Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Sadomasochism meets a wanting man who knows not only what he needs, but also, how to get it – And get it he does.

The plot focuses on an unnamed narrator who desires to have sex with the goddess Venus, whilst she’s wearing her illustrious furs. He then tells this dream to his friend, Severin, who gives him a book, Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man. In the manuscript, we are told how cruel women can be once given full control of a man.

This short story expresses Sacher-Masoch’s desires and fantasies for dominant women, often enclosed in animal fur. It’s something he later went on to re-enact in his personal life.

The Legacy of Cain

Sacher-Masoch aimed to release a collection of titles under the Legacy of Cain title that proved the author’s world-views. The first was the manifesto, The Wanderer which had explicit misogynist undertones that didn’t match his other work.

In the 1880s Masoch abandoned the idea, yet copies of the collection have been released containing many of his short stories; Venus in Furs being the most notable.

Titian - Venus with a Mirror
Venus with a Mirror by Titian (1555)

Using the famous Titian painting, Venus with a Mirror, many references are made to the Greek goddess Venus.

She’s seen as an all-conquering woman who can crush men if she so pleases. This incidentally, is a trait that draws our narrator closer towards her.

Intertwined in the story is a look at how power can corrupt, along with the need to be in and out of control. This is something that manifests itself differently in different people.

In Masoch’s case, it’s to give over complete control to the woman he loves. His alter-ego is clear and evident from the very beginning of this story.

Often described as sexual sadism, an image that conjures up terrible memories of 120 Days of Sodom, Venus in Furs is much more coherent and fluent.

For one, the writing is much more engaging, and the plot is more than just a list of horrific abuse.

Whilst I did find this book intriguing, the second half did feel a little stunted.

When I thought the book would explode in an exuberance of sexual deviancy, it sort of disappointed like an ugly one-night stand.

Dominating Personality

The book draws from the theme of female dominance. This is when the woman takes complete control during BDSM activities; similar to that of a dominatrix.

Wanda von Dunajew was moulded after Fanny Pistor, von Sacher-Masoch’s mistress.

It’s believed that he signed a contract similar to that mentioned in the story, allowing her to take complete control of his life.

The two met when Pistor contacted Sacher-Masoch, under the assumed title of Baroness Bogdanoff. Her aim was to improve her writing to make it suitable for publication.

In a world where we are constantly pushing for equality amongst all, it feels strange reading about a man who takes pleasure from being completely unequal. To lose complete control is to give up all responsibility and become totally free to love.

Closing Thoughts

Venus in Furs is a daring (for its time) dive into the dark world of masochistic relationships.

Looking at an area often considered a deviancy, Sacher-Masoch takes bold steps forward in pushing acceptable subject matter boundaries.

Suppose you’ve read along with some of my previous book reviews, notably The Torture Garden. In that case, this book will definitely appeal to you. Although nowhere near a graphic, it does offer similar standards of sexual musings.

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