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Venus in Fear

Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz) is a novella by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the best known of his works. The novel was part of an epic series that Sacher-Masoch envisioned called Legacy of Cain. Venus in Furs was part of Love, the first volume of the series. It was published in 1870.

Novel

The novel draws themes and character inspiration heavily from Sacher-Masoch’s own life. Wanda von Dunajew (the novel's central female character) was modelled after Fanny Pistor, who was an emerging literary writer. The two met when Pistor contacted Sacher-Masoch, under the fictitious title of a noble Baroness Bogdanoff, for suggestions on improvement of her works, to make them suitable for publication. Inventing such a title for herself is telling of the fanciful aspect of her character that would make possible the charming and outrageous nature of their love affair.

Plot summary

The framing story concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus about love while she wears furs. The unnamed narrator tells his dreams to a friend, Severin, who tells him how to break him of his fascination with cruel women by reading a manuscript, Memoirs of a Supersensual Man.

This manuscript tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he requests to be treated as her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. At first Wanda does not understand or relate to the request, but after humouring Severin a bit she finds the advantages of the method to be interesting and enthusiastically embraces the idea; though at the same time, she disdains Severin for allowing her to do so.

Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. Severin and Wanda travel to Florence. Along the way, Severin takes the generic Russian servant's name of "Gregor" and the role of Wanda's servant. In Florence, Wanda treats him brutally as a servant, and recruits a trio of African women to dominate him.

The relationship arrives at a crisis point when Wanda herself meets a man to whom she would like to submit, a Byronic hero known as Alexis Papadopolis. At the end of the book, Severin, humiliated by Wanda's new lover, ceases to desire to submit, stating that men should dominate women until the time when women are equal to men in education and rights.

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