Graz’s Sixth Gift to the World: Masochism
He wasn’t born in Graz, he didn’t die in Graz. But he lived, went to University and worked in Graz: The writer and eponym of masochism: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Born in 1836 Leopold is best known for his novel, “Venus in Furs,” about the masochistic relationship between Serverin von Kusiemski dreamer and dillatante, and Wanda von Dunajew, a beautiful, free-spirited widow, to whom he becomes a slave. The novel is based on real events from the Sacher-Masoch’s life.
As a child, Sacher-Masoch was greatly attracted by representations of cruelty. He loved to gaze at pictures of executions, the legends of martyrs were his favorite reading, and with the onset of puberty he regularly dreamed that he was fettered and in the power of a cruel woman who tortured him.
If you visit the drugstore on corner Jahngasse/Wickenburggasse, remember its most famous fomer occupant.
At the age of 10 Leopold von Sacher-Masoch noticed a scene in which Countess Xenobia, a relative of his own on the paternal side, played the chief part. The child adored her, impressed alike by her beauty and the costly furs she wore. She accepted Sacher-Masoch’s devotion and little services and with sometimes allow him to assist her in dressing; on one occasion, as he was kneeling before her to put on her ermine slippers, he kissed her feet. She smiled and gave him a kick which filled him with pleasure.
Someday Sacher-Masoch was playing with his sisters at hide-and-seek and had carefully hidden himself behind the dresses on a clothes-rail in the Countess’s bedroom. At this moment the Countess suddenly entered the house and ascended the stairs, followed by a lover. A few moments later the husband, accompanied by two friends, dashed into the room. Before, however, he could decide which of the lovers to turn against the Countess had risen and struck him so powerful a blow in the face with her fist that he fell back streaming with blood. She then seized a whip, drove all three men out of the room and in the confusion the lover slipped away. At this moment the clothes-rail fell and the child was revealed to the Countess, who now fell on him in anger, threw him to the ground, pressed her knee on his shoulder, and struck him unmercifully. The pain was great, and yet Sacher-Masoch was conscious of a strange pleasure. While this castigation was proceeding the Count returned, no longer in a rage, but meek and humble as a slave, and kneeled down before her to beg forgiveness. As the boy escaped he saw her kick her husband. The child could not resist the temptation to return to the spot; the door was closed and he could see nothing, but he heard the sound of the whip and the groans of the Count beneath his wife’s blows.
It’s not surprising, that the term masochism was coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing with Sacher-Masoch and his writings in mind, although Sacher-Masoch was not pleased with this development.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch died in March 1895. His hometown ignored him for over hundred years. It was not until the year 2003, when Graz was called “Cultural Capital of Europe”. The best idea of recognition: The invention of the Sacher-Masoch cake.
Trivia: Sacher-Masoch is related to Marianne Faithfull on her mother’s side, the Viennese Baroness Eva Erisso.