Wednesday 21 April 2010

Masochism and Leopold Von Sacher Masoch

Everybody who knows anything at all knows that the word sadism was given to us by the Marquis de Sade; yet Leopold Von Sacher Masoch who gave us the word masochism is known to few, or less. This seems rather appropriate. Whilst the Marquis strides around spanking Fame's bottom with a hardbacked copy of The Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom; little Leo is forgotten in some ratty cellar, wearing a gimp-suit and whimpering over a copy of Venus in Furs.

Venus in Furs was Masoch's great work. It describes a chap called Severin who signs a contract with a lady (I use the term loosely) who is thereby:

...entitled not only to punish her slave as she deems best, even for the slightest inadvertence or fault, but also is herewith given the right to torture him as the mood may seize her or merely for the sake of whiling away the time...

I have never read the novel, but imagine that it would make a splendid book-group read, or christening present. Even that masterwork is better known these days as a song by the Velvet Underground, whose lyrics have a fragile connection to the original, mainly in the use of the name Severin.

Venus in Furs was rather closely based upon Leo's own life. He met a girl with the ridiculous name of Fanny Pistor. They signed just such a contract and they set off to Florence together with him pretending to be her servant. The novel thus fictionalised and already fictional existence.

Anyway, when, in 1883, Richard Von Krafft-Ebing was casting around for a name for a newly classified perversion he decided on Leopold Von Sacher Masoch. He wrote in Psychopathia Sexualis that:

I feel justified in calling this sexual anomaly "Masochism," because the author Sacher-Masoch frequently made this perversion, which up to his time was quite unknown to the scientific world as such, the substratum of his writings... he was a gifted writer, and as such would have achieved real greatness had he been actuated by normally sexual feelings.

Psychopathia Sexualis also gave us the words sadism (although he says that this word had been around in France, obviously) and homosexual.
Poor Leo was still alive when his name was appropriated and was, apparently, a trifle peeved by the terminology. Mind you, he probably rather enjoyed the humiliation.

Leo and Fanny (note the whip)

P.S. This post was originally going to be part of Old Nick the Quisling, from last month.


  1. Do a post on retifism.

    Retif de la Bretonne was a rough contemporary of Sade.

    He wrote a book in response to Sade's Justine called the Anti-Justine. He's attacking Sade from the right as it were, for being too liberal...

  2. Poor Fanny. Not as ridiculous as Nora Barnacle, surely?

  3. Keats' Fanny Brawne is the most unfortunate. Chaucer had a thing with a girl called Cecily Champagne.

  4. I do feel so much more IMPROVED through reading your blog, the menagerie of marvelous monikers has left me particularly refreshed. Your Krafft is certainly not Ebing.
    I look forward very much to other posts in this series - the empowering tale of Golda N. Shauer (Miss) and the salutary story of Archibald Fist.

  5. Good heavens. At first I thought you were joking, but am now considering downloading my first ever e-book, just because.

  6. I don't know quite how e-books work, but if you want to read it on your computer then just click on the Venus in Furs link at the beginning of the second paragraph and it will take you to the text at Project Gutenberg.
    Miss Biro, you're forgetting Onan, whose word is rather unfair as he was simply practicing coitus interuptus because he was uncomfortable about Leviratic marriages.

    Anyone particularly titillated by filth should try the post on Albigensian Donkey Sex