This week a post from Paul’s archives on a subject that I have seldom seen portrayed well in some of the novels I have read. Very often it was mentioned awkwardly and clearly by someone as ignorant of S&M as I am. However, as writers we do have a duty to portray the actions of our characters with some authenticity, and short of actually tying up the old man and hitting him with my broomstick, there is no better man than Paul at giving us the facts and background. Another fascinating look behind the scenes.. it’s okay no viewer discretion required.
Venus in Furs, Justine in Tears
Giving and receiving pain has been part of the human sexual landscape for ever. Yet the words we use: ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ are relatively recent.
While most people are aware the Marquis de Sade lent his name to sadism (deriving sexual pleasure by inflicting pain), the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who gave his name to masochism (receiving sexual pleasure from pain) is relatively obscure.
In 1870, Sacher-Masoch published his novella Venus in Furs; the story of a man’s relationship with a strong mistress. Strong as in dominatrix, not ‘determined’.
The plot, drawn from Masoch’s own life, was written as a story within a story. It begins when the protagonist (the word ‘hero’ is probably inappropriate) dreams he is speaking to Venus while she is… dressed in furs. Hey it’s porn; what do you expect.
He relates the dream to his friend Severin, who tries break him of his fascination with his cruel mistress by describing his relationship with a woman called Wanda. Severin was so obsessed with Wanda he made himself her slave. Wanda exploited the situation to their mutual satisfaction, until she met a man she wanted to be dominated by. At which point Severin broke off the relationship in disgust.
Severin’s tale concludes with a moral tirade about how women can only be slaves or despots to men; never companions….. And here he saves himself for posterity by adding… “until they are given the same education as men and the same rights.”
I love a happy ending, don’t you?
Light masochism in the form of corporal punishment was extensive through the Victorian era. According to writer Christopher Isherwood, between the World Wars Germany cornered the book market in this form of titillation.
In England, spanking continued as the preferred vice of the ruling class. Cynthia Payne an entirely charming woman, christened Madam Sin by the Sunday press, ran a bordello in South West London for the upper echelons during the 1970s and 80s. She believed toffs liked a good paddling on the bottom because of their upbringing: nannies and public schools. Personally I wonder if it is because they feel it is their just-deserts for continually screwing over us, the Great British Public.
With regards to the Marquis De Sade, I have not read any of his work, so I am not in the best position to judge. However, the more I read about his life less I like. To put it bluntly, any man who tortures and rapes women has no redeeming qualities. He certainly was not, as often portrayed, an amiable old eccentric, guilty of no more than holding up a looking glass to the sexual hypocrisies of his age. In contrast Sacher-Masoch’s craving to let his Miss Whiplash girlfriend beat seven bells out of him seems positively endearing: a sort of Christian Grey in reverse.
De Sade’s behaviour towards woman was so extreme, even in a time when the abuse of women was endemic his contemporaries thought he should be locked away in prison or a mental asylum – which is where he spent a large part of his life. I am not saying De Sade would not have made a pleasant dinner companion; if you could keep him off his pet subject. Dare say he could be witty and charmingly persuasive. People like de Sade often are. They have a way of being able to justify their tastes and making you feel naïve, or worse provincial, for not sharing them.
As a young man, De Sade was imprisoned a number of times after local prostitutes complained about his misuse. After De Sade kidnapped a poverty-stricken widow, inflicting sexual and physical abuse on her until her escape, his mother in law obtained a letter de cachet from the French King. This was basically an open arrest warrant for indefinite confinement. De Sade fled Paris.
In 1772 he had to flee Marseilles after being sentenced to death for attempting to poison prostitutes with the aphrodisiac ‘Spanish Fly’ (a toxic chemical causing blistering and bleeding, obtained from the appropriately named blister beetle). He was also accused of buggery with his manservant… maybe I should rephrase that. He continued to abuse young servant girls with, it must be said, the connivance of his wife – the Rose West to his Fred – until he was tricked into returning to Paris where he was arrested and sentenced to death – for buggery… with his manservant.
De Sade successfully appealed his death sentence, but was indefinitely imprisoned under the King’s lettre de cachet (usually reserved for political enemies). He was briefly confined in the Bastille. This gave Citizen De Sade an undeserved reputation with the revolutionary regime. As a matter of fact, he was transferred to an insane asylum few days before the Bastille fell in the opening salvo of the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror he chose the wrong side and was once more incarcerated.
During confinement he amused himself by writing ‘120 days of Sodom’ about a group of old roués locking themselves in a castle for 4 months with veteran prostitutes as advisors in depravity and well-endowed studs willing to dish out every imaginable outrage on their victims – young teenagers of both sexes. Even a brief synopsis is pretty stomach turning, so let’s swiftly move on.
In 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the anonymous author of a pair of novels ‘Justine’ and ‘Juliette’. De Sade was arrested at his publisher’s office and imprisoned without trial. When his family declared him insane, he was moved to an asylum. Here, at the age of 70, he began a sexual relationship with the fourteen year old daughter of one of the asylum’s employees. It lasted until he died 4 years later. After his death, his son burned all his unpublished manuscripts.
Justine or the Misfortunes of Virtue (1791) and Juliette or the Prosperity of Vice (1801) were about two sisters on very different paths. At the age of 13 Juliette is seduced by a nun. Under her influence she becomes sexually precocious and a murderess. She enjoys associating with sadists and murderers, and indulging in every form of depravity. In true De Sade style she is showered with happiness, position, reputation and wealth.
In contrast, her sister Justine clings to virtue and is subjected to everything you would expect from De Sade. When Justine recounts her tale of woe to a wealthy stranger, the woman reveals herself to be her sister Juliette – now given up her life of vice and living in luxury.
The moral is by embracing vice Juliette has controlled her life. Now she can devote herself to goodness and charity. By resisting vice, Justine is dragged down ever deeper and damaged by her experiences. It is only through Juliette that Justine’s name is cleared and reputation restored. Offered a life of comfort and happiness in her sister’s mansion Justine goes out on to the balcony and is promptly struck by lightning. (Not doubt crying out to heaven: “Do I never get a break!”)
It is said De Sade’s Justine, while admittedly having its moments, is not as pornographic as his other works. This may well be because it was written as a ribald parody of Samuel Richardson’s immensely popular 1740 novel Pamela or Virtue Rewarded.
Pamela, a beautiful 15 year old maid, resists seduction and rape by her aristocratic employer and is rewarded for her virtue by her employer’s sincere offer of marriage. In the second volume, her subservient good nature endears her to her husband’s family, and upper-crust neighbours, who accept her into society. (Well, bully for them!)
It is impossible to overemphasise how important Pamela was. It was turned into sell-out plays in France and Italy, and became the subject of Piccinni’s most successful Italian comic opera ‘La Buona Figliuola’ (The Good Girl). Virtually singlehandedly Pamela created the whole genre of what we now know as romantic novels. Where a girl’s innate goodness is recognised by a worthy man; where beauty is more than skin deep – pick a cliché… any cliché.
Without Pamela’s runaway success it would be hard to know if Jane Austen or the Brontes would have had the opportunity to present their work to the public. Without their influence on the development of the modern novel, there would be no Barbara Cartland; no Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper; perhaps even (God forbid) no ‘50 Shades of Grey’.
Perhaps Justine did not die in vain after all.
©Paul Andruss 2017
About Paul Andruss
Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.
Paul has written four novels, Finn Mac Cool, and the (Harry-Potteresque) Jack Hughes Trilogy. ‘Finn Mac Cool’ and ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ are available for free download
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