Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1870)

Question of the Day - for those who have read Venus in Furs  -  do you see it as camp?

Works I have so far read for German Literature Month 2014

1.   Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

2.   Gertrude by Hermann Hesse 

3.  "Diary of a School Boy" by Robert Walser (no post)

4.  Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

5.  Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig 1925

6.  Life Goes On by Hans Keilson

7.  Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

8.  "The Wall" by Jurek Becker

9.  "Romeo" by Jurek Becker

10.   "The Invisible City" by Jurek Becker.

11.  Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

12. "Dostoevsky's Idiot" by Robert Walser

13.  "French Newspapers" by Robert Wasler 

14.  Jakob the Lier by Jurek Becker

15.  The Trial by Franz Kafka 1915

16.  "The Seamstress" by Rainer Maria Rilke  1894

17.  "The Experiement or the Victory of Children" by Unica Zürn 1950

18.  "The Star Above the Forest" by Stefan Zweig. 1924

19.   Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch 1870

Venus in Furs first entered my world in the long ago and faraway when I listed to the lyrics of a song by that name, written by Lou Reed and preformed by The Velvet Underground.  

"Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girlchild in the dark
Comes in bells, your servant, don't forsake him
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart
Downy sins of streetlight fancies
Chase the costumes she shall wear
Ermine furs adorn the imperious
Severin, Severin awaits you there
I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears
Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark
Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart
Severin, Severin, speak so slightly
Severin, down on your bended knee
Taste the whip, in love not given lightly
Taste the whip, now plead for me
I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears
Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather
Whiplash girlchild in the dark
Severin, your servant comes in bells, please don't forsake him
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart"

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836 to 1895) was born in the Austro Hungarian Empire in Galacia, birth place of numerous  writers and artists.  He pursued numerous occupations but his Venus in Furs made him immortal and from it derives the term "masocism".  There have been numerous theatrical performances and several movies made from Venus in Furs and my post will contain some images from them.

As the story opens Severin is relaying a dream he had about discussing love with Venus, while she was wearing only fur, specifically ermine.  Severin's friend wants to try to break his obsession with cruel women so he tells him read a manuscript entitled "Memoirs of a Super-Sensual Man".  In the manuscript a man details his long sexual obsession on a beautiful Russian Baroness, Wanda von Dunajew.  (As I saw her last name I wondered why it contains the letters "jew" but I let it go.)  When he first meets her she is wearing a beautiful ermine fur coat.  Rapidly he becomes obsessed with Wanda and begs her to whip him while wearing only fur. He signs a contract agreeing to be her slave for six months.  He preforms all of the standard acts of sexual slaves, boot licking, begging for the whip, accepting her distain for him while she enslaves other men, watching her do with other men what she will not do with him.

  There are several ambiguous scenes in which he may be providing her with oral sex, depending on exactly how we take the various references to the man having his head in Wanda's lap while she is wearing only furs.   

To the man's great horror, Wanda herself becomes obsessed with a Byronic type man and this seems to at least partially break her power over the man.

There are lots of interesting discussions about the nature of relationships between men and women.

As I read this I began to wondered if Venus in Furs can be seen as being Camp literature, as classified by Susan Sontag.  The Weimer Republic was very much a Camp saturated era.  The term was first used in a literary work by Christopher Isherwood in a story set in the Weimer Republic.  Camp culture in Germany of the Weimer and Nazi eras had intimate connections with homosexuality  and we do see the limited sexuality of the man, his love of pain. 

There also the question of the three black women in the employ of the baroness - why are these women depicted as black, does the man's interaction with them under the control of Wanda a commentary on slavery?

Venus in Furs was a very interesting thought provoking read.   It is culturally significant.  There are deep veins of Masocism in much of German literature, obsession with beautiful unobtainable women that leads to great pain or death.  

Mel von ü


Jonathan said...

I had intended to re-read Venus in Furs as part of GLM4 as well, but I may not get the time.

From what I recall I wouldn't have said it was camp in any way. Like a lot of BDSM material it is very serious and I don't recall any humour in the book.

I often wonder how the general reading public in the nineteenth century regarded it. Did they see it as a sexual book?

Mel u said...

Jonathan. Thanks for your comments. When I finished the book I did some online reserch to determine if others viewed it as camp. There are number of academic treaties that do see the work as camp. Part of the notion of camp is that a cap work must take itself seriously but somehow unintentionally comic. I see that in Venus in Furs.

Jonathan said...

Oh, ok Mel. I wouldn't have thought that a camp work was intentionally serious I would have thought that the opposite would have been true. Oh well, my mistake.

I think the audience would have been split though between those that see it as sexual and those that see it as comic/camp.

SM Johnson said...

Interesting - I tracked this down the same way you did - after Velvet Goldmine, and just adoring the song. I was fascinated that the song was about an actual story. I liked the song better (grin).

Mel u said...

SM Johnson. I think maybe I like the Lou Reed song better than the book also. Thanks for your comment