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Depraved: How the Marquis de Sade still reigns as the patron saint of sadomasochism on screen

As de Sade’s former chateau in Provence – now a luxury hotel – flings open its doors to offer ‘heritage tours’, Geoffrey Macnab looks at the French philosopher and writer’s lasting influence on filmmakers and tourists, despite a sordid life mired in scandal

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 14 October 2022 06:30 BST
Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade and Kate Winslet as laundress Madeleine ‘Maddie’ LeClerc in Philip Kaufman’s ‘Quills’ in 2000
Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade and Kate Winslet as laundress Madeleine ‘Maddie’ LeClerc in Philip Kaufman’s ‘Quills’ in 2000 (David Appleby/Fox Searchlight/Kobal/Shutterstock)

A luxury hotel in France on the site of the old castle belonging to the Marquis de Sade has just flung open its doors to tourists for “Heritage Days” tours. The hotel, nestled in the heart of Provence in Mazan, just 20 miles by road from Avignon, has 31 rooms, a library, concealed passages, a sumptuous reception area, boudoirs, and immense gardens.

It looks lavish, but not out of the ordinary; pets are welcome and the wifi works. Reviews are complimentary. It’s only when you read the small print that you discover the secret history of The Château de Mazan. The hotel was the bolthole of the depraved De Sade when he wasn’t in Paris. He once organised a theatre festival in the gardens. Whether or not this turned into an orgy isn’t related but this is, indeed, as the hotel website trumpets – a “castle steeped in history”.

As French TV station France 3 noted last month: “If the walls could talk, they would have crisp stories to tell about the sulphurous nights of the marquis.” Built in 1715, the Château de Mazan was also the birthplace of De Sade’s father, as well as his uncle, Abbe de Sade, who educated the young De Sade for six years. During the Revolution, de Sade was branded “undesirable” in Mazan, and the chateau was damaged.

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