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VENUS IN FURS
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VENUS IN FURS
LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH
Translated from the German
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austrian Galicia, on
January 27, 1836. He studied jurisprudence at Prague and Graz, and in
1857 became a teacher at the latter university. He published several
historical works, but soon gave up his academic career to devote
himself wholly to literature. For a number of years he edited the
international review, _Auf der Hohe_, at Leipzig, but later removed to
Paris, for he was always strongly Francophile. His last years he spent
at Lindheim in Hesse, Germany, where he died on March 9, 1895. In 1873
he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the
pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which it is interesting to note is the
name of the heroine of _Venus in Furs_. Her sensational memoirs which
have been the cause of considerable controversy were published in 1906.
During his career as writer an endless number of works poured from
Sacher-Masoch's pen. Many of these were works of ephemeral journalism,
and some of them unfortunately pure sensationalism, for economic
necessity forced him to turn his pen to unworthy ends.
There is, however, a residue among his works which has a distinct
literary and even greater psychological value. His principal literary
ambition was never completely fulfilled. It was a somewhat
programmatic plan to give a picture of contemporary life in all its
various aspects and interrelations under the general title of the
_Heritage of Cain_. This idea was probably derived from Balzac's
_Comedie Humaine_. The whole was to be divided into six subdivisions
with the general titles _Love, Property, Money, The State, War,_ and
_Death_. Each of these divisions in its turn consisted of six novels,
of which the last was intended to summarize the author's conclusions
and to present his solution for the problems set in the others.
This extensive plan remained unachieved, and only the first two parts,
_Love_ and _Property_, were completed. Of the other sections only
fragments remain. The present novel, _Venus in Furs_, forms the fifth
in the series, _Love_.
The best of Sacher-Masoch's work is characterized by a swift
narration and a graphic representation of character and scene and a
rich humor. The latter has made many of his shorter stories dealing
with his native Galicia little masterpieces of local color.
There is, however, another element in his work which has caused his
name to become as eponym for an entire series of phenomena at one end
of the psycho-sexual scale. This gives his productions a peculiar
psychological value, though it cannot be denied also a morbid tinge
that makes them often repellent. However, it is well to remember that
nature is neither good nor bad, neither altruistic nor egoistic, and
that it operates through the human psyche as well as through crystals
and plants and animals with the same inexorable laws.
Sacher-Masoch was the poet of the anomaly now generally known as
_masochism_. By this is meant 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. This motive is treated in all its innumerable
variations. As a creative artist Sacher-Masoch was, of course, on the
quest for the absolute, and sometimes, when impulses in the human
being assume an abnormal or exaggerated form, there is just for a
moment a flash that gives a glimpse of the thing in itself.
If any defense were needed for the publication of work like Sacher-
Masoch's it is well to remember that artists are the historians of the
human soul and one might recall the wise and tolerant Montaigne's
essay _On the Duty of Historians_ where he says, "One may cover over
secret actions, but to be silent on what all the world knows, and
things which have had effects which are public and of so much
consequence is an inexcusable defect."
And the curious interrelation between cruelty and sex, again and
again, creeps into literature. Sacher-Masoch has not created anything
new in this. He has simply taken an ancient motive and developed it
frankly and consciously, until, it seems, there is nothing further to
say on the subject. To the violent attacks which his books met he
replied in a polemical work, _Über den Wert der Kritik_.
It would be interesting to trace the masochistic tendency as it occurs
throughout literature, but no more can be done than just to allude to
a few instances. The theme recurs continually in the _Confessions_ of
Jean Jacques Rousseau; it explains the character of the chevalier in
Prévost's _Manon l'Escault_. Scenes of this nature are found in Zola's
_Nana_, in Thomas Otway's _Venice Preserved_, in Albert Juhelle's _Les
Pecheurs d'Hommes_, in Dostojevski. In disguised and unrecognized form
it constitutes the undercurrent of much of the sentimental literature
of the present day, though in most cases the authors as well as the
readers are unaware of the pathological elements out of which their
characters are built.
In all these strange and troubled waters of the human spirit one might
wish for something of the serene and simple attitude of the ancient
world. Laurent Tailhade has an admirable passage in his _Platres et
Marbres_, which is well worth reproducing in this connection:
"Toutefois, les Hellènes, dans, leurs cités de lumière, de douceur
et d'harmonie, avaient une indulgence qu'on peut nommer scientifique
pour les troubles amoureux de l'esprit. S'ils ne regardaient pas
l'aliène comme en proie a la visitation d'un dieu (idée orientale et
fataliste), du moins ils savaient que l'amour est une sorte
d'envoûtement, une folie où se manifeste l'animosité des puissances
cosmiques. Plus tard, le christianisme enveloppa les âmes de
ténèbres. Ce fut la grande nuite. L'Église condamna tout ce qui lui
parût neuf ou menaçant pour les dogmes implaçable qui reduisaient le
monde en esclavage."
Among Sacher-Masoch's works, _Venus in Furs_ is one of the most
typical and outstanding. In spite of melodramatic elements and other
literary faults, it is unquestionably a sincere work, written without
any idea of titillating morbid fancies. One feels that in the hero
many subjective elements have been incorporated, which are a
disadvantage to the work from the point of view of literature, but on
the other hand raise the book beyond the sphere of art, pure and
simple, and make it one of those appalling human documents which
belong, part to science and part to psychology. It is the confession
of a deeply unhappy man who could not master his personal tragedy of
existence, and so sought to unburden his soul in writing down the
things he felt and experienced. The reader who will approach the book
from this angle and who will honestly put aside moral prejudices and
prepossessions will come away from the perusal of this book with a
deeper understanding of this poor miserable soul of ours and a light
will be cast into dark places that lie latent in all of us.
Sacher-Masoch's works have held an established position in European
letters for something like half a century, and the author himself was
made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in
1883, on the occasion of his literary jubilee. When several years ago
cheap reprints were brought out on the Continent and attempts were
made by various guardians of morality--they exist in all countries
--to have them suppressed, the judicial decisions were invariably
against the plaintiff and in favor of the publisher. Are Americans
children that they must be protected from books which any European
school-boy can purchase whenever he wishes? However, such seems to be
the case, and this translation, which has long been in preparation,
consequently appears in a limited edition printed for subscribers
only. In another connection Herbert Spencer once used these words:
"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to
fill the world with fools." They have a very pointed application in
the case of a work like _Venus in Furs_.
VENUS IN FURS
_"But the Almighty Lord hath struck him,
and hath delivered him into the hands of
--The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.
My company was charming.
Opposite me by the massive Renaissance fireplace sat Venus; she was
not a casual woman of the half-world, who under this pseudonym wages
war against the enemy sex, like Mademoiselle Cleopatra, but the real,
true goddess of love.
She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose
reflection ran in red flames over her pale face with its white eyes,
and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them.
Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all
I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge
fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat.
"I don't understand it," I exclaimed, "It isn't really cold any
longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You
must be nervous."
"Much obliged for your spring," she replied with a low stony voice,
and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. "I
really can't stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to
"What, dear lady?"
"I am beginning to believe the unbelievable and to understand the un-
understandable. All of a sudden I understand the Germanic virtue of
woman, and German philosophy, and I am no longer surprised that you
of the North do not know how to love, haven't even an idea of what
"But, madame," I replied flaring up, "I surely haven't given you any
"Oh, you--" The divinity sneezed for the third time, and shrugged
her shoulders with inimitable grace. "That's why I have always been
nice to you, and even come to see you now and then, although I catch
a cold every time, in spite of all my furs. Do you remember the first
time we met?"
"How could I forget it," I said. "You wore your abundant hair in
brown curls, and you had brown eyes and a red mouth, but I recognized
you immediately by the outline of your face and its marble-like
pallor--you always wore a violet-blue velvet jacket edged with
"You were really in love with the costume, and awfully docile."
"You have taught me what love is. Your serene form of worship let me
forget two thousand years."
"And my faithfulness to you was without equal!"
"Well, as far as faithfulness goes--"
"I will not reproach you with anything. You are a divine woman, but
nevertheless a woman, and like every woman cruel in love."
"What you call cruel," the goddess of love replied eagerly, "is
simply the element of passion and of natural love, which is woman's
nature and makes her give herself where she loves, and makes her love
everything, that pleases her."
"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 there--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."
"That is why our emotions are honorable and virtuous, and our
"And yet a restless, always unsatisfied craving for the nudity of
paganism," she interrupted, "but that love, which is the highest joy,
which is divine simplicity itself, is not for you moderns, you
children of reflection. It works only evil in you. _As soon as you
wish to be natural, you become common._ To you nature seems something
hostile; you have made devils out of the smiling gods of Greece, and
out of me a demon. You can only exorcise and curse me, or slay
yourselves in bacchantic madness before my altar. And if ever one of
you has had the courage to kiss my red mouth, he makes a barefoot
pilgrimage to Rome in penitential robes and expects flowers to grow
from his withered staff, while under my feet roses, violets, and
myrtles spring up every hour, but their fragrance does not agree with
you. Stay among your northern fogs and Christian incense; let us
pagans remain under the debris, beneath the lava; do not disinter us.
Pompeii was not built for you, nor our villas, our baths, our temples.
You do not require gods. We are chilled in your world."
The beautiful marble woman coughed, and drew the dark sables still
closer about her shoulders.
"Much obliged for the classical lesson," I replied, "but you cannot
deny, that man and woman are mortal enemies, in your serene sunlit
world as well as in our foggy one. 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 subjugate will
soon feel the feet of the other on his neck--"
"And as a rule the man that of the woman," cried Madame Venus with
proud mockery, "which you know better than I."
"Of course, and that is why I don't have any illusions."
"You mean you are now my slave without illusions, and for that
reason you shall feel the weight of my foot without mercy."
"Don't you know me yet? Yes, I am _cruel_--since you take so much
delight in that word-and am I not entitled to be so? Man is the one
who desires, woman the one who is desired. This is woman's entire but
decisive advantage. Through his passion nature has given man into
woman's hands, and the woman who does not know how to make him her
subject, her slave, her toy, and how to betray him with a smile in the
end is not wise."
"Exactly your principles," I interrupted angrily.
"They are based on the experience of thousands of years," she
replied ironically, while her white fingers played over the dark fur.
"The more devoted a woman shows herself, the sooner the man sobers
down and becomes domineering. The more cruelly she treats him and the
more faithless she is, the worse she uses him, the more wantonly she
plays with him, the less pity she shows him, by so much the more will
she increase his desire, be loved, worshipped by him. So it has
always been, since the time of Helen and Delilah, down to Catherine
the Second and Lola Montez."
"I cannot deny," I said, "that nothing will attract a man more than
the picture of a beautiful, passionate, cruel, and despotic woman who
wantonly changes her favorites without scruple in accordance with her
"And in addition wears furs," exclaimed the divinity.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I know your predilection."
"Do you know," I interrupted, "that, since we last saw each other,
you have grown very coquettish."
"In what way, may I ask?"
"In that there is no way of accentuating your white body to greater
advantage than by these dark furs, and that--"
The divinity laughed.
"You are dreaming," she cried, "wake up!" and she clasped my arm
with her marble-white hand. "Do wake up," she repeated raucously with
the low register of her voice. I opened my eyes with difficulty.
I saw the hand which shook me, and suddenly it was brown as bronze;
the voice was the thick alcoholic voice of my cossack servant who
stood before me at his full height of nearly six feet.
"Do get up," continued the good fellow, "it is really disgraceful."
"What is disgraceful?"
"To fall asleep in your clothes and with a book besides." He snuffed
the candles which had burned down, and picked up the volume which had
fallen from my hand, "with a book by"--he looked at the title page--
"by Hegel. Besides it is high time you were starting for Mr.
Severin's who is expecting us for tea."
"A curious dream," said Severin when I had finished. He supported
his arms on his knees, resting his face in his delicate, finely
veined hands, and fell to pondering.
I knew that he wouldn't move for a long time, hardly even breathe.
This actually happened, but I didn't consider his behavior as in any
way remarkable. I had been on terms of close friendship with him for
nearly three years, and gotten used to his peculiarities. For it
cannot be denied that he was peculiar, although he wasn't quite the
dangerous madman that the neighborhood, or indeed the entire district
of Kolomea, considered him to be. I found his personality not only
interesting--and that is why many also regarded me a bit mad--but to
a degree sympathetic. For a Galician nobleman and land-owner, and
considering his age--he was hardly over thirty--he displayed
surprising sobriety, a certain seriousness, even pedantry. He lived
according to a minutely elaborated, half-philosophical, half-
practical system, like clock-work; not this alone, but also by the
thermometer, barometer, aerometer, hydrometer, Hippocrates, Hufeland,
Plato, Kant, Knigge, and Lord Chesterfield. But at times he had
violent attacks of sudden passion, and gave the impression of being
about to run with his head right through a wall. At such times every
one preferred to get out of his way.
While he remained silent, the fire sang in the chimney and the large
venerable samovar sang; and the ancient chair in which I sat rocking
to and fro smoking my cigar, and the cricket in the old walls sang
too. I let my eyes glide over the curious apparatus, skeletons of
animals, stuffed birds, globes, plaster-casts, with which his room
was heaped full, until by chance my glance remained fixed on a
picture which I had seen often enough before. But to-day, under the
reflected red glow of the fire, it made an indescribable impression
It was a large oil painting, done in the robust full-bodied manner
of the Belgian school. Its subject was strange enough.
A beautiful woman with a radiant smile upon her face, with abundant
hair tied into a classical knot, on which white powder lay like a
soft hoarfrost, was resting on an ottoman, supported on her left arm.
She was nude in her dark furs. Her right hand played with a lash,
while her bare foot rested carelessly on a man, lying before her like
a slave, like a dog. In the sharply outlined, but well-formed
linaments of this man lay brooding melancholy and passionate
devotion; he looked up to her with the ecstatic burning eye of a
martyr. This man, the footstool for her feet, was Severin, but
beardless, and, it seemed, some ten years younger.
"_Venus in Furs_," I cried, pointing to the picture. "That is the way
I saw her in my dream."
"I, too," said Severin, "only I dreamed my dream with open eyes."
"It is a tiresome story."
"Your picture apparently suggested my dream," I continued. "But do
tell me what it means. I can imagine that it played a role in your
life, and perhaps a very decisive one. But the details I can only get
"Look at its counterpart," replied my strange friend, without
heeding my question.
The counterpart was an excellent copy of Titian's well-known "Venus
with the Mirror" in the Dresden Gallery.
"And what is the significance?"
Severin rose and pointed with his finger at the fur with which
Titian garbed his goddess of love.
"It, too, is a 'Venus in Furs,'" he said with a slight smile. "I
don't believe that the old Venetian had any secondary intention. He
simply painted the portrait of some aristocratic Mesalina, and was
tactful enough to let Cupid hold the mirror in which she tests her
majestic allure with cold satisfaction. He looks as though his task
were becoming burdensome enough. The picture is painted flattery.
Later an 'expert' in the Rococo period baptized the lady with the
name of Venus. The furs of the despot in which Titian's fair model
wrapped herself, probably more for fear of a cold than out of
modesty, have become a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that
constitute woman's essence and her beauty.
"But enough of that. The picture, as it now exists, is a bitter
satire on our love. Venus in this abstract North, in this icy
Christian world, has to creep into huge black furs so as not to catch
Severin laughed, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Just then the door opened and an attractive, stoutish, blonde girl
entered. She had wise, kindly eyes, was dressed in black silk, and
brought us cold meat and eggs with our tea. Severin took one of the
latter, and decapitated it with his knife.
"Didn't I tell you that I want them soft-boiled?" he cried with a
violence that made the young woman tremble.
"But my dear Sevtchu--" she said timidly.
"Sevtchu, nothing," he yelled, "you are to obey, obey, do you
understand?" and he tore the _kantchuk_ [Footnote: A long whip with a
short handle.] which was hanging beside the weapons from its hook.
The woman fled from the chamber quickly and timidly like a doe.
"Just wait, I'll get you yet," he called after her.
"But Severin," I said placing my hand on his arm, "how can you treat
a pretty young woman thus?"
"Look at the woman," he replied, blinking humorously with his eyes.
"Had I flattered her, she would have cast the noose around my neck,
but now, when I bring her up with the _kantchuk_, she adores me."
"Nonsense, nothing, that is the way you have to break in women."
"Well, if you like it, live like a pasha in your harem, but don't
lay down theories for me--"
"Why not," he said animatedly. "Goethe's 'you must be hammer or anvil'
is absolutely appropriate to the relation between man and woman.
Didn't Lady Venus in your dream prove that to you? Woman's power lies
in man's passion, and she knows how to use it, if man doesn't
understand himself. He has only one choice: to be the _tyrant_ over or
the _slave_ of woman. As soon as he gives in, his neck is under the
yoke, and the lash will soon fall upon him."
"Not maxims, but experiences," he replied, nodding his head, "_I have
actually felt the lash_. I am cured. Do you care to know how?"
He rose, and got a small manuscript from his massive desk, and put
it in front of me.
"You have already asked about the picture. I have long owed you an
Severin sat down by the chimney with his back toward me, and seemed
to dream with open eyes. Silence had fallen again, and again the fire
sang in the chimney, and the samovar and the cricket in the old
walls. I opened the manuscript and read:
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERSENSUAL MAN.
The margin of the manuscript bore as motto a variation of the well-
known lines from _Faust_:
"Thou supersensual sensual woer
A woman leads you by the nose."
I turned the title-page and read: "What follows has been compiled
from my diary of that period, because it is impossible ever frankly
to write of one's past, but in this way everything retains its fresh
colors, the colors of the present."
Gogol, the Russian Moliere, says--where? well, somewhere--"the real
comic muse is the one under whose laughing mask tears roll down."
A wonderful saying.
So I have a very curious feeling as I am writing all this down. The
atmosphere seems filled with a stimulating fragrance of flowers,
which overcomes me and gives me a headache. The smoke of the
fireplace curls and condenses into figures, small gray-bearded
kokolds that mockingly point their finger at me. Chubby-cheeked
cupids ride on the arms of my chair and on my knees. I have to smile
involuntarily, even laugh aloud, as I am writing down my adventures.
Yet I am not writing with ordinary ink, but with red blood that drips
from my heart. All its wounds long scarred over have opened and it
throbs and hurts, and now and then a tear falls on the paper.
The days creep along sluggishly in the little Carpathian health-
resort. You see no one, and no one sees you. It is boring enough to
write idyls. I would have leisure here to supply a whole gallery of
paintings, furnish a theater with new pieces for an entire season,
a dozen virtuosos with concertos, trios, and duos, but--what am I
saying--the upshot of it all is that I don't do much more than to
stretch the canvas, smooth the bow, line the scores. For I am--no
false modesty, Friend Severin; you can lie to others, but you don't
quite succeed any longer in lying to yourself--I am nothing but a
dilettante, a dilettante in painting, in poetry, in music, and
several other of the so-called unprofitable arts, which, however, at
present secure for their masters the income of a cabinet minister,
or even that of a minor potentate. Above all else I am a dilettante
Up to the present I have lived as I have painted and written poetry.
I never got far beyond the preparation, the plan, the first act, the
first stanza. There are people like that who begin everything, and
never finish anything. I am such a one.
But what am I saying?
To the business in hand.
I lie in my window, and the miserable little town, which fills me
with despondency, really seems infinitely full of poetry. How
wonderful the outlook upon the blue wall of high mountains interwoven
with golden sunlight; mountain-torrents weave through them like
ribbons of silver! How clear and blue the heavens into which
snowcapped crags project; how green and fresh the forested slopes;
the meadows on which small herds graze, down to the yellow billows
of grain where reapers stand and bend over and rise up again.
The house in which I live stands in a sort of park, or forest, or
wilderness, whatever one wants to call it, and is very solitary.
Its sole inhabitants are myself, a widow from Lemberg, and Madame
Tartakovska, who runs the house, a little old woman, who grows older
and smaller each day. There are also an old dog that limps on one
leg, and a young cat that continually plays with a ball of yarn. This
ball of yarn, I believe, belongs to the widow.
She is said to be really beautiful, this widow, still very young,
twenty-four at the most, and very rich. She dwells in the first
story, and I on the ground floor. She always keeps the green blinds
drawn, and has a balcony entirely overgrown with green climbing-
plants. I for my part down below have a comfortable, intimate arbor
of honeysuckle, in which I read and write and paint and sing like a
bird among the twigs. I can look up on the balcony. Sometimes I
actually do so, and then from time to time a white gown gleams
between the dense green network.
Really the beautiful woman up there doesn't interest me very much,
for I am in love with someone else, and terribly unhappy at that; far
more unhappy than the Knight of Toggenburg or the Chevalier in Manon
l'Escault, because the object of my adoration is of stone.
In the garden, in the tiny wilderness, there is a graceful little
meadow on which a couple of deer graze peacefully. On this meadow is
a stone statue of Venus, the original of which, I believe, is in
Florence. This Venus is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in
all my life.
That, however, does not signify much, for I have seen few beautiful
women, or rather few women at all. In love too, I am a dilettante who
never got beyond the preparation, the first act.
But why talk in superlatives, as if something that is beautiful
could be surpassed?
It is sufficient to say that this Venus is beautiful. I love her
passionately with a morbid intensity; madly as one can only love a
woman who never responds to our love with anything but an eternally
uniform, eternally calm, stony smile. I literally adore her.
I often lie reading under the leafy covering of a young birch when
the sun broods over the forest. Often I visit that cold, cruel
mistress of mine by night and lie on my knees before her, with the
face pressed against the cold pedestal on which her feet rest, and
my prayers go up to her.
The rising moon, which just now is waning, produces an indescribable
effect. It seems to hover among the trees and submerges the meadow
in its gleam of silver. The goddess stands as if transfigured, and
seems to bathe in the soft moonlight.
Once when I was returning from my devotions by one of the walks
leading to the house, I suddenly saw a woman's figure, white as
stone, under the illumination of the moon and separated from me
merely by a screen of trees. It seemed as if the beautiful woman of
marble had taken pity on me, become alive, and followed me. I was
seized by a nameless fear, my heart threatened to burst, and instead--
Well, I am a dilettante. As always, I broke down at the second
stanza; rather, on the contrary, I did not break down, but ran away
as fast as my legs would carry me.
* * * * *
What an accident! Through a Jew, dealing in photographs I secured a
picture of my ideal. It is a small reproduction of Titian's "Venus
with the Mirror." What a woman! I want to write a poem, but instead,
I take the reproduction, and write on it: _Venus in Furs_.
You are cold, while you yourself fan flames. By all means wrap
yourself in your despotic furs, there is no one to whom they are more
appropriate, cruel goddess of love and of beauty!--After a while I add
a few verses from Goethe, which I recently found in his paralipomena
"The pair of wings a fiction are,
The arrows, they are naught but claws,
The wreath conceals the little horns,
For without any doubt he is
Like all the gods of ancient Greece
Only a devil in disguise."
Then I put the picture before me on my table, supporting it with a
book, and looked at it.
I was enraptured and at the same time filled with a strange fear by
the cold coquetry with which this magnificent woman draped her charms
in her furs of dark sable; by the severity and hardness which lay in
this cold marble-like face. Again I took my pen in hand, and wrote
the following words:
"To love, to be loved, what happiness! And yet how the glamour of
this pales in comparison with the tormenting bliss of worshipping a
woman who makes a plaything out of us, of being the slave of a
beautiful tyrant who treads us pitilessly underfoot. Even Samson, the
hero, the giant, again put himself into the hands of Delilah, even
after she had betrayed him, and again she betrayed him, and the
Philistines bound him and put out his eyes which until the very end
he kept fixed, drunken with rage and love, upon the beautiful
I was breakfasting in my honey-suckle arbor, and reading in the Book
of Judith. I envied the hero Holofernes because of the regal woman
who cut off his head with a sword, and because of his beautiful
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman."
This sentence strangely impressed me.
How ungallant these Jews are, I thought. And their God might choose
more becoming expressions when he speaks of the fair sex.
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman," I repeated to myself. What shall I do, so that He
may punish me?
Heaven preserve us! Here comes the housekeeper, who has again
diminished somewhat in size overnight. And up there among the green
twinings and garlandings the white gown gleams again. Is it Venus,
or the widow?
This time it happens to be the widow, for Madame Tartakovska makes
a courtesy, and asks me in her name for something to read. I run to
my room, and gather together a couple of volumes.
Later I remember that my picture of Venus is in one of them, and now
it and my effusions are in the hands of the white woman up there
together. What will she say?
I hear her laugh.
Is she laughing at me?
It is full moon. It is already peering over the tops of the low
hemlocks that fringe the park. A silvery exhalation fills the
terrace, the groups of trees, all the landscape, as far as the eye
can reach; in the distance it gradually fades away, like trembling
I cannot resist. I feel a strange urge and call within me. I put on
my clothes again and go out into the garden.
Some power draws me toward the meadow, toward her, who is my
divinity and my beloved.
The night is cool. I feel a slight chill. The atmosphere is heavy
with the odor of flowers and of the forest. It intoxicates.
What solemnity! What music round about! A nightingale sobs. The
stars quiver very faintly in the pale-blue glamour. The meadow seems
smooth, like a mirror, like a covering of ice on a pond.
The statue of Venus stands out august and luminous.
But--what has happened? From the marble shoulders of the goddess a
large dark fur flows down to her heels. I stand dumbfounded and stare
at her in amazement; again an indescribable fear seizes hold of me
and I take flight.
I hasten my steps, and notice that I have missed the main path. As
I am about to turn aside into one of the green walks I see Venus
sitting before me on a stone bench, not the beautiful woman of
marble, but the goddess of love herself with warm blood and throbbing
pulses. She has actually come to life for me, like the statue that
began to breathe for her creator. Indeed, the miracle is only half
completed. Her white hair seems still to be of stone, and her white
gown shimmers like moonlight, or is it satin? From her shoulders the
dark fur flows. But her lips are already reddening and her cheeks
begin to take color. Two diabolical green rays out of her eyes fall
upon me, and now she laughs.
Her laughter is very mysterious, very--I don't know. It cannot be
described, it takes my breath away. I flee further, and after every
few steps I have to pause to take breath. The mocking laughter
pursues me through the dark leafy paths, across light open spaces,
through the thicket where only single moonbeams can pierce. I can no
longer find my way, I wander about utterly confused, with cold drops
of perspiration on the forehead.
Finally I stand still, and engage in a short monologue.
It runs--well--one is either very polite to one's self or very rude.
I say to myself:
This word exercises a remarkable effect, like a magic formula, which
sets me free and makes me master of myself.
I am perfectly quiet in a moment.
With considerable pleasure I repeat: "Donkey!"
Now everything is perfectly clear and distinct before my eyes again.
There is the fountain, there the alley of box-wood, there the house
which I am slowly approaching.
Yet--suddenly the appearance is here again. Behind the green screen
through which the moonlight gleams so that it seems embroidered with
silver, I again see the white figure, the woman of stone whom I
adore, whom I fear and flee.
With a couple of leaps I am within the house and catch my breath and
What am I really, a little dilettante or a great big donkey?
A sultry morning, the atmosphere is dead, heavily laden with odors,
yet stimulating. Again I am sitting in my honey-suckle arbor, reading
in the Odyssey about the beautiful witch who transformed her admirers
into beasts. A wonderful picture of antique love.
There is a soft rustling in the twigs and blades and the pages of my
book rustle and on the terrace likewise there is a rustling.
A woman's dress--
She is there--Venus--but without furs--No, this time it is merely
the widow--and yet--Venus-oh, what a woman!
As she stands there in her light white morning gown, looking at me,
her slight figure seems full of poetry and grace. She is neither
large, nor small; her head is alluring, piquant--in the sense of the
period of the French marquises--rather than formally beautiful. What
enchantment and softness, what roguish charm play about her none too
small mouth! Her skin is so infinitely delicate, that the blue veins
show through everywhere; even through the muslin covering her arms
and bosom. How abundant her red hair-it is red, not blonde or golden-
yellow--how diabolically and yet tenderly it plays around her neck!
Now her eyes meet mine like green lightnings--they are green, these
eyes of hers, whose power is so indescribable--green, but as are
precious stones, or deep unfathomable mountain lakes.
She observes my confusion, which has even made me discourteous, for
I have remained seated and still have my cap on my head.
She smiles roguishly.
Finally I rise and bow to her. She comes closer, and bursts out into
a loud, almost childlike laughter. I stammer, as only a little
dilettante or great big donkey can do on such an occasion.
Thus our acquaintance began.
The divinity asks for my name, and mentions her own.
Her name is Wanda von Dunajew.
And she is actually my Venus.
"But madame, what put the idea into your head?"
"The little picture in one of your books--"
"I had forgotten about it."
"The curious notes on its back--"
She looked at me.
"I have always wanted to know a real dreamer some time--for the sake
of the change--and you seem one of the maddest of the tribe."
"Dear lady--in fact--" Again I fell victim to an odious, asinine
stammering, and in addition blushed in a way that might have been
appropriate for a youngster of sixteen, but not for me, who was
almost a full ten years older--
"You were afraid of me last night."
"Really--of course--but won't you sit down?"
She sat down, and enjoyed my embarrassment--for actually I was even
more afraid of her now in the full light of day. A delightful
expression of contempt hovered about her upper lip.
"You look at love, and especially woman," she began, "as something
hostile, something against which you put up a defense, even if
unsuccessfully. You feel that their power over you gives you a
sensation of pleasurable torture, of pungent cruelty. This is a
genuinely modern point of view."
"You don't share it?"
"I do not share it," she said quickly and decisively, shaking her
head, so that her curls flew up like red flames.
"The ideal which I strive to realize in my life is the serene
sensuousness of the Greeks--pleasure without pain. I do not believe
in the kind of love which is preached by Christianity, by the
moderns, by the knights of the spirit. Yes, look at me, I am worse
than a heretic, I am a pagan.
'Doest thou imagine long the goddess of love took counsel
When in Ida's grove she was pleased with the hero Achilles?'
"These lines from Goethe's _Roman Elegy_ have always delighted me.
"In nature there is only the love of the heroic age, 'when gods and
goddesses loved.' At that time 'desire followed the glance, enjoyment
desire.' All else is factitious, affected, a lie. Christianity, whose
cruel emblem, the cross, has always had for me an element of the
monstrous, brought something alien and hostile into nature and its
"The battle of the spirit with the senses is the gospel of modern
man. I do not care to have a share in it."
"Yes, Mount Olympus would be the place for you, madame," I replied,
"but we moderns can no longer support the antique serenity, least of
all in love. The idea of sharing a woman, even if it were an Aspasia,
with another revolts us. We are jealous as is our God. For example,
we have made a term abuse out of the name of the glorious Phryne.
"We prefer one of Holbein's meagre, pallid virgins, which is wholly
ours to an antique Venus, no matter how divinely beautiful she is,
but who loves Anchises to-day, Paris to-morrow, Adonis the day after.
And if nature triumphs in us so that we give our whole glowing,
passionate devotion to such a woman, her serene joy of life appears
to us as something demonic and cruel, and we read into our happiness
a sin which we must expiate."
"So you too are one of those who rave about modern women, those
miserable hysterical feminine creatures who don't appreciate a real
man in their somnambulistic search for some dream-man and masculine
ideal. Amid tears and convulsions they daily outrage their Christian
duties; they cheat and are cheated; they always seek again and choose
and reject; they are never happy, and never give happiness. They
accuse fate instead of calmly confessing that they want to love and
live as Helen and Aspasia lived. Nature admits of no permanence in
the relation between man and woman."
"But, my dear lady--"
"Let me finish. It is only man's egoism which wants to keep woman
like some buried treasure. All endeavors to introduce permanence in
love, the most changeable thing in this changeable human existence,
have gone shipwreck in spite of religious ceremonies, vows, and
legalities. Can you deny that our Christian world has given itself
over to corruption?"
"But you are about to say, the individual who rebels against the
arrangements of society is ostracized, branded, stoned. So be it. I
am willing to take the risk; my principles are very pagan. I will
live my own life as it pleases me. I am willing to do without your
hypocritical respect; I prefer to be happy. The inventors of the
Christian marriage have done well, simultaneously to invent
immortality. I, however, have no wish to live eternally. When with
my last breath everything as far as Wanda von Dunajew is concerned
comes to an end here below, what does it profit me whether my pure
spirit joins the choirs of angels, or whether my dust goes into the
formation of new beings? Shall I belong to one man whom I don't love,
merely because I have once loved him? No, I do not renounce; I love
everyone who pleases me, and give happiness to everyone who loves me.
Is that ugly? No, it is more beautiful by far, than if cruelly I
enjoy the tortures, which my beauty excites, and virtuously reject
the poor fellow who is pining away for me. I am young, rich, and
beautiful, and I live serenely for the sake of pleasure and
While she was speaking her eyes sparkled roguishly, and I had taken
hold of her hands without exactly knowing what to do with them, but
being a genuine dilettante I hastily let go of them again.
"Your frankness," I said, "delights me, and not it alone--"
My confounded dilettantism again throttled me as though there were
a rope around my neck.
"You were about to say--"
"I was about to say--I was--I am sorry--I interrupted you."
A long pause. She is doubtless engaging in a monologue, which
translated into my language would be comprised in the single word,
"If I may ask," I finally began, "how did you arrive at these--these
"Quite simply, my father was an intelligent man. From my cradle onward
I was surrounded by replicas of ancient art; at ten years of age I
read _Gil Blas_, at twelve _La Pucelle_. Where others had
Hop-o'-my-thumb, Bluebeard, Cinderella, as childhood friends, mine
were Venus and Apollo, Hercules and Lackoon. My husband's personality
was filled with serenity and sunlight. Not even the incurable illness
which fell upon him soon after our marriage could long cloud his brow.
On the very night of his death he took me in his arms, and during the
many months when he lay dying in his wheel chair, he often said
jokingly to me: 'Well, have you already picked out a lover?' I blushed
with shame. 'Don't deceive me,' he added on one occasion, 'that would
seem ugly to me, but pick out an attractive lover, or preferably
several. You are a splendid woman, but still half a child, and you
"I suppose, I hardly need tell you that during his life time I had
no lover; but it was through him that I have become what I am, a
woman of Greece."
"A goddess," I interrupted.
"Which one," she smiled.
She threatened me with her finger and knitted her brows. "Perhaps,
even a 'Venus in Furs.' Watch out, I have a large, very large fur,
with which I could cover you up entirely, and I have a mind to catch
you in it as in a net."
"Do you believe," I said quickly, for an idea which seemed good, in
spite of its conventionality and triteness, flashed into my head, "do
you believe that your theories could be carried into execution at the
present time, that Venus would be permitted to stray with impunity
among our railroads and telegraphs in all her undraped beauty and
"_Undraped_, of course not, but in furs," she replied smiling, "would
you care to see mine?"
"Beautiful, free, serene, and happy human beings, such as the Greeks
were, are only possible when it is permitted to have _slaves_ who will
perform the prosaic tasks of every day for them and above all else
labor for them."
"Of course," she replied playfully, "an Olympian divinity, such as
I am, requires a whole army of slaves. Beware of me!"
I myself was frightened at the hardiness with which I uttered this
"why"; it did not startle her in the least.
She drew back her lips a little so that her small white teeth became
visible, and then said lightly, as if she were discussing some
trifling matter, "Do you want to be my slave?"
"There is no equality in love," I replied solemnly. "Whenever it is
a matter of choice for me of ruling or being ruled, it seems much
more satisfactory to me to be the slave of a beautiful woman. But
where shall I find the woman who knows how to rule, calmly, full of
self-confidence, even harshly, and not seek to gain her power by
means of petty nagging?"
"Oh, that might not be so difficult."
"I--for instance--" she laughed and leaned far back--"I have a real
talent for despotism--I also have the necessary furs--but last night
you were really seriously afraid of me!"
"Now, I am more afraid of you than ever!"
We are together every day, I and--Venus; we are together a great
deal. We breakfast in my honey-suckle arbor, and have tea in her
little sitting-room. I have an opportunity to unfold all my small,
very small talents. Of what use would have been my study of all the
various sciences, my playing at all the arts, if I were unable in the
case of a pretty, little woman--
But this woman is by no means little; in fact she impresses me
tremendously. I made a drawing of her to-day, and felt particularly
clearly, how inappropriate the modern way of dressing is for a cameo-
head like hers. The configuration of her face has little of the
Roman, but much of the Greek.
Sometimes I should like to paint her as Psyche, and then again as
Astarte. It depends upon the expression in her eyes, whether it is
vaguely dreamy, or half-consuming, filled with tired desire.
She, however, insists that it be a portrait-likeness.
I shall make her a present of furs.
How could I have any doubts? If not for her, for whom would princely
furs be suitable?
* * * * *
I was with her yesterday evening, reading the _Roman Elegies_ to her.
Then I laid the book aside, and improvised something for her. She
seemed pleased; rather more than that, she actually hung upon my
words, and her bosom heaved.
Or was I mistaken?
The rain beat in melancholy fashion on the window-panes, the fire
crackled in the fireplace in wintery comfort. I felt quite at home
with her, and for a moment lost all my fear of this beautiful woman;
I kissed her hand, and she permitted it.
Then I sat down at her feet and read a short poem I had written for
VENUS IN FURS.
"Place thy foot upon thy slave,
Oh thou, half of hell, half of dreams;
Among the shadows, dark and grave,
Thy extended body softly gleams."
And--so on. This time I really got beyond the first stanza. At her
request I gave her the poem in the evening, keeping no copy. And now
as I am writing this down in my diary I can only remember the first
I am filled with a very curious sensation. I don't believe that I am
in love with Wanda; I am sure that at our first meeting, I felt
nothing of the lightning-like flashes of passion. But I feel how her
extraordinary, really divine beauty is gradually winding magic snares
about me. It isn't any spiritual sympathy which is growing in me; it
is a physical subjection, coming on slowly, but for that reason more
I suffer under it more and more each day, and she--she merely smiles.
* * * * *
Without any provocation she suddenly said to me to-day: "You
interest me. Most men are very commonplace, without verve or poetry.
In you there is a certain depth and capacity for enthusiasm and a
deep seriousness, which delight me. I might learn to love you."
After a short but severe shower we went out together to the meadow
and the statue of Venus. All about us the earth steamed; mists rose
up toward heaven like clouds of incense; a shattered rainbow still
hovered in the air. The trees were still shedding drops, but sparrows
and finches were already hopping from twig to twig. They are
twittering gaily, as if very much pleased at something. Everything
is filled with a fresh fragrance. We cannot cross the meadow for it
is still wet. In the sunlight it looks like a small pool, and the
goddess of love seems to rise from the undulations of its mirror-like
surface. About her head a swarm of gnats is dancing, which,
illuminated by the sun, seem to hover above her like an aureole.
Wanda is enjoying the lovely scene. As all the benches along the
walk are still wet, she supports herself on my arm to rest a while.
A soft weariness permeates her whole being, her eyes are half closed;
I feel the touch of her breath on my cheek.
How I managed to get up courage enough I really don't know, but I
took hold of her hand, asking,
"Could you love me?"
"Why not," she replied, letting her calm, clear look rest upon me,
but not for long.
A moment later I am kneeling before her, pressing my burning face
against the fragrant muslin of her gown.
"But Severin--this isn't right," she cried.
But I take hold of her little foot, and press my lips upon it.
"You are getting worse and worse!" she cried. She tore herself free,
and fled rapidly toward the house, the while her adorable slipper
remained in my hand.
Is it an omen?
* * * * *
All day long I didn't dare to go near her. Toward evening as I was
sitting in my arbor her gay red head peered suddenly through the
greenery of her balcony. "Why don't you come up?" he called down
I ran upstairs, and at the top lost courage again. I knocked very
lightly. She didn't say come-in, but opened the door herself, and
stood on the threshold.
"Where is my slipper?"
"It is--I have--I want," I stammered.
"Get it, and then we will have tea together, and chat."
When I returned, she was engaged in making tea. I ceremoniously
placed the slipper on the table, and stood in the corner like a child
I noticed that her brows were slightly contracted, and there was an
expression of hardness and dominance about her lips which delighted
All of a sudden she broke out laughing.
"So--you are really in love--with me?"
"Yes, and I suffer more from it than you can imagine?"
"You suffer?" she laughed again.
I was revolted, mortified, annihilated, but all this was quite
"Why?" she continued, "I like you, with all my heart."
She gave me her hand, and looked at me in the friendliest fashion.
"And will you be my wife?"
Wanda looked at me--how did she look at me? I think first of all
with surprise, and then with a tinge of irony.
"What has given you so much courage, all at once?"
"Yes courage, to ask anyone to be your wife, and me in particular?"
She lifted up the slipper. "Was it through a sudden friendship with
this? But joking aside. Do you really wish to marry me?"
"Well, Severin, that is a serious matter. I believe, you love me,
and I care for you too, and what is more important each of us finds
the other interesting. There is no danger that we would soon get
bored, but, you know, I am a fickle person, and just for that reason
I take marriage seriously. If I assume obligations, I want to be able
to meet them. But I am afraid--no--it would hurt you."
"Please be perfectly frank with me," I replied.
"Well then honestly, I don't believe I could love a man longer than--
" She inclined her head gracefully to one side and mused.
"What do you imagine--a month perhaps."
"Not even me?"
"Oh you--perhaps two."
"Two months!" I exclaimed.
"Two months is very long."
"You go beyond antiquity, madame."
"You see, you cannot stand the truth."
Wanda walked across the room and leaned back against the fireplace,
watching me and resting one of her arms on the mantelpiece.
"What shall I do with you?" she began anew.
"Whatever you wish," I replied with resignation, "whatever will give
"How illogical!" she cried, "first you want to make me your wife,
and then you offer yourself to me as something to toy with."
"Wanda--I love you."
"Now we are back to the place where we started. You love me, and
want to make me your wife, but I don't want to enter into a new
marriage, because I doubt the permanence of both my and your
"But if I am willing to take the risk with you?" I replied.
"But it also depends on whether I am willing to risk it with you,"
she said quietly. "I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my
entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would
dominate me, who would subjugate me by his inate strength, do you
understand? And every man--I know this very well--as soon as he falls
in love becomes weak, pliable, ridiculous. He puts himself into the
woman's hands, kneels down before her. The only man whom I could love
permanently would be he before whom I should have to kneel. I've gotten
to like you so much, however, that I'll try it with you."
I fell down at her feet.
"For heaven's sake, here you are kneeling already," she said
mockingly. "You are making a good beginning." When I had risen again
she continued, "I will give you a year's time to win me, to convince
me that we are suited to each other, that we might live together. If
you succeed, I will become your wife, and a wife, Severin, who will
conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties. During this year
we will live as though we were married--"
My blood rose to my head.
In her eyes too there was a sudden flame--
"We will live together," she continued, "share our daily life, so that
we may find out whether we are really fitted for each other. _I grant
you all the rights of a husband, of a lover, of a friend._ Are you
"I suppose, I'll have to be?"
"You don't have to."
"Well then, I want to--"
"Splendid. That is how a man speaks. Here is my hand."
* * * * *
For ten days I have been with her every hour, except at night. All
the time I was allowed to look into her eyes, hold her hands, listen
to what she said, accompany her wherever she went.
My love seems to me like a deep, bottomless abyss, into which I
subside deeper and deeper. There is nothing now which could save me
This afternoon we were resting on the meadow at the foot of the
Venus-statue. I plucked flowers and tossed them into her lap; she
wound them into wreaths with which we adorned our goddess.
Suddenly Wanda looked at me so strangely that my senses became
confused and passion swept over my head like a conflagration. Losing
command over myself, I threw my arms about her and clung to her lips,
and she--she drew me close to her heaving breast.
"Are you angry?" I then asked her.
"I am never angry at anything that is natural--" she replied, "but
_I_ am afraid you suffer."
"Oh, I am suffering frightfully."
"Poor friend!" she brushed my disordered hair back from my fore-
head. "I hope it isn't through any fault of mine."
"No--" I replied,--"and yet my love for you has become a sort of
madness. The thought that I might lose you, perhaps actually lose
you, torments me day and night."
"But you don't yet possess me," said Wanda, and again she looked at
me with that vibrant, consuming expression, which had already once
before carried me away. Then she rose, and with her small transparent
hands placed a wreath of blue anemones upon the ringletted white head
of Venus. Half against my will I threw my arm around her body.
"I can no longer live without you, oh wonderful woman," I said.
"Believe me, believe only this once, that this time it is not a
phrase, not a thing of dreams. I feel deep down in my innermost soul,
that my life belongs inseparably with yours. If you leave me, I shall
perish, go to pieces."
"That will hardly be necessary, for I love you," she took hold of my
chin, "you foolish man!"
"But you will be mine only under conditions, while I belong to you
"That isn't wise, Severin," she replied almost with a start. "Don't
you know me yet, do you absolutely refuse to know me? I am good when
I am treated seriously and reasonably, but when you abandon yourself
too absolutely to me, I grow arrogant--"
"So be it, be arrogant, be despotic," I cried in the fulness of
exaltation, "only be mine, mine forever." I lay at her feet,
embracing her knees.
"Things will end badly, my friend," she said soberly, without moving.
"It shall never end," I cried excitedly, almost violently. "Only death
shall part us. If you cannot be mine, all mine and for always, then _I
want to be your slave_, serve you, suffer everything from you, if only
you won't drive me away."
"Calm yourself," she said, bending down and kissing my forehead, "I
am really very fond of you, but your way is not the way to win and
"I want to do everything, absolutely everything, that you want, only
not to lose you," I cried, "only not that, I cannot bear the thought."
"Do get up."
"You are a strange person," continued Wanda. "You wish to possess me
at any price?"
"Yes, at any price."
"But of what value, for instance, would that be?"--She pondered; a
lurking uncanny expression entered her eyes--"If I no longer loved
you, if I belonged to another."
A shudder ran through me. I looked at her She stood firmly and
confident before me, and her eyes disclosed a cold gleam.
"You see," she continued, "the very thought frightens you." A
beautiful smile suddenly illuminated her face.
"I feel a perfect horror, when I imagine, that the woman I love and
who has responded to my love could give herself to another regardless
of me. But have I still a choice? If I love such a woman, even unto
madness, shall I turn my back to her and lose everything for the sake
of a bit of boastful strength; shall I send a bullet through my
brains? I have two ideals of woman. If I cannot obtain the one that
is noble and simple, the woman who will faithfully and truly share
my life, well then I don't want anything half-way or lukewarm. Then
I would rather be subject to a woman without virtue, fidelity, or pity.
Such a woman in her magnificent selfishness is likewise an ideal. If
I am not permitted to enjoy the happiness of love, fully and wholly,
I want to taste its pains and torments to the very dregs; I want to
be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love, and the more cruelly
the better. This too is a luxury."
"Have you lost your senses," cried Wanda.
"I love you with all my soul," I continued, "with all my senses, and
your presence and personality are absolutely essential to me, if I
am to go on living. Choose between my ideals. Do with me what you will,
make of me your husband or your slave."
"Very well," said Wanda, contracting her small but strongly arched
brows, "it seems to me it would be rather entertaining to have a man,
who interests me and loves me, completely in my power; at least I
shall not lack pastime. You were imprudent enough to leave the choice
to me. Therefore I choose; I want you to be my slave, I shall make
a plaything for myself out of you!"
"Oh, please do," I cried half-shuddering, half-enraptured. "If the
foundation of marriage depends on equality and agreement, it is
likewise true that the greatest passions rise out of opposites. We
are such opposites, almost enemies. That is why my love is part hate,
part fear. In such a relation only one can be hammer and the other
anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down
upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only
do when she is cruel towards me."
"But, Severin," replied Wanda, almost angrily, "do you believe me
capable of maltreating a man who loves me as you do, and whom I love?"
"Why not, if I adore you the more on this account? _It is possible to
love really only that which stands above us,_ a woman, who through her
beauty, temperament, intelligence, and strength of will subjugates us
and becomes a despot over us."
"Then that which repels others, attracts you."
"Yes. That is the strange part of me."
"Perhaps, after all, there isn't anything so very unique or strange
in all your passions, for who doesn't love beautiful furs? And
everyone knows and feels how closely sexual love and cruelty are
"But in my case all these elements are raised to their highest
degree," I replied.
"In other words, reason has little power over you, and you are by
nature, soft, sensual, yielding."
"Were the martyrs also soft and sensual by nature?"
"On the contrary, they were _supersensual men,_ who found enjoyment in
suffering. They sought out the most frightful tortures, even death
itself, as others seek joy, and as they were, so am I--_supersensual."_
"Have a care that in being such, you do not become a martyr to love,
the _martyr of a woman_."
We are sitting on Wanda's little balcony in the mellow fragrant
summer night. A twofold roof is above us, first the green ceiling of
climbing-plants, and then the vault of heaven sown with innumerable
stars. The low wailing love-call of a cat rises from the park. I am
sitting on footstool at the feet of my divinity, and am telling her
of my childhood.
"And even then all these strange tendencies were distinctly marked
in you?" asked Wanda.
"Of course, I can't remember a time when I didn't have them. Even in
my cradle, so mother has told me, I was _supersensual._ I scorned the
healthy breast of my nurse, and had to be brought up on goats' milk.
As a little boy I was mysteriously shy before women, which really was
only an expression of an inordinate interest in them. I was oppressed
by the gray arches and half-darknesses of the church, and actually
afraid of the glittering altars and images of the saints. Secretly,
however, I sneaked as to a secret joy to a plaster-Venus which stood
in my father's little library. I kneeled down before her, and to her I
said the prayers I had been taught--the Paternoster, the Ave Maria,
and the Credo.
"Once at night I left my bed to visit her. The sickle of the moon
was my light and showed me the goddess in a pale-blue cold light. I
prostrated myself before her and kissed her cold feet, as I had seen
our peasants do when they kissed the feet of the dead Savior.
"An irresistible yearning seized me.
"I got up and embraced the beautiful cold body and kissed the cold
lips. A deep shudder fell upon me and I fled, and later in a dream,
it seemed to me, as if the goddess stood beside my bed, threatening
me with up-raised arm.
"I was sent to school early and soon reached the gymnasium. I
passionately grasped at everything which promised to make the world
of antiquity accessible to me. Soon I was more familiar with the gods
of Greece than with the religion of Jesus. I was with Paris when he
gave the fateful apple to Venus, I saw Troy burn, and followed
Ulysses on his wanderings. The prototypes of all that is beautiful
sank deep into my soul, and consequently at the time when other boys
are coarse and obscene, I displayed an insurmountable aversion to
everything base, vulgar, unbeautiful.
"To me, the maturing youth, love for women seemed something
especially base and unbeautiful, for it showed itself to me first in
all its commonness. I avoided all contact with the fair sex; in
short, I was supersensual to madness.
"When I was about fourteen my mother had a charming chamber-maid,
young, attractive, with a figure just budding into womanhood. I was
sitting one day studying my Tacitus and growing enthusiastic over the
virtues of the ancient Teutons, while she was sweeping my room.
Suddenly she stopped, bent down over me, in the meantime holding fast
to the broom, and a pair of fresh, full, adorable lips touched mine.
The kiss of the enamoured little cat ran through me like a shudder,
but I raised up my _Germania_, like a shield against the temptress,
and indignantly left the room."
Wanda broke out in loud laughter. "It would, indeed, be hard to find
another man like you, but continue."
"There is another unforgetable incident belonging to that period,"
I continued my story. "Countess Sobol, a distant aunt of mine, was
visiting my parents. She was a beautiful majestic woman with an
attractive smile. I, however, hated her, for she was regarded by the
family as a sort of Messalina. My behavior toward her was as rude,
malicious, and awkward as possible.
"One day my parents drove to the capital of the district. My aunt
determined to take advantage of their absence, and to exercise
judgment over me. She entered unexpectedly in her fur-lined
_kazabaika,_ [Footnote: A woman's jacket.] followed by the cook,
kitchen-maid, and the cat of a chamber-maid whom I had scorned.
Without asking any questions, they seized me and bound me hand and
foot, in spite of my violent resistance. Then my aunt, with an evil
smile, rolled up her sleeve and began to whip me with a stout switch.
She whipped so hard that the blood flowed, and that, at last,
notwithstanding my heroic spirit, I cried and wept and begged for
mercy. She then had me untied, but I had to get down on my knees and
thank her for the punishment and kiss her hand.
"Now you understand the supersensual fool! Under the lash of a
beautiful woman my senses first realized the meaning of woman. In her
fur-jacket she seemed to me like a wrathful queen, and from then on
my aunt became the most desirable woman on God's earth.
"My Cato-like austerity, my shyness before woman, was nothing but an
excessive feeling for beauty. In my imagination sensuality became a
sort of cult. I took an oath to myself that I would not squander its
holy wealth upon any ordinary person, but I would reserve it for an
ideal woman, if possible for the goddess of love herself.
"I went to the university at a very early age. It was in the capital
where my aunt lived. My room looked at that time like Doctor
Faustus's. Everything in it was in a wild confusion. There were huge
closets stuffed full of books, which I bought for a song from a
Jewish dealer on the Servanica; [Footnote: The street of the Jews in
Lemberg.] there were globes, atlases, flasks, charts of the heavens,
skeletons of animals, skulls, the busts of eminent men. It looked as
though Mephistopheles might have stepped out from behind the huge
green store as a wandering scholiast at any moment.
"I studied everything in a jumble without system, without selection:
chemistry, alchemy, history, astronomy, philosophy, law, anatomy, and
literature; I read Homer, Virgil, Ossian, Schiller, Goethe,
Shakespeare, Cervantes, Voltaire, Moliere, the Koran, the Kosmos,
Casanova's Memoirs. I grew more confused each day, more fantastical,
more supersensual. All the time a beautiful ideal woman hovered in my
imagination. Every so and so often she appeared before me like a
vision among my leather-bound books and dead bones, lying on a bed of
roses, surrounded by cupids. Sometimes she appeared gowned like the
Olympians with the stern white face of the plaster Venus; sometimes in
braids of a rich brown, blue-eyes, in my aunt's red velvet
_kazabaika,_ trimmed with ermine.
"One morning when she had again risen out of the golden mist of my
imagination in all her smiling beauty, I went to see Countess Sobol,
who received me in a friendly, even cordial manner. She gave me a
kiss of welcome, which put all my senses in a turmoil. She was
probably about forty years old, but like most well-preserved women
of the world, still very attractive. She wore as always her fur-edged
jacket. This time it was one of green velvet with brown marten. But
nothing of the sternness which had so delighted me the other time was
"On the contrary, there was so little of cruelty in her that without
any more ado she let me adore her.
"Only too soon did she discover my supersensual folly and innocence,
and it pleased her to make me happy. As for myself--I was as happy
as a young god. What rapture for me to be allowed to lie before her
on my knees, and to kiss her hands, those with which she had scourged
me! What marvellous hands they were, of beautiful form, delicate,
rounded, and white, with adorable dimples! I really was in love with
her hands only. I played with them, let them submerge and emerge in
the dark fur, held them against the light, and was unable to satiate
my eyes with them."
Wanda involuntarily looked at her hand; I noticed it, and had to
"From the way in which the supersensual predominated in me in those
days you can see that I was in love only with the cruel lashes I
received from my aunt; and about two years later when I paid court
to a young actress only in the roles she played. Still later I became
the admirer of a respectable woman. She acted the part of
irreproachable virtue, only in the end to betray me with a rich Jew.
You see, it is because I was betrayed, sold, by a woman who feigned
the strictest principles and the highest ideals, that I hate that
sort of poetical, sentimental virtue so intensely. Give me rather a
woman who is honest enough to say to me: I am a Pompadour, a Lucretia
Borgia, and I am ready to adore her."
Wanda rose and opened the window.
"You have a curious way of arousing one's imagination, stimulating
all one's nerves, and making one's pulses beat faster. You put an
aureole on vice, provided only if it is honest. Your ideal is a
daring courtesan of genius. Oh, you are the kind of man who will
corrupt a woman to her very last fiber."
* * * * *
In the middle of the night there was a knock at my window; I got up,
opened it, and was startled. Without stood "Venus in Furs," just as
she had appeared to me the first time.
"You have disturbed me with your stories; I have been tossing about
in bed, and can't go to sleep," she said. "Now come and stay with me."
"In a moment."
As I entered Wanda was crouching by the fireplace where she had
kindled a small fire.
"Autumn is coming," she began, "the nights are really quite cold
already. I am afraid you may not like it, but I can't put off my furs
until the room is sufficiently warm."
"Not like it--you are joking--you know--" I threw my arm around her,
and kissed her.
"Of course, I know, but why this great fondness for furs?"
"I was born with it," I replied. "I already had it as a child.
Furthermore furs have a stimulating effect on all highly organized
natures. This is due both to general and natural laws. It is a
physical stimulus which sets you tingling, and no one can wholly
escape it. Science has recently shown a certain relationship between
electricity and warmth; at any rate, their effects upon the human
organism are related. The torrid zone produces more passionate
characters, a heated atmosphere stimulation. Likewise with
electricity. This is the reason why the presence of cats exercises
such a magic influence upon highly-organized men of intellect. This
is why these long-tailed Graces of the animal kingdom, these
adorable, scintillating electric batteries have been the favorite
animal of a Mahommed, Cardinal Richelieu, Crebillon, Rousseau,
"A woman wearing furs, then," cried Wanda, "is nothing else than a
large cat, an augmented electric battery?"
"Certainly," I replied. "That is my explanation of the symbolic
meaning which fur has acquired as the attribute of power and beauty.
Monarchs and the dominant higher nobility in former times used it in
this sense for their costume, exclusively; great painters used it
only for queenly beauty. The most beautiful frame, which Raphael
could find for the divine forms of Fornarina and Titian for the
roseate body of his beloved, was dark furs."
"Thanks for the learned discourse on love," said Wanda, "but you
haven't told me everything. You associate something entirely
individual with furs."
"Certainly," I cried. "I have repeatedly told you that suffering has
a peculiar attraction for me. Nothing can intensify my passion more
than tyranny, cruelty, and especially the faithlessness of a
beautiful woman. And I cannot imagine this woman, this strange ideal
derived from an aesthetics of ugliness, this soul of Nero in the body
of a Phryne, except in furs."
"I understand," Wanda interrupted. "It gives a dominant and imposing
quality to a woman."
"Not only that," I continued. "You know I am _supersensual._ With me
everything has its roots in the imagination, and thence it receives
its nourishment. I was already pre-maturely developed and highly
sensitive, when at about the age of ten the legends of the martyrs
fell into my hands. I remember reading with a kind of horror, which
really was rapture, of how they pined in prisons, were laid on the
gridiron, pierced with arrows, boiled in pitch, thrown to wild
animals, nailed to the cross, and suffered the most horrible torment
with a kind of joy. To suffer and endure cruel torture from then on
seemed to me exquisite delight, especially when it was inflicted by a
beautiful woman, for ever since I can remember all poetry and
everything demonic was for me concentrated in woman. I literally
carried the idea into a sort of cult.
"I felt there was something sacred in sex; in fact, it was the only
sacred thing. In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because
the most important function of existence--the continuation of the
species--is her vocation. To me woman represented a personification of
nature, _Isis_, and man was her priest, her slave. In contrast to him
she was cruel like nature herself who tosses aside whatever has served
her purposes as soon as she no longer has need for it. To him her
cruelties, even death itself, still were sensual raptures.
"I envied King Gunther whom the mighty Brunhilde fettered on the
bridal night, and the poor troubadour whom his capricious mistress
had sewed in the skins of wolves to have him hunted like game. I
envied the Knight Ctirad whom the daring Amazon Scharka craftily
ensnared in a forest near Prague, and carried to her castle Divin,
where, after having amused herself a while with him, she had him
broken on the wheel--"
"Disgusting," cried Wanda. "I almost wish you might fall into the
hands of a woman of their savage race. In the wolf's skin, under the
teeth of the dogs, or upon the wheel, you would lose the taste for
your kind of poetry."
"Do you think so? I hardly do."
"Have you actually lost your senses."
"Possibly. But let me go on. I developed a perfect passion for
reading stories in which the extremest cruelties were described. I
loved especially to look at pictures and prints which represented
them. All the sanguinary tyrants that ever occupied a throne; the
inquisitors who had the heretics tortured, roasted, and butchered;
all the woman whom the pages of history have recorded as lustful,
beautiful, and violent women like Libussa, Lucretia Borgia, Agnes of
Hungary, Queen Margot, Isabeau, the Sultana Roxolane, the Russian
Czarinas of last century--all these I saw in furs or in robes
bordered with ermine."
"And so furs now rouse strange imaginings in you," said Wanda, and
simultaneously she began to drape her magnificent fur-cloak
coquettishly about her, so that the dark shining sable played
beautifully around her bust and arms. "Well, how do you feel now,
half broken on the wheel?"
Her piercing green eyes rested on me with a peculiar mocking
satisfaction. Overcome by desire, I flung myself down before her, and
threw my arms about her.
"Yes--you have awakened my dearest dream," I cried. "It has slept
"And this is?" She put her hand on my neck.
I was seized with a sweet intoxication under the influence of this
warm little hand and of her regard, which, tenderly searching, fell
upon me through her half-closed lids.
_"To be the slave of a woman, a beautiful woman, whom I love, whom
"And who on that account maltreats you," interrupted Wanda, laughing.
"Yes, who fetters me and whips me, treads me underfoot, the while
she gives herself to another."
"And who in her wantonness will go so far as to make a present of
you to your successful rival when driven insane by jealousy you must
meet him face to face, who will turn you over to his absolute mercy.
Why not? This final tableau doesn't please you so well?"
I looked at Wanda frightened.
"You surpass my dreams."
"Yes, we women are inventive," she said, "take heed, when you find
your ideal, it might easily happen, that she will treat you more
cruelly than you anticipate."
"I am afraid that I have already found my ideal!" I exclaimed,
burying my burning face in her lap.
"Not I?" exclaimed Wanda, throwing off her furs and moving about the
room laughing. She was still laughing as I went downstairs, and when
I stood musing in the yard, I still heard her peals of laughter above.
* * * * *
"Do you really then expect me to embody your ideal?" Wanda asked
archly, when we met in the park to-day.
At first I could find no answer. The most antagonistic emotions were
battling within me. In the meantime she sat down on one of the stone-
benches, and played with a flower.
I kneeled down and seized her hands.
"Once more I beg you to become my wife, my true and loyal wife; if
you can't do that then become the embodiment of my ideal, absolutely,
without reservation, without softness."
"You know I am ready at the end of a year to give you my hand, if
you prove to be the man I am seeking," Wanda replied very seriously,
"but I think you would be more grateful to me if through me you
realized your imaginings. Well, which do you prefer?"
"I believe that everything my imagination has dreamed lies latent in
"You are mistaken."
"I believe," I continued, "that you enjoy having a man wholly in
your power, torturing him--"
"No, no," she exclaimed quickly, "or perhaps--." She pondered.
"I don't understand myself any longer," she continued, "but I have
a confession to make to you. You have corrupted my imagination and
inflamed my blood. I am beginning to like the things you speak of.
The enthusiasm with which you speak of a Pompadour, a Catherine the
Second, and all the other selfish, frivolous, cruel women, carries
me away and takes hold of my soul. It urges me on to become like those
women, who in spite of their vileness were slavishly adored during
their lifetime and still exert a miraculous power from their graves.
"You will end by making of me a despot in miniature, a domestic
"Well then," I said in agitation, "if all this is inherent in you,
give way to this trend of your nature. Nothing half-way. If you can't
be a true and loyal wife to me, be a demon."
I was nervous from loss of sleep, and the proximity of the beautiful
woman affected me like a fever. I no longer recall what I said, but
I remember that I kissed her feet, and finally raised her foot and
put my neck under it. She withdrew it quickly, and rose almost angrily.
"If you love me, Severin," she said quickly, and her voice sounded
sharp and commanding, "never speak to me of those things again.
Understand, never! Otherwise I might really--" She smiled and sat
"I am entirely serious," I exclaimed, half-raving. "I adore you so
infinitely that I am willing to suffer anything from you, for the
sake of spending my whole life near you."
"Severin, once more I warn you."
"Your warning is vain. Do with me what you will, as long as you
don't drive me away."
"Severin," replied Wanda, "I am a frivolous young woman; it is
dangerous for you to put yourself so completely in my power. You will
end by actually becoming a plaything to me. Who will give warrant
that I shall not abuse your insane desire?"
"Your own nobility of character."
"Power makes people over-bearing."
"Be it," I cried, "tread me underfoot."
Wanda threw her arms around my neck, looked into my eyes, and shook
"I am afraid I can't, but I will try, for your sake, for I love you
Severin, as I have loved no other man."
* * * * *
To-day she suddenly took her hat and shawl, and I had to go shopping
with her. She looked at whips, long whips with a short handle, the
kind that are used on dogs.
"Are these satisfactory?" said the shopkeeper.
"No, they are much too small," replied Wanda, with a side-glance at
me. "I need a large--"
"For a bull-dog, I suppose?" opined the merchant.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "of the kind that are used in Russia for
She looked further and finally selected a whip, at whose sight I
felt a strange creeping sensation.
"Now good-by, Severin," she said. "I have some other purchases to
make, but you can't go along."
I left her and took a walk. On the way back I saw Wanda coming out
at a furrier's. She beckoned me.
"Consider it well," she began in good spirits, "I have never made a
secret of how deeply your serious, dreamy character has fascinated
me. The idea of seeing this serious man wholly in my power, actually
lying enraptured at my feet, of course, stimulates me--but will this
attraction last? Woman loves a man; she maltreats a slave, and ends
by kicking him aside."
"Very well then, kick me aside," I replied, "when you are tired of
me. I want to be your slave."
"Dangerous forces lie within me," said Wanda, after we had gone a
few steps further. "You awaken them, and not to your advantage. You
know how to paint pleasure, cruelty, arrogance in glowing colors.
What would you say should I try my hand at them, and make you the
first object of my experiments. I would be like Dionysius who had the
inventor of the iron ox roasted within it in order to see whether his
wails and groans really resembled the bellowing of an ox.
"Perhaps I am a female Dionysius?"
"Be it," I exclaimed, "and my dreams will be fulfilled. I am yours
for good or evil, choose. The destiny that lies concealed within my
breast drives me on--demoniacally--relentlessly."
I do not care to see you to-day or to-morrow, and not until evening
the day after tomorrow, and then _as my slave_.
"As my slave" was underlined. I read the note which I received early
in the morning a second time. Then I had a donkey saddled, an animal
symbolic of learned professors, and rode into the mountains. I wanted
to numb my desire, my yearning, with the magnificent scenery of the
Carpathians. I am back, tired, hungry, thirsty, and more in love than
ever. I quickly change my clothes, and a few moments later knock at
I enter. She is standing in the center of the room, dressed in a gown
of white satin which floods down her body like light. Over it she
wears a scarlet _kazabaika_, richly edged with ermine. Upon her
powdered, snowy hair is a little diadem of diamonds. She stands with
her arms folded across her breast, and with her brows contracted.
"Wanda!" I run toward her, and am about to throw my arm about her to
kiss her. She retreats a step, measuring me from top to bottom.
"Mistress!" I kneel down, and kiss the hem of her garment.
"That is as it should be."
"Oh, how beautiful you are."
"Do I please you?" She stepped before the mirror, and looked at
herself with proud satisfaction.
"I shall become mad!"
Her lower lip twitched derisively, and she looked at me mockingly
from behind half-closed lids.
"Give me the whip."
I looked about the room.
"No," she exclaimed, "stay as you are, kneeling." She went over to
the fire-place, took the whip from the mantle-piece, and, watching
me with a smile, let it hiss through the air; then she slowly rolled
up the sleeve of her fur-jacket.
"Marvellous woman!" I exclaimed.
"Silence, slave!" She suddenly scowled, looked savage, and struck me
with the whip. A moment later she threw her arm tenderly about me,
and pityingly bent down to me. "Did I hurt you?" she asked, half-
"No," I replied, "and even if you had, pains that come through you
are a joy. Strike again, if it gives you pleasure."
"But it doesn't give me pleasure."
Again I was seized with that strange intoxication.
"Whip me," I begged, "whip me without mercy."
Wanda swung the whip, and hit me twice. "Are you satisfied now?"