Juliette is a libertine only moved by what pleases her.
Juliette is about a woman who is living her best life and enjoying herself without reservation. Juliette is everything that a young lady isn't supposed to be. She has committed and assisted in murder and infanticide. She's assaulted both adults and children, has knowingly committed incest, had abortions, and robbed a few people too. She's an admitted liar and hypocrite; she'll choose self-preservation over her own children when she feels it necessary. She makes a mockery of religion and sexual prudence. And yet, she is successful and happy. The only difference between her and a man is that a man would not face the same consequences she would, and she knows that. So, like many women, she plays the game of navigating social expectations while also getting what she wants. The book also points out that the only reason she is successful in what she does is because she has attained status, wealth, and power.
In this book, almost everyone is trying to attain some level of power, wealth, and/or control, because they seemingly believe that the weak and powerless shan’t inherit the earth. Rather, the weak and powerless are used and abused then tossed aside. Through Juliette, de Sade speaks at length about religion, morality, and the nature of life. It is very apparent that de Sade believes that religion and morality are used to placate and instill fear in the masses. In this story, and its sister story Justine, morality and religion are hindrances if one is truly devoted to the ideals that both promote. De Sade definitely operates under the assumption that people are not inherently good and kind.
On a technical level, Juliette does have a few weaknesses. The book can be repetitive and didactic at times. There are also “scientific” references to the human body and reproduction that show how little was known about the human body at that time. The plot could probably be whittled down a third and lose nothing. But, overall it is a good read. I have read it twice—as a teen and as an adult. I have probably read all of le Marquis de Sade’s books, and once you get past the sexual hedonism and perversion there is social commentary for that time that is still relevant today.