JustineJustine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue

from an unfinished review:

…by the Marquis de Sade and his book Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, which might just as easily have been called The Philosophy of Psychopaths.

The story is about a virtuous girl, Justine, orphaned at 12, who, over the course of the next 14 years or so, falls one after the other into the clutches of the most depraved men in France. She is raped in every way imaginable, repeatedly beaten nearly to death, tortured at every stop, and generally treated as though her only value as a human being lies in her ability to please those stronger than herself — in whatever grisly or sexually violent manner that might be. Yet, through it all, Justine perseveres, preserving her piety and, spiritually if not physically, her virtue.

Sade opens the book with a dedication to Constance Quesnet, his companion and lover, in which he declares his aim to be to exalt virtue while condemning the crimes against it. It is, initially, a puzzling statement in the face of all that happens to poor Justine and in spite of her reactions to it. In fact, it isn’t until we have finally realized that we aren’t meant to feel compassion for Justine but rather contempt that it makes sense, as a joke, one to which Sade returns at the end of the novel.

Nevertheless, this is a philosophical work, even if it is about equal parts philosophy and violent pornography. Essentially (as laid out during long dialogues between Justine and her various tormentors), Sade believes that Man, being a product of Nature, not only comes by his baser instincts naturally, but ought to give full reign to them. Religion, law, morality, these are refuges of the weak, unnatural constructs that are abhorrent to the only law that matters, the law of Nature…

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarkefallofmoondust

Trust me, I get it. I get that Clarke, as a boy, found astronomy, and the moon in particular, so fascinating that it shaped his entire subsequent career. For most of the rest of us, however, the moon — in and of itself — is a pretty barren and uninteresting hunk of rock and dust. Tourists on the moon. Well, sure; I’m certain that if things worked out a particular way, we would indeed see tourists on the moon. But the tourists — that’s the problem. What the tourists would see is a lot of uninteresting rock and dust. So Clarke tries to liven it up with a moonquake and the sinking of a “tourbus” into moondusty quicksand. With characters that about as dry as their environment. (In spite of one married man with the hots for a female tourguide. Clarke seems to have been enamored with the idea of plural marriage — that is, one man, multiple wives — yet it always comes across as a bit adolescent.) I gave up on this one a little past the one-third mark.

Have you seen that U-verse commercial that asks, “When a human lands on Mars, where will you be?” My guess is, I’ll be exactly where every other human currently living will be: in his grave.

Vanishing (Golden Egg)The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe

I’ll give Mr. Krabbe one thing: he can title a story. This one — touted these days as the “novel” that inspired two films, the Dutch Spoorloos and the later American version The Vanishing — called his book (which is really a novella) “The Golden Egg,” an excellent title. “The Vanishing” is a different story altogether, since the disappearance of the young hero’s girlfriend isn’t what this tale of obsession and horror is really about. After Spoorloos, this became a “cult” book, but Spoorloos is a great deal better. The Vanishing, which turns the ending on its head and thereby justifies its title, is, on the other hand, a great deal worse. Worth reading (if occasionally lax), but be smart and watch Spoorloos, as well.

Captivity (2007), story by Larry Cohen, written by Larry Cohen and Joseph Tura, and directed by Roland Joffé


Fashion model Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is kidnapped and tortured by mysterious Saw-like serial killer. Even dumber than Saw. Cohen and Tura treat believability like Jack the Ripper treated women. With characters who have no discernibly human psychologies and a torture house that would confuse M.C. Escher. See Elisha forced to drink puréed body parts. Or better yet — don’t.


Four Girls in White (1939), written by Endre Bohem and Nathalie Bucknall, directed by S. Sylvan Simon

Short (73 minutes) melodrama about a group of young women who enter the nursing profession for very different reasons. One of them, Norma Page (Florence Rice), hopes to find a stable, wealthy husband, and she inadvertently ruins the career of another who genuinely wants to help people. Buddy Ebsen, as an orderly named Express, is along for comic relief.

I can’t imagine anyone going out of their way to see this film, which is at best a painless way to blow an hour. That’s really why I watched it. One of the great things about early cinema is all the sub-90-minute movies. And sometimes these short ones are quite good: She Done Him Wrong, for example, at 66 minutes, or Detour (68), Cat People (73), or Attack of the Puppet People, at 79.

According to Wikipedia, one of the titles considered for this movie was Women in White, which would have been more accurate. Norma — that is, Florence Rice — was 32 when the movie was made and Pat — i.e., Ann Rutherford, who plays her younger sister — was 22. The other two were 31 and 21. Even the kids weren’t “girls” anymore. But you know what? I never would have recorded a movie with this plot and these actresses called Women in White. (See what I did there? I said, “actresses” instead of “actors.” I’m losing feminist points right and left.)

Diva by DelacortaDiva

I was sure Diva was the first in the Alba/Gorodish series of novels by Delacorta (Daniel Odier). But I was wrong. It was, however, the first translated into English, so I guess that explains my error.

Alba is a fourteen-year-old living with Gorodish, who is in his forties and has a thing for little girls. Their adventures began in Nana (when, I believe, Alba was just 13). The English editions are labelled as “mystery” novels, but this was from a time before the Great Genre Split. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is a mystery in Diva, other than the sorts of things that are unknown in all novels, like, I don’t know, how it’s all going to turn out. What it is, in today’s terminology, is a crime novel, or a crime thriller. (Although I’m not sure this is a good thing. Back in the day, one could get a variety of works all under the same general umbrella, thereby, perhaps, expanding one’s literary horizons a bit. Nowadays, it’s rather too easy to find a niche and bury yourself in it.)

It’s sort of tangentially about Alba and Gorodish, although they certainly play major roles. But the main plot is about Jules, a young Parisian motorcycle-riding courier for RCA in Paris, who suddenly finds himself being pursued by cops and criminals alike after a cassette tape containing incriminating evidence against a local mob boss is surreptitiously slipped into one of his saddlebags. Significantly, this isn’t the only illicit cassette tape in play. Jules is an opera lover who secretly captures high-quality live recordings of his favorite operas — and divas. Singing in Paris at the time is American diva Cynthia Hawkins, famous for her refusal to sign a recording contract. That doesn’t stop Jules, though, who happens to record what many believe is Hawkins’ single best performance. When this becomes known, record companies from all over the world desperately want that tape. With all this, plus the Alba/Gorodish relationship, as well as that of Jules and Cynthia Hawkins, there’s never a dull moment in this short book.

And, thankfully, I have the wonderful pink edition.

JustineJustine Redux

I stopped writing the review for Justine because I knew Sade’s aggravating philosophy was driving me toward a negativity I didn’t feel. Reading another genre novel doesn’t really take you anywhere new, but a classic…sometimes a classic will open new possibilities and ideas, and that’s what Justine did for me. Philosophical porn was something new for me, but of course it goes deeper than that. Yes, it becomes more difficult to take as the tortures Justine suffers become more outlandish, but Sade sprinkles it all with an exaggeration that, if not exactly humorous is at least calculated to distract you from taking it all too seriously. After all, he wants to make a point, not simply gross you out.

Then, too, his point isn’t entirely wrong, not to my way of thinking. He gets it partly right, even if his conclusion is egregiously off-base. He, an atheist himself, does what many atheists do. He denies Man the specialness he enjoys in religious constructs, relegating him to Nature, but then forgets that if Man is a product of Nature, then so, too, are all his feelings of good, virtue, responsibility, morality, and, indeed, religiosity. In other words, if Man is part of Nature, then Nature can’t be defined solely by what one sees outside of himself; its definition must be expanded to incorporate what he uniquely brings to the table. For Sade, though, it’s all a Darwinian struggle in which the weak — particularly women — must always submit to the strong.

But, again, that’s okay. I don’t have to agree with what you’re saying to be interested in hearing it.

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