2021 Reading Challenge – Week 18 – Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

It’s been a while! I’ve been busy with work, and recently decided to go back to school, so I’ve been neglecting Freshly Stale. Boooo! This blog is one of my favorite hobbies, and I’m determined to keep up with it!

This week, I finished reading Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, by Marquis de Sade. It’s a book that I’ve read before, albeit in middle school, and I’m so happy that I’ve gone and reread it!

To be frank, it’s absolutely disgusting. The word “sadism” is derived from the author’s name, if that gives you any indication of how grotesque this novel is.

I would not recommend this book for the faint of heart.

However, there are some interesting quotes in it that I’d like to share with you!

I promote commercial and economic fluctuations or instigate the rise of prices which, enlarging the poverty-stricken class, depriving it, on the one hand, of possibilities of work and on the other rendering difficult those of survival, increases according to a predictable ratio the total number of the subjects misery puts into my clutches.

This quote highlights how the upper class depend upon poverty to retain their high social class. I found it very relevant to today’s socio-economic situation here in the USA.

that this alleged virtue is not natural is proven by the fact it is unknown to the man who lives in a state of Nature.

This one cracks me up. The villains in the book, all of whom are wealthy, continually insist that their cruelty is a product of Nature. All the while, they deny that the virtuous sentiments in our poor heroine Justine, aka Therese, are themselves Natural feelings.

This argument, which claims that there is no Virtue, nor empathy, in Nature, is downright absurd. Empathy can be observed in many animals. Even rats (who, by the way, are much cooler than their reputation might lead people to believe).

Are we products of Nature? Yes! But think about how much variety there is in Nature. Claiming to be a part of nature whilst denying that animals can and do show empathy demonstrates that the one making the argument is clearly unaquainted with the natural world.

Civilization, by weeding certain individuals out of society, by establishing rank and class, by giving the rich man a glimpse of the poor, by making the former dread any change of circumstances which might precipitate him into the latter’s misery, civilization immediately puts the desire into his head to relieve the poor in order that he may be helped in his turn should he chance to lose his wealth; and thus was benevolence born, the fruit of civilization and fear: hence it is merely a circumstantial virtue, but nowise a sentiment originating in Nature, who never inserted any other desire in us but that of satisfying ourselves at no matter what the price.

This argument is, as we’ve just seen, built upon a fallacious notion, that Nature only breeds selfishness. It insists that people don’t act out of love, but out of self-interest. Just….yikes.

I ask you now if, after these reflections, I can still retain any feelings of guilt for having committed, either for the sake of pleasure or of self-interest, a crime in France which is nothing but a virtue in China?

This one shows, again, an utter disregard for others. Is virtue socially constructed? Yes! But if you want to act in a way that’s acceptable in one place and not another, then just go to the other place! “Well, it’s okay in China,” then go to China you dunce!

The book is overflowing with misogyny, homophobia, and classism. All of the villains are fabulously wealthy, diabolically blood-thirsty, and absolutely lacking any notion of what a healthy relationship is or could be. Their superiority complexes and selfishness leave them utterly unable to feel loved.

What good is love when it comes from someone you consider to be chattel? Too calloused to feel tenderness, the villains resort to brutality to feel anything at all. As they age, they grow accustomed to their perversities, leading them to require yet further outrages just to feel something.

While reading it, I couldn’t help but think of pornography addictions. Don’t those work the same way?

None of the villains were happy unless they were abusing others, save for one. His romantic relationship with another man was villianized. The villianizon of homosexuality is problematic and is not something that I condone, by the way.

The underlying similarities between all of the villians is their superiority complexes and selfishness. Their want of power, their greed, and their brutal abuses of others all lead to their success. It also leads to their isolation. 

At the end of the day, isn’t that self destruction? Each one of these men renders himself unable to enjoy life’s pleasures unless driven to extremes. Aside from human rights violations, aside from moral concerns, doesn’t it just seem remarkably inefficient?

Restraint isn’t only for the sake of others; it benefits ourselves as well. Moderation is key! But here’s the thing… unless you’re an absolute asshole, restraint solely for the sake of others isn’t an issue, and you won’t need to be convinced not to harm others on the basis of personal benefit!


Thank you for reading! 🌞

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