“You’ve aroused dangerous forces in my character.”
Severin von Kusiemski, a nineteenth century European nobleman, narrates Venus in Furs. Believing there is “no equality in love” Severin has nourished fantasies stemming from his childhood that involve a beautiful, cold, cruel mistress. He longs to be at the mercy of such a mistress, treated harshly, castigated, whipped, and beaten. He particularly yearns to receive harsh punishment from his mistress while she is dressed only in fur. Then Severin meets Wanda von Dunajew ….
While Severin’s fantasies are highly refined–in other words, he’s thought and salivated over his desires for years–they’re actually not very well thought through. Severin signs a contract agreeing to become Wanda’s slave, and together they embark across Europe with their agreed upon roles.
Severin’s adventures in Venus in Furs recall that old saying ‘be careful what you wish for–because you might get it’. Severin soon discovers that to be in thrall to a harsh mistress may not be quite as glamourous as he imagined. Wanda unleashed is a supreme, sadistic game player, and Severin is … well … her slave.
Venus in Furs is surprisingly subtle, and multi-layered in its description of the transfer of sexual power, and the politics of the sadomasochistic relationship. The book begins a little awkwardly, as Severin describes his ideal mistress, but when Severin and Wanda hit the road and travel together, the novel has an absorbing pace. Severin’s discomfort and complaints are ultimately extremely amusing, and it’s not long before Wanda is telling her new slave “pull yourself together.” It’s thanks to author Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s description of “the passion to play the slave” that the word ‘masochist’ entered the lexicon.