Manuscript version of famous erotic text bought by French state

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The French state has acquired the original manuscript of the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" for nearly 5 million euros, safeguarding for the country a work declared to be a national treasure, the culture ministry said on Friday.

The 18th-century erotic masterpiece has endured a turbulent destiny over the centuries but the future of the original text now appears secure after a private benefactor stepped in with the money.

The culture ministry in December 2017 stepped in to prevent the sale of the manuscript at auction, declaring it a national treasure and banning its export.

The ministry said in a statement that it had paid 4.55 million euros to acquire the work for France.

It hailed the text as a "monument" which has influenced numerous authors.

Sade wrote the controversial work about four rich libertines in search of sexual gratification on a roll made from bits of parchment he had smuggled into his cell in the Bastille prison.

Left behind in the Paris Bastille

When the Paris prison was stormed at the beginning of the French revolution on July 14, 1789, the famously philandering aristocrat was freed, but he was swept out by the mob without his manuscript.

Sade believed the document had been lost to looters and wept "tears of blood" over it, but the unfinished manuscript was preserved after being hidden by a revolutionary and then secretly bought by an aristocrat, the Marquis de Villeneuve-Trans.

It became known to the public only after a German psychologist, Iwan Bloch, bought it and allowed its first publication in 1904.

The book was banned in Britain until the 1950s.

Measuring 12 metres long, the manuscript is itself something out of the ordinary, consisting of 33 sheets stuck together to form a scroll.

The sum enabling its purchase by France was provided entirely by Emmanuel Boussard, a former investment banker and co-founder of the Boussard & Gavaudan investment fund, the ministry said.

It will become part of the collection of the Arsenal library in Paris, a branch of France's BNF national library.

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