The Gendered Fantasy of Masochistic Aesthetics: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs

  • Barbara Mennel


While chapter one examined the literary qualities of masochism as perversion, this chapter focuses on Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, the novel generally viewed as the blueprint of masochistic aesthetics.1 My emphasis here is not on aesthetics as pure realm devoid of politics and history; rather, the theoretical productivity of masochistic aesthetics resides in its integration of the spheres of the psyche and history, sexuality and politics. Masochistic aesthetics provides a narrative form for the staging of submission as a power-reversal that historically prefigured masochism defined as perversion by Krafft-Ebing. Masochistic aesthetics emphasizes fantasy organized around a fetish in a reversal of power relationships. In a highly theatricalized setting, a woman is educated to be dominant, and the submission of the male is codified in a contract. The narrative structure consists of a narrative frame of the “real” that contains the inner narrative of the masochistic fantasy. These features of masochistic aesthetics characterize both Sacher-Masoch’s literature and the accounts by Krafft-Ebing’s patients.


Nineteenth Century Narrative Structure Political Efficacy Beautiful Woman Black Marble 
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© Barbara Mennel 2007

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  • Barbara Mennel

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