1869 | Galicia

On Your Knees

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch does what he’s told.

I am back: tired, hungry, thirsty, and more in love than ever. I quickly change my clothes and a few moments later knock at her door.

“Come in!”

I enter. She is standing in the center of the room, dressed in a gown of white satin which floods down her body like light. Over it she wears a scarlet kazabaika, richly edged with ermine. Upon her powdered, snowy hair is a little diadem of diamonds. She stands with her arms folded across her breast and her brows contracted.

“Wanda!” I run toward her and am about to throw my arms about her to kiss her. She retreats a step, measuring me from top to bottom.

“Slave!”

“Mistress!” I kneel down and kiss the hem of her garment.

“That is as it should be.”

“Oh, how beautiful you are.”

“Do I please you?” She stepped before the mirror and looked at herself with proud satisfaction.

“I shall become mad!”

Her lower lip twitched derisively, and she looked at me mockingly from behind half-closed lids.

“Give me the whip.”

A maid that laughs is half taken.

—John Ray, 1670

I looked about the room.

“No,” she exclaimed, “stay as you are, kneeling,” She went over to the fireplace, took the whip from the mantelpiece and, watching me with a smile, let it hiss through the air; then she slowly rolled up the sleeve of her fur jacket.

“Marvelous woman!” I exclaimed.

“Silence, slave!” She suddenly scowled, looked savage, and struck me with the whip. A moment later she threw her arm tenderly about me and pityingly bent down to me. “Did I hurt you?” she asked, half-shyly, half-timidly.

“No,” I replied, “and even if you had, pain from you is a joy. Strike again, if it gives you pleasure.”

“But it doesn’t give me pleasure.”

Again I was seized with that strange intoxication. “Whip me,” I begged, “whip me without mercy.”

Wanda swung the whip and hit me twice. “Are you satisfied now?”

“No.”

“Seriously, no?”

“Whip me, I beg you, it is a joy to me.”

“Yes, because you know very well that it isn’t serious,” she replied, “because I haven’t the heart to hurt you. This brutal game goes against my grain. Were I really the woman who beats her slaves you would be horrified.”

Mars and Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485. National Gallery, London, England.

Mars and Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485. National Gallery, London, England. 

“No, Wanda,” I replied, “I love you more than myself; I am devoted to you for death and life. In all seriousness, you can do with me whatever you will, whatever your caprice suggests.” 

“Severin!”

“Tread me underfoot!” I exclaimed and flung myself face to the floor before her.

“I hate all this play acting,” said Wanda impatiently.

“Well, then maltreat me seriously.”

An uncanny pause.

“Severin, I warn you for the last time,” began Wanda.

“If you love me, be cruel towards me,” I pleaded with upraised eyes.

“If I love you,” repeated Wanda. “Very well!” She stepped back and looked at me with a somber smile. “Be then my slave and know what it means to be delivered into the hands of a woman.” And at the same moment she gave me a kick.

“How do you like that, slave?”

Then she flourished the whip.

“Get up!”

I was about to rise. 

“Not that way,” she commanded. “On your knees.”

I obeyed, and she began to apply the lash. The blows fell rapidly and powerfully on my back and arms. Each one cut into my flesh and burned there, but the pains enraptured me. They came from her whom I adored, and for whom I was ready at any hour to lay down my life.

She stopped. “I am beginning to enjoy it,” she said, “but enough for today. I am beginning to feel a demonic curiosity to see how far your strength goes. I take a cruel joy in seeing you tremble and writhe beneath my whip and in hearing your groans and wails; I want to go on whipping without pity until you beg for mercy, until you lose your senses. You have awakened dangerous elements in my being. But now get up.”

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

—Pablo Neruda, 1924

I seized her hand to press it to my lips.

“What impudence.”

She shoved me away with her foot.

“Out of my sight, slave!”

After having spent a feverish night filled with confused dreams, I awoke. Dawn was just breaking.

How much of what was hovering in my memory was true—what had I actually experienced and what had I dreamed? That I had been whipped was certain. I can still feel each blow and count the burning red stripes on my body. And she whipped me. Now I know everything.

My dream has become truth. How does it make me feel? Am I disappointed in the realization of my dream?

No, I am merely somewhat tired, but her cruelty has enraptured me. Oh, how I love her, adore her! All this cannot express in the remotest way my feeling for her, my complete devotion to her. What happiness to be her slave!

She calls to me from her balcony. I hurry upstairs. She is standing on the threshold, holding out her hand in friendly fashion. “I am ashamed of myself,” she says while I embrace her, and she hides her head against my breast.

From Venus in Furs. The word “masochism” derives from the name of the Austrian author, editor, and journalist. In 1869 he signed a contract with his mistress that made him her slave for six months, with the stipulation that she wear fur as often as possible. He published more than eighty novels and numerous articles—some in support of women’s suffrage—before dying in 1895 at the age of fifty-nine.