Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (3.5/5)

I downloaded this from Project Gutenburg and the synopsis on goodreads says: First published in 1870, Venus in Furs gained for its author both notoriety and a degree of immortality when the word "masochism" – derived from his name – entered the psychiatric lexicon. The novel describes the sexual obsessions of Severin von Kusiemski, a European nobleman with the desire "to be the slave of a woman." Severin finds his ideal of voluptuous cruelty in the merciless Wanda von Dunajew.

Not simply a lurid tale of sexual perversion, nor a Victorian fantasy of antique decadence, Venus in Furs is a passionate and powerful portrayal of one man's struggle to enlighten and instruct himself and his world in the realm of desire. Influential on Freud, Thomas Mann, and Arthur Schnitzler,
Venus in Furs remains a classic literary statement on sexual submission and control.

I say: This is a book within in a book. It starts off with an unnamed narrator having a dream about talking to Venus who is wearing furs. While visiting a friend, Severin von Kusiemski, he sees a painting depicting his dream. In order to explain this painting, and deter him from his desire for Venus in Furs, Severin gives him a copy of his manuscript entitled Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man.

I’m a bit torn as to how I feel about this novel. On the one hand I liked the way Sacher-Masoch dealt with Severin’s submission; the way he conveyed exactly what it was that he was looking for and desired from Wanda. On the other hand, there was a point near the ending of the manuscript that completely did me in.

As they always do.

The ending of the novel, though, summed it up quite nicely.

I have to admit that I’m a still a tad confused about Wanda and her role as a mistress. In the beginning she says that she doesn’t want to whip Severin, but then as soon as she’s gotten a taste for it, she’s ruthless. And not just in her punishments, but in her actions. Yes, I do understand that Severin wanted this treatment, but there’s a point at the end (the one that did me in) that completely changed my view of her – and the novel.

There’s a moral to the story (that I won’t spoil) and I get what Sacher-Masoch was saying, I suppose I just wasn’t ready for it. I like having my heart broken by books – the sadder the ending the better – but I can’t stand cruelty and hopelessness.

Aside: I felt the same way now when I finished reading The Story of O by Pauline Réage.

Having said all that, I did enjoy it. Sacher-Masoch’s style of writing was easy and pleasant enough, and sometimes even a little witty. There were a lot of good quotes in there concerning love and the relationship between men and women, so I’m thinking that I’ll be reading this again at some point.

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