Kevin Birmingham in The New York Times:
There’s a moment deep in the Marquis de Sade’s novel “120 Days of Sodom” when a libertine laments the numbness of having committed every possible debauchery. “How many times, by God, have I not longed to be able to assail the sun, snatch it out of the universe, make a general darkness or use that star to burn the world!” The most destructive binge has limits, he realizes. Just knowing that will dampen the best sadistic orgy.
Sade toiled to find his imagination’s limits. In 37 days, he wrote 157,000 words on a 40-foot scroll while imprisoned in the Bastille, creating, he bragged, “the most impure tale ever written since the world began.” “120 Days of Sodom” chronicles four months of depravity involving multiple victims in a remote castle. Sade wrote in secret, by candlelight, covering the scroll in microscopic script. When he was suddenly transferred to a mental asylum days before revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in 1789, he hid his unfinished scroll in a crevice of his cell wall.