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VENUS IN FURS


Of this book, intended for
private circulation, only
1225 copies have been
printed, and type afterward
distributed.




VENUS IN FURS

By

LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH


Translated from the German

By

FERNANDA SAVAGE




INTRODUCTION


Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austrian Galicia, on
January 27, 1836. He studied jurisprudence at Prague and Graz, and in
1857 became a teacher at the latter university. He published several
historical works, but soon gave up his academic career to devote
himself wholly to literature. For a number of years he edited the
international review, _Auf der Hohe_, at Leipzig, but later removed to
Paris, for he was always strongly Francophile. His last years he spent
at Lindheim in Hesse, Germany, where he died on March 9, 1895. In 1873
he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the
pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which it is interesting to note is the
name of the heroine of _Venus in Furs_. Her sensational memoirs which
have been the cause of considerable controversy were published in 1906.

During his career as writer an endless number of works poured from
Sacher-Masoch's pen. Many of these were works of ephemeral journalism,
and some of them unfortunately pure sensationalism, for economic
necessity forced him to turn his pen to unworthy ends.

There is, however, a residue among his works which has a distinct
literary and even greater psychological value. His principal literary
ambition was never completely fulfilled. It was a somewhat
programmatic plan to give a picture of contemporary life in all its
various aspects and interrelations under the general title of the
_Heritage of Cain_. This idea was probably derived from Balzac's
_Comedie Humaine_. The whole was to be divided into six subdivisions
with the general titles _Love, Property, Money, The State, War,_ and
_Death_. Each of these divisions in its turn consisted of six novels,
of which the last was intended to summarize the author's conclusions
and to present his solution for the problems set in the others.

This extensive plan remained unachieved, and only the first two parts,
_Love_ and _Property_, were completed. Of the other sections only
fragments remain. The present novel, _Venus in Furs_, forms the fifth
in the series, _Love_.

The best of Sacher-Masoch's work is characterized by a swift
narration and a graphic representation of character and scene and a
rich humor. The latter has made many of his shorter stories dealing
with his native Galicia little masterpieces of local color.

There is, however, another element in his work which has caused his
name to become as eponym for an entire series of phenomena at one end
of the psycho-sexual scale. This gives his productions a peculiar
psychological value, though it cannot be denied also a morbid tinge
that makes them often repellent. However, it is well to remember that
nature is neither good nor bad, neither altruistic nor egoistic, and
that it operates through the human psyche as well as through crystals
and plants and animals with the same inexorable laws.

Sacher-Masoch was the poet of the anomaly now generally known as
_masochism_. By this is meant the desire on the part of the individual
affected of desiring himself completely and unconditionally subject to
the will of a person of the opposite sex, and being treated by this
person as by a master, to be humiliated, abused, and tormented, even
to the verge of death. This motive is treated in all its innumerable
variations. As a creative artist Sacher-Masoch was, of course, on the
quest for the absolute, and sometimes, when impulses in the human
being assume an abnormal or exaggerated form, there is just for a
moment a flash that gives a glimpse of the thing in itself.

If any defense were needed for the publication of work like Sacher-
Masoch's it is well to remember that artists are the historians of the
human soul and one might recall the wise and tolerant Montaigne's
essay _On the Duty of Historians_ where he says, "One may cover over
secret actions, but to be silent on what all the world knows, and
things which have had effects which are public and of so much
consequence is an inexcusable defect."

And the curious interrelation between cruelty and sex, again and
again, creeps into literature. Sacher-Masoch has not created anything
new in this. He has simply taken an ancient motive and developed it
frankly and consciously, until, it seems, there is nothing further to
say on the subject. To the violent attacks which his books met he
replied in a polemical work, _Über den Wert der Kritik_.

It would be interesting to trace the masochistic tendency as it occurs
throughout literature, but no more can be done than just to allude to
a few instances. The theme recurs continually in the _Confessions_ of
Jean Jacques Rousseau; it explains the character of the chevalier in
Prévost's _Manon l'Escault_. Scenes of this nature are found in Zola's
_Nana_, in Thomas Otway's _Venice Preserved_, in Albert Juhelle's _Les
Pecheurs d'Hommes_, in Dostojevski. In disguised and unrecognized form
it constitutes the undercurrent of much of the sentimental literature
of the present day, though in most cases the authors as well as the
readers are unaware of the pathological elements out of which their
characters are built.

In all these strange and troubled waters of the human spirit one might
wish for something of the serene and simple attitude of the ancient
world. Laurent Tailhade has an admirable passage in his _Platres et
Marbres_, which is well worth reproducing in this connection:

"Toutefois, les Hellènes, dans, leurs cités de lumière, de douceur
et d'harmonie, avaient une indulgence qu'on peut nommer scientifique
pour les troubles amoureux de l'esprit. S'ils ne regardaient pas
l'aliène comme en proie a la visitation d'un dieu (idée orientale et
fataliste), du moins ils savaient que l'amour est une sorte
d'envoûtement, une folie où se manifeste l'animosité des puissances
cosmiques. Plus tard, le christianisme enveloppa les âmes de
ténèbres. Ce fut la grande nuite. L'Église condamna tout ce qui lui
parût neuf ou menaçant pour les dogmes implaçable qui reduisaient le
monde en esclavage."

Among Sacher-Masoch's works, _Venus in Furs_ is one of the most
typical and outstanding. In spite of melodramatic elements and other
literary faults, it is unquestionably a sincere work, written without
any idea of titillating morbid fancies. One feels that in the hero
many subjective elements have been incorporated, which are a
disadvantage to the work from the point of view of literature, but on
the other hand raise the book beyond the sphere of art, pure and
simple, and make it one of those appalling human documents which
belong, part to science and part to psychology. It is the confession
of a deeply unhappy man who could not master his personal tragedy of
existence, and so sought to unburden his soul in writing down the
things he felt and experienced. The reader who will approach the book
from this angle and who will honestly put aside moral prejudices and
prepossessions will come away from the perusal of this book with a
deeper understanding of this poor miserable soul of ours and a light
will be cast into dark places that lie latent in all of us.

Sacher-Masoch's works have held an established position in European
letters for something like half a century, and the author himself was
made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in
1883, on the occasion of his literary jubilee. When several years ago
cheap reprints were brought out on the Continent and attempts were
made by various guardians of morality--they exist in all countries
--to have them suppressed, the judicial decisions were invariably
against the plaintiff and in favor of the publisher. Are Americans
children that they must be protected from books which any European
school-boy can purchase whenever he wishes? However, such seems to be
the case, and this translation, which has long been in preparation,
consequently appears in a limited edition printed for subscribers
only. In another connection Herbert Spencer once used these words:
"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to
fill the world with fools." They have a very pointed application in
the case of a work like _Venus in Furs_.

F. S.

Atlantic City
April, 1921




VENUS IN FURS




_"But the Almighty Lord hath struck him,
and hath delivered him into the hands of
a woman."_

--The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.


My company was charming.

Opposite me by the massive Renaissance fireplace sat Venus; she was
not a casual woman of the half-world, who under this pseudonym wages
war against the enemy sex, like Mademoiselle Cleopatra, but the real,
true goddess of love.

She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose
reflection ran in red flames over her pale face with its white eyes,
and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them.

Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all
I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge
fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat.

"I don't understand it," I exclaimed, "It isn't really cold any
longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You
must be nervous."

"Much obliged for your spring," she replied with a low stony voice,
and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. "I
really can't stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to
understand--"

"What, dear lady?"

"I am beginning to believe the unbelievable and to understand the un-
understandable. All of a sudden I understand the Germanic virtue of
woman, and German philosophy, and I am no longer surprised that you
of the North do not know how to love, haven't even an idea of what
love is."

"But, madame," I replied flaring up, "I surely haven't given you any
reason."

"Oh, you--" The divinity sneezed for the third time, and shrugged
her shoulders with inimitable grace.



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