XX: Look over there, XY, in the mirror. You look as if you’d do anything to please me, lying there like that. It looks so different in the reflection—crueller than play. The way this fur throw drapes from my body, enveloping yours, tendrils of the suede whip brushing the back of your neck … it makes me shiver, the possibilities of using you—as mistress to your slave. Do you remember Wanda from Venus in Furs and how she changed from a goddess of love to one of almost animal cruelty? How Severin, her adorer and slave says “… whoever allows himself to be whipped deserves to be whipped.” Do you allow it, darling XY? Do you deserve it?
XY: “Man was born to suffer,” Wanda tells Severin, “and you in particular.” With my darling XX, I would allow anything. Do I deserve it? I prefer to think I’ve earned it. God knows I’ve handled the whip enough. A change is as good as an orgasm, XX, so please—do your worst. And yet, wait—because that’s the thing with masochism, isn’t it? Who holds the true power is very much an open question. Am I your slave, forced to dry your dripping body, emerging from the bath like Botticelli’s Venus from the sea; or are you mine, conscripted to play the tyrant for my pleasure?
XX: Severin begged her to take control—just as your eyes do now—haunted by the memory of that cruel, beautiful aunt who whipped him as a boy. Perhaps the moral is be careful what you wish for—he imagined after a year in Italy, contracted as Wanda’s slave, they would be happily married. Instead, he was broken by her, irrevocably changed, stripped of romance. That was his mistake, never dreaming a woman could be so attracted—changed—by the cruelty of love. His humiliation doesn’t just come from being whipped, but from having his emotions tested—the pain from that worse than the lash, when Wanda forces him to witness her nocturnal assignations. But it is all part of love, isn’t it XY? To be honest with ourselves is to see the darker facets clearly, what we might be capable of.
XY: Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth, as Wilde used to say—he must have read Venus; it describes his relationship with Bosie perfectly. Sacher-Masoch wanted to describe the world in all its many facets. Venus in Fursexplores just one particularly striking facet of love—if you’ll pardon the pun—that is, what has come to be called masochism.
I had no cruel, beautiful aunt growing up, but I do recall as a lad of sixteen I had a Velvet Underground t-shirt with various pieces of bondage equipment depicted on it. And at the time I was going out with an older woman who liked to play the dominatrix. She could be cold as marble. I wanted very much to please her—she had that cruel, contemptuous smile. I can tell you, XX, I learned a lot about love that year.
XX: And you learned to please and take pleasure in the right ways—I applaud your mistress. But darling XY, you are not Severin, or Alexis—the captivating Greek, Wanda’s match in cruelty and eventual master, whom she ecstatically invites to whip her slave—and that is a good thing. I could not bear to have a lover who was stuck in a single obsession. I may want you sometimes stern and hard with me, at others, simply adoring, but I always want surprise. And likewise, I want to wear many masks with you, because you know who lies beneath. But right now, the idea of wearing rich sables infused with my scent, treating you with affection one moment, the next without mercy, fills me with strange pleasure.
XY: As it does me, XX. Hand me that Leica, darling, and we’ll capture this night together just as they did—you remember, in that wonderful scene with the young German painter. He sees her as she is: “a beautiful despot, who whips her slave when she is tired of kissing him, and the more she treads him underfoot, the more he loves her.” Of course he soon begs her to whip him as well, poor smitten fellow. And then shall we go whip shopping? Because I’d like to buy you something more substantial than the one you have—something long and heavy that whistles before it cracks …
Image: Tomoé Hill