Monday, 26 June 2017

Venus in Furs: Wanda and the Original Pushy Sub from Hell

Venus in Furs
I got my copy of Venus in Furs before the Internet.

I had a student job in a highstreet bookstore. When things were quiet, I'd get a guilty thrill looking up kinky works in Books in Print. (This involved using a microfiche - actual microfilm reference cards you had to consult through a special viewer.)

And, OMG, Venus in Furs turned up in the catalogue! The book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who'd given his name to what I was: "a masochist".

I'd read about the book in a history of sexuality, but never really thought of it as something I might own, let alone read. I had to have it.

So I dithered, and obsessed and finally - betting that the nice ladies in the order department wouldn't know what it was - ordered it.

Weeks of guilty waiting... and it arrived.

It was everything I'd hoped for and more, and much less.

Let me explain.

Femdom as something mythic,
darkly poetic and primal
It's a Victorian-era romantic novel about Severin, who's obsessed with the idea of being dominated by a cruel mistress. He meets Wanda, a wealthy widow, who is intrigued enough to try to satisfy his urges and take him as her slave. Beset by qualms, she determines to "cure him" by taking an alpha male lover and having the chap beat our hero. We close with Severin, dreams of submission rejected, now living a suspiciously preformative hyper macho life with his own harem.

As a work of erotica, it's a failure. There are several sensual events, but delivered in summary. Only the whippings and beatings get loving detail.

As an erotic  romance, it's both engaging and uncomfortably realistic. The lovers struggle and fail to get the dynamic right. All the classic femdom relationship tragedies are here.

Wanda is a dominant woman. She is at once drawn to what we now call Femdom, and at the same time ambivalent about following somebody else's script.

Meanwhile, Severin is the archetypal pushy sub: Me me me do it this way I want you to spontaneously dominate me but in the way I imagine me me me ME! ME!

He doesn't know what an empowered
woman looks like...
To be fair, he's trapped in extreme Western patriarchy. He doesn't know what an empowered woman looks like, let alone a dominant one. He must resort to history and legend for archetypes, and otherwise extrapolate from his own submissiveness... and we know how that goes.

He also - and this is a classic thing - thinks of a dominant woman as so very Other that he has to other himself in order to be with her. He doesn't get that a real dominant woman is most likely to want a considerate lover, companionship and a wider life*. So he presents himself as a willing servant with "benefits" and harsh discipline.

*This is one reason why my Femdom erotica generally has the dominant female form a lesbian relationship.

The result is a realistically predictable train wreck of a relationship, except in that Severin gets his homoerotic payoff, which we vaguely suspect is the point of the exercise.

It would have been nice - useful! - if Sacher-Masoch had shown how the romance could work out and had them end up in a stable Female Led Relationship with heaps of Femdom in the bedroom.

But no, the original Masochist was also an emotional masochist. On some level he wanted the disaster at the end. The novel is an articulation of his sexuality, but he doesn't appear to have learned anything in the writing of it. Go read about his life. It's excruciating.

We're left with a picture of a writer and a protagonist for whom women are just a means to an end. He wants his experience, and damn the fallout for other people.

Wanda remains herself throughout. 
But even so, one aspect of Venus in Furs is rather marvellous:

Submission - Femdom - is presented as something mythic, darkly poetic and primal.

We open with a dream vision of the Goddess Venus in furs (duh!) by the fireside. Then there's a mesmerising sequence in snow-covered parkland where Severin discovers the statue of Venus also draped in furs.

Wanda and Severin try to do Femdom for real. Wanda remains herself throughout. She doesn't have recourse to pornodomme speak ("My Divine Will shall be imposed on my Grovelling Worm of a Slave... etc").

For me, all this was as liberating as it was validating!

It took me a million miles away from the stock 1980s PVC and rubber Personal Services image of BDSM  ("have you been a  naughty boy?") and gave my sexuality back its dignity.

So I'm glad I read this book when I did, but wish I'd had something a bit more informative to read...

Learn how to how to walk the same Femdom path with your partner! 

CLICK HERE to download my Femdom Erotica (all written while chaste!)
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  1. Great to have you back Giles!

    Ah yes, Venus in Furs. I'd realized I was a masochist in my teens but I wasn't aware of the derivation of the word until I decided to look up the official dictionary definition one afternoon in the early 2000s, when I was about 24. It was then that I learned of the author and within a few days I'd got a copy from the bookshop, I've just picked lIt off my bookcase just now, the Penguin Classics edition translated by Joachim Neugroschel, with Klimt's 'Judith II' on the cover.

    I think that the work is very brave, the stigma that such an idea would have invoked in those days wouldn't have been something most people would have wanted to live with. It could have actually been rather dangerous. Also, they were pretty much on their own. No blogs, no forums, no resources at all.

    And yes, I agree with you that the poetic, sublime nature of Female Domination is presented in this work and this is something I find beautiful.

    Around the same time I ordered a couple of FemDom magazines, the text in those was just a dull repetition of "YYEUAAARRGHH!!" sounds to indicate the screams of the slaves, utterly pointless!

    I think Sacher-Masoch probably didn't know exactly how this thing should work, or what it should be. Despite it's faults (which are issues and pitfalls that a modern FLR/Femdom audience will tend to have an awareness of) it remains a significant piece of work, a courageous one.

    It also inspired the song of the same title of course, by the Velvet Underground, a song I love. Often when bands base songs on literary works and so on I get the impression they just needed an idea and that their engagement with the source material doesn't go very deep. In this case however, the words set to the hypnotic scourge of the electric viola realises the potential of what you call 'mythic, darkly poetic and primal'.

    The song actually made an impression on me before I knew what it was about, in the very early 90s when I was about 13 it was on a tyre commercial! I thought he was chanting '7... 7...' because I didn't know who Sererin was!

    Anyway, thanks for this opportunity for FemDom related reminiscences this morning! Hope you are well!


    - Mr. Bump

    1. Yes, I didn't really address the book in its context. I certainly agree with you!


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