Typescript draft of The Sadeian Woman by Angela Carter


This is an extract from the typescript draft of The Sadeian Woman, a long essay by Angela Carter that interprets the works of the Marquis de Sade, providing a critique of pornography, power and the cultural determinism of gender and sexuality. The Marquis de Sade was an 18th-century French aristocrat notorious for his pornographic, graphically violent writings, which were produced from jail while he was serving 27 years of imprisonment.

Published in 1979, The Sadeian Woman was controversial for suggesting that de Sade ‘put pornography in the service of women, or, perhaps, allowed it to be invaded by an ideology not inimical to women’. Unlike other pornographers, Carter argues, de Sade disrupted dominant ideology, being one of few to claim the ‘rights of free sexuality for women, and in installing women as beings of power in his imaginary worlds’. De Sade does not tie sex to reproduction; characters such as Juliette act on her own sexual desires. Carter proposes de Sade as a possible ‘moral pornographer’ – ‘an artist’ who ‘might use pornography as a critique of the current relation between the sexes’.

Like other scholars, Carter also frames de Sade as a political writer of the Enlightenment. In this context, De Sade’s pornographic writing is an expression of the corruption of force and power within a repressive society.

At the time, some critics failed to appreciate that Carter’s essay does not endorse or sympathise with the horrendous violence, sadism and misogyny found within de Sade’s writings. Carter was interested in using de Sade’s work, which provides an unusual representation of sexual freedom, as a model for thinking about sexuality and oppression within her contemporary culture. The Sadeian Woman is therefore an important work to compare with Carter’s fiction, such as The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, published in the same year.

Full title:
Angela Carter Papers: 'The Sadeian Woman' 5
before 1978
Manuscript / Typescript / Draft
Angela Carter
Usage terms

© Displayed with the permission of the Estate of Angela Carter c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN. Angela Carter’s work is published in the UK by Vintage, Virago, Penguin Classics. You may not reuse the material for commercial purposes.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 88899/1/73

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Feminist literature: puncturing the spectacle

Article by:
Margaretta Jolly
Gender and sexuality, Exploring identity

The women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s gave rise to a new era for women’s writing. Women also took over the means of production by setting up feminist printing houses such as Virago Press. Margaretta Jolly takes a tour of women’s writing, publishing and literary criticism of this period and explores the work of some of its key players.

Angela Carter, Gothic literature and The Bloody Chamber

Article by:
Greg Buzwell
Literature 1950–2000, Fantasy and fairy tale

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of modern fairy tales, many of which incorporate elements of Gothic literature. Greg Buzwell traces the Gothic influence on Carter's stories, from the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allan Poe.

Angela Carter: fairy tales, cross-dressing and the mercurial slipperiness of identity

Article by:
Marina Warner
Literature 1950–2000, Fantasy and fairy tale, Exploring identity

Marina Warner explores cross-dressing and the performance of identity in Angela Carter's fairy tale-inspired works.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Created by: Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a 1979 collection of short fiction by the British writer Angela Carter. Each ...