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Putting the “M” in S&M

Posted by Shana | 24 January 2013 | Comments (0)

"Love knows no virtue, no merit; it loves and forgives and tolerates everything because it must. We are not guided by reason, nor do the assets or blemishes that we discover tempt us to devotion or intimidate us. It is a sweet, mournful, mysterious power that drives us, and we stop thinking, feeling, wishing, we let ourselves drift along and never ask where we are drifting."
- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs
 
Venus in Fur, by playwright David Ives, was creatively adapted into a contemporary play from an 1870 novella by the Austrian author Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895). Sacher-Masoch, a prominent figure in European society and a chevalier of the Legion of Honor, spent his early career as a professor, lawyer and historian, eventually leaving his academic profession behind to pursue his literary passions.
 
Sacher-Masoch actively created works that demonstrated the provisions and hardships of the oppressed, and wrote letters and articles promoting humanist ideals and a utopian society. In addition, he was a big advocate for women's rights. He depicted through his work the necessity for education for women as well as their suffrage, or right to vote. However, it is his novel Venus in Furs that truly cemented Sacher-Masoch's legacy.
 
His famed novella Venus in Furs tells the tale of a nobleman, Severin von Kusiemski, who asks and convinces Wanda von Dunajew to treat him as her servant. His desires to be dominated and humiliated publicly by servitude and privately through maltreatment, for his own sensual gratification, are enacted by Wanda with the use of whips while robed in, if possible, only a fur coat.
 
Pretty intense stuff, especially for a novel written in 1870! The novel dances with one’s own desires for balance between love, sex and power. As Leopold von Sacher-Masoch wrote about
issues that he was passionate about, it comes to no surprise that his "fictional" tale, Venus in
Furs, blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction as the novel draws heavily from the
events and fantasies of his own life. Sacher-Masoch pursued his desires of being humiliated
and punished by the women in his life. In 1869 he contracted his mistress, Frau Fanny
Pistor, to play the role of Baroness Bogdanoff while he assumed the role of her servant,
giving her written permission to callously treat him as she pleased.

“Herr Leopold von Sacher-Masoch gives his word of honour to Frau Pistor to become her slave
and to comply unreservedly, for six months, with every one of her desires and commands....
The mistress (Fanny Pistor) has the right to punish her slave (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch) in
any way she thinks fit for all errors, carelessness or crimes of lese-majeste on his part.”
 
The subservient power play and behavior exemplified in Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs influenced the term “masochism” (the M in S&M) by Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing in 1890. In the introduction of the English translation of Venus in Furs, Fernanda Savage discusses masochism in relation to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
 
“The desire on the part of the individual affected of desiring himself completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex, and being treated by this person as by a master, to be humiliated, abused and tormented, even to the verge of death.”
 
Following the publishing of Venus in Furs, Sacher-Masoch married Aurora von Rümelin in 1873 and continued to explore his masochistic desires through their relationship. After their divorce, Rümelin wrote memoirs of their relationship which were published under the Venus in Furs character name Wanda von Dunajew.
 
It yields the question: What other works of art, be it film, theater, short stories, novels or paintings, blur the line between fantasy and reality? 
 
As a public exhibition of an artist’s, or rather of a human’s, psychosis, art has laid the groundwork for psychological analysis. It has provided perspective into the private lives of individuals and reveals shared truths of human nature.
 
Venus in Fur runs January 29 - March 10 in the Ellyn Bye Studio.
 
 
 
 
 
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