Once upon a time, I wanted to be an ‘intellectual.’ I imagined myself with a Franz Liszt haircut, clothed in jeans, ankle boots, turtlenecks and tight sports jackets. Apart from my intellectual appearance, I knew I’d need at least one doctoral degree, and I realized I’d have to digest every “worthy” book written. So, one summer, I decided to read the complete works of the Marquis de Sade. I started my project by reading two biographies of the marquis, and then I turned my attention to many critical essays and assessments of his writings.
After reading Sade’s critics and biographers, I was expecting to be shocked, astounded, thrilled and “enlightened” by his literary output. Instead, Sade’s stories of torture, his endless diatribes against religion, his sexual fantasies involving pain, incest, degradation, humiliation and murder numbed me. Reading the Marquis de Sade’s dully written, repetitive tales made me sleepy and after awhile I began to laugh heartily at the absurdity of him and what he “preached.” His philosophy didn’t appeal to (or interest) me. I was definitely not Sade’s audience (and, I thought, perhaps not “intellectual material” after all).
The Marquis de Sade spent almost 30 years of his life in one prison or another and he denied authorship of many of his most famous books. The chorus of his literary defenders is large, and famous, and they almost always gloss over the troublesome personal life of the man whose works they laud.
My immersion in the marquis’ life and work left with me a few lingering memories: while in prison, he kept a record of all his solo "pleasurable activities" — if you know what I mean (daily, weekly, monthly and yearly totals), and he sent his wife (who was dumb enough to do his bidding) to the glassblowers to have his "tools" made (they had to be at least 9 inches in circumference to please him).1
Histoires de Parfums has chosen the Marquis de Sade and his year of birth as inspirations for their 1740 fragrance: Birth year of a Parisian gentleman, named Donatien-Alphonse-François, that posterity will remember as the Marquis de Sade. For this man, whose licentious morals had him imprisoned many times, luxury rhymes with literature. The libertine writer would undoubtedly have enjoyed the audacity of this spiced wooded scent, an invitation to pleasure with its bergamot and Davana Sensualis hints, rounded with patchouli and everlasting flower.2
I’m still trying to figure out “luxury rhymes with literature,” but 1740 lists notes of bergamot, davana sensualis, patchouli, coriander, cardamom, cedar, elemi, leather, labdanum, and coumarin. 1740 starts off smelling like a medicinal elixir you do NOT want to drink (but enjoy smelling): bergamot, coriander, a ‘rosewater’ note and menthol-geranium produce a sickly sweet-spooky aroma. As the medicine disappears, vanilla-coumarin notes become apparent. The last phase of 1740’s development moves away from “medicine” and “flavors” into the realm of leather, orange peels, cedar and powdery patchouli-musk (the aromas of an antique trunk or armoire). 1740 has good lasting power and sillage; it’s a lovely, gentlemanly perfume.
I’m afraid the creators of 1740 didn’t have the balls to create a fragrance that would epitomize the Marquis de Sade; such a scent begs for filthy musks and cumin, the aromas of dirty hair and scalp (costus roots, anyone?), ink, beeswax (all those candles to illuminate the writing table and to burn skin) and indoles galore (nibbling on merde was apparently one of Sade’s pleasurable activities).
In case you care, I never became a bona fide intellectual (though I achieved “the look,” especially the Liszt hairstyle); I preferred reading the same beloved writers over and over to spending time with minds and ideas that left me unmoved or bored.
Histoires de Parfums 1740 Marquis de Sade Eau de Parfum is $185 for 120 ml; for buying information see the listing for Histoires de Parfums under Perfume Houses.
1. The Marquis de Sade: A Life, by Neil Schaeffer, pps. 292-296.
2. Via the Histoires de Parfums website.