On 27 January 1836 Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born.
Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895) was born in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine). He studied at Graz University and lectured for a time before devoting himself to writing. He wrote folk-tales and historical works, but is most famous today for his novel Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs) published in 1870.
Venus in Furs was part of a planned epic series of novels called Legacy of Cain that Sacher-Masoch never completed. In the novel, the character Severin is so in love with Wanda von Dunajew that he asks to become her slave. At first Wanda resists the idea of becoming his “lioness” but later enjoys her domineering role and comes to despise Severin for his submissiveness. Severin takes the part of ‘Gregor,’ her servant, wearing livery and riding third class in the train. In the end, Wanda finds a man she wants to be dominated by and the relationship with Severin, humiliated and punished by Wanda’s new lover, loses the desire to be dominated.
His novels seem to have been a reflection of Sacher-Masoch’s own sexual life and the pleasure he derived from being dominated by women wearing furs. His first wife, Aurora von Rümelin, published her memoirs, Meine Lebensbeichte, in 1906 under the name Wanda von Dunajew, and revealed the close relation between Sacher-Masoch’s life and fiction.
This condition of willing sexual submission to domination and humiliation was called masochism by sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), and was named after Sacher-Masoch whose novels were exemplars of the condition.
Joyce had several volumes of works by Sacher-Masoch in his Trieste library, and there are many allusions to Sacher-Masoch’s works in Joyce’s writing. In notes he wrote for his play Exiles, he describes the play as a “rough and tumble” between the Marquis de Sade and Sacher-Masoch and adds that “Richard’s masochism needs no example.”
According to William York Tindall, “The likelihood that Bloom owes his first name to the author of Venus in Furs is improved by Joyce’s conviction that Jesus was a masochist, inviting and welcoming pain.”
The influence of Sacher-Masoch is clearest in the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses: much of the carry-on between Bella/Bello and Bloom in this episode is based on the actions of Wanda and Severin/‘Gregor’ in Venus in Furs. Throughout Ulysses, the triangular relations between Bloom, Molly and Boylan also reflect the action of Venus in Furs. Even Bella’s fan can see that “The missus is master.”
Cotter, David: James Joyce & the Perverse Ideal, London: Routledge, 2003.
Joyce, James: Poems and Exiles, London: Penguin Books, 1992.
Restuccia, Frances: Joyce and the Law of the Father, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
Siegel, Carol: ‘“Venus Metempsychosis” and Venus in Furs – Masochism and Fertility in Ulysses,’ in Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 33, no. 2, Summer 1982, pp. 179-95.
Tindall, William York: A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, London: Thames & Hudson, 1959.