Sadism and masochism in fiction  

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"Each day, the master can only notice the maid's failures and so must, in obedience to his "manual," administer her punishment, assuring her that it is an obligation to an ideal of a higher order that compels him, an obscure compulsion from which neither, seemingly, can escape."--Spanking the Maid (1982) by Robert Coover

"I read: 'Dear Mr Garvy: I am very grateful to you for referring …' He began spanking me as I said 'referring.'"--"Secretary" (1988) by Mary Gaitskill

"I Wanna Be Your Dog" (1969) by The Stooges

This page Sadism and masochism in fiction is part of the human sexuality seriesIllustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.
This page Sadism and masochism in fiction is part of the human sexuality series
Illustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray.

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sadism and masochism in fiction goes as far back as the Medieval "power of women" legends. If we consider Michel Foucault's dictum "Sadism ... appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century," we must accept that Marquis de Sade (Justine, 1791) was the first author of sadism.

However, there have been descriptions of sadomasochist practices in literature before that date, see sadism and masochism as medical terms.

The word sadism originates from the works of Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, and the word masochism originates from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs (1870). However, it is worth noting that the Marquis de Sade describes unconsented abuse in his works, such as in Justine and Venus in Furs describes a consented domme-sub relationship.

Although examples of literature catering to BDSM and fetishistic tastes were created in earlier periods, BDSM literature as it exists today cannot be found much earlier than World War II.

However, Georges Bataille wrote Histoire de l'oeil (1928) and Madame Edwarda (1941) between the wars.

In 1954 the Story of O by Pauline Réage gave voice to female masochism, followed closely by The Image (1956) by Catherine Robbe-Grillet.

Other notable works include 9½ Weeks (1978) by Elizabeth McNeill, some works of the writer Anne Rice, Spanking the Maid (1982) by Robert Coover and "Secretary" (1988) by Mary Gaitskill.

In general, the contemporary depiction of sadism and masochism in fiction tends to be portrayed from the viewpoint of masochist.

This was also the case in immensely popular Fifty Shades of Grey (21st century) novels by E. L. James.



Titles are sorted in chronological order.


The following is a chronological list of notable sadomasochistic literature about or involving BDSM, both fictional and non-fictional. Both written literature and comics are included, but not films or video. Series are listed as one item; where publication date is ill-defined, the earliest date is used.

16th century

17th century

  • 1639 De Usu Flagrorum
  • In Samuel Butler's satirical poem Hudibras (Part II, Canto I, line 833- ) a lady urges the knight to submit to a whipping as proof of his devotion to her. This is the origin of the maxim "Spare the rod and spoil the child", not the Bible as is often thought, although the maxim is clearly based on Proverbs 13:24 ("He that spareth his rod hateth his son.")
  • Thomas Shadwell's play The Virtuoso (1676) includes an old libertine named Snarl who entreats a prostitute, Mrs Figgup, to bring out the birch rods. It is unclear if he is to flog her or be flogged.
  • In Thomas Otway's play Venice Preserved (1682), Act III, Scene i, an old senator, Antonio, visits the house of Aquilina, a Greek courtesan. Antonio pretends to be a bull, then a frog, begging her to spit on him, and then a dog, biting her legs. She whips him, then throws him out and tells her footmen to keep him out.

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

In the cinema

Consensual BDSM is not generally depicted accurately or sympathetically in mainstream films. However, film-makers often find some way to incorporate BDSM imagery into many films. The following films feature BDSM as a major plot point, not just as an exploitative add-on.

Art movies:



In art

See also

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