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Venus in Furs

Venus in Furs - 9

Erotic novel (1921)


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All the versions of this article:

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


I have determined to set myself free from this heartless woman, who has treated me so cruelly, and is now about to break faith and betray me, as a reward for all my slavish devotion, for everything I have suffered from her. I packed my few belongings into a bundle, and then wrote her as follows:

"Dear Madam,—

I have loved you even to madness, I have given myself to you as no man ever has given himself to a woman. You have abused my most sacred emotions, and played an impudent, frivolous game with me. However, as long as you were merely cruel and merciless, it was still possible for me to love you. Now you are about to become cheap. I am no longer the slave whom you can kick about and whip. You yourself have set me free, and I am leaving a woman I can only hate and despise.

Severin Kusiemski."

I handed these lines to the negress, and hastened away as fast as I could go. I arrived at the railway-station all out of breath. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my heart and stopped. I began to weep. It is humiliating that I want to flee and I can’t. I turn back— whither?—to her, whom I abhor, and yet, at the same time, adore.

Again I pause. I cannot go back. I dare not.

But how am I to leave Florence. I remember that I haven’t any money, not a penny. Very well then, on foot; it is better to be an honest beggar than to eat the bread of a courtesan.

But still I can’t leave.

She has my pledge, my word of honor. I have to return. Perhaps she will release me.

After a few rapid strides, I stop again.

She has my word of honor and my bond, that I shall remain her slave as long as she desires, until she herself gives me my freedom. But I might kill myself.

I go through the Cascine down to the Arno, where its yellow waters plash monotonously about a couple of stray willows. There I sit, and cast up my final accounts with existence. I let my entire life pass before me in review. On the whole, it is rather a wretched affair—a few joys, an endless number of indifferent and worthless things, and between these an abundant harvest of pains, miseries, fears, disappointments, shipwrecked hopes, afflictions, sorrow and grief.

I thought of my mother, whom I loved so deeply and whom I had to watch waste away beneath a horrible disease; of my brother, who full of the promise of joy and happiness died in the flower of youth, without even having put his lips to the cup of life. I thought of my dead nurse, my childhood playmates, the friends that had striven and studied with me; of all those, covered by the cold, dead, indifferent earth. I thought of my turtle-dove, who not infrequently made his cooing bows to me, instead of to his mate.—All have returned, dust unto dust.

I laughed aloud, and slid down into the water, but at the same moment I caught hold of one of the willow-branches, hanging above the yellow waves. As in a vision, I see the woman who has caused all my misery. She hovers above the level of the water, luminous in the sunlight as though she were transparent, with red flames about her head and neck. She turns her face toward me and smiles.

*
* *

I am back again, dripping, wet through, glowing with shame and fever. The negress has delivered my letter; I am judged, lost, in the power of a heartless, affronted woman.

Well, let her kill me. I am unable to do it myself, and yet I have no wish to go on living.

As I walk around the house, she is standing in the gallery, leaning over the railing. Her face is full in the light of the sun, and her green eyes sparkle.

"Still alive?" she asked, without moving. I stood silent, with bowed head.

"Give me back my poinard," she continued. "It is of no use to you. You haven’t even the courage to take your own life."

"I have lost it," I replied, trembling, shaken by chills.

She looked me over with a proud, scornful glance.

"I suppose you lost it in the Arno?" She shrugged her shoulders. "No matter. Well, and why didn’t you leave?"

I mumbled something which neither she nor I myself could understand.

"Oh! you haven’t any money," she cried. "Here!" With an indescribably disdainful gesture she tossed me her purse.

I did not pick it up.

Both of us were silent for some time.

"You don’t want to leave then?"

"I can’t."

*
* *

Wanda drives in the Cascine without me, and goes to the theater without me; she receives company, and the negress serves her. No one asks after me. I stray about the garden, irresolutely, like an animal that has lost its master.

Lying among the bushes, I watch a couple of sparrows, fighting over a seed.

Suddenly I hear the swish of a woman’s dress.

Wanda approaches in a gown of dark silk, modestly closed up to the neck; the Greek is with her. They are in an eager discussion, but I cannot as yet understand a word of what they are saying. He stamps his foot so that the gravel scatters about in all directions, and he lashes the air with his riding whip. Wanda startles.

Is she afraid that he will strike her?

Have they gone that far?

He has left her, she calls him; he does not hear her, does not want to hear her.

Wanda sadly lowers her head, and then sits down on the nearest stone- bench. She sits for a long time, lost in thought. I watch her with a sort of malevolent pleasure, finally I pull myself together by sheer force of will, and ironically step before her. She startles, and trembles all over.

"I come to wish you happiness," I said, bowing, "I see, my dear lady, too, has found a master."

"Yes, thank God!" she exclaimed, "not a new slave, I have had enough of them. A master! Woman needs a master, and she adores him."

"You adore him, Wanda?" I cried, "this brutal person—"

"Yes, I love him, as I have never loved any one else."

"Wanda!" I clenched my fists, but tears already filled my eyes, and I was seized by the delirium of passion, as by a sweet madness. "Very well, take him as your husband, let him be your master, but I want to remain your slave, as long as I live."

"You want to remain my slave, even then?" she said, "that would be interesting, but I am afraid he wouldn’t permit it."

"He?"

"Yes, he is already jealous of you," she exclaimed, "he, of you! He demanded that I dismiss you immediately, and when I told him who you were—"

"You told him—" I repeated, thunderstruck.

"I told him everything," she replied, "our whole story, all your queerness, everything—and he, instead of being amused, grew angry, and stamped his foot."

"And threatened to strike you?"

Wanda looked to the ground, and remained silent.

"Yes, indeed," I said with mocking bitterness, "you are afraid of him, Wanda!" I threw myself down at her feet, and in my agitation embraced her knees. "I don’t want anything of you, except to be your slave, to be always near you! I will be your dog-"

"Do you know, you bore me?" said Wanda, indifferently.

I leaped up. Everything within me was seething.

"You are now no longer cruel, but cheap," I said, clearly and distinctly, accentuating every word.

"You have already written that in your letter," Wanda replied, with a proud shrug of the shoulders. "A man of brains should never repeat himself."

"The way you are treating me," I broke out, "what would you call it?"

"I might punish you," she replied ironically, "but I prefer this time to reply with reasons instead of lashes. You have no right to accuse me. Haven’t I always been honest with you? Haven’t I warned you more than once? Didn’t I love you with all my heart, even passionately, and did I conceal the fact from you, that it was dangerous to give yourself into my power, to abase yourself before me, and that I want to be dominated? But you wished to be my plaything, my slave! You found the highest pleasure in feeling the foot, the whip of an arrogant, cruel woman. What do you want now?

"Dangerous potentialities were slumbering in me, but you were the first to awaken them. If I now take pleasure in torturing you, abusing you, it is your fault; you have made of me what I now am, and now you are even unmanly, weak, and miserable enough to accuse me."

"Yes, I am guilty," I said, "but haven’t I suffered because of it? Let us put an end now to the cruel game."

"That is my wish, too," she replied with a curious deceitful look.

"Wanda!" I exclaimed violently, "don’t drive me to extremes; you see that I am a man again."

"A fire of straw," she replied, "which makes a lot of stir for a moment, and goes out as quickly as it flared up. You imagine you can intimidate me, and you only make yourself ridiculous. Had you been the man I first thought you were, serious, reserved, stern, I would have loved you faithfully, and become your wife. Woman demands that she can look up to a man, but one like you who voluntarily places his neck under her foot, she uses as a welcome plaything, only to toss it aside when she is tired of it."

"Try to toss me aside," I said, jeeringly. "Some toys are dangerous."

"Don’t challenge me," exclaimed Wanda. Her eyes began to flash, and a flush entered her cheeks.

"If you won’t be mine now," I continued, with a voice stifled with rage, "no one else shall possess you either."

"What play is this from?" she mocked, seizing me by the breast. She was pale with anger at this moment. "Don’t challenge me," she continued, "I am not cruel, but I don’t know whether I may not become so and whether then there will be any bounds."

"What worse can you do, than to make your lover, your husband?" I exclaimed, more and more enraged.

"I might make you his slave," she replied quickly, "are you not in my power? Haven’t I the agreement? But, of course, you will merely take pleasure in it, if I have you bound, and say to him.

"Do with him what you please."

"Woman, are you mad!" I cried.

"I am entirely rational," she said, calmly. "I warn you for the last time. Don’t offer any resistance, one who has gone as far as I have gone might easily go still further. I feel a sort of hatred for you, and would find a real joy in seeing him beat you to death; I am still restraining myself, but—"

Scarcely master of myself any longer, I seized her by the wrist and forced her to the ground, so that she lay on her knees before me.

"Severin!" she cried. Rage and terror were painted on her face.

"I shall kill you if you marry him," I threatened; the words came hoarsely and dully from my breast. "You are mine, I won’t let you go, I love you too much." Then I clutched her and pressed her close to me; my right hand involuntarily seized the dagger which I still had in my belt.

Wanda fixed a large, calm, incomprehensible look on me.

"I like you that way," she said, carelessly. "Now you are a man, and at this moment I know I still love you."

"Wanda," I wept with rapture, and bent down over her, covering her dear face with kisses, and she, suddenly breaking into a loud gay laugh, said, "Have you finished with your ideal now, are you satisfied with me?"

"You mean?" I stammered, "that you weren’t serious?"

"I am very serious," she gaily continued. "I love you, only you, and you—you foolish, little man, didn’t know that everything was only make-believe and play-acting. How hard it often was for me to strike you with the whip, when I would have rather taken your head and covered it with kisses. But now we are through with that, aren’t we? I have played my cruel role better than you expected, and now you will be satisfied with my being a good, little wife who isn’t altogether unattractive. Isn’t that so? We will live like rational people—"

"You will marry me!" I cried, overflowing with happiness.

"Yes—marry you—you dear, darling man," whispered Wanda, kissing my hands.

I drew her up to my breast.

"Now, you are no longer Gregor, my slave," said she, "but Severin, the dear man I love—"

"And he—you don’t love him?" I asked in agitation.

"How could you imagine my loving a man of his brutal type? You were blind to everything, I was really afraid for you."

"I almost killed myself for your sake."

"Really?" she cried, "ah, I still tremble at the thought, that you were already in the Arno."

"But you saved me," I replied, tenderly. "You hovered over the waters and smiled, and your smile called me back to life."

*
* *

I have a curious feeling when I now hold her in my arms and she lies silently against my breast and lets me kiss her and smiles. I feel like one who has suddenly awakened out of a feverish delirium, or like a shipwrecked man who has for many days battled with waves that momentarily threatened to devour him and finally has found a safe shore.

*
* *

"I hate this Florence, where you have been so unhappy," she declared, as I was saying good-night to her. "I want to leave immediately, tomorrow, you will be good enough to write a couple of letters for me, and, while you are doing that, I will drive to the city to pay my farewell visits. Is that satisfactory to you?"

"Of course, you dear, sweet, beautiful woman."

*
* *

Early in the morning she knocked at my door to ask how I had slept. Her tenderness is positively wonderful. I should never have believed that she could be so tender.

*
* *

She has now been gone for over four hours. I have long since finished the letters, and am now sitting in the gallery, looking down the street to see whether I cannot discover her carriage in the distance. I am a little worried about her, and yet I know there is no reason under heaven why I should doubt or fear. However, a feeling of oppression weighs me down, and I cannot rid myself of it. It is probably the sufferings of the past days, which still cast their shadows into my soul.

*
* *

She is back, radiant with happiness and contentment.

"Well, has everything gone as you wished?" I asked tenderly, kissing her hand.

"Yes, dear heart," she replied, "and we shall leave to-night. Help me pack my trunks."

*
* *

Toward evening she asked me to go to the post-office and mail her letters myself. I took her carriage, and was back within an hour.

"Mistress has asked for you," said the negress, with a grin, as I ascended the wide marble stairs.

"Has anyone been here?"

"No one," she replied, crouching down on the steps like a black cat.

I slowly passed through the drawing-room, and then stood before her bedroom door.

Why does my heart beat so? Am I not perfectly happy?

Opening the door softly, I draw back the portiere. Wanda is lying on the ottoman, and does not seem to notice me. How beautiful she looks, in her silver-gray dress, which fits closely, and while displaying in tell-tale fashion her splendid figure, leaves her wonderful bust and arms bare.

Her hair is interwoven with, and held up by a black velvet ribbon. A mighty fire is burning in the fire-place, the hanging lamp casts a reddish glow, and the whole room is as if drowned in blood.

"Wanda," I said at last.

"Oh Severin," she cried out joyously. "I have been impatiently waiting for you." She leaped up, and folded me in her arms. She sat down again on the rich cushions and tried to draw me down to her side, but I softly slid down to her feet and placed my head in her lap.

"Do you know I am very much in love with you to-day?" she whispered, brushing a few stray hairs from my forehead and kissing my eyes.

"How beautiful your eyes are, I have always loved them as the best of you, but to-day they fairly intoxicate me. I am all—" She extended her magnificent limbs and tenderly looked at me from beneath her red lashes.

"And you—you are cold—you hold me like a block of wood; wait, I’ll stir you with the fire of love," she said, and again clung fawningly and caressingly to my lips.

"I no longer please you; I suppose I’ll have to be cruel to you again, evidently I have been too kind to you to-day. Do you know, you little fool, what I shall do, I shall whip you for a while—"

"But child—"

"I want to."

"Wanda!"

"Come, let me bind you," she continued, and ran gaily through the room. "I want to see you very much in love, do you understand? Here are the ropes. I wonder if I can still do it?"

She began with fettering my feet and then she tied my hands behind my back, pinioning my arms like those of a prisoner.

"So," she said, with gay eagerness. "Can you still move?"

"No."

"Fine—"

She then tied a noose in a stout rope, threw it over my head, and let it slip down as far as the hips. She drew it tight, and bound me to a pillar.

A curious tremor seized me at that moment.

"I have a feeling as if I were about to be executed," I said with a low voice.

"Well, you shall have a thorough punishment to-day," exclaimed Wanda.

"But put on your fur-jacket, please," I said.

"I shall gladly give you that pleasure," she replied. She got her kazabaika, and put it on. Then she stood in front of me with her arms folded across her chest, and looked at me out of half-closed eyes.

"Do you remember the story of the ox of Dionysius?" she asked.

"I remember it only vaguely, what about it?"

"A courtier invented a new implement of torture for the Tyrant of Syracuse. It was an iron ox in which those condemned to death were to be shut, and then pushed into a mighty furnace.

"As soon as the iron ox began to get hot, and the condemned person began to cry out in his torment, his wails sounded like the bellowing of an ox.

"Dionysius nodded graciously to the inventor, and to put his invention to an immediate test had him shut up in the iron ox.

"It is a very instructive story.

"It was you who innoculated me with selfishness, pride, and cruelty, and you shall be their first victim. I now literally enjoy having a human being that thinks and feels and desires like myself in my power; I love to abuse a man who is stronger in intelligence and body than I, especially a man who loves me.

"Do you still love me?"

"Even to madness," I exclaimed.

"So much the better," she replied, "and so much the more will you enjoy what I am about to do with you now."

"What is the matter with you?" I asked. "I don’t understand you, there is a gleam of real cruelty in your eyes to-day, and you are strangely beautiful—completely Venus in Furs."

Without replying Wanda placed her arms around my neck and kissed me. I was again seized by my fanatical passion.

"Where is the whip?" I asked.

Wanda laughed, and withdrew a couple of steps.

"You really insist upon being punished?" she exclaimed, proudly tossing back her head.

"Yes."

Suddenly Wanda’s face was completely transformed. It was as if disfigured by rage; for a moment she seemed even ugly to me.

"Very well, then you whip him!" she called loudly.

At the same instant the beautiful Greek stuck his head of black curls through the curtains of her four-poster bed. At first I was speechless, petrified. There was a horribly comic element in the situation. I would have laughed aloud, had not my position been at the same time so terribly cruel and humiliating.

It went beyond anything I had imagined. A cold shudder ran down my back, when my rival stepped from the bed in his riding boots, his tight-fitting white breeches, and his short velvet jacket, and I saw his athletic limbs.

"You are indeed cruel," he said, turning to Wanda.

"Only inordinately fond of pleasure," she replied with a wild sort of humor. "Pleasure alone lends value to existence; whoever enjoys does not easily part from life, whoever suffers or is needy meets death like a friend.

"But whoever wants to enjoy must take life gaily in the sense of the ancient world; he dare not hesitate to enjoy at the expense of others; he must never feel pity; he must be ready to harness others to his carriage or his plough as though they were animals. He must know how to make slaves of men who feel and would enjoy as he does, and use them for his service and pleasure without remorse. It is not his affair whether they like it, or whether they go to rack and ruin. He must always remember this, that if they had him in their power, as he has them they would act in exactly the same way, and he would have to pay for their pleasure with his sweat and blood and soul. That was the world of the ancients: pleasure and cruelty, liberty and slavery went hand in hand. People who want to live like the gods of Olympus must of necessity have slaves whom they can toss into their fish- ponds, and gladiators who will do battle, the while they banquet, and they must not mind if by chance a bit of blood bespatters them."

Her words brought back my complete self-possession.

"Unloosen me!" I exclaimed angrily.

"Aren’t you my slave, my property?" replied Wanda. "Do you want me to show you the agreement?"

"Untie me!" I threatened, "otherwise—" I tugged at the ropes.

"Can he tear himself free?" she asked. "He has threatened to kill me."

"Be entirely at ease," said the Greek, testing my fetters.

"I shall call for help," I began again.

"No one will hear you," replied Wanda, "and no one will hinder me from abusing your most sacred emotions or playing a frivolous game with you." she continued, repeating with satanic mockery phrases from my letter to her.

"Do you think I am at this moment merely cruel and merciless, or am I also about to become cheap? What? Do you still love me, or do you already hate and despise me? Here is the whip—" She handed it to the Greek who quickly stepped closer.

"Don’t you dare!" I exclaimed, trembling with indignation, "I won’t permit it—"

"Oh, because I don’t wear furs," the Greek replied with an ironical smile, and he took his short sable from the bed.

"You are adorable," exclaimed Wanda, kissing him, and helping him into his furs.

"May I really whip him?" he asked.

"Do with him what you please," replied Wanda.

"Beast!" I exclaimed, utterly revolted.

The Greek fixed his cold tigerish look upon me and tried out the whip. His muscles swelled when he drew back his arms, and made the whip hiss through the air. I was bound like Marsyas while Apollo was getting ready to flay me.

My look wandered about the room and remained fixed on the ceiling, where Samson, lying at Delilah’s feet, was about to have his eyes put out by the Philistines. The picture at that moment seemed to me like a symbol, an eternal parable of passion and lust, of the love of man for woman. "Each one of us in the end is a Samson," I thought, "and ultimately for better or worse is betrayed by the woman he loves, whether he wears an ordinary coat or sables."

"Now watch me break him in," said the Greek. He showed his teeth, and his face acquired the blood-thirsty expression, which startled me the first time I saw him.

And he began to apply the lash—so mercilessly, with such frightful force that I quivered under each blow, and began to tremble all over with pain. Tears rolled down over my cheeks. In the meantime Wanda lay on the ottoman in her fur-jacket, supporting herself on her arm; she looked on with cruel curiosity, and was convulsed with laughter.

The sensation of being whipped by a successful rival before the eyes of an adored woman cannot be described. I almost went mad with shame and despair.

What was most humiliating was that at first I felt a certain wild, supersensual stimulation under Apollo’s whip and the cruel laughter of my Venus, no matter how horrible my position was. But Apollo whipped on and on, blow after blow, until I forgot all about poetry, and finally gritted my teeth in impotent rage, and cursed my wild dreams, woman, and love.

All of a sudden I saw with horrible clarity whither blind passion and lust have led man, ever since Holofernes and Agamemnon—into a blind alley, into the net of woman’s treachery, into misery, slavery, and death.

It was as though I were awakening from a dream.

Blood was already flowing under the whip. I wound like a worm that is trodden on, but he whipped on without mercy, and she continued to laugh without mercy. In the meantime she locked her packed trunk and slipped into her travelling furs, and was still laughing, when she went downstairs on his arm and entered the carriage.

Then everything was silent for a moment.

I listened breathlessly.

The carriage door slammed, the horse began to pull—the rolling of the carriage for a short time—then all was over.

*
* *

For a moment I thought of taking vengeance, of killing him, but I was bound by the abominable agreement. So nothing was left for me to do except to keep my pledged word and grit my teeth.

*
* *

My first impulse after this, the most cruel catastrophe of my life, was to seek laborious tasks, dangers, and privations. I wanted to become a soldier and go to Asia or Algiers, but my father was old and ill and wanted me.

So I quietly returned home and for two years helped him bear his burdens, and learned how to look after the estate which I had never done before. To labor and to do my duty was comforting like a drink of fresh water. Then my father died, and I inherited the estate, but it meant no change.

I had put on my own Spanish boots and went on living just as rationally as if the old man were standing behind me, looking over my shoulder with his large wise eyes.

One day a box arrived, accompanied by a letter. I recognized Wanda’s writing.

Curiously moved, I opened it, and read.

"Sir.—

Now that over three years have passed since that night in Florence, I suppose, I may confess to you that I loved you deeply. You yourself, however, stifled my love by your fantastic devotion and your insane passion. From the moment that you became my slave, I knew it would be impossible for you ever to become my husband. However, I found it interesting to have you realize your ideal in my own person, and, while I gloriously amused myself, perhaps, to cure you.

I found the strong man for whom I felt a need, and I was as happy with him as, I suppose, it is possible for any one to be on this funny ball of clay.

But my happiness, like all things mortal, was of short duration. About a year ago he fell in a duel, and since then I have been living in Paris, like an Aspasia—

And you?—Your life surely is not without its sunshine, if you have gained control of your imagination, and those qualities in you have materialized, which at first so attracted me to you—your clarity of intellect, kindness of heart, and, above all else, your—moral seriousness.

I hope you have been cured under my whip; the cure was cruel, but radical. In memory of that time and of a woman who loved you passionately, I am sending you the portrait by the poor German.

Venus in Furs."

I had to smile, and as I fell to musing the beautiful woman suddenly stood before me in her velvet jacket trimmed with ermine, with the whip in her hand. And I continued to smile at the woman I had once loved so insanely, at the fur-jacket that had once so entranced me, at the whip, and ended by smiling at myself and saying: The cure was cruel, but radical; but the main point is, I have been cured.

*
* *

"And the moral of the story?" I said to Severin when I put the manuscript down on the table.

"That I was a donkey," he exclaimed without turning around, for he seemed to be embarrassed. "If only I had beaten her!"

"A curious remedy," I exclaimed, "which might answer with your peasant-women—"

"Oh, they are used to it," he replied eagerly, "but imagine the effect upon one of our delicate, nervous, hysterical ladies—"

"But the moral?"

"That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present 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.

"At present we have only the choice of being hammer or anvil, and I was the kind of donkey who let a woman make a slave of him, do you understand?

"The moral of the tale is this: whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped.

"The blows, as you see, have agreed with me; the roseate supersensual mist has dissolved, and no one can ever make me believe again that these ’sacred apes of Benares’ [1] or Plato’s rooster [2] are the image of God."

View online : Venus in Furs - 1

Footnotes

[1One of Schopenhauer’s designations for women.

[2Diogenes threw a plucked rooster into Plato’s school and exclaimed: "Here you have Plato’s human being."



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