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Literature / Venus in Furs

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Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz) is a book, published in 1870, by Leopold von 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 wrote a well-known song based on 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 Grey.


This book provides examples of:

  • 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 herself is a Significant Green-Eyed Redhead, and Severin pushes her to take the role of an overbearing dominatrix.
      How abundant her red hair-it is red, not blonde or golden- yellow—how diabolically and yet tenderly it plays around her neck! Now her eyes meet mine like green lightnings—they are green, these eyes of hers, whose power is so indescribable—green, but as are precious stones, or deep unfathomable mountain lakes.
    • While signing the contract, Severin notes that the ceiling is painted with a scene of Samson and Delilah where Delilah is depicted with "flaming red hair."
      I looked upward for a moment. It occurred to me that the painting on the ceiling, like many of those of the Italian and Dutch schools, was utterly unhistorical, but this very fact gave it a strange mood which had an almost uncanny effect on me. Delilah, an opulent woman with flaming red hair, lay extended, half-disrobed, in a dark fur-cloak, upon a red ottoman, and bent smiling over Samson who had been overthrown and bound by the Philistines. Her smile in its mocking coquetry was full of a diabolical cruelty; her eyes, half- closed, met Samson's, and his with a last look of insane passion cling to hers, for already one of his enemies is kneeling on his breast with the red-hot iron to blind him.
  • Hemoerotic: Being flogged until you bleed is arousing.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: Severin kisses Wanda's feet on several occasions.
  • 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: Wanda does wear some furs with nothing else — as does Venus herself in the Frame Story.
  • 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.
  • Pretty in Mink: This Venus does wear lovely furs.
  • Shout-Out: The song "Venus in Furs" by Velvet Underground from their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico is based on this novel. The Electric Wizard song "Venus in Furs" nods to it as well.
  • 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...
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: When Wanda begins to take an interest in Alexis, Severin can feel her pulling away from him. He goes to her chambers and desperately pleads for her not to dismiss him. Wanda continues to treat him as a plaything, just as he had requested, and is entirely unimpressed when he takes her dagger and threatens to kill himself if she doesn't return his affections:
    "Mercy," I implored. "Do not drive me away. No man, no one, will love you as I do."
    "Let me go to sleep,"—she turned her back to me again.
    I leaped up, and snatched the poinard, which hung beside her bed, from its sheath, and placed its point against my breast.
    "I shall kill myself here before your eyes," I murmured dully.
    "Do what you please," Wanda replied with complete indifference. "But let me go to sleep." She yawned aloud. "I am very sleepy."
    For a moment I stood as if petrified. Then I began to laugh and cry at the same time. Finally I placed the poinard in my belt, and again fell on my knees before her.
    "Wanda, listen to me, only for a few moments," I begged.
  • 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.