Venus in Furs
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Venus in Furs (first published in 1870 under the title Venus im Pelz in German) is a romantic novel, the best known of its author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's works. The novel was part of an epic series that Sacher-Masoch envisioned called “The Heritage of Cain,” which was to have six parts and contain six stories each on the subjects of: Love, Property, The State, War, Work, and Death. “Venus in Furs” was part of Love, which contained five additional stories.
The novel draws themes and character inspiration heavily from Sacher-Masoch’s own life. Wanda von Dunajew (the woman in which the novel centralizes around) was named after Fanny Pistor, who was an emerging literary writer. The two met when Pistor contacted Sacher-Masoch, under the fictitious title of a noble Baroness Bogdanoff, for suggestions on improvement of her works, to make them suitable for publication. Inventing such a title for herself is telling of the fanciful aspect of her character that would make possible the charming and outrageous nature of their love affair.
On December 8, 1869 Leopold and Fanny signed a contract making Leopold von Sacher-Masoch the slave of Fanny Pistor Bogdanoff for the period of six months, with the stipulation, doubtlessly at Sacher-Masoch’s suggestion, that the Baroness wear furs as often as possible, especially when she was in a cruel mood. Sacher-Masoch took the alias of “Gregor,” a stereotypical male servant's name, and fitted out in disguise as the servant of the Baroness. The two traveled by train to Italy. As in the novel, he traveled in the third class compartment, while she had a seat in first class, arriving in Venice (Florence, in the novel), where they were not known, and would not arouse suspicion.
This novel tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he requests to be treated as her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. The relationship arrives at a crisis point when Wanda herself meets a man to whom she would like to submit. At the end of the book, Severin, humiliated by Wanda's new lover, ceases to desire to submit, stating that men should dominate women until the time when women are equal to men in education and rights: an ending that can be viewed as both misogynist and feminist.
The novel expressed Sacher-Masoch's fantasies and fetishes (especially for dominant women wearing fur), which strongly influenced his other works.
- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
- Venus in Furs song by The Velvet Underground
- Senso, an 1882 novella by Camillo Boito, which serves as a sort of the gender reversal on the same themes as Venus in Furs.
- André Tridon mentions Sacher's mistress Anna von Kottowitz, who "for four years humiliated, insulted and victimised him"