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Venus in Furs: Illustrated Edition (Classics of Passion) Paperback – May 9, 2015
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The quintessential Sacher-Masoch novel, in which he most succinctly sets out his obsessions. -- John Strausbaugh, New York Press
About the Author
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in 1835 in Lemberg, Galicia. He was of Slav, Spanish and Bohemian descent. His ancestors held official positions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father was Chief of Police of Lemburg, and as a child he witnessed prison scenes and riots which were to have a profound effect on him. Sacher-Masoch’s works have held an established position in European letters for something over half a century, and the author himself was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in 1883, on the occasion of his literary jubilee. His novel VENUS IN FURS was part of an epic series Sacher-Masoch envisioned called "Legacy of Cain." It is an undisputed classic of erotic fiction.
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"Venus in Furs" is about a man who is obsessed with having his new mistress treat him like a slave. In particular, he wants her to become his ideal "venus in furs" and begs her to don furs and wield a whip against him. His desire to be treated as such is tested when she convinces him to sign an agreement to be her slave. The story is well-written, and one becomes drawn into the misery experienced by the man as his mistress becomes progressively more cruel.
The letters between Sacher- Masoch and Mataja show Sacher-Masoch's inability at times to separate his fiction from his real life. Sacher-Masoch speaks of his married life and encourages Mataja in her writing, but his
professional encouragement is shot through with requests to meet Mataja so that he can be whipped by her while she is wearing fur.
Although there are certainly more graphically erotic examples present in current fiction, this book is a must read for those wanting to know why Sacher-Masoch's writings inspired Krafft-Ebing to create the term "masochism."
To describe the sexual desire to receive pain, Krafft-Ebbing created the word "masochism" from Sacher-Masoch's name. Krafft-Ebbing's research is now out of date, but the word is still in use. Likewise a lot has changed since the book's publishing, but Venus in Furs remains an early exploration of masochistic desires and a sadomasochistic relationship, and is in some ways foundational and in some still relevant. Severin idealizes Wanda: replacing the statue of Venus, iconographed in a painting, she becomes the archetype of the merciless woman. Naming and describing his own suprasensuality, Severin creates an ideal also for the submissive man, who fetishizes the paraphernalia of powerful women, who falls in thrall at a women's feet, who submits to degradation and abuse--and finds pleasure in it all. The lovers often discuss the causes and boundaries of their relationship, and Severin's narrative pauses frequently for introspection and artistic descriptions. All told, Venus in Furs is both portrait and exploration of a sadomasochistic relationship. Some of these aspects are outdated and some may not ring true to the reader, but in Sacher-Masoch's text they are both archetypal and real, a strong fictional entrance into the topic which still readable, relevant, and thought-provoking today.
Two aspects, however, alter this view of the novel. First, the writing style sometimes glosses over the essential content of the relationship. Sacher-Masoch spends plenty of time on motivation and lead up, but little on actual action--sexual aspects, both intercourse and sadistic/masochistic scenes, are brief or absent. Although hardly surprising (especially given the content and publishing date), this deficiency restricts the text to the theoretical. The characters and desires--although well crafted--are rendered somewhat insubstantial. The writing becomes dreamlike, detouring often and only ghosting over action, and this style is somewhat inaccessible. Secondly, Wanda and Severin's relationship takes a dramatic turn in the second half of the book, changing the characters and also the sadomasochistic relationship. This change is more of a complication than a drawback. It muddies the idealized view of the characters and desires, but also creates a plot--granting the book a direction and purpose greater than simply illustrating ideals.
All of this in barely more than 100 pages: Venus in Furs moves swiftly through even its languorous introspection, and packs a lot into a very small space. The book is worth reading both for the early concept of masochism and a sadomasochistic relationship and for its characters, plot, and unusual narrative voice. The novel does read like a classic, but remains accessible to a modern audience. Personally, I wasn't blown away by this book but I was generally impressed and glad to return to one of the literary "sources," as it were, of the topic. On that basis I was pleased, and I recommend the book.