Venus in Furs
(Venus im Pelz) is a novella
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.
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.
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.
- The term "masochism", which describes a sexual desire to have pain inflicted on oneself, derives from the author's surname.
- The novel has been adapted for film three times: in 1967, in 1969 and in 1994 The 1994 film was directed by Maartje Seyferth and Victor E. Nieuwenhuijs (see the website), and received an award at the 1994 international film festival of Saint Petersburg, Russia.
- The lyrics of The Velvet Underground song "Venus in Furs" from their 1967 debut album refer to this book. In the 1998 Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine, main character Brian Slade's backing band is called "Venus in Furs".
- The Scottish songwriter and blogger Nick Currie, also known as Momus, referred to Sacher-Masoch in the song "Jesus in Furs" from the album Otto Spooky.
- The American shock rock band Marilyn Manson's song, "Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag" (on their The Golden Age of Grotesque album) references the book with the line "we've got our Venus not in Furs but in uniform"
- Cradle of Filth included a track called "Venus In Fear" on their 1998 album Cruelty and the Beast
- The 2006 John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus features a character named Severin, a dominatrix.
- The title of the last song on the Of Montreal album Satanic Panic in the Attic, "Vegan In Furs", is a reference to the novel.
- The band Bauhaus published an off-album track called "Lagartija Nick" (Little Lizard Nick). The song, with repetitions of "crack the whip" contains in the first verse, "He feels like Sacher-Masoch and the fire below is licking at his lips. ...cracks the whip." In this context of masochism, the rest of the lyrics can be related to a character in Severin's position.