Venus in Furs

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Venus with a Mirror (c. 1555) oil on canvas by Titian. The inspiration for Venus in Furs.
Aurora von Rümelin, wife of Sacher-Masoch and author of The Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch dressed as his Venus in Furs fantasy mistress. (c.1870s)

Venus in Furs is a famous and highly influential literary novel by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Published in 1870, it is a classic exploration of the dominant/submissive relationship between men and women. Masoch's driving obsession was to experience total submission at the hands of a cold, controlling, domme whom he could worship like a goddess from antiquity.

The story follows the character Severin, who meets the beautiful, aristocratic Wanda and convinces her to become his domineering and ruthless mistress. The title was taken from a well-known painting by Titian, Venus with the Mirror (c.1555). To Masoch, furs, when worn by a dominant woman, were a symbol of cruelty and power.

The events and details in the novel are all based on Masoch's actual experiences in 1869. The character of Mistress Wanda, the archetypal dominatrix, was based on a real person, Fanny Pistor. She became his fantasy mistress in exchange for his servile obedience. In the novel, Severin willingly endures a series of degrading humiliations and severe whippings. Describing his passion for abuse, he states: "Physical pain inflicted by a woman predestined to me, whom I find alluring, is ecstasy. The more you mistreat me, the more I revel in all agony."

Wanda eventually betrays Severin and runs off with another man. In the end, he has a change of heart and declares that man should retain his dominance until women are accepted as equals in society. "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."

Until that time, the moral of the story is: "Whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped."

Public reaction[edit]

Unlike the many underground erotic books and films that it inspired, Venus in Furs is a refined work of literature with restrained, covert eroticism. Sacher-Masoch was hailed as the new Turgenev and read throughout Europe. His contemporaries found nothing pornographic or pathological in his work.

However, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in his 1886 book Psychopathia Sexualis, used the author's surname to create the term masochism to describe the abnormal sexual passion aroused by abuse and domination. Sasher-Masoch strongly objected to this word and disavowed its use.

Popular culture[edit]

In the 1960s, several sexploitation films were made that were loosely based on the novel. The rock group The Velvet Undergound wrote the song, "Venus in Furs", about the characters in the book. It appears on their 1967 debut album.

A 1994 Dutch film, Venus in Furs (available on YouTube), is a modern retelling of the story. It is the only movie thus far to follow the basic plot of the original novel. It contains scenes of pony play (human cart-pulling) and F/M flogging.

See also[edit]