Saturday, April 01, 2006

Of Fetish, Fur and Floggings

Speed read a damn strange book today in Starbucks, post-step class: Leopold Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs. I had picked it up as a serendipitous-why-not-read? in Kinokuniya a few days ago, since the new Penguin Red series of classics had a generous 35% off with a voucher clipped from the Star. (I'm a sucker for a bargain.)

Didn't realise it at the time of course, but the word masochism is derived from the author's name, and this was one of the first pieces of erotic fiction to deal with dominace and submission.

The hero, Severin has a fetish for women dressed in fur, and dreams of being the abject slave of the woman he loves. He isn't prepared though for how far she decides to take his fantasy ...

(Some things are better kept in your head, mate!)

If sexual power-play is your thing (and it isn't my cup of latte) you will probably be fascinated by this. But don't expect a racy read, as we don't get much further than kisses and a heaving bosom and poor old Severin slapped about and abused every way the lady can devise.

The novel is based on Sacher-Masoch's real-life exploits and the drama is entirely in the head-games. Kathryn Gross in her excellent essay Venus in Furs: The Story of a Real-life Masochist says:
You have to decide for yourself if it is sex, pathology, mind games or to some degree an exaggerated reflection of life at that time and place.
I felt the writing, or at least the translation by Joachim Neugroschel, seemed at times clunky and I thought this reader's quote on Amazon was pretty apt:
To regard this as a "classic" in literary terms is a mistake. It is a historical oddity and one best read in a period translation rather than one which - however inadvertently - smooths and modernises it.
If all this has grabbed your attention and you'd like to read the book, you can actually download it for free from Project Guttenburg.

Now then, where did I leave my whip?

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