Jan 272006

My copy of the out of print Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch came in the mail the other day. I’m surprised this book isn’t in print, as it’s a fascinating look at the intersection of class, gender, money and sexuality. It’s also a well-written and compelling story, though it’s as depressing as any story of a woman married to an abusive celebrity.

Written by Laura Rumelin (with an umlaut over the “u” in her last name), a poor glovemaker who got involved in a prank played on the famous writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Though she was turned off when she heard of his unconventional interests, she was taken by his charm in person, and the books and money he sent her did the rest. They were wed.

Our wedding was uneventful yet happy. On the appointed day Sacher-Masoch dressed in a white suit and cravat, while I wore my usual dress of black silk. As a wedding gift I received from him a fur robe, while I had to put on immediately.

We exchanged rings, we took each other’s hands, and gazing deeply into each other’s eyes made a mutual promise to remain faithful to each other for the rest of our lives. Our act of marriage was thus concluded.

What followed was a nightmare. Sacher-Masoch managed to be a famous writer, known across Europe, who couldn’t pay his bills. He was the classic controlling masochist, pressuring Rumelin into indulging his fetishes (whippings and, of course, furs), and looking out for “the Greek”, the man for her to have an affair with. She eventually left him after she found him having an affair with their nanny.

Although Rumelin is pretty much a victim in this affair, bear in mind she could have been truthful with Sacher-Masoch about herself from the beginning, instead of playing along with the role of “Wanda”. She didn’t enter it in good faith.

All the stories I’ve looked at in researching the Victorian chapter show me that sexuality is inextricably tied to class, gender and money. It’s hard to find any kind of egalitarian relationships, because even middle class marriage was based on financial dependency. A bourgeois woman without a wife had almost no options, save for writing or being a governess. Divorce would leave her without income or children.

Is masochism by definition controlling? Sacher-Masoch and T.E. Lawrence both micro-managed their castigation, and Hannah Cullwick manipulated Arthur Munby. Maybe if you want to be mistreated, you have to take steps to ensure that people will mistreat you in just the right way, and not too much.

I don’t have access to any authoritative biographies of Sacher-Masoch right now. Most of them are by one James Cleugh, and currently out of print. While I’ve come to appreciate used book location services greatly, I just don’t have the money right now.

I still want to finish a rough draft of the Victorian chapter by Sunday, so it will have to sketchy on Sacher-Masoch and a few other points. I wanted to do something about the history of black in clothing, which is the predominant colour of BDSM. I’ve think that it came from the mourning attire worn by Queen Victoria for much of her reign, but I can’t find a reference on that.

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