The Ukrainian city of L’viv was the birth place of several important people, like Polish chemist and pharmacist Ignacy Łukasiewicz, the inventor of the modern kerosene lamp, or philosopher and science-fiction writer Stanisław Lem. Among them is the revolutionary Austrian writer Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch.
There is a theme bar in the city, called Café Masoch. I chose the location to celebrate my 29th birthday this summer. Part of the standard repertoire of the Café Masoch waitresses and waiters is a whip. And they are not shy to use it on their customers. One of my friends informed the sexy waitress of my birthday, so of course I got whipped. Though I am not known to be demure in this aspect, 29 whiplashes were already hard to take. This unconventional tourist gag and part of Ukrainian popular culture serves as a memento to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose real life was just as unusual as his works.
Most people might have heard of Sacher-Masoch through “masochism“. The term masochism, describing behaviours, through which a human derives (sexual) pleasure by humiliation and/or pain, was first introduced by the renowned psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886, referring to Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus im Pelz/Venus in Furs (1870). Nowadays the term masochism is mostly replaced with the more complex model of BDSM.
But Leopold von Sacher-Masoch cannot be reduced solely to what we nowadays know as Masochism. His books were once commonly read in and outside of the Austrian Monarchy. To show the interesting life and work of Sacher-Masoch, here are some facts:
Sacher-Masoch was born and brought up in the Galician capital city of Lemberg (today: L’viv).
His family lived in L’viv and he had ancestors from Slovenia, Spain and Bohemia.
Through all his life Sacher-Masoch lived in several different cities, including L’viv, Vienna, Graz, Salzburg and Prague.
Sacher-Masoch started to learn German at the age of 12.
All his life Sacher-Masoch felt a deep connection to the region of Galicia. His non-fictional works dealt mainly with the folklore and culture of Galicia and the history of Austria. Generally, he showed a deep interest in the ethnic variety of his home region.
He was one of the first to draw a realistic picture of the Jews in Galicia and fought all his life against anti-Semitism. Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Henrik Ibsen and King Ludwig II of Bavaria were among the fans of Sacher-Masoch.
Sacher-Masoch published his works also under the pseudonyms Charlotte Arand and Zoe von Rodenbach.
The literary fame of Sacher-Masoch started with the novel Don Juan of Kolomea (1866). He changed the Don Juan essentially. Love between men and women is depicted as such that it would always lead to unhappiness.
Sacher-Masoch studied history and mathematics in Graz and became a professor. Later he abandoned his teaching activity to become an author.
There is a real story behind Venus in Furs. In 1869 Sacher-Masoch signed a contract with his mistress Baroness Fanny Pistor making him her slave for the period of six months.
Sacher-Masoch himself and his followers refused the use of the term masochism – in vain. In the following Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, as well as his works, got a bad reputation and fell into oblivion. Because of this discreditation only Venus in Furs remained popular, but was put on the index in 1958. Nowadays the book is again freely available.
In 1873 he married Angelika Aurora Rümelin, who also was active as an author under the pseudonyms Wanda von Dunajew and Wanda von Sacher-Masoch.
The last few years of his life Sacher-Masoch spent under psychiatric care. It is not clear, where and when he died exactly, some sources claim that he died in an asylum in Germany in 1905.
Singer Marianne Faithful is the great-great-niece of Sacher-Masoch.
The Sacher-Masoch cake, a variation of the world famous Sacher cake, has been presented during the time, when Graz was the cultural capital of Europe in 2003.