Even if you have never heard of the name Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, it is likely you have at least once heard of the fetish named after him: masochism. This particular sexual inclination was a theme in many of his books and most famously in his work Venus in Furs.
It tells the story of Severin, a man who falls in love with a wealthy and beautiful widow by the name of Wanda. So enamoured is he by her that he asks to become her slave and for her to do with him whatever she wishes, even be cruel towards him.
At first she is disturbed by his fantasies. But because she also loves him she agrees to help him live them out.
Things are good between them at first and Severin gets to experience his kink but because Wanda grows to resent his submissiveness and lack of masculinity, she becomes increasingly vicious towards him to the point where the suprasensual Severin begins to regret his choice.
When I first heard of this book about ten years ago, I remember being intrigued by how a man could be so obsessed with a woman that he would willingly become her slave. It seemed pathetic to me but also a bit poetic.
I didn’t read it then because after being raised as a ultra-conservative Christian, I thought it immoral to read erotica. I have gotten over that pseudo-moral silliness since then and was now able to enjoy this piece of literature, which isn’t that erotic by today’s standards.
Interestingly, the point of the book was not merely erotic thrill but there is a moral to the story. It was part of a planned but never finished series titled The Legacy of Cain, which would be categorised into six different themes relevant to the author’s worldview. Venus in Furs was a novella in the first book, Love, and Severin’s conclusion about love between men and women is given at the end of the story:
“That woman, as nature has created her, and man at present is educating her, is man’s enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.”
This view would explain Sacher-Masoch’s support of women’s emancipation, which was a controversial topic at the time the novella was written and whether or not you agree with his views, Venus in Furs is an intriguing and provocative read (or listen).