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Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Venus in Furs (1870)

by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

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From a certain literary perspective, "Venus in Furs" is a failure of a novel. Two rich, excessively cultured Europeans go on and on in a stiff, maddeningly formal tone, discecting their relationship and their complexes while neglecting to take their clothes off. It doesn't sound like a good time, does it?. But "Venus in Furs" is an accomplishment of sorts: while it can't be said to be a complete description of human sexuality, it provides a pretty good analysis of one very particular corner of it. Maybe you need to live there already to get it, but it's all there: the curious, paradoxical mixture of self-abnegation and egoism that drives most masochists, the combination of fear and intense desire that drives men who prefer a certain kind of strong-willed woman, and a general preference for extremes and drama. Modern readers may quibble with the author's take on the female character (inconstant, flighty) or race relations (decidedly exoticist), but it's hard to argue that he didn't know the terrain of his own desire. And desire's what this one's all about, really. The novel's by turns sumptous and shockingly physical, but its focus never strays much from the topic of beauty, even if it's a sort of beauty that's, ahem, somewhat unconventional. It's clear that the author, precious has he might be, doesn't just get a sexual thrill from seeing Wanda, the domme herself, bedecked in fur, but also real aesthetic pleasure: his references to European master painters aren't there by accident. Wanda herself is also a more comoplex character than one might expect. She's often very conscious of her own pleasure, the book asks whether Severin created her -- like a sexual version of Frankenstein's monster -- or if the games that they play merely brought out some dormant facet of her personality. Anyway, she never hesitates to call Severin's bluff, challenging him in ways that he finds both unconfortable and less than sexy. There's no "topping from below" from Wanda. The translation of my version seemd a good one, too: its lush and suitably ornate while maintaining a trace of what I'd like to imagine is a little Teutonic rigor. In a few scenes, the novel hits a perfect balance between sexy and cold-bloodedly terrifying. "Memorable" doesn't even begin to describe them. Finally, I got the sense that "Venus in Furs" is a better novel than it strictly has to be. The author probably deserves our praise for taking a subject that's ripe for cheap exploitation and writing a quality novel about it instead. It's recommended to a certain audience, and you know who you are. Perverts, suprasensualits, and raincoat-wearing sex creeps: this one's for you. ( )
2 vote TheAmpersand | Oct 15, 2015 |
Due to the study « Psychopathia sexualis » of the German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, « Venus im Pelz » came into an unwarranted imbalance. More than a hundred years after this novel was written, there is a broad knowledge regarding the different types of sexual experiences. Deviations of the so called « Normal » are of low social acceptance. But persons, who like to play sexual games, will have no scruples trying out the harmless proposals given by Ritter Leopold.
1 vote hbergander | Dec 10, 2013 |
Review contains spoilers

Venus in furs was originally published in 1870. I'm unsure when the translation I read was published, but there's an introduction dated 1921, so maybe that is an indication. It never ceases to amaze me how modern in language and treatment theme older novels can be. Having said that, some themes in the novel seem antiquated to modern western society.

I understand the term masochism was inspired by the author's name. The type of masochism and sadism the main characters in the novel exhibit is based on an entirely different underlying premise now than it was then. Whereas Severin and Wanda are proclaimed to be naturally at war as a result of their being of the opposite sexes, and this situation is seen as fixed until in a changed society men and women are given equal opportunities and treatment in daily life and in their upbringing and education, for most societies nowadays, this equality of the genders is a fact of life. To submit to another's dominance or sadism thus takes on an entirely flavour for modern masochist/submissive than it did in Von Sacher-Masoch's time.

What makes the novel even more amazing, is that it is the male Severin who wishes to submit to the female Wanda, and that she, for various reasons, agrees to dominate him. Both characters step out of society's expected gender roles, and assume the opposite roles. Not easily however; there is lots of soul searching, doubts, uncertainty, fear, on both sides both before and during their enterprising scheme. And afterwards, all doubts are miraculously 100% removed. Wanda has submitted to her new lover Alexis. Severin is entirely cured of his masochistic wishes and in his newer contacts he assumes a domineering role.

The 'bdsm' portrayed in this novel is of the experimental kind. Nothing safe, sane, consensual here. The mention of elements like ownership, total power exchange, kneeling, serving another, whipping will not surprise the reader of a modern bdsm novel. And I shouldn't wonder if this is the novel we have to thank for the notion of a 'slavery contract', including a need for ritualistic signing and negotiations on the terms of the contract. The slave contract drawn up is a hardcore contract. Severin agrees to even lose his life should Wanda wish it so. Gasp. Several other hair raising, skin crawling elements are presented more or less casually as well. Would modern masochist like to be whipped till it bled, for instance? I don't think so.

Wanda in fact may be the most interesting character in the novel. I'm unclear as to her motivation for agreeing to dominate Severin. She seems to be enjoying herself rather too much at several points to believe that assuming this role is a playful experiment for her, or just a way to fight boredom and amuse herself, or even to set out to 'cure' Severin of this needs, as she declares later. She brings to her role enough imagination and stamina to question her statement at several places that she does not want to dominate but seeks to be dominated herself in a relationship.

What also makes this novel different from most modern bdsm novels is that the main characters do not have sex with each other. She wears furs, he sometimes tries to kiss her feet, he bathes her once, but nothing more. For the larger part of time they interact like chaste friends, or brother and sister, discussing art, literature, taking long walks. So wholesome!

The writing style and tempo of the novel are excellent. There is some repetition of thoughts, premises, sentences. So much so that the novel begins and ends with the same thought. Leaving this reader with the suspicion that the rationale for writing the novel was not to publish a raunchy tale about masochism and dominance, but to promote equality between genders.

Recommended! ( )
2 vote Bluerabella | Dec 1, 2013 |
"You interest me. Most men are very commonplace, without verve or poetry. In you there is a certain depth and capacity for enthusiasm and a deep seriousness, which delight me. I might learn to love you." (20)

This line really jumped out at me, because it's just what I imagine a lot of nerds imagine some lady will say to them some day. And they'll be like yeah! I have a depth and capacity for enthusiasm! I was just waiting for someone to notice! I bet nerds really like this book, which was written by a nerd and then translated to English by a different nerd.

You know that old defunct Tumblr, "Nice Guys Of OK Cupid"? It was a collection of dating profiles from guys who were all "I'm so nice, why don't any women love me? I would treat a woman like a goddess but I guess they don't want to be treated like goddesses, they all want some asshole instead! Women are such bitches, because they don't love me!"

Masoch can't stop quoting this one line from Goethe, "You must be hammer or anvil." He thinks that "Woman demands that she can look up to a man, but one like [our dorktagonist Severin] who voluntarily places his neck under foot, she uses as a welcome plaything, only to toss it aside when she is tired of it." (105)

The problem here isn't with Severin's (or Masoch's) particular fetish, which is to have ladies whip them. That's fine, man, have your fun. The problem is that he extends it to some kind of conclusion about human nature that's not at all true. Women do not by nature demand either to look up to a man or toy with them. (Men aren't like that either.) That's a dumb idea. Here's another thing that's not true: "Man even when he is selfish or evil always follows principles, woman never follows anything but impulses." (43)

And it's boring! God, for a book about whipping there is none too much whipping. Instead there's a whole lot of him begging to be her slave, and then her treating him vaguely slave-y, and then him getting all indignant, and then her all "Well see, you're being a dick about it," and then him being all "Oh, you're mad at me, treat me like a slave," and then we circle back around to the beginning like fifty times. Wahhhhh.

If you flip the characters' genders in your head while you're reading, the book goes an awful lot like that 50 Shades thing does. (I know more or less how it goes from hearing a million readers and feminists get all pissy about it. It's hard to tell who's more offended about that book - readers or feminists.) But there's a funny twist at the end (spoilers follow for this and I think 50 Shades too): you'd expect a female protagonist to win over the guy and be with him (one way or another). But here, she just dumps him. She's all "I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his innate strength" (23) and then she runs off with a dude who's just like that. So Masoch's kink assumes that one who has it isn't enough to satisfy a woman. That's weird, and probably kindof a bummer for him.

So this is a book about a self-defeating fetish for being controlled, born out of a weird hatred and fear for women. It's unpleasant, and boring, and all too familiar because I still hear that shit today, from miserable nerds.

Lame, dudes. Lame. ( )
3 vote AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Venus in Furs is a bad book.

Like seemingly all of the underwhelming literature before 1900, it is a pointlessly nested story about a “supersensual” man throwing himself in the arms and the hands of a briefly reluctant mistress. Beginning with a sinister attempt at levity, it ends as a rather self-unaware farce including a lover hiding behind furniture. That awkward drollery is detrimental to the subject, and the inherent ridicule of the 19th century does not help ; I much prefer incidentally an other short story by the same author about a tragic voivod and his merciless queen in the Middle Ages, but I cannot remember the title and possibly it was not even by Sacher-Masoch ; anyway Venus in Furs's characters themselves express their longing for more primitive times, where lust and passion had more stark, unironic overtone.

So if even the author could see that why did he put them in the 19th century ? It's like setting an action movie in the 21st one ! Is it a stupid satire or what ?

Fornication, of course, is very much a laughing matter ! or at the very least a smirking matter. But Sacher-Masoch cannot manage a smirk, or even the deadpan which lends a goofy gravitas to most preposterous stories of throbbing flesh. No, he is too pygmalionically enamoured with his own subject, telling his story with love-struck eyes and dropping jaw, and both extremities of the tale suffer from it.

There is room for moments of grace in a story with a bad beginning and a sloppy end ; but an eighty-page story that does not make much room, unfortunately. Such moments are there, though.
Magically magnificent purple prose oozes from the page on occasion, such as the most magnificent sentence of all “ she even gave me a kiss, and her cold lips had the fresh frosty fragrance of a young autumnal rose, which blossoms alone amid bare stalks and yellow leaves and upon whose calyx the first frost has hung tiny diamonds of ice ” (by the way, the word of the week is whithersoever). Outrageous situations and the narrator's violent torments did echo somewhat in my jaded soul. And at least we are spared the triviality of explicit copulation, Gott sei dank ; it's all heaving bosom and such.

Venus in Furs is a bad book. But for a while, it manages to be a good bad book.

Also a funny thing is that Sacher Masoch fills his story to the brim with never-mentioned again Jews, without even portraying them negatively, which would have been more understandable given the context, or positively for that matter. He just sees them everywhere. Go figure. ( )
1 vote Kuiperdolin | Dec 29, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leopold von Sacher-Masochprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mackensen, GerdIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Savage, FernandaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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God did punish him. and deliver him into the hands of a woman.

- Judith 16:7
First words
My company was charming.
"If the foundation of marriage depends on equality and agreement, it is likewise true that the greatest passions rise out of opposites. We are such opposites, almost enemies. That is why my love is part hate, part fear. In such a relation only one can be hammer and the other anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only do when she is cruel towards me."
"I really believe," said Wanda thoughtfully, "that your madness is nothing but a demonic, unsatisfied sensuality. Our unnatural way of life must generate such illnesses. Were you less virtuous, you would be completely sane."
Never feel secure with the woman you love, for there are more dangers in woman's nature than you imagine. Women are neither as good as their admirers and defenders maintain, nor as bad as their enemies make them out to be. Woman's character is characterlessness. The best woman will momentarily go down into the mire, and the worst unexpectedly rises to deeds of greatness and goodness and puts to shame those that despise her. No woman is so good or so bad, but that an any moment she is capable of the most diabolical as well as of the most divine, of the filthiest as well as of the purest, thoughts, emotions, and actions.
"I believe," she said, "that to hold a man permanently, it is vitally important not to be faithful to him. What honest woman has ever been as devotedly loved as a hetaira?"
A slap in the face is more effective than ten lectures. It makes you understand very quickly, especially when the instruction is by the way of a small woman's hand.
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This work contains only "Venus in furs"--please don't combine it with editions containing other stories, or graphic novel adaptations.
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Book description
Venus in Furs describes the obsessions of Severin von Kusiemski, a European nobleman who desires to be enslaved to a woman. Severin finds his ideal of voluptuous cruelty in the merciless Wanda von Dunajew. This is a passionate and powerful portrayal of one man's struggle to enlighten and instruct himself and others in the realm of desire. Published in 1870, the novel gained notoriety and a degree of immortality for its author when the word "masochism"—derived from his name—entered the vocabulary of psychiatry. This remains a classic literary statement on sexual submission and control.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140447814, Paperback)

Venus in Furs describes the obsessions of Severin von Kusiemski, a European nobleman who desires to be enslaved to a woman. Severin finds his ideal of voluptuous cruelty in the merciless Wanda von Dunajew. This is a passionate and powerful portrayal of one man's struggle to enlighten and instruct himself and others in the realm of desire. Published in 1870, the novel gained notoriety and a degree of immortality for its author when the word "masochism"—derived from his name—entered the vocabulary of psychiatry. This remains a classic literary statement on sexual submission and control.

@SacherMasochist As the domination increases the limit of sensuality approaches infinity. Math joke. Eat that, Leibniz.

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:21 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Venus in Furs opens with Severin, a young and wealthy Galician, who has a dark sexual fantasy: he wants a lover who will whip him into submission. When he meets a woman willing to fulfil that desire, reality starts to blur into fantasy, and Severin wonders if he can come out alive... The sensual and riveting Venus in Furs was a visionary novella of its time, and continues to fascinate readers today. It has joined the ranks of Momentum's Classic Erotica series.… (more)

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