The original scroll on which the Marquis de Sade wrote the draft of his novel on sexual depravity, murder and paedophilia “The 120 Days of Sodom” has been returned to France following years of legal wrangling.
The parchment piece — originally recovered from a cell wall at Paris’s Bastille prison — will go on display in the city from September to mark the bicentenary of the eighteenth century nobleman’s death.
Written while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille, the book details the sexual orgies of four wealthy French libertines who rape, torture and finally murder their mostly teenage victims.
The 12-metre (39 foot) long scroll was found in its hiding place when the jail was stormed during the 1789 French revolution and over the years has repeatedly changed hands and had its ownership disputed through the courts.
But now current owner Gerard Lheritier, president and founder of Aristophil, a firm specialising in rare manuscripts, has brought it to France so that it can go on public display at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris, which he owns.
Frenchman Lheritier, who bought the manuscript for seven million euros ($9.6 million) and until now kept it in Switzerland, said he would one day like to see the manuscript in the hands of the National Library of France.
“I had proposed keeping the scroll for five years and then gifting to the library but the Ministry of Culture has not acted on this,” he told AFP.
Described by Sade as “the most impure tale that has ever been told since our world began”, the novel was published in Germany in 1904 after being acquired by a German psychiatrist.
The draft scroll was then bought in 1929 by the husband of Marie-Laure de Noailles, a direct descendant of Sade.
But after it was subsequently stolen, smuggled into Switzerland and resold to Swiss erotica collector Gerard Nordmann, a Swiss court ruled in 1998 that the Noailles family had no claim to it as it had been bought in good faith.
The scroll was put on display for the first time at the Bodmer Foundation near Geneva in 2004.