Venus in Furs – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – Translated Literature – Eclectic Reader Challenge

I wanted to read something a bit different for translated literature for the Eclectic Reader Challenge and this had been on my to read list for a while. I’ve read De Sade before (although a long time ago) and I thought it would be interesting to read the author who had given his name to the opposite end of the spectrum to De Sade. I can’t help wondering how you would feel having such a thing named after you (in case you don’t know, the term masochism comes from Masoch’s name). Do you suppose he knew, did it happen in his lifetime? How would friends and family react to that?

The book itself was not really what I was expecting. It is not particularly explicit and the protagonist’s Severin’s beatings are not particularly graphic. That said, this was published in 1870 and was considered shocking at the time, particularly, I think due to the idea of female dominance and cruelty and Severin’s willingness to submit to it. venus

There are some parallel’s with Fifty Shades of Grey (although this is considerably better written). Severin is in love with his venus, Wanda and adores her so much that he is willing to submit to her every whim and become a slave. They sign a contract outlining the exact nature of their relationship. Interestingly, it is Wanda who seems to have the most misgivings – at least at the beginning. Severin is more than willing to be her slave.

Unfortunately for Severin, Wanda becomes infatuated with another stronger man (in a particular stroke of cruelty, she allows him to beat Severin, marking the very end of their relationship).  It seems that being allowed to be so cruel has killed any love she had at the beginning of the novel.  She finds that she wishes to submit to her new lover whom she loves with a greater passion.

Is this suggesting that this willingness to submit is a part of love, something that is present in all of us but which shouldn’t be acted on? Certainly, I like the way that roles seem more fluid in this book than in Fifty Shades of Grey and also unlike between Christian and Anastasia, it is Severin who wishes to submit who asks for Wanda to fulfil his dreams and Wanda, the dominant one, who has to be persuaded. This certainly made me less uncomfortable than the sexual politics in Fifty Shades.

This wasn’t a great read – it wasn’t terrible either – but in terms of historical interest and cultural significance, I’m glad to have read it at last.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Translated Literature – The Prague Cemetery – Umberto Eco.

Read for the Eclectic Reader Challenge.

I really wanted to love this book. I’ve read Eco before – The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum – and really enjoyed his work. I was expecting to feel the same about this book.

I’m not even really sure what I found less enjoyable about it. It certainly isn’t as densely written as Foucault’s Pendulum and it covers some of the same sort of ground – conspiracies, fakes, the Masons – I just couldn’t get excited about it. In fact, at one point I was ready to abandon it altogether. I hate to not finish a book and besides I’d already said I would review it for this challenge. So I plodded onwards.

In actual fact, about half way through, the narrative suddenly caught


me and I was intrigued to see where it would all end up. In terms of historical accuracy, Eco claims that all the events and characters existed in real life which is a little unnerving as this book is about anti-semitism and the faking of documents that suggested a Jewish global conspiracy that is said to have influenced Hitler. That gave the book a rather disturbing air.

One of the more convincing elements of this book was the description of the mind of Simonini, a man full of hatred and who was willing to kill anyone who got in the way of his grand plans. He becomes so disturbed that he actually takes on the persona of one of the many people that he kills. He was very effectively written and genuinely unsettling.

Ultimately, I think that I would have enjoyed this book more if it had started about halfway through and avoided all the detail about Garibaldi. And then perhaps it could have continued a bit longer as I felt I was just beginning to enjoy it when it actually ended.