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Literature: Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz) is a book, published in 1870, by Leopold Sacher-Masoch that largely led to him lending his name to the term Masochism. It deals with his fantasies of a pale skinned woman wearing furs (hence the name) and dominating him. It was supposed to be part of a larger series of novellas, covering all of human life. Sacher-Masoch never finished the series, and what he did write apart from Venus is pretty much forgotten.

The plot: Severin, a young nobleman, falls in love with the beautiful Wanda, whom he calls his "Venus in Fur." He tells her about his fantasy of her whipping and dominating him as her slave. She tells him that's not her thing but agrees to give it a try if it will make him happy, so they start living as mistress and slave (they even sign a contract, explicitly stating this). Shortly after Severin begins to feel that Wanda's taking things a little too far, she falls in love with Alexis, a dominant Greek guy, whom she allows to brutally whip the narrator. Later, after the Greek has died, she tells her (now ex-)slave that she might have married him... if only he hadn't been that perverted and insisted on being her slave — women can only respect men who are strong, not submissive.

What did Severin learn from his experience? He tells us:

"Woman, as nature has created her and as man at present is educating her, is his enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work."

Velvet Underground made a well-known song from it, and there have obviously been several film adaptations. Some even attempt to be artsy!

It has its counterparts in: the works of Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, most notably Justine, Juliette and The 120 Days of Sodom; The Story of O by Pauline Reage; the romantic B-plot of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; and Fifty Shades Of Gray.


This book provides examples of:

  • Amazon Chaser: Severin.
  • Author Appeal
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Severin's efforts to turn Wanda into a sadistic dominatrix go horribly right.
  • Bishōnen: Alexis Papadopolis. Severin even recounts how Alexis dressed as a woman in Paris and had many admirers.
  • Erotic Literature: A famous example.
  • Evil Feels Good: Wanda is weirded out by Severin's fantasies, at first, but after she gives it a few tries, she realizes... she likes it!
  • Fetish: A book focused about it.
  • Fiery Redhead: Wanda
  • Hemoerotic: Being flogged until you bleed is arousing.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Severin argues he can only love a woman he can respect, and, of course, you can only respect someone who's strong and powerful. The problem, however, as Wanda explains, is that she can only love a strong man she can respect, too...
  • Irony: Unsurprisingly, Severin — the masochist who wants to be whipped and treated like a slave — is the one calling all the shots in the relationship, always telling Wanda what to do and how to behave, writing the script and directing the action, and she obediently follows his instructions and gives him the fantasy he demands. Once she becomes less reluctant and starts taking real charge of things, it's no fun for him anymore but terrifying.
  • Naked in Mink: She does wear some furs with nothing else.
  • Never My Fault: When Severin gets angry at how seriously Wanda begins taking their fantasy, she reminds him she's only giving him exactly what he always wanted.
  • Not So Different: Wanda and Severin both get into the I-can-change-my-beloved fantasy — in the beginning, Wanda sincerely believes she can "cure" him of his mad desires, and Severin thoroughly enjoys pressuring and cajoling her into playing the dominant role despite her initial reluctance (once she gets into the part and there's nothing he needs to change, the fantasy starts to lose its appeal).
  • Pretty in Mink: This Venus does wear lovely furs.
  • Spoof Aesop: The Do Not Do This Cool Thing final note. Shame — wouldn't exactly have been a bad anvil to drop at that point in history...
  • Trope Namer: Not a trope on this site, but "Masochism" was named an Eponym for the author because of this book.
  • Whip It Good: Obligatory.

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