Autobiography, Antiquity and Reversal in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus im Pelz
The novel Venus im Pelz (1870) by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is the foundational text of masochism and normally treated as an autobiographical account, intepreted above all for what it has to say about the psychosexual phenomenon named after its author, masochism. In this project I approach VP in the first instance as a literary text, focusing on an aspect which has been totally neglected by previous scholarship and yet plays a central role in the construction of the text: the pervasive presence of Greco-Roman antiquity, from the novel’s title to the narrated dream of Venus to other explicit references to ancient characters, history and texts. In particular, my project has several intertwined goals: to shed light on the reception of antiquity and ancient texts in VP as a key element in the fictional dimension of the novel and in the aesthetic quality of masochism more generally; to read the modern masochistic hero in continuity with the classical tradition of (pseudo-)autobiographical texts; and to explore how a reading of VP together with ancient texts (e.g. Ovid, Apuleius, Augustine) allows us to identify masochism as a cultural phenomenon present ante litteram in these texts and to more carefully describe the ways in which classical and Christian antiquity functions as a dispositif producing exemplarity.