La philosophie dans le boudoir (Philosophy in the Bedroom) is a 1795 book by the Marquis de Sade written in the form of a dramatic dialogue. Though initially considered a work of pornography, it has come to be considered as much a socio-political work as a sexual one. Set in a bedroom, the characters make the argument that the only moral system that reinforces the political revolution is libertinism, and that if people fail to adopt a libertine philosophy then democracy is doomed to failure.

Eugénie is a fifteen-year-old girl who at the beginning of the drama is a virgin, naïve about all things sexual, who has been brought up by her provincial, self-righteous mother, Madame de Mistival, to be well-mannered, modest, decent and obedient. Madame de Saint-Ange is a libertine young woman, the owner of the house and bedroom in which the dialogue is set. She invites Eugénie for a two-day course on becoming a libertine. Dolmancé is an older man, atheist and bisexual (though with a strong preference for men), and good friend of Madame de Saint-Ange’s younger brother, Le Chevalier de Mirvel. Together Dolmancé and de Mirvel take on Eugénie’s ‘education’. Augustin, Madame de Saint-Ange’s young gardener, is summoned to assist in advanced sexual activities.

Lisa Zirner’s stage-set drawings are at the same time naïvely simple and wittily detailed, illustrating particular passages in de Sade’s narrative. The passages illustrated are given below. The volume which appears on the table in the foreground of each drawing is Thérèse philosophe (Therese the Philosopher), a 1748 French novel ascribed to Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens, an important vehicle for elaborating on the ideas of the influential French ‘philosophes’, the intellectuals of the enlightenment seeking to apply reason to every aspect of life – including sex.

  1   Title page

  2   Madame de Saint-Ange: You know, dear brother, I slightly regret my curiosity and all the fornication we are planning today. Especially when I should be being sensible, my damn head gets in the way and has particularly extravagant fantasies.

  3   Madame de Saint-Ange: It’s all educational. She’s a young girl I met in the monastery last autumn. Dolmancé and I will make sure we plant all the principles of unrestrained libertinage in her pretty little head ...

  4   Dolmancé: Well, my beautiful Eugénie, make yourself comfortable ... Shame is an old-fashioned virtue which, with the appropriate stimulation, you can easily overcome ...

  5   Dolmancé: So be it. But for the purposes of demonstration, to give this beautiful child the first lessons in libertinage, it is at least necessary that you, Madame, be kind enough to make yourself available ...

  6   Eugénie: What a wonderful spectacle! ... How noble and dignified! ...

  7   Madame de Saint-Ange (shows Augustine in): This is the man I told you about. Come on, my friends, let’s have fun; what would life be without lust?

  8   Dolmancé: Augustine, a flowerbed lies fallow; do you want to tend it?
Augustin: Oh dearest, what a beautiful mouth you have! ... I feel as if my nose is among the roses in our garden! (he shows his erect member)
Eugénie: Oh heavens! How long it is! ...

  9   Eugénie: Come on, Tiger, tear me up if you want, I don’t care any more! Kiss me, executioner, kiss me, I adore you!

10     One more push if you want to be a Republican!

11     Madame de Mistival (to Madame de Saint-Ange): I beg your pardon, Madame, for barging in unannounced, but they say my daughter is here, and since her age does not allow her to go out alone, I ask you, Madame, to hand her over to me, and not to deny my request.
Madame de Saint-Ange: Your request is extremely impolite, Madame; when you hear her speak you might believe your daughter is in bad company.

12     Madame de Mistival: Leave me alone, leave me alone, or I’ll scream for help!
Madame de Saint-Ange: You are a sacrifice that your husband himself sent to us: you must suffer your fate. The nature of your torture will depend on your daughter; she will decide your punishment!

13     Eugénie: An excellent idea! Forward, forward! Needle and thread! ... Spread your thighs, mother, I want to sew you up so you won’t produce any more brothers and sisters!

14     Madame de Saint-Ange: Work on those two fat ass cheeks a little!
Dolmancé: Patience! I’m about to lard her like a rump of beef!  You're forgetting what I taught you, Eugénie – now you can have my unsheathed cock!

15     Everything has been said!

We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp for these images; Hans-Jürgen, the compiler of many books on erotic art, curates the Venusberg online gallery and bookshop which you can find here.