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Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs - 7

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.


A month has passed with monotonous regularity, heavy work, and a melancholy hunger, hunger for her, who is inflicting all these torments on me.

I am under the gardener’s orders; I help him lop the trees and prune the hedges, transplant flowers, turn over the flower beds, sweep the gravel paths; I share his coarse food and his hard cot; I rise and go to bed with the chickens. Now and then I hear that our mistress is amusing herself, surrounded by admirers. Once I heard her gay laughter even down here in the garden.

I seem awfully stupid to myself. Was it the result of my present life, or was I so before? The month is drawing to a close—the day after to-morrow. What will she do with me now, or has she forgotten me, and left me to trim hedges and bind bouquets till my dying day?

*
* *

A written order.

"The slave Gregor is herewith ordered to my personal service.

Wanda Dunajew."

With a beating heart I draw aside the damask curtain on the following morning, and enter the bed-room of my divinity. It is still filled with a pleasant half darkness.

"Is it you, Gregor?" she asks, while I kneel before the fire-place, building a fire. I tremble at the sound of the beloved voice. I cannot see her herself; she is invisible behind the curtains of the four-poster bed.

"Yes, my mistress," I reply.

"How late is it?"

"Past nine o’clock."

"Breakfast."

I hasten to get it, and then kneel down with the tray beside her bed.

"Here is breakfast, my mistress."

Wanda draws back the curtains, and curiously enough at the first glance when I see her among the pillows with loosened flowing hair, she seems an absolute stranger, a beautiful woman, but the beloved soft lines are gone. This face is hard and has an expression of weariness and satiety.

Or is it simply that formerly my eye did not see this?

She fixes her green eyes upon me, more with curiosity than with menace, perhaps even somewhat pityingly, and lazily pulls the dark sleeping fur on which she lies over the bared shoulder.

At this moment she is very charming, very maddening, and I feel my blood rising to my head and heart. The tray in my hands begins to sway. She notices it and reached out for the whip which is lying on the toilet-table.

"You are awkward, slave," she says furrowing her brow.

I lower my looks to the ground, and hold the tray as steadily as possible. She eats her breakfast, yawns, and stretches her opulent limbs in the magnificent furs.

She has rung. I enter.

"Take this letter to Prince Corsini."

I hurry into the city, and hand the letter to the Prince. He is a handsome young man with glowing black eyes. Consumed with jealousy, I take his answer to her.

"What is the matter with you?" she asks with lurking spitefulness. "You are very pale."

"Nothing, mistress, I merely walked rather fast."

At luncheon the prince is at her side, and I am condemned to serve both her and him. They joke, and I am, as if non-existent, for both. For a brief moment I see black; I was just pouring some Bordeaux into his glass, and spilled it over the table-cloth and her gown.

"How awkward," Wanda exclaimed and slapped my face. The prince laughed, and she also, but I felt the blood rising to my face.

After luncheon she drove in the Cascine. She has a little carriage with a handsome, brown English horse, and holds the reins herself. I sit behind and notice how coquettishly she acts, and nods with a smile when one of the distinguished gentlemen bows to her.

As I help her out of the carriage, she leans lightly on my arm; the contact runs through me like an electric shock. She is a wonderful woman, and I love her more than ever.

*
* *

For dinner at six she has invited a small group of men and women. I serve, but this time I do not spill any wine over the table-cloth.

A slap in the face is more effective than ten lectures. It makes you understand very quickly, especially when the instruction is by the way of a small woman’s hand.

*
* *

After dinner she drives to the Pergola Theater. As she descends the stairs in her black velvet dress with its large collar of ermine and with a diadem of white roses on her hair, she is literally stunning. I open the carriage-door, and help her in. In front of the theater I leap from the driver’s seat, and in alighting she leaned on my arm, which trembled under the sweet burden. I open the door of her box, and then wait in the vestibule. The performance lasts four hours; she receives visits from her cavaliers, the while I grit my teeth with rage.

It is way beyond midnight when my mistress’s bell sounds for the last time.

"Fire!" she orders abruptly, and when the fire-place crackles, "Tea!"

When I return with the samovar, she has already undressed, and with the aid of the negress slipped into a white negligee.

Haydee thereupon leaves.

"Hand me the sleeping-furs," says Wanda, sleepily stretching her lovely limbs. I take them from the arm-chair, and hold them while she slowly and lazily slides into the sleeves. She then throws herself down on the cushions of the ottoman.

"Take off my shoes, and put on my velvet slippers."

I kneel down and tug at the little shoe which resists my efforts. "Hurry, hurry!" Wanda exclaims, "you are hurting me! just you wait—I will teach you." She strikes me with the whip, but now the shoe is off.

"Now get out!" Still a kick—and then I can go to bed.

*
* *

To-night I accompanied her to a soiree. In the entrance-hall she ordered me to help her out of her furs; then with a proud smile, confident of victory, she entered the brilliantly illuminated room. I again waited with gloomy and monotonous thoughts, watching hour after hour run by. From time to time the sounds of music reached me, when the door remained open for a moment. Several servants tried to start a conversation with me, but soon desisted, since I knew only a few words of Italian.

Finally I fell asleep, and dreamed that I murdered Wanda in a violent attack of jealousy. I was condemned to death, and saw myself strapped on the board; the knife fell, I felt it on my neck, but I was still alive—

Then the executioner slapped my face.

No, it wasn’t the executioner; it was Wanda who stood wrathfully before me demanding her furs. I am at her side in a moment, and help her on with it.

There is a deep joy in wrapping a beautiful woman into her furs, and in seeing and feeling how her neck and magnificent limbs nestle in the precious soft furs, and to lift the flowing hair over the collar. When she throws it off a soft warmth and a faint fragrance of her body still clings to the ends of the hairs of sable. It is enough to drive one mad.

*
* *

Finally a day came when there were neither guests, nor theater, nor other company. I breathed a sigh of relief. Wanda sat in the gallery, reading, and apparently had no orders for me. At dusk when the silvery evening mists fell she withdrew. I served her at dinner, she ate by herself, but had not a look, not a syllable for me, not even a slap in the face.

I actually desire a slap from her hand. Tears fill my eyes, and I feel that she has humiliated me so deeply, that she doesn’t even find it worth while to torture or maltreat me any further.

Before she goes to bed, her bell calls me.

"You will sleep here to-night, I had horrible dreams last night, and am afraid of being alone. Take one of the cushions from the ottoman, and lie down on the bearskin at my feet."

Then Wanda put out the lights. The only illumination in the room was from a small lamp suspended from the ceiling. She herself got into bed. "Don’t stir, so as not to wake me."

I did as she had commanded, but could not fall asleep for a long time. I saw the beautiful woman, beautiful as a goddess, lying on her back on the dark sleeping-furs; her arms beneath her neck, with a flood of red hair over them. I heard her magnificent breast rise in deep regular breathing, and whenever she moved ever so slightly. I woke up and listened to see whether she needed me.

But she did not require me.

No task was required of me; I meant no more to her than a night- lamp, or a revolver which one places under one’s pillow.

*
* *

Am I mad or is she? Does all this arise out of an inventive, wanton woman’s brain with the intention of surpassing my supersensual fantasies, or is this woman really one of those Neronian characters who take a diabolical pleasure in treading underfoot, like a worm, human beings, who have thoughts and feelings and a will like theirs?

What have I experienced?

When I knelt with the coffee-tray beside her bed, Wanda suddenly placed her hand on my shoulder and her eyes plunged deep into mine.

"What beautiful eyes you have," she said softly, "and especially now since you suffer. Are you very unhappy?"

I bowed my head, and kept silent.

"Severin, do you still love me," she suddenly exclaimed passionately, "can you still love me?"

She drew me close with such vehemence that the coffee-tray upset, the can and cups fell to the floor, and the coffee ran over the carpet.

"Wanda—my Wanda," I cried out and held her passionately against me; I covered her mouth, face, and breast with kisses.

"It is my unhappiness that I love you more and more madly the worse you treat me, the more frequently you betray me. Oh, I shall die of pain and love and jealousy."

"But I haven’t betrayed you, as yet, Severin," replied Wanda smiling.

"Not? Wanda! Don’t jest so mercilessly with me," I cried. "Haven’t I myself taken the letter to the Prince—"

"Of course, it was an invitation for luncheon."

"You have, since we have been in Florence—"

"I have been absolutely faithful to you" replied Wanda, "I swear it by all that is holy to me. All that I have done was merely to fulfill your dream and it was done for your sake.

"However, I shall take a lover, otherwise things will be only half accomplished, and in the end you will yet reproach me with not having treated you cruelly enough, my dear beautiful slave! But to-day you shall be Severin again, the only one I love. I haven’t given away your clothes. They are here in the chest. Go and dress as you used to in the little Carpathian health-resort when our love was so intimate. Forget everything that has happened since; oh, you will forget it easily in my arms; I shall kiss away all your sorrows."

She began to treat me tenderly like a child, to kiss me and caress me. Finally she said with a gracious smile, "Go now and dress, I too will dress. Shall I put on my fur-jacket? Oh yes, I know, now run along!"

When I returned she was standing in the center of the room in her white satin dress, and the red kazabaika edged with ermine; her hair was white with powder and over her forehead she wore a small diamond diadem. For a moment she reminded me in an uncanny way of Catherine the Second, but she did not give me much time for reminiscences. She drew me down on the ottoman beside her and we enjoyed two blissful hours. She was no longer the stern capricious mistress, she was entirely a fine lady, a tender sweetheart. She showed me photographs and books which had just appeared, and talked about them with so much intelligence, clarity, and good taste, that I more than once carried her hand to my lips, enraptured. She then had me recite several of Lermontov’s poems, and when I was all afire with enthusiasm, she placed her small hand gently on mine. Her expression was soft, and her eyes were filled with tender pleasure.

"Are you happy?"

"Not yet."

She then leaned back on the cushions, and slowly opened her kazabaika.

But I quickly covered the half-bared breast again with the ermine. "You are driving me mad." I stammered.

"Come!"

I was already lying in her arms, and like a serpent she was kissing me with her tongue, when again she whispered, "Are you happy?"

"Infinitely!" I exclaimed.

She laughed aloud. It was an evil, shrill laugh which made cold shivers run down by back.

"You used to dream of being the slave, the plaything of a beautiful woman, and now you imagine you are a free human being, a man, my lover-you fool! A sign from me, and you are a slave again. Down on your knees!"

I sank down from the ottoman to her feet, but my eye still clung doubtingly on hers.

"You can’t believe it," she said, looking at me with her arms folded across her breast. "I am bored, and you will just do to while away a couple of hours of time. Don’t look at me that way—"

She kicked me with her foot.

"You are just what I want, a human being, a thing, an animal—"

She rang. The three negresses entered.

"Tie his hands behind his back."

I remained kneeling and unresistingly let them do this. They led me into the garden, down to the little vineyard, which forms the southern boundary. Corn had been planted between the espaliers, and here and there a few dead stalks still stood. To one side was a plough.

The negresses tied me to a post, and amused themselves sticking me with their golden hair-needles. But this did not last long, before Wanda appeared with her ermine cap on her head, and with her hands in the pockets of her jacket. She had me untied, and then my hands were fastened together on my back. She finally had a yoke put around my neck, and harnessed me to the plough.

Then her black demons drove me out into the field. One of them held the plough, the other one led me by a line, the third applied the whip, and Venus in Furs stood to one side and looked on.

*
* *

When I was serving dinner on the following day Wanda said: "Bring another cover, I want you to dine with me to-day," and when I was about to sit down opposite her, she added, "No, over here, close by my side."

She is in the best of humors, gives me soup with her spoon, feeds me with her fork, and places her head on the table like a playful kitten and flirts with me. I have the misfortune of looking at Haydee, who serves in my place, perhaps a little longer than is necessary. It is only now that I noticed her noble, almost European cast of countenance and her magnificent statuesque bust, which is as if hewn out of black marble. The black devil observes that she pleases me, and, grinning, shows her teeth. She has hardly left the room, before Wanda leaps up in a rage.

"What, you dare to look at another woman besides me! Perhaps you like her even better than you do me, she is even more demonic!"

I am frightened; I have never seen her like this before; she is suddenly pale even to the lips and her whole body trembles. Venus in Furs is jealous of her slave. She snatches the whip from its hook and strikes me in the face; then she calls her black servants, who bind me, and carry me down into the cellar, where they throw me into a dark, dank, subterranean compartment, a veritable prison-cell.

Then the lock of the door clicks, the bolts are drawn, a key sings in the lock. I am a prisoner, buried.

I have been lying here for I don’t know how long, bound like a calf about to be hauled to the slaughter, on a bundle of damp straw, without any light, without food, without drink, without sleep. It would be like her to let me starve to death, if I don’t freeze to death before then. I am shaking with cold. Or is it fever? I believe I am beginning to hate this woman.

*
* *

A red streak, like blood, floods across the floor; it is a light falling through the door which is now thrust open.

Wanda appears on the threshold, wrapped in her sables, holding a lighted torch.

"Are you still alive?" she asks.

"Are you coming to kill me?" I reply with a low, hoarse voice.

With two rapid strides Wanda reaches my side, she kneels down beside me, and places my head in her lap. "Are you ill? Your eyes glow so, do you love me? I want you to love me."

She draws forth a short dagger. I start with fright when its blade gleams in front of my eyes. I actually believe that she is about to kill me. She laughs, and cuts the ropes that bind me.

*
* *

Every evening after dinner she now has me called. I have to read to her, and she discusses with me all sorts of interesting problems and subjects. She seems entirely transformed; it is as if she were ashamed of the savagery which she betrayed to me and of the cruelty with which she treated me. A touching gentleness transfigures her entire being, and when at the good-night she gives me her hand, a superhuman power of goodness and love lies in her eyes, of the kind which calls forth tears in us and causes us to forget all the miseries of existence and all the terrors of death.

*
* *

I am reading Manon l’Escault to her. She feels the association, she doesn’t say a word, but she smiles from time to time, and finally she shuts up the little book.

"Don’t you want to go on reading?"

"Not to-day. We will ourselves act Manon l’Escault to-day. I have a rendezvous in the Cascine, and you, my dear Chevalier, will accompany me; I know, you will do it, won’t you?"

"You command it."

"I do not command it, I beg it of you," she says with irresistible charm. She then rises, puts her hands on my shoulders, and looks at me.

"Your eyes!" she exclaims. "I love you, Severin, you have no idea how I love you!"

"Yes, I have!" I replied bitterly, "so much so that you have arranged for a rendezvous with some one else."

"I do this only to allure you the more," she replied vivaciously. "I must have admirers, so as not to lose you. I don’t ever want to lose you, never, do you hear, for I love only you, you alone."

She clung passionately to my lips.

"Oh, if I only could, as I would, give you all of my soul in a kiss— thus—but now come."

She slipped into a simple black velvet coat, and put a dark bashlyk [1] on her head. Then she rapidly went through the gallery, and entered the carriage.

"Gregor will drive," she called out to the coachman who withdrew in surprise.

I ascended the driver’s seat, and angrily whipped up the horses.

In the Cascine where the main roadway turns into a leafy path, Wanda got out. It was night, only occasional stars shone through the gray clouds that fled across the sky. By the bank of the Arno stood a man in a dark cloak, with a brigand’s hat, and looked at the yellow waves. Wanda rapidly walked through the shrubbery, and tapped him on the shoulder. I saw him turn and seize her hand, and then they disappeared behind the green wall.

An hour full of torments. Finally there was a rustling in the bushes to one side, and they returned.

The man accompanied her to the carriage. The light of the lamp fell full and glaringly upon an infinitely young, soft and dreamy face which I had never before seen, and played in his long, blond curls.

She held out her hand which he kissed with deep respect, then she signaled to me, and immediately the carriage flew along the leafy wall which follows the river like a long green screen.

*
* *

The bell at the garden-gate rings. It is a familiar face. The man from the Cascine.

"Whom shall I announce?" I ask him in French. He timidly shakes his head.

"Do you, perhaps, understand some German?" he asks shyly.

"Yes. Your name, please."

"Oh! I haven’t any yet," he replies, embarrassed—"Tell your mistress the German painter from the Cascine is here and would like— but there she is herself."

Wanda had stepped out on the balcony, and nodded toward the stranger.

"Gregor, show the gentleman in!" she called to me.

I showed the painter the stairs.

"Thanks, I’ll find her now, thanks, thanks very much." He ran up the steps. I remained standing below, and looked with deep pity on the poor German.

Venus in Furs has caught his soul in the red snares of hair. He will paint her, and go mad.

*
* *

It is a sunny winter’s day. Something that looks like gold trembles on the leaves of the clusters of trees down below in the green level of the meadow. The camelias at the foot of the gallery are glorious in their abundant buds. Wanda is sitting in the loggia; she is drawing. The German painter stands opposite her with his hands folded as in adoration, and looks at her. No, he rather looks at her face, and is entirely absorbed in it, enraptured.

But she does not see him, neither does she see me, who with the spade in my hand am turning over the flower-bed, solely that I may see her and feel her nearness, which produces an effect on me like poetry, like music.

*
* *

The painter has gone. It is a hazardous thing to do, but I risk it. I go up to the gallery, quite close, and ask Wanda "Do you love the painter, mistress?"

She looks at me without getting angry, shakes her head, and finally even smiles.

"I feel sorry for him," she replies, "but I do not love him. I love no one. I used to love you, as ardently, as passionately, as deeply as it was possible for me to love, but now I don’t love even you any more; my heart is a void, dead, and this makes me sad."

"Wanda!" I exclaimed, deeply moved.

"Soon, you too will no longer love me," she continued, "tell me when you have reached that point, and I will give back to you your freedom."

"Then I shall remain your slave, all my life long, for I adore you and shall always adore you," I cried, seized by that fanaticism of love which has repeatedly been so fatal to me.

Wanda looked at me with a curious pleasure. "Consider well what you do," she said. "I have loved you infinitely and have been despotic towards you so that I might fulfil your dream. Something of my old feeling, a sort of real sympathy for you, still trembles in my breast. When that too has gone who knows whether then I shall give you your liberty; whether I shall not then become really cruel, merciless, even brutal toward; whether I shall not take a diabolical pleasure in tormenting and putting on the rack the man who worships me idolatrously, the while I remain indifferent or love someone else; perhaps, I shall enjoy seeing him die of his love for me. Consider this well."

"I have long since considered all that," I replied as in a glow of fever. "I cannot exist, cannot live without you; I shall die if you set me at liberty; let me remain your slave, kill me, but do not drive me away."

"Very well then, be my slave," she replied, "but don’t forget that I no longer love you, and your love doesn’t mean any more to me than a dog’s, and dogs are kicked."

*
* *

To-day I visited the Venus of Medici.

It was still early, and the little octagonal room in the Tribuna was filled with half-lights like a sanctuary; I stood with folded hands in deep adoration before the silent image of the divinity.

But I did not stand for long.

Not a human soul was in the gallery, not even an Englishman, and I fell down on my knees. I looked up at the lovely slender body, the budding breasts, the virginal and yet voluptuous face, the fragrant curls which seemed to conceal tiny horns on each side of the forehead.

*
* *

My mistress’s bell.

It is noonday. She, however, is still abed with her arms intertwined behind her neck.

"I want to bathe," she says, "and you will attend me. Lock the door!"

I obey.

"Now go downstairs and make sure the door below is also locked."

I descended the winding stairs that lead from her bedroom to the bath; my feet gave way beneath me, and I had to support myself against the iron banister. After having ascertained that the door leading to the Loggia and the garden was locked, I returned. Wanda was now sitting on the bed with loosened hair, wrapped in her green velvet furs. When she made a rapid movement, I noticed that the furs were her only covering. It made me start terribly, I don’t know why? I was like one condemned to death, who knows he is on the way to the scaffold, and yet begins to tremble when he sees it.

"Come, Gregor, take me on your arms."

"You mean, mistress?"

"You are to carry me, don’t you understand?"

I lifted her up, so that she rested in my arms, while she twined hers around my neck. Slowly, step by step, I went down the stairs with her and her hair beat from time to time against my cheek and her foot sought support against my knee. I trembled under the beautiful burden I was carrying, and every moment it seemed as if I had to break down beneath it.

The bath consisted of a wide, high rotunda, which received a soft quiet light from a red glass cupola above. Two palms extended their broad leaves like a roof over a couch of velvet cushions. From here steps covered with Turkish rugs led to the white marble basin which occupied the center.

"There is a green ribbon on my toilet-table upstairs," said Wanda, as I let her down on the couch, "go get it, and also bring the whip."

I flew upstairs and back again, and kneeling put both in my mistress’s hands. She then had me twist her heavy electric hair into a large knot which I fastened with the green ribbon. Then I prepared the bath. I did this very awkwardly because my hands and feet refused to obey me. Again and again I had to look at the beautiful woman lying on the red velvet cushions, and from time to time her wonderful body gleamed here and there beneath the furs. Some magnetic power stronger than my will compelled me to look. I felt that all sensuality and lustfulness lies in that which is half-concealed or intentionally disclosed; and the truth of this I recognized even more acutely, when the basin at last was full, and Wanda threw off the fur- cloak with a single gesture, and stood before me like the goddess in the Tribuna.

At that moment she seemed as sacred and chaste to me in her unveiled beauty, as did the divinity of long ago. I sank down on my knees before her, and devoutly pressed my lips on her foot.

My soul which had been storm-tossed only a little while earlier, suddenly was perfectly calm, and I now felt no element of cruelty in Wanda.

She slowly descended the stairs, and I could watch her with a calmness in which not a single atom of torment or desire was intermingled. I could see her plunge into and rise out of the crystalline water, and the wavelets which she herself raised played about her like tender lovers.

Our nihilistic aesthetician is right when he says: a real apple is more beautiful than a painted one, and a living woman is more beautiful than a Venus of stone.

And when she left the bath, and the silvery drops and the roseate light rippled down her body, I was seized with silent rapture. I wrapped the linen sheets about her, drying her glorious body. The calm bliss remained with me, even now when one foot upon me as upon a footstool, she rested on the cushions in her large velvet cloak. The lithe sables nestled desirously against her cold marble-like body. Her left arm on which she supported herself lay like a sleeping swan in the dark fur of the sleeve, while her left hand played carelessly with the whip.

By chance my look fell on the massive mirror on the wall opposite, and I cried out, for I saw the two of us in its golden frame as in a picture. The picture was so marvellously beautiful, so strange, so imaginative, that I was filled with deep sorrow at the thought that its lines and colors would have to dissolve like mist.

"What is the matter?" asked Wanda.

I pointed to the mirror.

"Ah, that is really beautiful," she exclaimed, "too bad one can’t capture the moment and make it permanent."

"And why not?" I asked. "Would not any artist, even the most famous, be proud if you gave him leave to paint you and make you immortal by means of his brush.

"The very thought that this extra-ordinary beauty is to be lost to the world," I continued still watching her enthusiastically, "is horrible—all this glorious facial expression, this mysterious eye with its green fires, this demonic hair, this magnificence of body. The idea fills me with a horror of death, of annihilation. But the hand of an artist shall snatch you from this. You shall not like the rest of us disappear absolutely and forever, without leaving a trace of your having been. Your picture must live, even when you yourself have long fallen to dust; your beauty must triumph beyond death!"

Wanda smiled.

"Too bad, that present-day Italy hasn’t a Titian or Raphael," she said, "but, perhaps, love will make amends for genius, who knows; our little German might do?" She pondered.

"Yes, he shall paint you, and I will see to it that the god of love mixes his colors."

*
* *

View online : Venus in Furs - 8

Footnotes

[1A kind of Russian cap.



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