque les droits paternels et ceux du souverain se
trouveront runis (157). The children were seen as invaluable
assets to the state, adding to the population and saving peasants
from becoming soldiers and abandoning agriculture, thereby
risking the national food source (156). Prostitutes in their old age
would also be well-cared for, saving them and society from un
avenir pnible: rigorous rules would be put into place to protect
those who could still work from abuse and disease; those who
were no longer able to work would be allowed to retire from the
profession and live in a separate part of the brothel, free to teach
music and dance to the younger prostitutes for compensation if
they chose to do so (138). Even the working prostitute is integrated

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into the sentimental model as she only takes on clients she desires
and has the right to refuse a client after discreetly examining him.
In this way, DAlzan explains, a general rule of human nature is
respected that links physical pleasure and love: La distinction
du physique et du moral nexista jamais dans lhomme qui pense:
pour lui, aimer cest jouir et jouir cest aimer (126). The union of
physical pleasure and romantic love, DAlzan argues, is the source
of human happiness, providing a consolation from misery and the
certainty of death (80, 18085).
However contradictorily, the reform treatise aims to advance
the same moralistic messages as the sentimental narrative about
the importance of human relationships and the sanctity of the
family. The parthnion serves a dual function, transforming
the prostitute and the brothelin part by insisting on love and
intimacyinto positive, productive elements in society while
protecting the traditional family unit. If prostitution is a neces
sary evil, it can also be recuperated into a socially meaningful
activity: the brothel inhabitants can be turned into a family, and
the experience of the prostitute and client can be humanized.29
Further, regulating prostitution would allow men to satisfy their
carnal passions without subjecting their wives and families to the
scourges of disease, infidelity, and divorce, as well as the abuse
and disrespect that could be transferred to wives by husbands
who treat prostitutes with brutality. Rtif s brothel seeks to main
tainand to replicate to the extent possiblethe idealized family
life of the extended Des Tianges household. His regulation of
prostitution boils down to a legislation of the (bourgeois) family,
with its attendant values of morality, paternal authority, and
feminine virtue.
Whereas Rtif s reform treatise and frame narrative are closely
linked through narrative devices as well as themes, the integration
of Sades pamphlet, Franais, encore un effort si vous voulez tre
29Mark Poster advances similar arguments, while his focus on the reform
treatise leads him to emphasize the utilitarian rather than the sentimental
aspects of Rtif s vision: [Rtif s] purpose was to transform prostitutes from
downtrodden, diseased women on the fringes of society, into members of a
respected profession with a useful social function to perform ... Prostitutes
were looked upon as objects; they were automatized. Although degraded
by fate and poverty, they were human beings and deserved respect. Poster,
The Utopian Thought of Restif de la Bretonne (New York: New York University
Press, 1971), 36. See also Cheek, 11112; and Steintrager, 19697.

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rpublicains, into the dramatic dialogue has been perceived as

problematic. In the texts fifth dialogue, Dolmanc introduces the
pamphlet, which he bought that morning at the palais de lgalit,
saying it will respond to Eugnies question si les murs sont
vraiment ncessaires dans un gouvernement (185). Although the
pamphlet develops ideas presented in the frame narrative (most
notably concerning atheism, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality,
incest, and murder) and is subsequently discussed and debated
by the characters, following Gilbert Lly several prominent critics
have noted its arbitrary appearance in the work, suggesting
that Sade composed it later and decided to insert it into La
Philosophie dans le boudoir in order to bring the text up to date
with Revolutionary ideas and rhetoric.30 What such interpreta
tions have neglected to recognize is that the content of the
pamphlet is, above all, consistent with Sades overall parody of
Le Pornographe. In the pamphlet, Sade not only appropriates and
distorts Rtif s ideas concerning the reform of prostitution, but
he also elaborates on his opposing conception of the family and
the nationone that again subverts and perverts Rtif s vision
through its criticism of marriage and traditional social structures
and its advocacy of adultery and incest.
Perhaps the most striking parallels and reversals between the
two texts can be found in the passages on prostitution, which
present a cornerstone of Sades republican vision. Sades project
draws on numerous elements of Rtif s reform treatise, adapting
them to his libertine and libertarian views of the individual, society,
and government. In the name of liberty and equality, the pamphlet
calls for the establishment of government-protected brothels for
both male and female clientsthus reconceiving and radicalizing
Rtif s overwhelmingly heterosexual and patriarchal model.
Echoing Rtif s argument that regulating prostitution would
30 S ee Sade, uvres compltes du marquis de Sade, ed. Lly, 2:501; Yvon Belaval,
preface to La Philosophie dans le boudoir, ed. Belaval (Paris: Gallimard,
1976), 19; Maurice Blanchot, Franais, encore un effort ... , La Nouvelle
Revue franaise 13 (October 1965): 600; Delon, De Thrse philosophe La
Philosophie dans le boudoir, la place de la philosophie, Cahiers dhistoire des
littratures romanes 7, nos. 12 (1983): 7677; and Delon, introduction to La
Philosophie dans le boudoir and LHistoire de Juliette, in uvres du marquis
de Sade, ed. Delon, 3:xiii. The opinions of Sade critics mirror the gestures of
Rtif s modern editors, who, as mentioned above, have chosen to publish
Rtif s pornognomonie independently from his sentimental narrative.

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protect the family and society, Sade proposes that such institutions
would promote peace and stability: [lhomme] sortira satisfait et
sans aucun dsir de troubler un gouvernement qui lui assure aussi
complaisamment tous les moyens de sa concupiscence (219).
While republican laws would assure that, freed from the ties of
(non-existent) marriage and notions of modesty, womenlike
mencan pursue la jouissance de tous les sexes et de toutes les
parties de leur corps, Sade maintains that his brothels, not unlike
Rtif s, would ultimately contribute to the growth and strength of
a national, republican family, o tous ceux qui naissent sont tous
des enfants de la patrie (225). Reversing the moral economy that
punishes or vilifies loose women as bad wives and mothers, in
Sades republic the more they frequent the brothels, the more they
are esteemed (226).
In the name of le bonheur de tous and the equal rights that
all men have to all women, all women would be obligated by law
to prostitute themselves at the brothels (222). A man can order a
woman he desires to go to a brothel, where matronssimilar to
Rtif s governessesensure that the woman is delivered to him
pour satisfaire, avec autant dhumilit que de soumission, tous les
caprices quil lui plaira de se passer avec elle, de quelque bizarrerie
ou de quelque irrgularit quils puissent tre, parce quil nen est
aucun qui ne soit avou dans la nature, qui ne soit avou par elle
(223). Sade annihilates any notion of choice or desire on the part
of the woman, underlining her status as a sexual object. Whereas
Rtif asserts the importance of looking after prostitutes health and
well-being for the good of both the prostitutes and society, Sade
proposes that any concerns about age or about physically hurting
or damaging a girl who is too young for sex are subsumed to a
mans right to pleasure: Cette considration est sans aucune valeur;
ds que vous maccordez le droit de proprit sur la jouissance, ce
droit est indpendant des effets produits par la jouissance; de ce
moment il devient gal que cette jouissance soit avantageuse ou
nuisible lobjet qui doit sy soumettre (223); Ds que les gards
quon aurait pour cette considration dtruiraient ou affaibliraient
la jouissance de celui qui la dsire, et qui a le droit de se lapproprier,
cette considration dge devient nulle (22324). The cruelty
described here, which Sade asserts is redressed by womens equal
right to pursue pleasure in the brothels erected specifically for

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404 amy s. wyngaard

them, is fully carried out in Justine, where, in what may be another

play on Rtif s reform plan, the girls living in the convent at Sainte-
Marie-des Bois are subjected to a highly regimented existence that
includes serving as monks sexual slaves for month-long periods
(24254).31 The sexual hierarchies inherent in the brothel (which
Rtif seeks to attenuate) become the most salient characteristic of
Sades model, where la loi du plus fort reigns.
As with Rtif s reforms, Sades plans for prostitution are inex
tricably linked to his (re)visioning of the family and nation. Sades
conception of a (sexual) community of men, women, and children
entails the creation of a redefined, republican family where the
eternal bonds of marriage are nullified, along with notions of
adultery and monogamy. In language reminiscent of that used
by his libertine characters, in the pamphlet Sade exhorts women
to follow their sexual urges without regard to moral or conjugal
obligation: Quaucun frein ne vous arrte (228). Further, incest
is seen as natural and desirable, strengthening families, and by
extension, the nation: [Linceste] tend les liens des familles et
rend par consquent plus actif lamour des citoyens pour la patrie;
il nous est dict par les premireslois de la nature, nous lprouvons,
et la jouissance des objets qui nous appartiennent nous sembla
toujours plus dlicieuse (22930); linceste devrait tre la loi de
tout gouvernement dont la fraternit fait la base (230). It is here
that the differences between Rtif and Sade blur. Rtif, who is
thought to have had incestuous relationships with his daughters,
similarly saw incest as a source of intense sexual pleasure and as
a natural extension and expression of paternal and filial loveas
well as prescriptive for a healthy, republican corps politique. In an
unpublished manuscript, he writes: Ce sont des moyens de paix
et de concorde que de marier nos enfants ensemble [...] lorsquon a
tabli la rpublique franaise, jaurais voulu quon en et fait le chef-
duvre de lhumanit en laissant aux hommes une libert plnire
dpouser leur mre, leurs surs, leurs filles.32 Significantly, his
response to Sade in LAnti-Justine breaks down on this point: if
Rtif succeeds in writing against Sadean violence, there is nothing
satirical about his semi-autobiographical staging of the incestuous
31See Coward, 76.
32Cited in Testud, Rtif, 122. For more on incest in Rtif s life and works, see
Testud, Rtif, 12122; and Testud, Rtif de la Bretonne et la cration littraire
(Geneva: Droz, 1977), 63255.

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rtif, sade, and the origins of p orno graphy

relationship between a daughter and the father who pimps her

in order to fulfil her sexual desires, or the multiple first-person
narrations describing the primacy and variations of these desires.
Unknowingly, and unwittingly it would seem, in LAnti-Justine
Rtif advances a plot that replicates and upholds key elements of
La Philosophie dans le boudoirand in this convoluted manner
parodies himself.
The personal and literary tensions between Rtif and Sade boil
down to the narcissism of small differences. As a comparative
analysis of their works demonstrates, in the last decades of the
eighteenth century the demarcation between the sentimental and
the pornographic became increasingly difficult to distinguish.
Both Rtif and Sade depended upon extremesof emotion,
of sensationin ways that make certain passages of their texts
almost interchangeable. Although the two authors would have
been loathe to recognize or to admit it, at times their parodies of
each other redouble or collapse to reveal the consonances between
their respective texts and ideologies. After all, the libertine orgy in
La Philosophie dans le boudoir only realizes and renders explicit
what remains unacted and unwritten in Le Pornographe, with
its hints of a multiplicity of incestuous and homosexual bonds
among charactersan erotic domesticity that Rtif himself would
fully explore in LAnti-Justine. Their plans for prostitution equally
recognize the carnality of human desires and the urge to satisfy
them, something that Rtif attempts to normalize and institution
alize both within and outside of marriage in the name of public
good and which Sade builds upon in order to give free reign to
individual pulsions within a libertine republican model.
Le Pornographe is a significant text in the history of pornog
raphy not only because it served as an anti-text of La Philosophie
dans le boudoir, but also because it formed the foundation of an
ongoing textual dialogue between Rtif and Sade that evolved
the genre in important ways. Sades rejection of the intimacy at
the core of Le Pornographe led Rtif to compose LAnti-Justine,
which, in its evacuation of overt social and political commentary
and its portrayal of the intense emotional and physical bonds
between father and daughter, prefigures key tendencies in later
pornography. Following Hunts definition, LAnti-Justine can be
seen as the ultimate modern pornographic text through its

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406 amy s. wyngaard

integration of domestic fiction and eroticismand one that only

strengthens the connections between the two authors and their
contributions to the incipient genre.33 In the end, the perceived
irony surrounding Le Pornographes title versus its non-salacious
content is replaced by yet another, that Sade and Rtif, who hated
each other and who thought themselves to be working towards
opposite goals, in fact share credit for pornographys advent.

33See also Annie Stora-Lamarres discussion of nineteenth-century pornog

raphy in LEnfer de la iiie Rpublique: Censeurs et pornographes (18811914)
(Paris: Imago, 1990), 2244.

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