Les 120 Journées de Sodome, ou l’école du libertinage (The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertines) is the Marquis de Sade’s most transgressive novel. Written in 1785 and published in 1904 after its manuscript was rediscovered, it remains unfinished. The first chapter was written according to Sade’s original plan, but the subsequent chapters are in the form of rough drafts and notes, often consisting of graphic descriptions of the novel’s scenes. Sade wrote Les 120 Journées in secrecy while imprisoned in the Bastille in 1785; shortly after he was transferred elsewhere the Bastille was attacked by revolutionaries, leading him to believe the work was destroyed, but unbeknown to him it recovered and preserved by a mysterious figure.

Sade himself described this work as ‘the most impure tale that has ever been told since the world began’. The plot revolves around the activities of four wealthy libertine men who spend four months seeking out the ultimate sexual gratification through orgies, sealing themselves away in an inaccessible castle in the heart of the Black Forest in Germany with four madams and a harem of thirty-six victims, mostly male and female teenagers. The madams relate stories of their most memorable clients, whose crimes and tortures inspire the libertines to likewise and increasingly abuse and torture their victims to their eventual deaths.

The best English translation of The 120 Days of Sodom was published by Grove Press in 1966, translated by Austryn Wainhouse with an insightful introduction by Simone de Beauvoir. Perhaps the best-known adaptation, however, is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom), in which the action is transposed from eighteenth-century France to the last days of Benito Mussolini’s regime in the Republic of Salò. Salò is commonly listed among the most controversial films ever made.

Sergei Trubin’s series of etchings is the only portfolio accompanying an erotic text that he has made, leaving us wishing that he had made others.