Posts tagged book review

Victorian Smut (Book) Reviews: Venus in Furs and Monsieur Venus

So I said I was going to review Venus in Furs at some point when I wrote my review of the film version of the play that came out fairly recently, but since then I’ve also come across another great find, Monsieur Venus.

Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

I’m not quite sure what made me read this book. It was probably my disgust at the terrible taste of the masses that got off to the 50 Shades series. Subject matter aside, what I’ve read of that trash was just so terribly written. You could find better smut fanfics written online, FOR FREE. But I think I also wanted something victorian. Banned books are always alluring (though they can turn out to be crap), and taboo Victorian things are also kind of alluring. Venus in Furs happened to be both of those things.

The story centers around the masochist (the word actually comes from the author’s name, as a result of this book) Severin von Kusiemski. He’s so infatuated (he calls it love) with his neighbor, a young widow, Wanda von Dunajew that if he cannot be her husband, he’d be more than happy to be her slave. His biggest turn on being dominant women in fur. They start a courtship of starts, and Wanda has no desire to get married, so eventually they come to an agreement where Severin will be her slave. As time passes she gets crueler and crueler, and he claims to want to love and worship her more and more for it, but eventually he starts to dislike it, while liking it at the same time (I was a bit confused by it). The ending isn’t exactly a happy one (I won’t spoil it), and basically ends with the sentiment that because society doesn’t allow women education and other rights, they can never truly be equal to men, or superior to them.

I’ll say it was beautifully written, like a lot of victorian novels tend to be. It’s way more than just smut, it was filled with references, usually of dominant women, in famous pieces of art, Greek and Roman mythology, as well as other biblical refrences. It really delves into how society affects the relationships between men and women, and the power held in relationships. It served as a bit of a history lesson too, and you’ll learn the names of lots of animals that made popular fur items back in the day. Seriously, all this damn guy does is go on and on about his fur fetish.

Why You Shouldn’t Like This…

  • I got some fedora vibes at times. It seemed like Severin had this idealized vision of the perfect woman in his mind, and that he was compelling Wanda to be that way to please him rather than for her to be that way for her own enjoyment. I could possibly see him sending some straight white boy texts in today’s time. Particularly one of those guys just asking any pretty girl to be his mistress, or if she likes submissive guys before even getting to know her.
  • The ending wasn’t satisfying. Though I do get that it ended the way it did because the author wasn’t happy with the way society was treating women.
  • I’m not a fan of fur.

Overall, I’d say that this book is definitely worth reading. And you can read it online, FOR FREE. I read it here, though it is available on numerous other websites. Sadly it’s not easy to find at libraries or book stores for some reason.

Monsieur Venus by Rachilde, or Marguerite Vallette-Eymery

A while after reading Venus in Furs, I really wanted something similar, but written by a woman (to avoid the fedora problems the former novel had) or in the female gaze, I searched and eventually saw someone on a message board recommend Monsieur Venus. They warned that it was violent, and that the ending was disturbing, but that it was a great read otherwise. Sadly I couldn’t find it online for free in English, only in the original French. I caved and bought it off of amazon, if you plan on getting it, make sure you get this version, as it’s the only English translation of the non-censored edition available.

The story centers around a very bold (and unusual) French noblewoman, Raoule de Vénérande. While commissioning a grown for an event she falls for a poor artist, Jacques Silvert. But she doesn’t love him as a woman loves a man, she loves him as a man loves a woman, with herself being the man and Jacques being the woman. They start a relationship, and as time goes on she breaks down his masculinity and makes him her mistress. She goes to great lengths to dress as a man and has him dress as a woman. The relationship does get abusive, as Raoule often gets jealous. They do marry,  and I won’t reveal too much more. But I will say, I knew the ending was going to be messed up, but it was not what I was expecting at all. I could never have fathomed the ending on my own. “Fucked up, but heavily symbolic and powerful” is how I’d describe it.

It was well written but a very heavy read. I’m actually going to go back and read it a second time because I don’t think it’s all quite sunk in. There’s a lot of philosophy about how gender roles aren’t natural or normal, and neither is traditional heterosexual sexual intercourse for that matter. The novel upset a lot of people, later versions were censored. A Belgian court sentenced the author to two years in prison for pornographic content (it’s not pornographic by today’s standards though). Unfortunately it somehow faded into obscurity, and it seems to be practically unknown outside of genderstudies circles.

Why You Shouldn’t Like This…

  • It faded into obscurity (along with the author) when they should not have.
  • The ending was sad. There was so much symbolism in the ending though.

This is probably the most unique book I’ve ever read in my life. I fully recommend it. ALSO, if you’ve read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, you should be familiar with the infamous “yellow book” that corrupted Dorian’s mind. I did some reading about the life of Rachilde, it turns out she and Wilde were friends and that he was a huge fan of Monsieur Venus (SOURCE), having read it before he wrote Dorian Grey. It’s very likely that the yellow book was Monsieur Venus, it may have even helped to corrupt Oscar Wilde himself. I’m completely in love with the fact that it was the work of a (genderqueer) woman that did it.

If you’ve read Dorian Grey and enjoyed it, I think you’re morally obligated to read Monsieur Venus. It’s made me want to go back and read Dorian Grey again. Although I will say, Dorian Grey is a PG-rated family friendly story for all ages when compared to Monsieur Venus.. which would probably be a heavy R at minimum.


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