Thursday, April 24, 2014

[Review] Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: Erotica, Romance, Classic
Synopsis: Foolish man gets the whip from sexy goddess clad in fur. He is cuckolded and tormented, but he can only beg for more.

Notorious book. I mean check out that last name, this was the guy who brought masochism into the vogue, all because he wrote a book about some wimpy guy who begged to be stepped on.

So I had to read this book, not buts about it. Luckily for me, it's in the free domain so I tabbed over to Gutenberg, downloaded it and polished it off in a few days.

One thing to say about the genre. I have it listed under Erotica, but there are no sex-scenes. Obviously the characters have had sex, but there is really no explicit mention of it. There is not even really any innuendos that they have had sex. I've read YA that has had more sex scenes in it, but, all in all, not a book for children or those who can't understand how anyone could get off being beaten and demeaned.

There are a lot of great things to say about Venus in Furs and then some not so great things. I think I loved everything about the concept of this book, but the execution was lacking. The book became repetitive at times, with the characters occasionally repeating themselves and using the same lines over and over again. Given how short the book was and how the plot jumped all over the place, it really shouldn't have felt like it was dragging.

Severin, the masochist, is probably one of the least likable people in the world. I know he thought he was pretty damn romantic and sensitive, what with the groveling and the constant spewing of how much he loved his mistress, but about halfway through, I was also itching to whip this guy for being an emotional see-saw going back and forth about how he wanted to be mistreated and then whining when he is mistreated. At some point, I was really hoping for Wanda (the sadist, who coincidentally, has the same name as Sacher-Masoch's wife's writing alias) to completely humiliate him and then toss him out the door naked and bound. Not to give away spoilers, the ending didn't disappoint too badly (though it did still disappoint since Severin--this is not really a spoiler since they tell you at the beginning of the book--became a dom). This is only book one in a series, but I have yet to find the others. I'm not sure if they are in the free domain or not, but most likely not.

There are some very interesting analyses on the relationships of man and woman. Several times throughout the book, the metaphor of the anvil and the hammer is brought up. In a relationship then, you are either hammer, the dominating one, or the anvil, the submissive one. There are no compromises in between.
"But you cannot deny, that man and woman are mortal enemies...In love there is union into a single being for a short time only, capable of only one thought, one sensation, one will, in order to be then further disunited. And you know this better than I; whichever of the two fails to subjugation will soon feel the feet of the other on his neck--"
Whoa. Crazy stuff. That second sentence is basically saying that the desire to become "one" with your partner is only a fleeting desire, and after it passes, the lovers will want nothing more than to be independent and distinct from one other until they end up competing for dominance. I'm sure that some happily married couples would disagree, but I think Sacher-Masoch does make a good point. From my own personal experience, relationships are, more often than not, a game of who has more power. I know it's a super cynical way to think, but I'm a cynical person.
"Can there be any greater cruelty for a lover than the unfaithfulness of the woman he loves?"
"Indeed!" she replied.
"We are faithful as long as we love, but you demand faithfulness of a woman without love, and the giving of herself without enjoyment. Who is cruel here--woman or man? You of the North in general take love too soberly and seriously. You talk of duties where there should be only a question of pleasure."
More good points. The quote kind of explains itself. One last thing that made me particularly fond of this book is the Greek Alexis Papadopolis, whom Wanda cuckholds Severin with. Okay, check out this description of him and tell me that he isn't amazing.
"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 women's dress, and the men assailed him with love-letters. An Italian single, 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.'"
Do I love beautiful men who can pass as women? Yes, yes I do. This guy is deliciously diabolical, where can I read more about him? Am I a little weird for loving evil androgynous guys that use their beauty to completely screw people over? Probably, but I can't help it. I think this was the highlight of the book for me when this guy starts whipping Severin. Does that make me a bit of a sadist? Duh, why else would I read this book?

I loved this book, but it wasn't good enough to give it a full four stars. 3.5 is my rating. Anyway, I'm going to end it with this nice quote from the book. I think a lot of what is wrong with relationships is how society treats gender.
"'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 had the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work."
The book isn't only about taking a perverse pleasure in seeing a man suffer at the hands of a beautiful woman, but it is a look at gender roles in society and their so-called "perversions"--the deviations from the norm. I think there is something to be said about the whole "you're either a dominant or a submissive", not just in sexual relationships, but in any kind of relationship.

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