The ‘M’ in BDSM: Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

masochism coverUnlike the other works I’ve so far reviewed which have had relatively little written about them, Venus in Furs has been so thoroughly analyzed that I’ve been stumped as to what is left to say. The internet is peppered with introductions, hilariously “negative” reviews, and looming large, Gilles Deleuze’s novella-length essay “Coldness and Cruelty,” which I have even referenced in previous reviews.

Why bother, if so much has already been said? Why, if my little mission here is to bring attention to overlooked erotic novels for inclusion in my imaginary Canon of Kink, should I bother with what is already acknowledged as one of the most basic classics in the genre? We call it masochism, for crying out loud, this set of needs that any reader of BDSM erotica is quite familiar with. This book, or at least its author, gives us the ‘M’ in BDSM (although he was not the least bit happy about that).

Then it occurred to me: how many people have actually read it? I hadn’t, until recently, and I’ve been reading kinky books for quite some time. “Isn’t that some Victorian fem-dom novel?” someone asked me. Yes. It’s the prototypical fem-dom novel, and it’s worth reading—for anyone interested in the genre, and for anyone who likes reading about people being whipped by other people (which I assume is why you’re reading my blog).

As I see it, the important milestones of our beloved genre—not all erotica, but the narrower subgenre of BDSM erotica—were few and far between before the latter part of the 20th Century. Here is what I see as those most important milestones, virtually all until the 1980’s or so:

  • 1780’s-1810’s: Justine, 120 Days of Sodom (and many more), Sade
  • 1870, Venus in Furs (as well as several others), Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
  • 1954, Story of O, Pauline Reage
  • 1956, The Image, Jean de Berg
  • 1980’s, Sleeping Beauty trilogy, Anne Roquelaire (Anne Rice)
  • 1990’s-present, Marketplace series, Laura Antoniou
  • 1990’s, Carrie novels (included, though less famous), Molly Weatherfield [see review on this site]
  • 2011, (Let’s face it, because of its cultural impact and its repercussions on the writing and publishing of erotica), 50 Shades of Grey, E.L. James

Got any other ideas? I’d love to hear them. Filling in these immense gaps is my personal mission—was there nothing kinky, and worthy of merit, written in the century between Sade and Masoch, or the half-century between Masoch and those wonderful French women? (Not to mention the centuries before Sade, or in other parts of the world besides Europe and America?)

These books are classics for a reason. They got people cranked. They changed they way people thought about things and expressed themselves in eras that were not so tolerant as our own.

I decided that in addition to reviewing all sorts of lesser known classics, I should also explore the milestones, the landmarks—especially since not that many people have actually read them. In some cases, myself included.

*

venus whipI decided not to discuss the role these books have played in society and history, so much as to review them as erotica.

This presents a few problems, to the modern reader. Venus in Furs, though twisted as hell, does not use the explicit language which you will find while perusing the Erotica selection on Amazon. Sacher-Masoch did not see his work as porn, he saw it as serious literature (which most good erotica is, or at least approaches). His original goal was to write a very expansive series of stories on the sad state of mankind, six novels in six categories of human misbehavior titled The Legacy of Cain—Love, Property, State, War, Work, and Death. As it happens, he only got partway through Love before he gave up on the idea. Venus is the first novel in that series.

To try to get a handle on this strange little book—and it is a strange (and relatively short) book—and view it through the lens of erotica, I decided to ask the same questions of it that I ask of all erotic novels.

Namely: is it hot?

Well, sssssssort of. Yes. Sort of. As I said, there’s no explicit sex. In fact, some of the euphemisms are so dense I’m not completely sure what actually happened: “We spent two wonderful hours together.” But considering just how damned kinky the two main characters get with each other, I’m pretty sure they went at it. I am actually surprised at how much of what is in this novel was allowed at all and not censored or banned. This was written in the 19th Century after all, when Britain and America were at their most prim and proper, at least on the surface. This ain’t no Jane Austen, I can tell you that. However—there are a few scenes that are most definitely intense and arousing, in my opinion, despite the absence of actual “sex”.

Is it well written? Well…it’s just different. It’s not badly written, as, for example, that current trilogy exuding so much influence, for which we all wish the author would have just taken a few writing classes—but the writing, particularly the dialogue, can get a little strange to our ears. It can also lean toward the sentimental, the flowery, and the melodramatic.

The dialogue isn’t always natural. Masoch had certain beliefs on the roles of men and women, the impossibility of equality in love, the hypocrisy of religion—and he uses many conversations as platforms for debating these beliefs more than anything real people would say. Often, though, the dialogue is charming and the characters fascinating.

It was an innovative story, especially considering when it was written. It reminds us that certain desires, certain tendencies, are not new, and this novel is one of the earliest records of such things. The micro-writing is at times outdated and a chore, but the story itself is a joy, in my opinion. Of course, I find joy in strange places, or else I wouldn’t be writing about these things for fun.

*

Venus in Furs is, at its core, a story of two lovers, Severin and Wanda, who do not know what they want. It is fair to say that they are a pretty messed up couple. To be more precise, it is the story of a man who knows what he wants, until he gets it, and then he is unhappy—until he has it no more, and then he is unhappier still; and a woman who does not want the same thing as he does, until she does, which makes her no happier either; and then she doesn’t. Let’s call their relationship an experiment gone wrong. I don’t know that Sacher-Masoch considered it a cautionary tale, although the main character certainly did. I think that it serves as one as well, but not the same lesson that Severin learns.

The novella begins with an odd framing device, a dream the narrator has in which he is having a long philosophical fireside conversation with a beautiful ex-lover dressed only in fur, which was pretty much Sacher-Masoch’s fetish—not leather but soft, fair, female skin beneath fur, and a harsh, cold will that defies both. Climate is discussed, and its relation to religion and morality. She is a follower of Greek libertinism and beauty, Dionysian free love, so to speak, and does not understand these Northern, proper—inhibited—men, and the baggage their inhibited morality brings with it.

In one of the story’s more humorous moments, the narrator is awakened by his manservant, and when the servant asks him what put him to sleep, he answers his own question by picking up the book he’d been reading: “Ah. Hegel,” he says.

Well, I think that’s funny.

Titian, Venus with a Mirror, 1555.

Titian, Venus with a Mirror, 1555.

The nameless narrator goes to see his friend Severin, an embittered man, and after Severin abuses the maidservant and states that he could never serve a woman, the narrator sees a print on the wall, a painting resembling one by Titian, Venus With a Mirror. Severin’s painting is of a woman admiring herself and wearing only, of course, a fur coat. She holds a whip, and a man grovels at her feet (which is not in the original painting). The narrator is fascinated, and Severin directs him to read the manuscript on the table, a memoir that he himself has written. And so begins the actual story.

*

The bulk of the novel is written as the much younger Severin’s personal journal, with individual entries. It begins while he is staying at a resort in the Carpathian Mountains in Austria-Hungary, where the author was from. He passes the time starting, but never finishing, various creative endeavors including poetry, painting, and music composition; he loses interest in all almost immediately. He walks the grounds and discovers a statue, a copy of a Greek Venus, and falls instantly in love with it—her sculpted white skin, her cold hardness. If only he could meet such a real woman.

Severin refers to himself as “supersensual”, which these days means “kinky”. He wants the extremes of experience, or, as I’ve seen the masochist’s desire for pain and debasement once described, intense simulation. He soon discovers that lodging in the room directly above his is a young, beautiful, redheaded and wealthy widow, Wanda von Dunajew, who he begins watching from a distance, and who, unbeknownst to him, has also been watching him.

They meet, and talk, and it must be said jump into some pretty serious conversations very quickly. (A bit heavy on theory, yes, but I actually like their initial conversations.) Wanda comes off as a very thoughtful and—refreshingly, for this novel’s era—liberated woman. She finds Severin quite interesting as well, someone thoughtful, not your common lunkhead that she keeps running into in her social circles. He’s not a “bro” in other words, and she’s interested.

She tells him so, but also that she has no desire for permanent attachment. Why should she? She’s rich. She believes in the full expression of love, but also that love is as impermanent as everything else in our transient lives. The conversation is a more realistic version of the original narrator’s talk with his dream ex. But Wanda is sharp, and perceptive, and really, pretty hot. Severin thinks so, too.

They spend much time together. Finally, Severin is so in love he proposes marriage. Wanda refuses. She admits she loves him—but only will for a short time before she feels the pull of novelty, of wanting new things. Poor Severin is distraught, and Wanda makes him a deal—they’ll live as a couple for a year, and if he’s convinced her to love him, she’ll marry him.

Severin can’t help but let his secret out: he tells her he can’t have it half way; it’ll drive him insane. He wants either a woman who is as completely devoted to him as he is to her, or he’d rather have a woman completely indifferent to him—who has such a total, contemptuous disdain that she would treat him as a slave to be used and abused, not a lover.

Surprisingly, Wanda finds this intriguing—“Be careful what you wish for”—but also laughingly impossible. They begin their trial romance.

*

Wanda asks Severin if he has always had such tendencies, and he says yes, from early childhood—a conversation I’ve had many times myself. (It’s always been a source of fascination for me, interested in power exchanges since I can remember, since before I knew what “sex” was, that some people don’t get into it until much later in life—they “learn” it.) He tells her of early fascinations with the Christian martyrs, and of a teenage encounter with a beautiful distant aunt whom he’d treated rudely, only to be bound and severely corrected by her with a switch, with the help of the cook and maid to whom he’d also been rather haughty.

Such conversations get Wanda riled up. She’s pretty vanilla, really, but she gets the appeal of being worshipped. She teases him with “threats” of treating him just how he wants to be treated.

This dance continues, this idea between them. Wanda at first tells him that she could only love a man that she herself would kneel for. But as Severin explains his fantasies, Wanda becomes more and more intrigued, yet also tries to warn him off: she is beginning to like this permission to be cruel, this total worship from a man she admires. Yet she sees a dark side inside herself that might not be able to stop, were it to surface. She is also afraid of failing him—what if her efforts are only halfhearted? This is the one thing neither of them could abide, they’re both very serious people. She wants to please him, wants him to devote himself to her; does not want to hurt him, wants to hurt him.

At last she tells him they’re going shopping, and she purchases a whip, a heavy-duty one, and that night she sends him a note:

“My Beloved,

I do not wish to see you today or tomorrow, only the evening of the day after, and then only as my slave.”

Severin receives his first whipping, but Wanda must be coaxed. She relates her distaste for this kind of thing; she loves him. He eggs her on, begs for it. She whips him pretty damn hard, and at the end says “You have awakened dangerous tendencies in me,” but sends him back to his room. The next morning, she suggests they forget about the whole horrible night.

Has anyone besides me had this problem? If you’re an actual practitioner of BDSM, I’m sure you have. It’s the old problem of falling in love with someone who just doesn’t share your tastes. No matter how sexy and wonderful they may be, no matter how great the vanilla sex is, some of us just need something different, whether we top or bottom. It wasn’t so long ago that you just couldn’t bring these things up, early in a relationship. Nowadays, with social media and more tolerant mores, it’s at least possible to find those with the same interests, although the negotiations, duplicity, and human nature in general can be just as complex.

Even if a person is lucky enough to find someone with overlapping interests, the level of intensities can vary—it’s just hard to find the right person, isn’t it? It’s also hard to reconcile fantasy and the reality of having those fantasies approximated. Often the reality just isn’t as intense as the fantasy—but what if it’s too intense?

venusMost fantasies involving power exchange take things farther than we’d really like to go in real life. That’s why they’re fantasies—we get the control, and we get to experience things more extreme than are actually pleasant. This is also how most erotic fiction works, at least in the BDSM realm. I have a theory that whatever the level of, let’s call it “harshness,” that a reader of bondage erotica prefers, it is just a bit more intense than what they do or would like to do in real life. Those readers who might only go for a little light spanking and play-restraint tend to like their books a bit harsher, but not much. Those whose fantasies and readings tend toward the more painful and perhaps less consensual would probably go for something harder in real life, as long as it was with someone they trusted.

This is just my theory, I have no way of proving it.

Severin wants total power exchange—or at least thinks he does. But his playmate, at least initially, wants no part of this. How is he to get it? He persuades her to beat him severely, and then she kind of likes it, until the light of morning when she regrets it. Severin, thrilled at the previous night’s encounter, is crestfallen.

*

Contracts. Deleueze states that contracts, negotiations, are the language of the sub, the masochist. For while they may fantasize of being under the total control of a ruthless, uncaring sadist, the reality is that they have limits, need assurances that those limits will not be transgressed. The true sadist, by contrast, wants to do away with these things, wants to do away with consent, for that matter. Because most tops are not true sadists, but only have sadistic tendencies, they (we) willingly participate in these negotiations. It is the language of the sub telling the interested top what they are willing to do, but also, as in Severin’s case, telling the unenthused top what they want done.

Severin and Wanda do a great deal of negotiating in the middle of the book, both before and after they agree upon a written contract, which, unlike most real-life ones, gives Wanda absolute power, even that of life and death. Severin immediately begins to have doubts, even though this is exactly what he wanted. His greatest fear is losing Wanda, and cannot bear the thought of her taking other lovers or especially granting control of him to one of these lovers— which is not only permitted in the contract, but insisted upon by Severin! He suggests they abandon the whole project and marry, but Wanda has decided he is not a suitable husband after all despite her love for him. Later, she’s the one to suggest they give up all this nonsense, and Severin despairs over the potential loss of his fantasies come true—which he was actually beginning to dread.

I swear, these two. It’s back and forth and back and forth, not just between their opposed desires, but between their own opposed internal desires—they both want this, don’t want this, want different levels of it. All or nothing, no, lets compromise, I’d rather die than compromise. They are frustrated with each other, with their own expectations, with their inabilities to please each other.

While Severin and Wanda are in one of their mutually enthused moods, they talk of travelling to a country where slavery is legal, so that she can properly own him. But Wanda decides it would be more fitting—and arousing—if they were to go where it is not, so that she would be the only woman with a slave, and he would be hers by the sheer power of his devotion to her. They go to Florence, with Severin as her servant, riding third class yet running to attend to her at every stop while she flirts with her male cabin mates. He’s in heaven, he’s in hell.

*

venus-in-furs-sacher-masoch1Wanda begins to enjoy the new situation. Yes, indeed she does. In Florence she rents a villa; Severin is treated as a mere servant though they are still lovers, in secret.

They finally get around to signing the contract she’d drafted at the resort, allowing her to take his life, and once he signs, he is surprised that his new Mistress summons three black women (Negresses, as they’re called in the novel), who bind him and tie him to a pillar in the ancient villa.

Wanda proceeds to whip the hell out of him, even across his face. She teases, taunts, and mocks him as she does so. She certainly does not seem to be faking it, this time. Then she bars him from her bedroom for a month. If you’re into this kind of thing, this is an interesting scene.

Severin spends the month working and living with the gardener, and once he is summoned back to his Mistress he functions only as a servant. He is miserable. One thing that occurred to me while reading this is a comparison to Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series. In those novels, it is service which gives the slaves, who are recruited into the vast secret network, their life’s true purpose. It is service itself that gives these people a sense of contentment that they have been searching for their entire lives. They are trained, they are sold to strangers for a specific time. Sometimes, to me, they seem a little too content. Sometimes I want things more desperate. In those novels, such desperation gets people kicked out as unprofessional. But then, in those novels, love is what can upset everything. And poor Severin, hardly a professional slave, is deeply in love.

Wanda goes to the theater, has callers. She is living the high life, while Severin is allowed only to help her out of the carriage and wait. Service to him is separation, agony. Wanda is only doing what he has told her he wants, yet he finds it not satisfying in the least.

There are some wonderfully cruel—and innovative—scenes of punishment, I have to say, then Wanda allows him a very tender day of being Severin, not a slave, before she begins accepting lovers. To his surprise, she’s actually been faithful, so far. (It’s so hard to tell, with the radical euphemisms in this book, if anybody’s doing anybody.) Now he’s is absolute agony, waiting by the carriage for her to return from a rendezvous in the country.

*

The painter section: this is probably my favorite part of the book. A guest arrives, asking shyly for the Mistress of the house. Is this the man with whom she is having an affair? No. Severin recognizes this bashful young man, a German, for what he is: he is of Severin’s tribe. The boy is achingly polite and deferent even to Severin, whom he assumes is only a servant. He is there to teach art to Wanda, perhaps to paint a portrait of her.

There is a wonderfully sensual scene in which Wanda tells Severin that he will attend her bath. He does so in the cavernous, round bathroom, and after drying her, prostrated before her, he gasps as he sees their reflection in the mirror. Drawing her attention to it, they agree the image must be captured, if not by a Renaissance master that it deserves, then perhaps by the one very humble, very devoted painter of their acquaintance.

They pose, the next time he visits. This is all pretty cool, I must say. The German artist is as taken by her ferocity as Severin is; she not only wields the whip for the painting but uses it as well, on both men, because she can. He returns for details, painting both of them separately, and keeps a drawing he made of her for himself. The painting is quite a thing—and consider, for a moment, what something like that would both entail and mean in a contemporary D/s relationship—bringing in not a photographer but a talented oil painter to capture the Domme and her sub (or a Dom and his sub); the time it takes, the effort. What a record, and process, that would be, even today—especially today.

In any case the painter refuses payment, and exits the story.

And so enters the Greek military officer, and things go downhill fast.

*

Prince Corsini is a man’s man, a veteran of the Turkish Wars, renowned as much for his racial hatred (read: anti-Muslim sentiment) as his bravery on the field. He would fit in quite well among say, Southern American gentility nowadays, were it not for a few behavioral quirks: he changes clothes several times a day from resplendent uniform to even more resplendent uniform (“like a courtesan”, Severin notes), and he is so beautiful that he has even been known to dress like a woman in Paris, just to mess with people and get the compliments. Yet he’s not someone to be messed with, and Severin knows it.

Wanda gets so riled up from their initial sighting of him on the street that Severin watches her face flush, her eyes dilate. “Find out who he is,” she orders him. Severin learns that the Prince is to attend the theater that night, and there is a ball at the Greek ambassador’s house the next. She goes to both, with Severin attending, watching. The Prince has no idea of their arrangement, nor would he care—he simply orders Severin to get the lady’s coat, and then his own.

The Prince soon pays Wanda a visit, and Severin sobs in his bed alone—up until now, he realizes, it has all been childish role-playing, game-playing. This shit just got real. Again, we have this dilemma of fantasies realized, of reality not being quite what we thought it would be in matters of kink. Expectations. There are so many of them, am I right? The other person not quite understanding the imagined scenario they’re supposed to fulfill. Even in real life, they’re called “scenes”. And even when they do know the details, are they merely acting to fulfill your desires, not finding them particularly interesting? As Severin can see, Wanda’s fascination with the Prince is quite genuine. Why did he have to tell her how overheated that got him?

*

venus statueIt’s too bad, to me, that Severin couldn’t have found someone who understood his kinks, his needs, and could be as into all this as he was. This, to me, is the modern lesson to be gleaned from this novella. Not that man and woman can’t exist as equals in a relationship, not that love is tragic, even fatal—it’s that if you’ve got needs that are somewhat unorthodox, you need to find someone who’ll meet them! Be patient. Again, it’s that frustration of being kinky and falling in love with someone vanilla. I’ve done it, in the past. Haven’t you?

Wanda is drop dead gorgeous, smart, and funny. How could he resist, once she showed interest? And not just interest—she tried. They argue, near the end, as things are getting worse and worse. She tells him, “Did you not see how hard it was for me to whip you, when all I wanted to do was take your face in my hands and cover it with kisses?” I mean, damn—she tried! It’s just too bad they couldn’t somehow meet halfway. But halfway was how both of them refused to do anything.

It just wasn’t what she was looking for. “Have I not told you that I want to be dominated?” she says, though she doesn’t necessarily mean as severely as Severin likes it. But: “Dangerous tendencies were lurking in me, and you were the one who awakened them; if I now take pleasure in hurting and tormenting you, it is entirely your fault.”

She’s become bored with his games, his begging, his equivocating over what he wants. She can no longer marry a man who’s been her slave. What once intrigued her has grown tiresome. She just isn’t into him anymore.

But she did, as she warned him, pick up a cruel streak. Shall I spoil the end for you? No? Then skip this next section.

*

They make up, after yet another fight. Severin has even tried to kill himself, which she gave him full permission to do, yet she pulls him out of the river soaking wet, embarrassed like a pathetic kitten, and soon feverish. Her new man wants Severin out of the picture, has become enraged after she told him their story, even almost abusive to her—which Wanda found oddly arousing.

But she calls Severin to her room and showers him with kisses; says let’s leave Florence. She goes to town to say a few goodbyes while leaving him to take care of last-minute paperwork. She returns affectionate, but then wants to whip him. Because she know he likes it, and she’s started enjoying it too. He accedes, and she binds him to the column in her room.

…And then the Prince appears, incredulous at first, but clearly relishing the situation once he realizes it’s for real. Wanda hands him the whip, and he goes to town on Severin, delivering a worse beating than Wanda ever could. Severin is not only in severe pain, but doubly humiliated, whipped by his rival as the woman he loves watches from the chaise.

Yet, he admits, he can’t help but feel “a wild and supersensual pleasure in my pitiful situation.” He can’t help it.

Wanda and her manly man leave in a carriage as Severin lies bound and bleeding in her chambers. He will never see her again, but he will receive a kind letter some years in the future—along with the painting our anonymous narrator saw in the older Severin’s room at the beginning of the novel.

The framed story, Severin’s journal, ends, and we’re back in that room. Severin tells the narrator that the episode at least lifted “the rosy mist of supersensuality”. End of story. Severin still reasons that men and women can never be equals in love, and has vowed to never be “the anvil” again, he will be the hammer. Now he beats the servant girls, but knows he could never find a woman of higher stature who would put up with it. In other words, the Prince beat his kinkiness right out of him.

*

But would it? And would he not be able to find a “respectable” woman willing to be so treated? I don’t think so. If there’s one thing this book proves, it’s that there have been kinksters everywhere, always. It’s just not always easy finding them.

“Masochists” didn’t exist, yet, at least under that name—how could they! Severin would have had to find a “supersensual” woman, except that he himself made that term up. They just didn’t have the vocabulary. How did they find each other, back then? Were there clubs, like so many contemporary erotic novels take place in? Or did they just know—like gaydar? Whisper amongst themselves, hoping to avoid scandal? I wish I knew.

I would love for some scholar to uncover a secret journal of a submissive before Masoch; even better if it could be from a woman’s point of view, as the majority of erotica is written today. In Venus, Severin just blurts out what he’s looking for, early. He would have to trust Wanda to spell it out like that, barely knowing each other, risking his reputation in society. (Of course it is fiction. I must also admit a major shortcoming in my research—I have yet to read The Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch, Leopold’s real-life wife whom the book was partially based on [along with his mistress Fanny Pistor] which despite some claims of embellishment must be a fascinating read.)

How did people confess such desires, back then? Subtle hints? Did they wait, and hope, and die a little inside when nothing happened? They had no books to discuss, no points of reference to serve as conversation starters—although I guess they did have some interesting paintings.

*
venus coverIf this book were full novel length, I admit it could get tiresome. The endless indecision and equivocation on the part of both characters, if it continued much longer than it does, could definitely wear on the reader. It might wear on some, anyway.

Wanda dressed in nothing but her long fur coat, her fair skin showing between its unfastened lapels, might not be kinky enough for some readers, even if she’s holding (and using) a whip. But as Severin notes, the hint of flesh can be more enticing than complete nudity, sometimes.

As it is, a novella, I enjoyed Venus in Furs, frustrations and all. There are frustrations, believe me. But this was written at a time that, in not-so-faraway Britain, women were forbidden to show so much as an ankle below their full-length swimsuits on the beach. A book about a male wishing to be whipped and degraded by a beautiful, half-undressed redhead? How does this book even exist?

This is one of the earliest accounts we have that people have been doing and wanting very nasty and filthy and illogical things, since forever, I believe. I for one am thankful that we have it, and happy to have read it.

  15 comments for “The ‘M’ in BDSM: Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

  1. January 18, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Terrific piece. I read Venus in Furs in the Deleuze edition years ago (along with the Deleuze essay) years ago and didn’t get nearly as much from it as you did. The business about the contract really confused me, since I (following Story of O) always had my sadists impose contracts. But of course you’re right: the contract is the masochist’s impossible fantasy of the ideal sadist, and the sad humor of Venus in Furs (too sad and too adult for me at the time of my own most creative fantasizing) is how Quixotic that search is for that impossible fantasy, that perfect fit.

    It brings to mind Daphne Merkin’s brave New Yorker piece about her years of wanting to be spanked and the reality always coming up short of the desire — always (not a direct quote) too hard or too gentle. (I’m not a fan of Merkin’s right-wing upper East Side sensibility, but she completely nailed it here, and it couldn’t have been an easy thing to write).

    What’s missing from the Sacher-Masoch’s vision (at least from my point of view) is a final element of fantasy: the subculture, the secret society, Sade’s Friends of Crime, Réage’s brotherhood of the iron ring, Antoniou’s Marketplace, Anne Rice’s Island company, my association, Mr. Benson’s Top Men. Poor Severin didn’t have our bottoms’ advantage of innocently stumbling in to a going concern with its own baroque always-already rules and regs.

    Curious what you think. More later.

    Best,
    Pam Rosenthal/Molly Weatherfield

    • LN Bey
      January 18, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Thank you, Pam! I have not read the Merkin article, but I will.

      The tension between fantasy and expectations and the possible disappointments of reality, in the BDSM mindset at least, is one of my fascinations. It’s what my first published story, “Auction, in Quotation Marks” (itself in quotation marks) is directly about, and it weighs heavily in the novel I’m publishing in a few months (also my first). Although this is part of everyone’s lives I’m sure, I think it’s something kinksters deal with even more — far more, because we so often envision complete scenarios. Sometimes, even complete cultures!

      I found it interesting that you mentioned what was “missing” from ViF. Like you, my fantasies, and favorite erotic fiction, have always gravitated toward organized, often secret societies that are able to maintain even more control than individuals could. But many disagree — they find it impersonal, which to some of us is not necessarily such a bad thing, in fantasy. 🙂

      It just occurred to me that this is one of many dividing lines in this genre: “institutional”, as I call it, situations, vs. one-on-one (or two or three…). Some want that personalized attention from one Dom to one sub, that more closely resembles romance. (Another division? Billionaire vs. non-billionaire tops, it seems.) Who could argue that there is room for both? But yes, given Sade’s Friends, I would so love to read a 19th Century (or earlier) story written from a sub’s (especially female) point of view, finding just such a society as you mention.

      BTW, I originally had a description of ViF’s “plow” scene in this review, which Deleuze goes on and on about Wanda being an Earth Mother and the ritualism of it; my mind went to the plowing scene in Carrie, which is one of my very favorite scenes in your novels — no Earth-motherly ritual there; it’s how they finally “break” her through the very unsexy (to her, not to me!) labor of it. But I decided I was going off on a tangent, and that I shouldn’t describe every hot scene in the book, so I deleted it.

      …Have I mentioned how much I love your books?

      • January 20, 2016 at 6:19 pm

        You have given my books ample, generous, and eloquent attention, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say yet again how much I’ve enjoyed and appreciated every word of it.

        A few more random thoughts on the matter:

        I’ve been fascinated by the notion of secret societies and conspiracies since my early 20s when I read Story of O and Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in pretty much the same mindspace (one of the things I loved about writing Carrie was that she’d read so many of the same books as I had, including Karl Marx on the commodity fetish). But while I’ve fully enjoyed those fantasies over the years, I find them harder to deal with these days, as vicious, overheated fantasy (with real consequences) seems to be overtaking our national politics — with the result that my own fantasy life has become more private, attenuated, and intellectual, and less creative and exuberant.

        An analysis, however, that I fully enjoyed (when I was fully enjoying these things) was Roland Barthes’ Sade, Fourier, Loyola. (My character Kate is a kind of primitive socialist of the Fourier variety).

        And an implicit analysis that I hate hate hate and that pretty much dominates a certain popular version of BDSM romance is the WE’RE-the-GOOD-vampires trope. Jeez, if you’re gonna flirt with the darkness, at least have the grace not to put off all the hard stuff on some nasty group of OTHER people.

        If I ever write my way out of these dilemmas, it will be from Kate’s p.o.v., I think.

        • LN Bey
          January 20, 2016 at 9:20 pm

          That is fascinating that you read O and Lot 49 at the same time! Explains a few things… 😀 Sorry to keep using our conversations to plug my own Great Unpublished Novel (coming in April!), but it would not exist, especially its ending, had I not read and loved the complex storytelling of Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day, although I don’t think anyone will see the influence.

          I recently read some comment somewhere that “chateau porn” is outdated; on its way out — surely the kidz don’t fantasize all that differently today? It’s been around for centuries. Or maybe they do — I for one don’t understand the whole “Sugarkink” thing at all; maybe kids who’ve been a bit more coddled/helicopter-parented have much gentler/more-romantic fantasies? Or maybe they crave the less impersonal situations, growing up staring at phone screens more than we did. I’m just making all this up, of course, I really have no idea what I’m talking about. It does seem as though less of it is being written now, though. Perhaps there’s always been just a subset of BDSM fantasizers who are into the idea of secret, highly controlling societies; it’s just that that’s who got published in decades past so it appears there was once more of it? An awful lot of novels these days seem to take place in bondage clubs where fantasies are realized.

          Sorry to plug my NEXT project, but the book I’m working on next (half done), is a set of twelve linked stories that is my own take on ‘chateau porn’. I’ve invented my own worldwide society of the ultra-rich, influenced by you, Antoniou, Reage and Rice, but I’m partially using it to comment on the moral problems that submission to the already ultra-wealthy means — as you allude to, it’s not so fun, out of the bedroom or playroom. How does one maintain the hotness of erotica while pointing out what exploiters these people are? I’m sort of eroticizing George Saunders; admitting the rich will always win.

          BTW, Kate never struck me as a socialist of ANY kind! 😀 I would love to read stories from her point of view! Vignettes if not a novel.

  2. January 21, 2016 at 4:26 am

    Eroticizing George Saunders, wow. Also wow for finishing Gravity’s Rainbow.

    As for Kate being a socialist, I mean in the pre-Marxist, Fourierist sense of a utopian exchange of needs and desires. In my unfinished book, the only part I really like is about Kate and the purity of her motives. She is the hidden heroine of my books — or as one of my romance-writing friends said, “well, duh.” The hidden-in-plain-view story (well, duh) is of Jonathan learning to appreciate her.

    I’ve never heard the term sugar-kink, but then, I’m history (or thanks for making me feel as though I am, anyway). Does it have anything to do with all those romance-erotica heroes who always seem to own sex clubs?

    Apologies btw for not getting to your books yet. I’m not reading smut these days but I’m sure I will again.

    • LN Bey
      January 21, 2016 at 6:20 am

      Nooooo! If I have in any way made you feel like “history”, 1000 apologies! I have offended my idol. 🙁 Some internet comment pointed out that no one was writing this kind of thing, any more — and it might be true — but what’s with these kidz? Well, I am, by god. And you have a waiting audience, should you choose to do so again. This is part of the reason there’s so little erotica I want to read, these days — no one’s scratching my itch. Things have changed, post-50 Shades, and not necessarily for the better. It’s the topic, nowadays: certain strains of “BDSM Romance”:

      http://tamsinflowers.com/2015/07/14/has-e-l-james-broken-erotica/

      http://malinjames.com/2015/07/16/what-i-intend-when-i-write-about-sex/

      No apologies necessary for not getting to my books: I’ve published no novels yet. I will soon, starting this spring. You’ll be the first to know.

  3. January 21, 2016 at 7:01 am

    No no no. Hey I think it’s great to be history, in the sense of having made a mark on a genre, and I was very sincerely thanking this really smart writer and new online friend LNBey for making me feel happy to have been an influence. Sorry to anybody who’s reading this that I didn’t make that clearer.

    • LN Bey
      January 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Ah, whoops! (And whew.) I mistakenly took your comment to mean you’d thought I somehow meant “passe” when you actually knew I meant “history-making.” Amazing how we lose the subtleties of communication over the internet, without inflections of the voice (perhaps there’s an erotic novel, in that). I will admit late-night drinking on a weeknight didn’t help. I’ll stop apologizing!

      Back to our subject, I have always been fascinated by that division within BDSM erotica — in Sade we have an organized society of deviants, in Masoch, it’s one-on-one (with a little help). In Reage we have Roissy, in de Berg it’s just the three of them. Post-50 Shades, combined with the self-publishing revolution, it’s impossible to get a handle on exactly what’s going, nowadays, but there does seem to be a shift in the fantastical — away from the rich global networks, toward clubs where people just go, and of course the endless romantic rogue billionaires. I tend to organize things into spreadsheets and charts; it would be interesting to see a visualization of trends in this genre along different axes and categories and subcategories. But that’s just me.

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