Book Review

Venus in furs by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch

Dear book lovers

This is to introduce my friend Ken again. This time, we decided to get out of the cliché and do a review for a book that is quite risqué. We hope you enjoy the review as much as I did. But I also hope you will read the book. This is an atypical read; but it is all worth it. 

Not many writers have a psycho-sexual term named after them. In 1870, the Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch inspired the word masochism and is best known for his only work translated into English from German – Venus in Furs.

The book starts with its narrator recounting a strange dream of an icy woman, a Venus who wears furs. He then philosophises about how a woman’s cruel nature can increase a man’s desire. When the narrator wakes from his dream, he meets his friend Severin and tells him about it. ​

He notices a painting in Severin’s room of the same Venus in furs who appeared in his dream. In the painting the woman holds a whip, striking a pose of domination over a younger Severin. A young woman then brings in tea for the men and to the narrator’s surprise, Severin reprimands and chases her from the room as punishment for a minor mistake. Explaining that you have to break a woman rather than let her break you, Severin shows the narrator a document describing how he was cured of his obsession with being dominated by women.

This document forms the remainder of Venus in Furs, as a book within a book. It starts with Severin in a Central European health resort where he falls in love with Wanda, who signs a contract making him her legal slave and giving her full power over him. At first, Wanda shies away from the humiliating acts that Severin asks her to perform on him, but as she grows into her dominatrix role, she enjoys increasing pleasure in torturing him and starts to despise him for the way he allows her to treat him.

The pair move to Florence, where Wanda forces Severin to dress and act like a servant, forcing him into squalid accommodation and refusing to see him, except when he has to perform menial tasks for her. Although Severin loathes the humility of his low status, he is increasingly addicted to each new humiliation. Although Wanda initially offers to end their relationship because of her feelings for Severin, her increasing power over him fuels in her an aggressive desire to use him for ever more extreme role-play.

The culmination of this dominant-submissive relationship comes when Wanda finds a lover in Florence and tries to make Severin submit to him as well. Severin cannot bear this and ends the relationship. He also finds himself cured of his need to be dominated by women.

The book ends with Severin reflecting on his learnings from this experience. He concludes that although a woman is naturally doomed to be a man’s slave, this inequality can be remedied if she gains the same rights as a man and becomes his equal in education and the workplace. This conclusion echoes von Sacher-Masoch’s socialist beliefs, although he did not practice what he preached in real life, preferring to wallow in his inequity than escape it.

This book is not what it seems. If readers of Venus in Furs are looking for pornography or titillation, they will be disappointed. Although the book is definitely a work of erotica, its eroticism is developed and acted out more in the minds of the characters than in their physical acts. This mental rather than physical eroticism has real power and is attractive to many people. The way the book explores this mental eroticism is its main attraction and it is also a helpful primer for understanding why, for many of today’s BDSM practitioners, mind games are more important than sex games. An unusual but recommended read – difficult to believe that it was written 150 years ago.

Who should read this book: Those who like to understand the human mind and behaviors when it comes to BDSM

Why you should read this book: To explore mental eroticism 

Book genre: Non-fiction, sociology, psychology

Rating by Stylo à Bille

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