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Venus in Furs

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<P>I have a curious feeling when I now hold her in my arms and she lies silently against my breast and lets me kiss her and smiles. I feel like one who has suddenly awakened out of a feverish delirium, or like a shipwrecked man who has for many days battled with waves that momentarily threatened to devour him and finally has found a safe shore.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>"I hate this Florence, where you have been so unhappy," she declared, as I was saying good-night to her. "I want to leave immediately, tomorrow, you will be good enough to write a couple of letters for me, and, while you are doing that, I will drive to the city to pay my farewell visits. Is that satisfactory to you?"</P> <P>"Of course, you dear, sweet, beautiful woman."</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>Early in the morning she knocked at my door to ask how I had slept. Her tenderness is positively wonderful. I should never have believed that she could be so tender.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>She has now been gone for over four hours. I have long since finished the letters, and am now sitting in the gallery, looking down the street to see whether I cannot discover her carriage in the distance. I am a little worried about her, and yet I know there is no reason under heaven why I should doubt or fear. However, a feeling of oppression weighs me down, and I cannot rid myself of it. It is probably the sufferings of the past days, which still cast their shadows into my soul.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>She is back, radiant with happiness and contentment.</P> <P>"Well, has everything gone as you wished?" I asked tenderly, kissing her hand.</P> <P>"Yes, dear heart," she replied, "and we shall leave to-night. Help me pack my trunks."</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>Toward evening she asked me to go to the post-office and mail her letters myself. I took her carriage, and was back within an hour.</P> <P>"Mistress has asked for you," said the negress, with a grin, as I ascended the wide marble stairs.</P> <P>"Has anyone been here?"</P> <P>"No one," she replied, crouching down on the steps like a black cat.</P> <P>I slowly passed through the drawing-room, and then stood before her bedroom door.</P> <P>Why does my heart beat so? Am I not perfectly happy?</P> <P>Opening the door softly, I draw back the portiere. Wanda is lying on the ottoman, and does not seem to notice me. How beautiful she looks, in her silver-gray dress, which fits closely, and while displaying in tell-tale fashion her splendid figure, leaves her wonderful bust and arms bare.</P> <P>Her hair is interwoven with, and held up by a black velvet ribbon. A mighty fire is burning in the fire-place, the hanging lamp casts a reddish glow, and the whole room is as if drowned in blood.</P> <P>"Wanda," I said at last.</P> <P>"Oh Severin," she cried out joyously. "I have been impatiently waiting for you." She leaped up, and folded me in her arms. She sat down again on the rich cushions and tried to draw me down to her side, but I softly slid down to her feet and placed my head in her lap.</P> <P>"Do you know I am very much in love with you to-day?" she whispered, brushing a few stray hairs from my forehead and kissing my eyes.</P> <P>"How beautiful your eyes are, I have always loved them as the best of you, but to-day they fairly intoxicate me. I am all&mdash;" She extended her magnificent limbs and tenderly looked at me from beneath her red lashes.</P> <P>"And you&mdash;you are cold&mdash;you hold me like a block of wood; wait, I'll stir you with the fire of love," she said, and again clung fawningly and caressingly to my lips.</P> <P>"I no longer please you; I suppose I'll have to be cruel to you again, evidently I have been too kind to you to-day. Do you know, you little fool, what I shall do, I shall whip you for a while&mdash;"</P> <P>"But child&mdash;"</P> <P>"I want to."</P> <P>"Wanda!"</P> <P>"Come, let me bind you," she continued, and ran gaily through the room. "I want to see you very much in love, do you understand? Here are the ropes. I wonder if I can still do it?"</P> <P>She began with fettering my feet and then she tied my hands behind my back, pinioning my arms like those of a prisoner.</P> <P>"So," she said, with gay eagerness. "Can you still move?"</P> <P>"No."</P> <P>"Fine&mdash;"</P> <P>She then tied a noose in a stout rope, threw it over my head, and let it slip down as far as the hips. She drew it tight, and bound me to a pillar.</P> <P>A curious tremor seized me at that moment.</P> <P>"I have a feeling as if I were about to be executed," I said with a low voice.</P> <P>"Well, you shall have a thorough punishment to-day," exclaimed Wanda.</P> <P>"But put on your fur-jacket, please," I said.</P> <P>"I shall gladly give you that pleasure," she replied. She got her <I>kazabaika</I>, and put it on. Then she stood in front of me with her arms folded across her chest, and looked at me out of half-closed eyes.</P> <P>"Do you remember the story of the ox of Dionysius?" she asked.</P> <P>"I remember it only vaguely, what about it?"</P> <P>"A courtier invented a new implement of torture for the Tyrant of Syracuse. It was an iron ox in which those condemned to death were to be shut, and then pushed into a mighty furnace.</P> <P>"As soon as the iron ox began to get hot, and the condemned person began to cry out in his torment, his wails sounded like the bellowing of an ox.</P> <P>"Dionysius nodded graciously to the inventor, and to put his invention to an immediate test had him shut up in the iron ox.</P> <P>"It is a very instructive story.</P> <P>"It was you who innoculated me with selfishness, pride, and cruelty, and <I>you shall be their first victim</I>. I now literally enjoy having a human being that thinks and feels and desires like myself in my power; I love to abuse a man who is stronger in intelligence and body than I, especially a man who loves me.</P> <P>"Do you still love me?"</P> <P>"Even to madness," I exclaimed.</P> <P>"So much the better," she replied, "and so much the more will you enjoy what I am about to do with you now."</P> <P>"What is the matter with you?" I asked. "I don't understand you, there is a gleam of real cruelty in your eyes to-day, and you are strangely beautiful&mdash;completely <I>Venus in Furs</I>."</P> <P>Without replying Wanda placed her arms around my neck and kissed me. I was again seized by my fanatical passion.</P> <P>"Where is the whip?" I asked.</P> <P>Wanda laughed, and withdrew a couple of steps.</P> <P>"You really insist upon being punished?" she exclaimed, proudly tossing back her head.</P> <P>"Yes."</P> <P>Suddenly Wanda's face was completely transformed. It was as if disfigured by rage; for a moment she seemed even ugly to me.</P> <P>"Very well, then <I>you</I> whip him!" she called loudly.</P> <P>At the same instant the beautiful Greek stuck his head of black curls through the curtains of her four-poster bed. At first I was speechless, petrified. There was a horribly comic element in the situation. I would have laughed aloud, had not my position been at the same time so terribly cruel and humiliating.</P> <P>It went beyond anything I had imagined. A cold shudder ran down my back, when my rival stepped from the bed in his riding boots, his tight-fitting white breeches, and his short velvet jacket, and I saw his athletic limbs.</P> <P>"You are indeed cruel," he said, turning to Wanda.</P> <P>"Only inordinately fond of pleasure," she replied with a wild sort of humor. "Pleasure alone lends value to existence; whoever enjoys does not easily part from life, whoever suffers or is needy meets death like a friend.</P> <P>"But whoever wants to enjoy must take life gaily in the sense of the ancient world; he dare not hesitate to enjoy at the expense of others; he must never feel pity; he must be ready to harness others to his carriage or his plough as though they were animals. He must know how to make slaves of men who feel and would enjoy as he does, and use them for his service and pleasure without remorse. It is not his affair whether they like it, or whether they go to rack and ruin. He must always remember this, that if they had him in their power, as he has them they would act in exactly the same way, and he would have to pay for their pleasure with his sweat and blood and soul. That was the world of the ancients: pleasure and cruelty, liberty and slavery went hand in hand. People who want to live like the gods of Olympus must of necessity have slaves whom they can toss into their fish- ponds, and gladiators who will do battle, the while they banquet, and they must not mind if by chance a bit of blood bespatters them."</P> <P>Her words brought back my complete self-possession.</P> <P>"Unloosen me!" I exclaimed angrily.</P> <P>"Aren't you my slave, my property?" replied Wanda. "Do you want me to show you the agreement?"</P> <P>"Untie me!" I threatened, "otherwise&mdash;" I tugged at the ropes.</P> <P>"Can he tear himself free?" she asked. "He has threatened to kill me."</P> <P>"Be entirely at ease," said the Greek, testing my fetters.</P> <P>"I shall call for help," I began again.</P> <P>"No one will hear you," replied Wanda, "and no one will hinder me from abusing your most sacred emotions or playing a frivolous game with you." she continued, repeating with satanic mockery phrases from my letter to her.</P> <P>"Do you think I am at this moment merely cruel and merciless, or am I also about to become cheap? What? Do you still love me, or do you already hate and despise me? Here is the whip&mdash;" She handed it to the Greek who quickly stepped closer.</P> <P>"Don't you dare!" I exclaimed, trembling with indignation, "I won't permit it&mdash;"</P> <P>"Oh, because I don't wear furs," the Greek replied with an ironical smile, and he took his short sable from the bed.</P> <P>"You are adorable," exclaimed Wanda, kissing him, and helping him into his furs.</P> <P>"May I really whip him?" he asked.</P> <P>"Do with him what you please," replied Wanda.</P> <P>"Beast!" I exclaimed, utterly revolted.</P> <P>The Greek fixed his cold tigerish look upon me and tried out the whip. His muscles swelled when he drew back his arms, and made the whip hiss through the air. I was bound like Marsyas while Apollo was getting ready to flay me.</P> <P>My look wandered about the room and remained fixed on the ceiling, where Samson, lying at Delilah's feet, was about to have his eyes put out by the Philistines. The picture at that moment seemed to me like a symbol, an eternal parable of passion and lust, of the love of man for woman. "Each one of us in the end is a Samson," I thought, "and ultimately for better or worse is betrayed by the woman he loves, whether he wears an ordinary coat or sables."</P> <P>"Now watch me break him in," said the Greek. He showed his teeth, and his face acquired the blood-thirsty expression, which startled me the first time I saw him.</P> <P>And he began to apply the lash&mdash;so mercilessly, with such frightful force that I quivered under each blow, and began to tremble all over with pain. Tears rolled down over my cheeks. In the meantime Wanda lay on the ottoman in her fur-jacket, supporting herself on her arm; she looked on with cruel curiosity, and was convulsed with laughter.</P> <P>The sensation of being whipped by a successful rival before the eyes of an adored woman cannot be described. I almost went mad with shame and despair.</P> <P>What was most humiliating was that at first I felt a certain wild, supersensual stimulation under Apollo's whip and the cruel laughter of my Venus, no matter how horrible my position was. But Apollo whipped on and on, blow after blow, until I forgot all about poetry, and finally gritted my teeth in impotent rage, and cursed my wild dreams, woman, and love.</P> <P>All of a sudden I saw with horrible clarity whither blind passion and lust have led man, ever since Holofernes and Agamemnon&mdash;into a blind alley, into the net of woman's treachery, into misery, slavery, and death.</P> <P>It was as though I were awakening from a dream.</P> <P>Blood was already flowing under the whip. I wound like a worm that is trodden on, but he whipped on without mercy, and she continued to laugh without mercy. In the meantime she locked her packed trunk and slipped into her travelling furs, and was still laughing, when she went downstairs on his arm and entered the carriage.</P> <P>Then everything was silent for a moment.</P> <P>I listened breathlessly.</P> <P>The carriage door slammed, the horse began to pull&mdash;the rolling of the carriage for a short time&mdash;then all was over.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>For a moment I thought of taking vengeance, of killing him, but I was bound by the abominable agreement. So nothing was left for me to do except to keep my pledged word and grit my teeth.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>My first impulse after this, the most cruel catastrophe of my life, was to seek laborious tasks, dangers, and privations. I wanted to become a soldier and go to Asia or Algiers, but my father was old and ill and wanted me.</P> <P>So I quietly returned home and for two years helped him bear his burdens, and learned how to look after the estate which I had never done before. To <I>labor</I> and to <I>do my duty</I> was comforting like a drink of fresh water. Then my father died, and I inherited the estate, but it meant no change.</P> <P>I had put on my own Spanish boots and went on living just as rationally as if the old man were standing behind me, looking over my shoulder with his large wise eyes.</P> <P>One day a box arrived, accompanied by a letter. I recognized Wanda's writing.</P> <P>Curiously moved, I opened it, and read.</P> <P>"Sir.&mdash;</P> <P>Now that over three years have passed since that night in Florence, I suppose, I may confess to you that I loved you deeply. You yourself, however, stifled my love by your fantastic devotion and your insane passion. From the moment that you became my slave, I knew it would be impossible for you ever to become my husband. However, I found it interesting to have you realize your ideal in my own person, and, while I gloriously amused myself, perhaps, to cure you.</P> <P>I found the strong man for whom I felt a need, and I was as happy with him as, I suppose, it is possible for any one to be on this funny ball of clay.</P> <P>But my happiness, like all things mortal, was of short duration. About a year ago he fell in a duel, and since then I have been living in Paris, like an Aspasia&mdash;</P> <P>And you?&mdash;Your life surely is not without its sunshine, if you have gained control of your imagination, and those qualities in you have materialized, which at first so attracted me to you&mdash;your clarity of intellect, kindness of heart, and, above all else, your&mdash;<I>moral seriousness</I>.</P> <P>I hope you have been cured under my whip; the cure was cruel, but radical. In memory of that time and of a woman who loved you passionately, I am sending you the portrait by the poor German.</P> <P><I>Venus in Furs</I>."</P> <P>I had to smile, and as I fell to musing the beautiful woman suddenly stood before me in her velvet jacket trimmed with ermine, with the whip in her hand. And I continued to smile at the woman I had once loved so insanely, at the fur-jacket that had once so entranced me, at the whip, and ended by smiling at myself and saying: The cure was cruel, but radical; but the main point is, I have been cured.</P> <HR ALIGN="left" WIDTH="150"> <BR> <P>"And the moral of the story?" I said to Severin when I put the manuscript down on the table.</P> <P>"That I was a donkey," he exclaimed without turning around, for he seemed to be embarrassed. "If only I had beaten her!"</P> <P>"A curious remedy," I exclaimed, "which might answer with your peasant-women&mdash;"</P> <P>"Oh, they are used to it," he replied eagerly, "but imagine the effect upon one of our delicate, nervous, hysterical ladies&mdash;"</P> <P>"But the moral?"</P> <P>"That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present educating her, is his enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but <I>never his companion</I>. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work.</P> <P>"At present we have only the choice of being hammer or anvil, and I was the kind of donkey who let a woman make a slave of him, do you understand?</P> <P>"The moral of the tale is this: whoever allows himself to be whipped, deserves to be whipped.</P> <P>"The blows, as you see, have agreed with me; the roseate supersensual mist has dissolved, and no one can ever make me believe again that these 'sacred apes of Benares'[5] or Plato's rooster [6] are the image of God."</P> <P>&nbsp;</P> <P><B>NOTES:</B></P> <P>[1] A long whip with a short handle.</P> <P>[2] A woman's jacket.</P> <P>[3] The street of the Jews in Lemberg.</P> <P>[4] These were notorious prisons under the leaden roof of the Palace of the Doges.</P> <P>[5] A kind of Russian cap.</P> <P>[5] One of Schopenhauer's designations for women.</P> <P>[6] Diogenes threw a plucked rooster into Plato's school and exclaimed: "Here you have Plato's human being."</P>
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