Venus in Furs

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“In life, one must be the hammer or the anvil.”

– Goethe, as quoted in Venus in Furs.

I am convinced that Pride and Prejudice should be on the reading list of every teen-aged boy. I loved the book when I read it; I thought to myself, ‘I should have read this twenty years ago! This explains exactly what’s wrong with them!’

I have recently read Venus in Furs and this book should also be added to the adolescent male list of required reading. 

Venus in Furs was written by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch and published in 1870. Simply put, it tells the story of an anonymous man who dreams about discussing the nature of love with Venus while she reclines on a couch, dressed in furs.

She is aloof, cold, cruel and ultra-desirable. He wakes from his dream and is later speaking with a friend who suggests he read a book entitled ‘Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man.’ It details the story of Severin von K., who has a passionate love affair with a woman who is the physical image of his ideal. He too would like nothing better than for her to abuse and degrade him while she is dressed in fur.

According to the memoir, Wanda thinks the whole thing a bit odd but as she begins to play along, she discovers a taste for the cruelty. Their relationship takes on a formal structure, like a marriage, in which they both sign a contract.

He agrees to submit himself to any torment he decrees and she agrees to administer it – while dressed in fur.

My other adventures in literary pornography, Justine by the Marquis De Sade (chosen because it was the shortest of his novels) and Story of O (a terrifying work of genius), are entirely different to Venus in Furs, not least of all because Venus… is lit with a very lively sense of humor which casts the protagonist as the butt of the joke.

Right from the outset, the book alerts us to the fact that it is hearkening back to a classical model of love. The Greek myths do not tell tales of moderate, enduring love; they are stories of passion, fury and indulgence. By celebrating and invoking these models, Severin von Kusiemski and his Venus are responding to incarnations of their truer selves.

In a strange way, in wanting to be abused by a woman he adores, Severin has found a way to make romantic love ‘work’. I find myself in a similar bind when I observe the relationships among my homosexual chums. Lots of sex, no guilt or jealousy; basically, everything an imaginative man could want.

The only problem is getting past the taste. Similarly, I’m not convinced I could actually accept that kind of degradation. There is a marvelous scene when Wanda ties Severin up and is about to administer the whipping when she pulls back the curtain and her lover, a virile young cavalryman, bounds into the room to do the work for her.

“The situation was dreadfully funny – I would have laughed had it not been so degrading for me.”

-p. 114.

Shortly after, Severin is overcome by delight at the experience.

Personally (and this may be a reflection of the fact that I believe that I appear more like a cavalry officer than a bootlicker), I find that if a woman doesn’t respect me, then she isn’t attracted to me.

Experience has taught that I have to be cold and superior or the ladies pass me by. I have no doubt that Severin’s approach to love and passion works for him, but I think it’s a function of his situation.

Then again, Wanda leaves him for the cavalry officer and Severin ends the novel alone.

And so did I.

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2 Responses to “Venus in Furs”

  1. Indeed it is a brutal game.

  2. The crux of the matter: “If a woman doesnt respect me, then she isnt attracted to me”. and vice versa.

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