“Be my faithful loving wife and also my severe mistress.”
After reading Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, I turned my attention to The Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch. Venus in Furs is the account of the sadomasochistic relationship between the author, Sacher-Masoch and his idealized, fictional mistress. The Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch is her version of ten years of miserable married life spent with the author. Considered an early Feminist heroine, Wanda is powerless, financially dependant, and trapped in a loveless marriage. Early in their relationship, Wanda had a modest success with a career as a fledgling writer–a career she maintains she sacrificed. Wanda’s plight is not uncommon. What is uncommon about the story is that she’s married to Sacher-Masoch.
If you are expecting a salacious memoir of life with Sacher-Masoch, think again. Sacher-Masoch–so famous for his kinky tastes, that masochism was actually named after him–was–according to his wife–a bit of a bore. If Wanda’s tale is to be believed, Leopold was a dreadful husband. I was expecting a memoir with at least some naughtiness; but Wanda is the epitome of the long-suffering wife. After marrying Sacher-Masoch, she is subject to a one-track mind loaded with boring whims. The man’s obsessed with making her take lovers, and his unflagging determination leads him to pester every man in sight. Sacher-Masoch’s determination to enlist Wanda’s participation in his fantasies even results in demanding she dress in furs and whip him while he’s having his tooth extracted. Wanda makes a habit of either giving into his demands or delicately avoiding his more embarrassing expectations.
According to the foreword of Venus in Furs, Wanda (whose real name was Aurora Rumelin) was a crazed fan of Sacher-Masoch’s book who threw herself at the author’s feet. She even adopted the name of the book’s heroine–Wanda. In her Confessions Wanda has an entirely different account of the beginnings of their relationship (and I’ll admit I find her account of their meeting a bit fishy). Which version is true or partially true is a matter for the reader to decide.
The contrast between Sacher-Masoch’s fevered fantasies, and his wife’s long-suffering complaints is amusing. Wanda’s account is written in a straightforward, plain manner–without any particular artistic skill. The account of their married life concentrates on frequent financial dilemmas, Sacher-Masoch’s recruitment of lovers for his wife, and the friends who visited their home. Wanda’s Confessions don’t make exciting reading. She’s a person acted upon, and not a heroine who takes charge of her life (this is where the long-suffering stuff comes in). But for anyone who read and enjoyed Venus in Furs, Confessions is of interest. It illustrates von Sacher-Masoch’s inherent dilemma–craving discipline, he proceeds to demand it, and then renders the woman who is the disciplinarian completely powerless.