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Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs - 8

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.


The young painter has established his studio in her villa; he is completely in her net. He has just begun a Madonna, a Madonna with red hair and green eyes! Only the idealism of a German would attempt to use this thorough-bred woman as a model for a picture of virginity. The poor fellow really is an almost bigger donkey than I am. Our misfortune is that our Titania has discovered our ass’s ears too soon.

*
* *

Now she laughs derisively at us, and how she laughs! I hear her insolent melodious laughter in his studio, under the open window of which I stand, jealously listening.

*
* *

"Are you mad, me—ah, it is unbelievable, me as the Mother of God!" she exclaimed and laughed again. "Wait a moment, I will show you another picture of myself, one that I myself have painted, and you shall copy it."

Her head appeared in the window, luminous like a flame under the sunlight.

"Gregor!"

I hurried up the stairs, through the gallery, into the studio.

"Lead him to the bath," Wanda commanded, while she herself hurried away.

A few moments passed and Wanda arrived; dressed in nothing but the sable fur, with the whip in her hand; she descended the stairs and stretched out on the velvet cushions as on the former occasion. I lay at her feet and she placed one of her feet upon me; her right hand played with the whip. "Look at me," she said, "with your deep, fanatical look, that’s it."

The painter had turned terribly pale. He devoured the scene with his beautiful dreamy blue eyes; his lips opened, but he remained dumb.

"Well, how do you like the picture?"

"Yes, that is how I want to paint you," said the German, but it was really not a spoken language; it was the eloquent moaning, the weeping of a sick soul, a soul sick unto death.

*
* *

The charcoal outline of the painting is done; the heads and flesh parts are painted in. Her diabolical face is already becoming visible under a few bold strokes, life flashes in her green eyes.

Wanda stands in front of the canvas with her arms crossed over her breast.

"This picture, like many of those of the Venetian school, is simultaneously to represent a portrait and to tell a story," explained the painter, who again had become pale as death.

"And what will you call it?" she asked, "but what is the matter with you, are you ill?"

"I am afraid—" he answered with a consuming look fixed on the beautiful woman in furs, "but let us talk of the picture."

"Yes, let us talk about the picture."

"I imagine the goddess of love as having descended from Mount Olympus for the sake of some mortal man. And always cold in this modern world of ours, she seeks to keep her sublime body warm in a large heavy fur and her feet in the lap of her lover. I imagine the favorite of a beautiful despot, who whips her slave, when she is tired of kissing him, and the more she treads him underfoot, the more insanely he loves her. And so I shall call the picture: Venus in Furs."

*
* *

The painter paints slowly, but his passion grows more and more rapidly. I am afraid he will end up by committing suicide. She plays with him and propounds riddles to him which he cannot solve, and he feels his blood congealing in the process, but it amuses her.

During the sitting she nibbles at candies, and rolls the paper- wrappers into little pellets with which she bombards him.

"I am glad you are in such good humor," said the painter, "but your face has lost the expression which I need for my picture."

"The expression which you need for your picture," she replied, smiling. "Wait a moment."

She rose, and dealt me a blow with the whip. The painter looked at her with stupefaction, and a child-like surprise showed on his face, mingled with disgust and admiration.

While whipping me, Wanda’s face acquired more and more of the cruel, contemptuous character, which so haunts and intoxicates me.

"Is this the expression you need for your picture?" she exclaimed. The painter lowered his look in confusion before the cold ray of her eye.

"It is the expression—" he stammered, "but I can’t paint now—"

"What?" said Wanda, scornfully, "perhaps I can help you?"

"Yes—" cried the German, as if taken with madness, "whip me too."

"Oh! With pleasure," she replied, shrugging her shoulders, "but if I am to whip you I want to do it in sober earnest."

"Whip me to death," cried the painter.

"Will you let me tie you?" she asked, smiling.

"Yes—" he moaned—

Wanda left the room for a moment, and returned with ropes.

"Well—are you still brave enough to put yourself into the power of Venus in Furs, the beautiful despot, for better or worse?" she began ironically.

"Yes, tie me," the painter replied dully. Wanda tied his hands on his back and drew a rope through his arms and a second one around his body, and fettered him to the cross-bars of the window. Then she rolled back the fur, seized the whip, and stepped in front of him.

The scene had a grim attraction for me, which I cannot describe. I felt my heart beat, when, with a smile, she drew back her arm for the first blow, and the whip hissed through the air. He winced slightly under the blow. Then she let blow after blow rain upon him, with her mouth half-opened and her teeth flashing between her red lips, until he finally seemed to ask for mercy with his piteous, blue eyes. It was indescribable.

*
* *

She is sitting for him now, alone. He is working on her head.

She has posted me in the adjoining room behind a heavy curtain, where I can’t be seen, but can see everything.

What does she intend now?

Is she afraid of him? She has driven him insane enough to be sure, or is she hatching a new torment for me? My knees tremble.

They are talking. He has lowered his voice so that I cannot understand a word, and she replies in the same way. What is the meaning of this? Is there an understanding between them?

I suffer frightful torments; my heart seems about to burst.

He kneels down before her, embraces her, and presses his head against her breast, and she—in her heartlessness—laughs—and now I hear her saying aloud:

"Ah! You need another application of the whip."

"Woman! Goddess! Are you without a heart—can’t you love," exclaimed the German, "don’t you even know, what it means to love, to be consumed with desire and passion, can’t you even imagine what I suffer? Have you no pity for me?"

"No!" she replied proudly and mockingly, "but I have the whip."

She drew it quickly from the pocket of her fur-coat, and struck him in the face with the handle. He rose, and drew back a couple of paces.

"Now, are you ready to paint again?" she asked indifferently. He did not reply, but again went to the easel and took up his brush and palette.

The painting is marvellously successful. It is a portrait which as far as the likeness goes couldn’t be better, and at the same time it seems to have an ideal quality. The colors glow, are supernatural; almost diabolical, I would call them.

The painter has put all his sufferings, his adoration, and all his execration into the picture.

*
* *

Now he is painting me; we are alone together for several hours every day. To-day he suddenly turned to me with his vibrant voice and said:

"You love this woman?"

"Yes."

"I also love her." His eyes were bathed in tears. He remained silent for a while, and continued painting.

"We have a mountain at home in Germany within which she dwells," he murmured to himself. "She is a demon."

*
* *

The picture is finished. She insisted on paying him for it, munificently, in the manner of queens.

"Oh, you have already paid me," he said, with a tormented smile, refusing her offer.

Before he left, he secretly opened his portfolio, and let me look inside. I was startled. Her head looked at me as if out of a mirror and seemed actually to be alive.

"I shall take it along," he said, "it is mine; she can’t take it away from me. I have earned it with my heart’s blood."

*
* *

"I am really rather sorry for the poor painter," she said to me to- day, "it is absurd to be as virtuous as I am. Don’t you think so too?"

I did not dare to reply to her.

"Oh, I forgot that I am talking with a slave; I need some fresh air, I want to be diverted, I want to forget.

"The carriage, quick!"

*
* *

Her new dress is extravagant: Russian half-boots of violet-blue velvet trimmed with ermine, and a skirt of the same material, decorated with narrow stripes and rosettes of furs. Above it is an appropriate, close-fitting jacket, also richly trimmed and lined with ermine. The headdress is a tall cap of ermine of the style of Catherine the Second, with a small aigrette, held in place by a diamond-agraffe; her red hair falls loose down her back. She ascends on the driver’s seat, and holds the reins herself; I take my seat behind. How she lashes on the horses! The carriage flies along like mad.

Apparently it is her intention to attract attention to-day, to make conquests, and she succeeds completely. She is the lioness of the Cascine. People nod to her from carriages; on the footpath people gather in groups to discuss her. She pays no attention to anyone, except now and then acknowledging the greetings of elderly gentlemen with a slight nod.

Suddenly a young man on a lithe black horse dashes up at full speed. As soon as he sees Wanda, he stops his horse and makes it walk. When he is quite close, he stops entirely and lets her pass. And she too sees him—the lioness, the lion. Their eyes meet. She madly drives past him, but she cannot tear herself free from the magic power of his look, and she turns her head after him.

My heart stops when I see the half-surprised, half-enraptured look with which she devours him, but he is worthy of it.

For he is, indeed, a magnificent specimen of man, No, rather, he is a man whose like I have never yet seen among the living. He is in the Belvedere, graven in marble, with the same slender, yet steely musculature, with the same face and the same waving curls. What makes him particularly beautiful is that he is beardless. If his hips were less narrow, one might take him for a woman in disguise. The curious expression about the mouth, the lion’s lip which slightly discloses the teeth beneath, lends a flashing tinge of cruelty to the beautiful face—

Apollo flaying Marsyas.

He wears high black boots, closely fitting breeches of white leather, short fur coat of black cloth, of the kind worn by Italian cavalry officers, trimmed with astrakhan and many rich loops; on his black locks is a red fez.

I now understand the masculine Eros, and I marvel at Socrates for having remained virtuous in view of an Alcibiades like this.

*
* *

I have never seen my lioness so excited. Her cheeks flamed when she left from the carriage at her villa. She hurried upstairs, and with an imperious gesture ordered me to follow.

Walking up and down her room with long strides, she began to talk so rapidly, that I was frightened.

"You are to find out who the man in the Cascine was, immediately—

"Oh, what a man! Did you see him? What do you think of him? Tell me."

"The man is beautiful," I replied dully.

"He is so beautiful," she paused, supporting herself on the arm of a chair, "that he has taken my breath away."

"I can understand the impression he has made on you," I replied, my imagination carrying me away in a mad whirl. "I am quite lost in admiration myself, and I can imagine—"

"You may imagine," she laughed aloud, "that this man is my lover, and that he will apply the lash to you, and that you will enjoy being punished by him.

"But now go, go."

*
* *

Before evening fell, I had the desired information.

Wanda was still fully dressed when I returned. She reclined on the ottoman, her face buried in her hands, her hair in a wild tangle, like the red mane of a lioness.

"What is his name?" she asked, uncanny calm.

"Alexis Papadopolis."

"A Greek, then,"

I nodded.

"He is very young?"

"Scarcely older than you. They say he was educated in Paris, and that he is an atheist. He fought against the Turks in Candia, and is said to have distinguished himself there no less by his race-hatred and cruelty, than by his bravery."

"All in all, then, a man," she cried with sparkling eyes.

"At present he is living in Florence," I continued, "he is said to be tremendously rich—"

"I didn’t ask you about that," she interrupted quickly and sharply. "The man is dangerous. Aren’t you afraid of him? I am afraid of him. Has he a wife?"

"No."

"A mistress?"

"No."

"What theaters does he attend?"

"To-night he will be at the Nicolini Theater, where Virginia Marini and Salvini are acting; they are the greatest living artists in Italy, perhaps in Europe.

"See that you get a box—and be quick about it!" she commanded.

"But, mistress—"

"Do you want a taste of the whip?"

*
* *

"You can wait down in the lobby," she said when I had placed the opera-glasses and the programme on the edge of her box and adjusted the footstool.

I am standing there and had to lean against the wall for support so as not to fall down with envy and rage—no, rage isn’t the right word; it was a mortal fear.

I saw her in her box dressed in blue moire, with a huge ermine cloak about her bare shoulders; he sat opposite. I saw them devour each other with their eyes. For both of them the stage, Goldoni’s Pamela, Salvini, Marini, the public, even the entire world, were non-existant to-night. And I—what was I at that moment?—

*
* *

To-day she is attending the ball at the Greek ambassador’s. Does she know, that she will meet him there?

At any rate she dressed, as if she did. A heavy sea-green silk dress plastically encloses her divine form, leaving the bust and arms bare. In her hair, which is done into a single flaming knot, a white water- lily blossoms; from it the leaves of reeds interwoven with a few loose strands fall down toward her neck. There no longer is any trace of agitation or trembling feverishness in her being. She is calm, so calm, that I feel my blood congealing and my heart growing cold under her glance. Slowly, with a weary, indolent majesty, she ascends the marble staircase, lets her precious wrap slide off, and listlessly enters the hall, where the smoke of a hundred candles has formed a silvery mist.

For a few moments my eyes follow her in a daze, then I pick up her furs, which without my being aware, had slipped from my hands. They are still warm from her shoulders.

I kiss the spot, and my eyes fill with tears.

*
* *

He has arrived.

In his black velvet coat extravagantly trimmed with sable, he is a beautiful, haughty despot who plays with the lives and souls of men. He stands in the ante-room, looking around proudly, and his eyes rest on me for an uncomfortably long time.

Under his icy glance I am again seized by a mortal fear. I have a presentiment that this man can enchain her, captivate her, subjugate her, and I feel inferior in contrast with his savage masculinity; I am filled with envy, with jealousy.

I feel that I am a queer weakly creature of brains, merely! And what is most humiliating, I want to hate him, but I can’t. Why is that among all the host of servants he has chosen me.

With an inimitably aristocratic nod of the head he calls me over to him, and I—I obey his call—against my own will.

"Take my furs," he quickly commands.

My entire body trembles with resentment, but I obey, abjectly like a slave.

*
* *

All night long I waited in the ante-room, raving as in a fever. Strange images hovered past my inner eye. I saw their meeting—their long exchange of looks. I saw her float through the hall in his arms, drunken, lying with half-closed lids against his breast. I saw him in the holy of holies of love, lying on the ottoman, not as slave, but as master, and she at his feet. On my knees I served them, the tea-tray faltering in my hands, and I saw him reach for the whip. But now the servants are talking about him.

He is a man who is like a woman; he knows that he is beautiful, and he acts accordingly. He changes his clothes four or five times a day, like a vain courtesan.

In Paris he appeared first in woman’s dress, and the men assailed him with love-letters. An Italian singer, famous equally for his art and his passionate intensity, even invaded his home, and lying on his knees before him threatened to commit suicide if he wouldn’t be his.

"I am sorry," he replied, smiling, "I should like to do you the favor, but you will have to carry out your threat, for I am a man."

*
* *

The drawing-room has already thinned out to a marked degree, but she apparently has no thought of leaving.

Morning is already peering through the blinds.

At last I hear the rustling of her heavy gown which flows along behind her like green waves. She advances step by step, engaged in conversation with him.

I hardly exist for her any longer; she doesn’t even trouble to give me an order.

"The cloak for madame," he commands. He, of course, doesn’t think of looking after her himself.

While I put her furs about her, he stands to one side with his arms crossed. While I am on my knees putting on her fur over-shoes, she lightly supports herself with her hand on his shoulder. She asks:

"And what about the lioness?"

"When the lion whom she has chosen and with whom she lives is attacked by another," the Greek went on with his narrative, "the lioness quietly lies down and watches the battle. Even if her mate is worsted she does not go to his aid. She looks on indifferently as he bleeds to death under his opponent’s claws, and follows the victor, the stronger—that is the female’s nature."

At this moment my lioness looked quickly and curiously at me.

It made me shudder, though I didn’t know why—and the red dawn immerses me and her and him in blood.

*
* *

She did not go to bed, but merely threw off her ball-dress and undid her hair; then she ordered me to build a fire, and she sat by the fire-place, and stared into the flames.

"Do you need me any longer, mistress?" I asked, my voice failed me at the last word.

Wanda shook her head.

I left the room, passed through the gallery, and sat down on one of the steps, leading from there down into the garden. A gentle north wind brought a fresh, damp coolness from the Arno, the green hills extended into the distance in a rosy mist, a golden haze hovered over the city, over the round cupola of the Duomo.

A few stars still tremble in the pale-blue sky.

I tore open my coat, and pressed my burning forehead against the marble. Everything that had happened so far seemed to me a mere child’s play; but now things were beginning to be serious, terribly serious.

I anticipated a catastrophe, I visualized it, I could lay hold of it with my hands, but I lacked the courage to meet it. My strength was broken. And if I am honest with myself, neither the pains and sufferings that threatened me, not the humiliations that impended, were the thing that frightened me.

I merely felt a fear, the fear of losing her whom I loved with a sort of fanatical devotion; but it was so overwhelming, so crushing that I suddenly began to sob like a child.

*
* *

During the day she remained locked in her room, and had the negress attend her. When the evening star rose glowing in the blue sky, I saw her pass through the garden, and, carefully following her at a distance, watched her enter the shrine of Venus. I stealthily followed and peered through the chink in the door.

She stood before the divine image of the goddess, her hands folded as in prayer, and the sacred light of the star of love casts its blue rays over her.

*
* *

On my couch at night the fear of losing her and despair took such powerful hold of me that they made a hero and a libertine of me. I lighted the little red oil-lamp which hung in the corridor beneath a saint’s image, and entered her bedroom, covering the light with one hand.

The lioness had been hunted and driven until she was exhausted. She had fallen asleep among her pillows, lying on her back, her hands clenched, breathing heavily. A dream seemed to oppress her. I slowly withdrew my hand, and let the red light fall full on her wonderful face.

But she did not awaken.

I gently set the lamp on the floor, sank down beside Wanda’s bed, and rested my head on her soft, glowing arm.

She moved slightly, but even now did not awaken. I do not know how long I lay thus in the middle of the night, turned as into a stone by horrible torments.

Finally a severe trembling seized me, and I was able to cry. My tears flowed over her arm. She quivered several times and finally sat up; she brushed her hand across her eyes, and looked at me.

"Severin," she exclaimed, more frightened than angry.

I was unable to reply.

"Severin," she continued softly, "what is the matter? Are you ill?"

Her voice sounded so sympathetic, so kind, so full of love, that it clutched my breast like red-hot tongs and I began to sob aloud.

"Severin," she began anew. "My poor unhappy friend." Her hand gently stroked my hair. "I am sorry, very sorry for you; but I can’t help you; with the best intention in the world I know of nothing that would cure you."

"Oh, Wanda, must it be?" I moaned in my agony.

"What, Severin? What are you talking about?"

"Don’t you love me any more?" I continued. "Haven’t you even a little bit of pity for me? Has the beautiful stranger taken complete possession of you?"

"I cannot lie," she replied softly after a short pause. "He has made an impression on me which I haven’t yet been able to analyse, further than that I suffer and tremble beneath it. It is an impression of the sort I have met with in the works of poets or on the stage, but I always thought it was a figment of the imagination. Oh, he is a man like a lion, strong and beautiful and yet gentle, not brutal like the men of our northern world. I am sorry for you, Severin, I am; but I must possess him. What am I saying? I must give myself to him, if he will have me."

"Consider your reputation, Wanda, which so far has remained spotless," I exclaimed, "even if I no longer mean anything to you."

"I am considering it," she replied, "I intend to be strong, as long as it is possible, I want—" she buried her head shyly in the pillows —"I want to become his wife—if he will have me."

"Wanda," I cried, seized again by that mortal fear, which always robs me of my breath, makes me lose possession of myself, "you want to be his wife, belong to him for always. Oh! Do not drive me away! He does not love you—"

"Who says that?" she exclaimed, flaring up.

"He does not love you," I went on passionately, "but I love you, I adore you, I am your slave, I let you tread me underfoot, I want to carry you on my arms through life."

"Who says that he doesn’t love me?" she interrupted vehemently.

"Oh! be mine," I replied, "be mine! I cannot exist, cannot live without you. Have mercy on me, Wanda, have mercy!"

She looked at me again, and her face had her cold heartless expression, her evil smile.

"You say he doesn’t love me," she said, scornfully. "Very well then, get what consolation you can out of it."

With this she turned over on the other side, and contemptuously showed me her back.

"Good God, are you a woman without flesh or blood, haven’t you a heart as well as I!" I cried, while my breast heaved convulsively.

"You know what I am," she replied, coldly. "I am a woman of stone, Venus in Furs, your ideal, kneel down, and pray to me."

"Wanda!" I implored, "mercy!"

She began to laugh. I buried my face in her pillows. Pain had loosened the floodgates of my tears and I let them flow.

For a long time silence reigned, then Wanda slowly raised herself.

"You bore me," she began.

"Wanda!"

"I am tired, let me go to sleep."

"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.

"I want to go to sleep! Don’t you hear!" she cried, leaping angrily out of bed and pushing me away with her foot. "You forget that I am your mistress?" When I didn’t budge, she seized the whip and struck me. I rose; she struck me again—this time right in the face.

"Wretch, slave!"

With clenched fist held heavenward, I left her bedroom with a sudden resolve. She tossed the whip aside, and broke out into clear laughter. I can imagine that my theatrical attitude must have been very droll.

*
* *

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