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Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs - 5

Erotic novel (1921)


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Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, (Translated from the German by Fernanda Savage), Privately Printed, New York, 1921, 208 pp.


It is strange how every relation in life assumes a different face as soon as a new person enters.

We spent marvellous days together; we visited the mountains and lakes, we read together, and I completed Wanda’s portrait. And how we loved one another, how beautiful her smiling face was!

Then a friend of hers arrived, a divorced woman somewhat older, more experienced, and less scrupulous than Wanda. Her influence is already making itself felt in every direction.

Wanda wrinkles her brows, and displays a certain impatience with me.

Has she ceased loving me?

*
* *

For almost a fortnight this unbearable restraint has lain upon us. Her friend lives with her, and we are never alone. A circle of men surrounds the young women. With my seriousness and melancholy I am playing an absurd role as lover. Wanda treats me like a stranger.

To-day, while out walking, she staid behind with me. I saw that this was done intentionally, and I rejoiced. But what did she tell me?

"My friend doesn’t understand how I can love you. She doesn’t think you either handsome or particularly attractive otherwise. She is telling me from morning till night about the glamour of the frivolous life in the capital, hinting at the advantages to which I could lay claim, the large parties which I would find there, and the distinguished and handsome admirers which I would attract. But of what use is all this, since it happens that I love you."

For a moment I lost my breath, then I said: "I have no wish to stand in the way of your happiness, Wanda. Do not consider me." Then I raised my hat, and let her go ahead. She looked at me surprised, but did not answer a syllable.

When by chance I happened to be close to her on the way back, she secretly pressed my hand. Her glance was so radiant, so full of promised happiness, that in a moment all the torments of these days were forgotten and all their wounds healed.

I now am aware again of how much I love her.

*
* *

"My friend has complained about you," said Wanda to-day.

"Perhaps she feels that I despise her."

"But why do you despise her, you foolish young man?" exclaimed Wanda, pulling my ears with both hands.

"Because she is a hypocrite," I said. "I respect only a woman who is actually virtuous, or who openly lives for pleasure’s sake."

"Like me, for instance," replied Wanda jestingly, "but you see, child, a woman can only do that in the rarest cases. She can neither be as gaily sensual, nor as spiritually free as man; her state is always a mixture of the sensual and spiritual. Her heart desires to enchain man permanently, while she herself is ever subject to the desire for change. The result is a conflict, and thus usually against her wishes lies and deception enter into her actions and personality and corrupt her character."

"Certainly that is true," I said. "The transcendental character with which woman wants to stamp love leads her to deception."

"But the world likewise demands it," Wanda interrupted. "Look at this woman. She has a husband and a lover in Lemberg and has found a new admirer here. She deceives all three and yet is honored by all and respected by the world."

"I don’t care," I exclaimed, "but she is to leave you alone; she treats you like an article of commerce."

"Why not?" the beautiful woman interrupted vivaciously. "Every woman has the instinct or desire to draw advantage out of her attractions, and much is to be said for giving one’s self without love or pleasure because if you do it in cold blood, you can reap profit to best advantage."

"Wanda, what are you saying?"

"Why not?" she said, "and take note of what I am about to say to you. Never feel secure with the woman you love, for there are more dangers in woman’s nature than you imagine. Women are neither as good as their admirers and defenders maintain, nor as bad as their enemies make them out to be. Woman’s character is characterlessness. The best woman will momentarily go down into the mire, and the worst unexpectedly rises to deeds of greatness and goodness and puts to shame those that despise her. No woman is so good or so bad, but that at any moment she is capable of the most diabolical as well as of the most divine, of the filthiest as well as of the purest, thoughts, emotions, and actions. In spite of all the advances of civilization, woman has remained as she came out of the hand of nature. She has the nature of a savage, who is faithful or faithless, magnanimous or cruel, according to the impulse that dominates at the moment. Throughout history it has always been a serious deep culture which has produced moral character. Man even when he is selfish or evil always follows principles, woman never follows anything but impulses. Don’t ever forget that, and never feel secure with the woman you love."

*
* *

Her friend has left. At last an evening alone with her again. It seems as if Wanda had saved up all the love, which had been kept from her, for this superlative evening; never had she been so kind, so near, so full of tenderness.

What happiness to cling to her lips, and to die away in her arms! In a state of relaxation and wholly mine, her head rests against my breast, and with drunken rapture our eyes seek each other.

I cannot yet believe, comprehend, that this woman is mine, wholly mine.

"She is right on one point," Wanda began, without moving, without opening her eyes, as if she were asleep.

"Who?"

She remained silent.

"Your friend?"

She nodded. "Yes, she is right, you are not a man, you are a dreamer, a charming cavalier, and you certainly would be a priceless slave, but I cannot imagine you as husband."

I was frightened.

"What is the matter? You are trembling?"

"I tremble at the thought of how easily I might lose you," I replied.

"Are you made less happy now, because of this?" she replied. "Does it rob you of any of your joys, that I have belonged to another before I did to you, that others after you will possess me, and would you enjoy less if another were made happy simultaneously with you?"

"Wanda!"

"You see," she continued, "that would be a way out. You won’t ever lose me then. I care deeply for you and intellectually we are harmonious, and I should like to live with you always, if in addition to you I might have—"

"What an idea," I cried. "You fill me with a sort of horror."

"Do you love me any the less?"

"On the contrary."

Wanda had raised herself on her left arm. "I believe," she said, "that to hold a man permanently, it is vitally important not to be faithful to him. What honest woman has ever been as devotedly loved as a hetaira?"

"There is a painful stimulus in the unfaithfulness of a beloved woman. It is the highest kind of ecstacy."

"For you, too?" Wanda asked quickly.

"For me, too."

"And if I should give you that pleasure," Wanda exclaimed mockingly.

"I shall suffer terrible agonies, but I shall adore you the more," I replied. "But you would never deceive me, you would have the daemonic greatness of saying to me: I shall love no one but you, but I shall make happy whoever pleases me."

Wanda shook her head. "I don’t like deception, I am honest, but what man exists who can support the burden of truth. Were I say to you: this serene, sensual life, this paganism is my ideal, would you be strong enough to bear it?"

"Certainly. I could endure anything so as not to lose you. I feel how little I really mean to you."

"But Severin—"

"But it is so," said I, "and just for that reason—"

"For that reason you would—" she smiled roguishly—"have I guessed it?"

"Be your slave!" I exclaimed. "Be your unrestricted property, without a will of my own, of which you could dispose as you wished, and which would therefore never be a burden to you. While you drink life at its fullness, while surrounded by luxury, you enjoy the serene happiness and Olympian love, I want to be your servant, put on and take off your shoes."

"You really aren’t so far from wrong," replied Wanda, "for only as my slave could you endure my loving others. Furthermore the freedom of enjoyment of the ancient world is unthinkable without slavery. It must give one a feeling of like unto a god to see a man kneel before one and tremble. I want a slave, do you hear, Severin?"

"Am I not your slave?"

"Then listen to me," said Wanda excitedly, seizing my hand. "I want to be yours, as long as I love you."

"A month?"

"Perhaps, even two."

"And then?"

"Then you become my slave."

"And you?"

"I? Why do you ask? I am a goddess and sometimes I descend from my Olympian heights to you, softly, very softly, and secretly.

"But what does all this mean," said Wanda, resting her head in both hands with her gaze lost in the distance, "a golden fancy which never can become true." An uncanny brooding melancholy seemed shed over her entire being; I have never seen her like that.

"Why unachievable?" I began.

"Because slavery doesn’t exist any longer."

"Then we will go to a country where it still exists, to the Orient, to Turkey," I said eagerly.

"You would—Severin—in all seriousness," Wanda replied. Her eyes burned.

"Yes, in all seriousness, I want to be your slave," I continued. "I want your power over me to be sanctified by law; I want my life to be in your hands, I want nothing that could protect or save me from you. Oh, what a voluptuous joy when once I feel myself entirely dependent upon your absolute will, your whim, at your beck and call. And then what happiness, when at some time you deign to be gracious, and the slave may kiss the lips which mean life and death to him." I knelt down, and leaned my burning forehead against her knee.

"You are talking as in a fever," said Wanda agitatedly, "and you really love me so endlessly." She held me to her breast, and covered me with kisses.

"You really want it?"

"I swear to you now by God and my honor, that I shall be your slave, wherever and whenever you wish it, as soon as you command," I exclaimed, hardly master of myself.

"And if I take you at your word?" said Wanda.

"Please do!"

"All this appeals to me," she said then. "It is different from anything else—to know that a man who worships me, and whom I love with all my heart, is so wholly mine, dependent on my will and caprice, my possession and slave, while I—"

She looked strangely at me.

"If I should become frightfully frivolous you are to blame," she continued. "It almost seems as if you were afraid of me already, but you have sworn."

"And I shall keep my oath."

"I shall see to that," she replied. "I am beginning to enjoy it, and, heaven help me, we won’t stick to fancies now. You shall become my slave, and I—I shall try to be Venus in Furs."

*
* *

I thought that at last I knew this woman, understood her, and now I see I have to begin at the very beginning again. Only a little while ago her reaction to my dreams was violently hostile, and now she tries to carry them into execution with the soberest seriousness.

She has drawn up a contract according to which I give my word of honor and agree under oath to be her slave, as long as she wishes.

With her arm around my neck she reads this, unprecedented, incredible document to me. The end of each sentence she punctuates with a kiss.

"But all the obligations in the contract are on my side," I said, teasing her.

"Of course," she replied with great seriousness, "you cease to be my lover, and consequently I am released from all duties and obligations towards you. You will have to look upon my favors as pure benevolence. You no longer have any rights, and no longer can lay claim to any. There can be no limit to my power over you. Remember, that you won’t be much better than a dog, or some inanimate object. You will be mine, my plaything, which I can break to pieces, whenever I want an hour’s amusement. You are nothing, I am everything. Do you understand?" She laughed and kissed me again, and yet a sort of cold shiver ran through me.

"Won’t you allow me a few conditions—" I began.

"Conditions?" She contracted her forehead. "Ah! You are afraid already, or perhaps you regret, but it is too late now. You have sworn, I have your word of honor. But let me hear them."

"First of all I should like to have it included in our contract, that you will never completely leave me, and then that you will never give me over to the mercies of any of your admirers—"

"But Severin," exclaimed Wanda with her voice full of emotion and with tears in her eyes, "how can you imagine that I—and you, a man who loves me so absolutely, who puts himself so entirely in my power—" She halted.

"No, no!" I said, covering her hands with kisses. "I don’t fear anything from you that might dishonor me. Forgive me the ugly thought."

Wanda smiled happily, leaned her cheek against mine, and seemed to reflect.

"You have forgotten something," she whispered coquettishly, "the most important thing!"

"A condition?"

"Yes, that I must always wear my furs," exclaimed Wanda. "But I promise you I’ll do that anyhow because they give me a despotic feeling. And I shall be very cruel to you, do you understand?"

"Shall I sign the contract?" I asked.

"Not yet," said Wanda. "I shall first add your conditions, and the actual signing won’t occur until the proper time and place."

"In Constantinople?"

"No. I have thought things over. What special value would there be in owning a slave where everyone owns slaves. What I want is to have a slave, I alone, here in our civilized sober, Philistine world, and a slave who submits helplessly to my power solely on account of my beauty and personality, not because of law, of property rights, or compulsions. This attracts me. But at any rate we will go to a country where we are not known and where you can appear before the world as my servant without embarrassment. Perhaps to Italy, to Rome or Naples."

*
* *

We were sitting on Wanda’s ottoman. She wore her ermine jacket, her hair was loose and fell like a lion’s mane down her back. She clung to my lips, drawing my soul from my body. My head whirled, my blood began to seethe, my heart beat violently against hers.

"I want to be absolutely in your power, Wanda," I exclaimed suddenly, seized by that frenzy of passion when I can scarcely think clearly or decide freely. "I want to put myself absolutely at your mercy for good or evil without any condition, without any limit to your power."

While saying this I had slipped from the ottoman, and lay at her feet looking up at her with drunken eyes.

"How beautiful you now are," she exclaimed, "your eyes half-broken in ecstacy fill me with joy, carry me away. How wonderful your look would be if you were being beaten to death, in the extreme agony. You have the eye of a martyr."

*
* *

Sometimes, nevertheless, I have an uneasy feeling about placing myself so absolutely, so unconditionally into a woman’s hands. Suppose she did abuse my passion, her power?

Well, then I would experience what has occupied my imagination since my childhood, what has always given me the feeling of seductive terror. A foolish apprehension! It will be a wanton game she will play with me, nothing more. She loves me, and she is good, a noble personality, incapable of a breach of faith. But it lies in her hands —if she wants to she can. What a temptation in this doubt, this fear!

Now I understand Manon l’Escault and the poor chevalier, who, even in the pillory, while she was another man’s mistress, still adored her.

Love knows no virtue, no profit; it loves and forgives and suffers everything, because it must. It is not our judgment that leads us; it is neither the advantages nor the faults which we discover, that make us abandon ourselves, or that repel us.

It is a sweet, soft, enigmatic power that drives us on. We cease to think, to feel, to will; we let ourselves be carried away by it, and ask not whither?

*
* *

A Russian prince made his first appearance today on the promenade. He aroused general interest on account of his athletic figure, magnificent face, and splendid bearing. The women particularly gaped at him as though he were a wild animal, but he went his way gloomily without paying attention to any one. He was accompanied by two servants, one a negro, completely dressed in red satin, and the other a Circassian in his full gleaming uniform. Suddenly he saw Wanda, and fixed his cold piercing look upon her; he even turned his head after her, and when she had passed, he stood still and followed her with his eyes.

And she—she veritably devoured him with her radiant green eyes—and did everything possible to meet him again.

The cunning coquetry with which she walked, moved, and looked at him, almost stifled me. On the way home I remarked about it. She knit her brows.

"What do you want," she said, "the prince is a man whom I might like, who even dazzles me, and I am free. I can do what I please—"

"Don’t you love me any longer—" I stammered, frightened.

"I love only you," she replied, "but I shall have the prince pay court to me."

"Wanda!"

"Aren’t you my slave?" she said calmly. "Am I not Venus, the cruel northern Venus in Furs?"

I was silent. I felt literally crushed by her words; her cold look entered my heart like a dagger.

"You will find out immediately the prince’s name, residence, and circumstances," she continued. "Do you understand?"

"But—"

"No argument, obey!" exclaimed Wanda, more sternly than I would have thought possible for her, "and don’t dare to enter my sight until you can answer my questions."

It was not till afternoon that I could obtain the desired information for Wanda. She let me stand before her like a servant, while she leaned back in her arm-chair and listened to me, smiling. Then she nodded; she seemed to be satisfied.

"Bring me my footstool," she commanded shortly.

I obeyed, and after having put it before her and having put her feet on it, I remained kneeling.

"How will this end?" I asked sadly after a short pause.

She broke into playful laughter. "Why things haven’t even begun yet."

"You are more heartless than I imagined," I replied, hurt.

"Severin," Wanda began earnestly. "I haven’t done anything yet, not the slightest thing, and you are already calling me heartless. What will happen when I begin to carry your dreams to their realization, when I shall lead a gay, free life and have a circle of admirers about me, when I shall actually fulfil your ideal, tread you underfoot and apply the lash?"

"You take my dreams too seriously."

"Too seriously? I can’t stop at make-believe, when once I begin," she replied. "You know I hate all play-acting and comedy. You have wished it. Was it my idea or yours? Did I persuade you or did you inflame my imagination? I am taking things seriously now."

"Wanda," I replied, caressingly, "listen quietly to me. We love each other infinitely, we are very happy, will you sacrifice our entire future to a whim?"

"It is no longer a whim," she exclaimed.

"What is it?" I asked frightened.

"Something that was probably latent in me," she said quietly and thoughtfully. "Perhaps it would never have come to light, if you had not called it to life, and made it grow. Now that it has become a powerful impulse, fills my whole being, now that I enjoy it, now that I cannot and do not want to do otherwise, now you want to back out— you—are you a man?"

"Dear, sweet Wanda!" I began to caress her, kiss her.

"Don’t—you are not a man—"

"And you," I flared up.

"I am stubborn," she said, "you know that. I haven’t a strong imagination, and like you I am weak in execution. But when I make up my mind to do something, I carry it through, and the more certainly, the more opposition I meet. Leave me alone!"

She pushed me away, and got up.

"Wanda!" I likewise rose, and stood facing her.

"Now you know what I am," she continued. "Once more I warn you. You still have the choice. I am not compelling you to be my slave."

"Wanda," I replied with emotion and tears filling my eyes, "don’t you know how I love you?"

Her lips quivered contemptuously.

"You are mistaken, you make yourself out worse than you are; you are good and noble by nature—"

"What do you know about my nature," she interrupted vehemently, "you will get to know me as I am."

"Wanda!"

"Decide, will you submit, unconditionally?"

"And if I say no."

"Then—"

She stepped close up to me, cold and contemptuous. As she stood before me now, the arms folded across her breast, with an evil smile about her lips, she was in fact the despotic woman of my dreams. Her expression seemed hard, and nothing lay in her eyes that promised kindness or mercy.

"Well—" she said at last.

"You are angry," I cried, "you will punish me."

"Oh no!" she replied, "I shall let you go. You are free. I am not holding you."

"Wanda—I, who love you so—"

"Yes, you, my dear sir, you who adore me," she exclaimed contemptuously, "but who are a coward, a liar, and a breaker of promises. Leave me instantly—"

"Wanda I—"

"Wretch!"

My blood rose in my heart. I threw myself down at her feet and began to cry.

"Tears, too!" She began to laugh. Oh, this laughter was frightful. "Leave me—I don’t want to see you again."

"Oh my God!" I cried, beside myself. "I will do whatever you command, be your slave, a mere object with which you can do what you will—only don’t send me away—I can’t bear it—I cannot live without you." I embraced her knees, and covered her hand with kisses.

"Yes, you must be a slave, and feel the lash, for you are not a man," she said calmly. She said this to me with perfect composure, not angrily, not even excitedly, and it was what hurt most. "Now I know you, your dog-like nature, that adores where it is kicked, and the more, the more it is maltreated. Now I know you, and now you shall come to know me."

She walked up and down with long strides, while I remained crushed on my knees; my head was hanging supine, tears flowed from my eyes.

"Come here," Wanda commanded harshly, sitting down on the ottoman. I obeyed her command, and sat down beside her. She looked at me sombrely, and then a light suddenly seemed to illuminate the interior of her eye. Smiling, she drew me toward her breast, and began to kiss the tears out of my eyes.

*
* *

The odd part of my situation is that I am like the bear in Lily’s park. I can escape and don’t want to; I am ready to endure everything as soon as she threatens to set me free.

*
* *

If only she would use the whip again. There is something uncanny in the kindness with which she treats me. I seem like a little captive mouse with which a beautiful cat prettily plays. She is ready at any moment to tear it to pieces, and my heart of a mouse threatens to burst.

What are her intentions? What does she purpose to do with me?

*
* *

It seems she has completely forgotten the contract, my slavehood. Or was it actually only stubbornness? And she gave up her whole plan as soon as I no longer opposed her and submitted to her imperial whim?

How kind she is to me, how tender, how loving! We are spending marvellously happy days.

To-day she had me read to her the scene between Faust and Mephistopheles, in which the latter appears as a wandering scholar. Her glance hung on me with strange pleasure.

"I don’t understand," she said when I had finished, "how a man who can read such great and beautiful thoughts with such expression, and interpret them so clearly, concisely, and intelligently, can at the same time be such a visionary and supersensual ninny as you are."

"Were you pleased," said I, and kissed her forehead.

She gently stroked my brow. "I love you, Severin," she whispered. "I don’t believe I could ever love any one more than you. Let us be sensible, what do you say?"

Instead of replying I folded her in my arms; a deep inward, yet vaguely sad happiness filled my breast, my eyes grew moist, and a tear fell upon her hand.

"How can you cry!" she exclaimed, "you are a child!"

*
* *

On a pleasure drive we met the Russian prince in his carriage. He seemed to be unpleasantly surprised to see me by Wanda’s side, and looked as if he wanted to pierce her through and through with his electric gray eyes. She, however, did not seem to notice him. I felt at that moment like kneeling down before her and kissing her feet. She let her glance glide over him indifferently as though he were an inanimate object, a tree, for instance, and turned to me with her gracious smile.

*
* *

When I said good-night to her to-day she seemed suddenly unaccountably distracted and moody. What was occupying her?

"I am sorry you are going," she said when I was already standing on the threshold.

"It is entirely in your hands to shorten the hard period of my trial, to cease tormenting me—" I pleaded.

"Do you imagine that this compulsion isn’t a torment for me, too," Wanda interjected.

"Then end it," I exclaimed, embracing her, "be my wife."

"Never, Severin," she said gently, but with great firmness.

"What do you mean?"

I was frightened in my innermost soul.

"You are not the man for me."

I looked at her, and slowly withdrew my arm which was still about her waist; then I left the room, and she—she did not call me back.

*
* *

A sleepless night; I made countless decisions, only to toss them aside again. In the morning I wrote her a letter in which I declared our relationship dissolved. My hand trembled when I put on the seal, and I burned my fingers.

As I went upstairs to hand it to the maid, my knees threatened to give way.

The door opened, and Wanda thrust forth her head full of curling- papers.

"I haven’t had my hair dressed yet," she said, smiling. "What have you there?"

"A letter—"

"For me?"

I nodded.

"Ah, you want to break with me," she exclaimed, mockingly.

"Didn’t you tell me yesterday that I wasn’t the man for you?"

"I repeat it now!"

"Very well, then." My whole body was trembling, my voice failed me, and I handed her the letter.

"Keep it," she said, measuring me coldly. "You forget that is no longer a question as to whether you satisfy me as a man; as a slave you will doubtless do well enough."

"Madame!" I exclaimed, aghast.

"That is what you will call me in the future," replied Wanda, throwing back her head with a movement of unutterable contempt. "Put your affairs in order within the next twenty-four hours. The day after to-morrow I shall start for Italy, and you will accompany me as my servant."

"Wanda—"

"I forbid any sort of familiarity," she said, cutting my words short, "likewise you are not to come in unless I call or ring for you, and you are not to speak to me until you are spoken to. From now on your name is no longer Severin, but Gregor."

I trembled with rage, and yet, unfortunately, I cannot deny it, I also felt a strange pleasure and stimulation.

"But, madame, you know my circumstances," I began in my confusion. "I am dependent on my father, and I doubt whether he will give me the large sum of money needed for this journey—"

"That means you have no money, Gregor," said Wanda, delightedly, "so much the better, you are then entirely dependent on me, and in fact my slave."

"You don’t consider," I tried to object, "that as man of honor it is impossible for me—"

"I have indeed considered it," she replied almost with a tone of command. "As a man of honor you must keep your oath and redeem your promise to follow me as slave whithersoever I demand and to obey whatever I command. Now leave me, Gregor!"

I turned toward the door.

"Not yet—you may first kiss my hand." She held it out to me with a certain proud indifference, and I the dilettante, the donkey, the miserable slave pressed it with intense tenderness against my lips which were dry and hot with excitement.

There was another gracious nod of the head.

Then I was dismissed.

*
* *

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