|the deviants' dictionary Sourcesheet Updated 15 May 1997|
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Born into the minor Austrian nobility in Lemberg in 1836, the son of a police chief, Sacher-Masoch lived most of his life in Graz and died in Lindheim in 1895. A late Romantic novelist of some standing, he also had an abiding interest in being dominated and humiliated by strong cruel women, and a fetish for furs, and managed a number of relationships satisfying both needs. His sexual passions are most articulately expressed in his most notorious and scandalous work, the semi-autobiographical Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs), first published in 1869 (Sacher-Masoch 1965, 1980).
Venus in Furs is a compelling and even witty work in which contemporary dom-sub enthusiasts will find much that is recognisable. The hero Severin persuades his object of desire, Wanda (based on real-life character Wanda von Rümelin), to make him her slave, and to dress in furs and whip him. Eventually Severin voluntarily signs a lifelong slave contract with Wanda, but finds to his horror that she becomes crueller than he imagines, and hands him over to the brutal attentions of her new, macho lover. There is no genital sex in the book at all, and the characters stay clothed throughout. Furthermore the author makes an intriguing point when he speculates that his desire to engage in domination and submission with women may be to do with social inequality:
Daß das Weib...wie es der Mann gegenwärtig heranzieht, sein Feind ist und nur seine Sklavin oder seine Despotin sein kann, nie aber seine Gefährtin. Dies wird sie erst dann sein können, wenn sie ihm gleich steht an Rechten, wenn sie ihm ebenbürtig ist durch Bildung und Arbeit. Jetzt haben wir nur die Wahl, Hammer oder Amboß zu sein (Sacher-Masoch 1980:138, cited in Heider 1986a:29)
Sacher-Masoch passed into immortality when Krafft-Ebing chose to name what he saw as the disorder of masochism after the author.
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Donatien Alphonse François, Comte de Sade (1740-1817), usually known in English as the Marquis de Sade, was the French philosopher, novelist and revolutionary whose name was appropriated for the term 'sadism'. His novels, most notably Les 120 Journées de Sodome (The 120 Days of Sodom, 1785 -- see Sade 1966), Justine and Juliette, contain graphic descriptions of sexual violence, though they are not straightforwardly pornographic, being related both to his political ideas and to his desire to satirise both his own aristocratic class and the rising bourgeoisie. And while there seems no doubt that he indulged in some of the more extreme practises he describes, the constant harassment and imprisonment he suffered from both royalists and republicans was more to do with his political views than his sex life.
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