Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, the infamous Marquis de Sade, noted for his erotic tales that glamorized cruelty and depravity, was born in Paris to a rich and noble family in 1740. Educated in a Jesuit college, he, nonetheless, pursued a military career and then married, took a mistress and consorted with prostitutes. After escaping the death penalty and fleeing to Italy, he fell into a corrupt life filled with orgies and hired sex slaves. Back in France, he was imprisoned in the Bastille when he wrote the first draft of "Justine." He finished it in 1791 after his release.
"Justine or Good Conduct Well Chastised" is the tale of two orphaned sisters who are banished from a convent. Justine and Juliette travel to London with the hope of finding fortune and fame. Once they are in the city, the two sisters go their separate ways.
Juliette seeks out a woman who runs a house of prostitution. The woman promises her that if she stays with her, in 10 years she will be wealthy and much sought after. As it happened, a wealthy nobleman fell in love with and married Juliette when she was 20. Juliette conspired to hasten her husband's journey to the tomb and soon was a rich widow living in luxury. Although her heart is corrupt, she became adapt at playing the innocent and childlike young widow.
Justine attempts to maintain her morality and her virtue. When she goes to a clergyman for council, she is forced to rebuff his advances. Thus, the stage is set for Justine's future. Wherever she turns, she is battered and abused, tormented and tortured. Every time Justine trusts a stranger, the stranger turns out to be a monster. Throughout the book, de Sade places Justine in one brutal situation and circumstance after another. Ultimately, the greatly maltreated Justine ends up in chains and is rescued by her sister Juliette. Awaiting a court appearance, Justine is staying with her sister when a storm breaks. Rushing to a window to close the shutters, Justine is struck by lightning and killed.
After depicting Justine's cruel treatment by brutal and corrupt people and portraying all sorts of horrific abuses heaped upon her, de Sade rationalizes the novel by informing readers that Justine's fate was a moral lesson and that "true happiness is to be found nowhere but in Virtue's womb, and that if, in keeping with designs it is not for us to fathom, God permits that it be persecuted on Earth, it is so that Virtue may be compensated by Heaven's most dazzling rewards."