Venus in Furs-Part 1

“Place thy foot upon thy slave,
Oh thou, half of hell, half of dreams;
Among the shadows, dark and grave,
Thy extended body softly gleams.”

And—so on. This time I really got beyond the first stanza. At her request I gave her the poem in the evening, keeping no copy. And now as I am writing this down in my diary I can only remember the first stanza.

I am filled with a very curious sensation. I don’t believe that I am in love with Wanda; I am sure that at our first meeting, I felt nothing of the lightning-like flashes of passion. But I feel how her extraordinary, really divine beauty is gradually winding magic snares about me. It isn’t any spiritual sympathy which is growing in me; it is a physical subjection, coming on slowly, but for that reason more absolutely.

I suffer under it more and more each day, and she—she merely smiles.

Without any provocation she suddenly said to me to-day: “You interest me. Most men are very commonplace, without verve or poetry. In you there is a certain depth and capacity for enthusiasm and a deep seriousness, which delight me. I might learn to love you.”

After a short but severe shower we went out together to the meadow and the statue of Venus. All about us the earth steamed; mists rose up toward heaven like clouds of incense; a shattered rainbow still hovered in the air. The trees were still shedding drops, but sparrows and finches were already hopping from twig to twig. They are twittering gaily, as if very much pleased at something. Everything is filled with a fresh fragrance. We cannot cross the meadow for it is still wet. In the sunlight it looks like a small pool, and the goddess of love seems to rise from the undulations of its mirror-like surface. About her head a swarm of gnats is dancing, which, illuminated by the sun, seem to hover above her like an aureole.

Wanda is enjoying the lovely scene. As all the benches along the walk are still wet, she supports herself on my arm to rest a while. A soft weariness permeates her whole being, her eyes are half closed; I feel the touch of her breath on my cheek.

How I managed to get up courage enough I really don’t know, but I took hold of her hand, asking,

“Could you love me?”

“Why not,” she replied, letting her calm, clear look rest upon me, but not for long.

A moment later I am kneeling before her, pressing my burning face against the fragrant muslin of her gown.

“But Severin—this isn’t right,” she cried.

But I take hold of her little foot, and press my lips upon it.

“You are getting worse and worse!” she cried. She tore herself free, and fled rapidly toward the house, the while her adorable slipper remained in my hand.

Is it an omen?

* * * * *

All day long I didn’t dare to go near her. Toward evening as I was sitting in my arbor her gay red head peered suddenly through the greenery of her balcony. “Why don’t you come up?” he called down impatiently.

I ran upstairs, and at the top lost courage again. I knocked very lightly. She didn’t say come-in, but opened the door herself, and stood on the threshold.

“Where is my slipper?”

“It is—I have—I want,” I stammered.

“Get it, and then we will have tea together, and chat.”

When I returned, she was engaged in making tea. I ceremoniously placed the slipper on the table, and stood in the corner like a child awaiting punishment.

I noticed that her brows were slightly contracted, and there was an expression of hardness and dominance about her lips which delighted me.

All of a sudden she broke out laughing.

“So—you are really in love—with me?”

“Yes, and I suffer more from it than you can imagine?”

“You suffer?” she laughed again.

I was revolted, mortified, annihilated, but all this was quite useless.

“Why?” she continued, “I like you, with all my heart.”

She gave me her hand, and looked at me in the friendliest fashion.

“And will you be my wife?”

Wanda looked at me—how did she look at me? I think first of all with surprise, and then with a tinge of irony.

“What has given you so much courage, all at once?”

“Courage?”

“Yes courage, to ask anyone to be your wife, and me in particular?” She lifted up the slipper. “Was it through a sudden friendship with this? But joking aside. Do you really wish to marry me?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Severin, that is a serious matter. I believe, you love me, and I care for you too, and what is more important each of us finds the other interesting. There is no danger that we would soon get bored, but, you know, I am a fickle person, and just for that reason I take marriage seriously. If I assume obligations, I want to be able to meet them. But I am afraid—no—it would hurt you.”

“Please be perfectly frank with me,” I replied.

“Well then honestly, I don’t believe I could love a man longer than—” She inclined her head gracefully to one side and mused.

“A year.”

“What do you imagine—a month perhaps.”

“Not even me?”

“Oh you—perhaps two.”

“Two months!” I exclaimed.

“Two months is very long.”

“You go beyond antiquity, madame.”

“You see, you cannot stand the truth.”

Wanda walked across the room and leaned back against the fireplace, watching me and resting one of her arms on the mantelpiece.

“What shall I do with you?” she began anew.

“Whatever you wish,” I replied with resignation, “whatever will give you pleasure.”

“How illogical!” she cried, “first you want to make me your wife, and then you offer yourself to me as something to toy with.”

“Wanda—I love you.”

“Now we are back to the place where we started. You love me, and want to make me your wife, but I don’t want to enter into a new marriage, because I doubt the permanence of both my and your feelings.”

“But if I am willing to take the risk with you?” I replied.

“But it also depends on whether I am willing to risk it with you,” she said quietly. “I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his inate strength, do you understand? And every man—I know this very well—as soon as he falls in love becomes weak, pliable, ridiculous. He puts himself into the woman’s hands, kneels down before her. The only man whom I could love permanently would be he before whom I should have to kneel. I’ve gotten to like you so much, however, that I’ll try it with you.”

I fell down at her feet.

“For heaven’s sake, here you are kneeling already,” she said mockingly. “You are making a good beginning.” When I had risen again she continued, “I will give you a year’s time to win me, to convince me that we are suited to each other, that we might live together. If you succeed, I will become your wife, and a wife, Severin, who will conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties. During this year we will live as though we were married—”

My blood rose to my head.

In her eyes too there was a sudden flame—

“We will live together,” she continued, “share our daily life, so that we may find out whether we are really fitted for each other. I grant you all the rights of a husband, of a lover, of a friend. Are you satisfied?”

“I suppose, I’ll have to be?”

“You don’t have to.”

“Well then, I want to—”

“Splendid. That is how a man speaks. Here is my hand.”

* * * * *

For ten days I have been with her every hour, except at night. All the time I was allowed to look into her eyes, hold her hands, listen to what she said, accompany her wherever she went.

My love seems to me like a deep, bottomless abyss, into which I subside deeper and deeper. There is nothing now which could save me from it.

This afternoon we were resting on the meadow at the foot of the Venus-statue. I plucked flowers and tossed them into her lap; she wound them into wreaths with which we adorned our goddess.

Suddenly Wanda looked at me so strangely that my senses became confused and passion swept over my head like a conflagration. Losing command over myself, I threw my arms about her and clung to her lips, and she—she drew me close to her heaving breast.

“Are you angry?” I then asked her.

“I am never angry at anything that is natural—” she replied, “but I am afraid you suffer.”

“Oh, I am suffering frightfully.”

“Poor friend!” she brushed my disordered hair back from my fore-head. “I hope it isn’t through any fault of mine.”

“No—” I replied,—“and yet my love for you has become a sort of madness. The thought that I might lose you, perhaps actually lose you, torments me day and night.”

“But you don’t yet possess me,” said Wanda, and again she looked at me with that vibrant, consuming expression, which had already once before carried me away. Then she rose, and with her small transparent hands placed a wreath of blue anemones upon the ringletted white head of Venus. Half against my will I threw my arm around her body.

“I can no longer live without you, oh wonderful woman,” I said. “Believe me, believe only this once, that this time it is not a phrase, not a thing of dreams. I feel deep down in my innermost soul, that my life belongs inseparably with yours. If you leave me, I shall perish, go to pieces.”

“That will hardly be necessary, for I love you,” she took hold of my chin, “you foolish man!”

“But you will be mine only under conditions, while I belong to you unconditionally—”

“That isn’t wise, Severin,” she replied almost with a start. “Don’t you know me yet, do you absolutely refuse to know me? I am good when I am treated seriously and reasonably, but when you abandon yourself too absolutely to me, I grow arrogant—”

“So be it, be arrogant, be despotic,” I cried in the fulness of exaltation, “only be mine, mine forever.” I lay at her feet, embracing her knees.

“Things will end badly, my friend,” she said soberly, without moving.

“It shall never end,” I cried excitedly, almost violently. “Only death shall part us. If you cannot be mine, all mine and for always, then I want to be your slave, serve you, suffer everything from you, if only you won’t drive me away.”

“Calm yourself,” she said, bending down and kissing my forehead, “I am really very fond of you, but your way is not the way to win and hold me.”

“I want to do everything, absolutely everything, that you want, only not to lose you,” I cried, “only not that, I cannot bear the thought.”

“Do get up.”

I obeyed.

“You are a strange person,” continued Wanda. “You wish to possess me at any price?”

“Yes, at any price.”

“But of what value, for instance, would that be?”—She pondered; a lurking uncanny expression entered her eyes—“If I no longer loved you, if I belonged to another.”

A shudder ran through me. I looked at her She stood firmly and confident before me, and her eyes disclosed a cold gleam.

“You see,” she continued, “the very thought frightens you.” A beautiful smile suddenly illuminated her face.

“I feel a perfect horror, when I imagine, that the woman I love and who has responded to my love could give herself to another regardless of me. But have I still a choice? If I love such a woman, even unto madness, shall I turn my back to her and lose everything for the sake of a bit of boastful strength; shall I send a bullet through my brains? I have two ideals of woman. If I cannot obtain the one that is noble and simple, the woman who will faithfully and truly share my life, well then I don’t want anything half-way or lukewarm. Then I would rather be subject to a woman without virtue, fidelity, or pity. Such a woman in her magnificent selfishness is likewise an ideal. If I am not permitted to enjoy the happiness of love, fully and wholly, I want to taste its pains and torments to the very dregs; I want to be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love, and the more cruelly the better. This too is a luxury.”

“Have you lost your senses,” cried Wanda.

“I love you with all my soul,” I continued, “with all my senses, and your presence and personality are absolutely essential to me, if I am to go on living. Choose between my ideals. Do with me what you will, make of me your husband or your slave.”

“Very well,” said Wanda, contracting her small but strongly arched brows, “it seems to me it would be rather entertaining to have a man, who interests me and loves me, completely in my power; at least I shall not lack pastime. You were imprudent enough to leave the choice to me. Therefore I choose; I want you to be my slave, I shall make a plaything for myself out of you!”

“Oh, please do,” I cried half-shuddering, half-enraptured. “If the foundation of marriage depends on equality and agreement, it is likewise true that the greatest passions rise out of opposites. We are such opposites, almost enemies. That is why my love is part hate, part fear. In such a relation only one can be hammer and the other anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only do when she is cruel towards me.”

“But, Severin,” replied Wanda, almost angrily, “do you believe me capable of maltreating a man who loves me as you do, and whom I love?”

“Why not, if I adore you the more on this account? It is possible to love really only that which stands above us, a woman, who through her beauty, temperament, intelligence, and strength of will subjugates us and becomes a despot over us.”

“Then that which repels others, attracts you.”

“Yes. That is the strange part of me.”

“Perhaps, after all, there isn’t anything so very unique or strange in all your passions, for who doesn’t love beautiful furs? And everyone knows and feels how closely sexual love and cruelty are related.”

“But in my case all these elements are raised to their highest degree,” I replied.

“In other words, reason has little power over you, and you are by nature, soft, sensual, yielding.”

“Were the martyrs also soft and sensual by nature?”

“The martyrs?”

“On the contrary, they were supersensual men, who found enjoyment in suffering. They sought out the most frightful tortures, even death itself, as others seek joy, and as they were, so am I—supersensual.”

“Have a care that in being such, you do not become a martyr to love, the martyr of a woman.”

We are sitting on Wanda’s little balcony in the mellow fragrant summer night. A twofold roof is above us, first the green ceiling of climbing-plants, and then the vault of heaven sown with innumerable stars. The low wailing love-call of a cat rises from the park. I am sitting on footstool at the feet of my divinity, and am telling her of my childhood.

“And even then all these strange tendencies were distinctly marked in you?” asked Wanda.

“Of course, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have them. Even in my cradle, so mother has told me, I was supersensual. I scorned the healthy breast of my nurse, and had to be brought up on goats’ milk. As a little boy I was mysteriously shy before women, which really was only an expression of an inordinate interest in them. I was oppressed by the gray arches and half-darknesses of the church, and actually afraid of the glittering altars and images of the saints. Secretly, however, I sneaked as to a secret joy to a plaster-Venus which stood in my father’s little library. I kneeled down before her, and to her I said the prayers I had been taught—the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo.

“Once at night I left my bed to visit her. The sickle of the moon was my light and showed me the goddess in a pale-blue cold light. I prostrated myself before her and kissed her cold feet, as I had seen our peasants do when they kissed the feet of the dead Savior.

“An irresistible yearning seized me.

“I got up and embraced the beautiful cold body and kissed the cold lips. A deep shudder fell upon me and I fled, and later in a dream, it seemed to me, as if the goddess stood beside my bed, threatening me with up-raised arm.

“I was sent to school early and soon reached the gymnasium. I passionately grasped at everything which promised to make the world of antiquity accessible to me. Soon I was more familiar with the gods of Greece than with the religion of Jesus. I was with Paris when he gave the fateful apple to Venus, I saw Troy burn, and followed Ulysses on his wanderings. The prototypes of all that is beautiful sank deep into my soul, and consequently at the time when other boys are coarse and obscene, I displayed an insurmountable aversion to everything base, vulgar, unbeautiful.

“To me, the maturing youth, love for women seemed something especially base and unbeautiful, for it showed itself to me first in all its commonness. I avoided all contact with the fair sex; in short, I was supersensual to madness.

“When I was about fourteen my mother had a charming chamber-maid, young, attractive, with a figure just budding into womanhood. I was sitting one day studying my Tacitus and growing enthusiastic over the virtues of the ancient Teutons, while she was sweeping my room. Suddenly she stopped, bent down over me, in the meantime holding fast to the broom, and a pair of fresh, full, adorable lips touched mine. The kiss of the enamoured little cat ran through me like a shudder, but I raised up my Germania, like a shield against the temptress, and indignantly left the room.”

Wanda broke out in loud laughter. “It would, indeed, be hard to find another man like you, but continue.”

“There is another unforgetable incident belonging to that period,” I continued my story. “Countess Sobol, a distant aunt of mine, was visiting my parents. She was a beautiful majestic woman with an attractive smile. I, however, hated her, for she was regarded by the family as a sort of Messalina. My behavior toward her was as rude, malicious, and awkward as possible.

“One day my parents drove to the capital of the district. My aunt determined to take advantage of their absence, and to exercise judgment over me. She entered unexpectedly in her fur-lined kazabaika,2 followed by the cook, kitchen-maid, and the cat of a chamber-maid whom I had scorned. Without asking any questions, they seized me and bound me hand and foot, in spite of my violent resistance. Then my aunt, with an evil smile, rolled up her sleeve and began to whip me with a stout switch. She whipped so hard that the blood flowed, and that, at last, notwithstanding my heroic spirit, I cried and wept and begged for mercy. She then had me untied, but I had to get down on my knees and thank her for the punishment and kiss her hand.

[Footnote 2: A woman’s jacket.]

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