Aline & Valcour
Ostensibly an epistolary novel, Aline and Valcour actually combines genres, interweaving the adventure story, libertine novel, and the novel of feelings from which emerges a unitary tale enlivened by complex and carefully nuanced characters. Turbulence and turpitude disrupt good peoples’ lives as libertines work evil schemes and incestuous designs upon the innocent and devout that don’t stop with abduction and seduction; its protagonists face obstacles to love and harsh threats imposed by crime upon traditional morality and religion. To make sense of all this, Sade infuses the novel with a sort of philosophical anthropology that prefigures not just Karl Marx and the 19th century utopian socialists, but Claude Levi-Strauss and Michel Foucault. Dark humor and social satire echo throughout.
Although not sexually explicit, Aline et Valcour shared the fate of Sade’s more sulphurous works; banned in 1815, it was in 1825 formally entered onto the French government’s list of prohibited works. Published clandestinely, it was Man Ray’s favorite Sadean novel, and during World War II the surrealist Radovan Ivšić traded half his library for a single copy. It did not appear in bookstores until after the Second World War, when Jean-Jacques Pauvert undertook publication of a new edition of Sade’s works and eventually succeeded in overcoming more than a century of censorship. It has remained constantly in print in France and today forms part of the first volume of the Pléiade edition.