Classic. Underrated even in Decadent circles: I just consulted my old Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, an inventory of Romantic and late-Romantic worksClassic. Underrated even in Decadent circles: I just consulted my old Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, an inventory of Romantic and late-Romantic works on the theme of cruelty and the femme fatale -- Sacher-Masoch occurs twice in the index. What? There's how I let this one go by, when I was half the age I am and into late 19thC decadent fiction. From memory I read descriptions that put me off. I'm sad about that. On the other hand, I now discover an instant personal classic.
I think it's a wonderful book. Funny often, scary when things get out of hand. Well-told, so that several reviews say they couldn't put it down (neither could I). Well-written, with the lyrical effusions and philosophic ramblings of its era and subject present but under control. And its two mains, Severin and Wanda, are not stand-ins but fleshed-out creations, human, endearingly uncertain of whether or not they are serious about this enslavement idea in the first half ('Are you being serious?' 'Well, are you?'); subject to misgivings; with moments of cowardice on Severin's part, and when Wanda gets over-serious, you can read between Severin's lines and see her feelings have been mortified. The author does not conflate himself with Severin, even though he uses his life experiences -- he too took this train journey in a third-class carriage as his mistress' servant, under the same typical servant name. While we're here, I noticed that the ennobled Severin, at first horrified to be among the plebs and foreigners, finds them undisgusting human beings. Sacher-Masoch was a socialist, I saw afterwards.
Yes, Severin is 'cured' in the end of his yearnings to be whipped by a woman who espouses a bold Greek paganism and liberty from Christian constraints (let us acknowledge Wanda). But Don Quixote was cured in the end, and who believes that? One has to wrap these tales up piously, to keep the convention police off your back. Then the reader is left to judge the interlocutors' final statements, and exercise discretion as to what they themselves call the 'moral of the story'. ...more
A great counterweight to George Steiner's The Death of Tragedy, published shortly beforehand (in the 1960s).
Steiner: Tragedy issues from the bleak woA great counterweight to George Steiner's The Death of Tragedy, published shortly beforehand (in the 1960s).
Steiner: Tragedy issues from the bleak worldview of pagans. Optimism (Christianity, Enlightenment) was fatal to it; belief in progress makes it impossible. Kaufmann: Aeschylus was optimistic and committed most of the 'fatal acts and impossibilities'. Greek tragedies were quite happy not to end in catastrophe. Tragedy merely meant 'immense suffering' on stage, such that an end of grace cannot erase the anguish from our minds. Tragedy is entirely possible today. It is the most humane of arts, as it works on sympathy, often for unlikely persons. It believes in courage and nobility, as comedy did not. Despair is the only killer of tragedy.
Both value poets above the commentators on poets; both are deeply versed in the poems, and love them intimately; both write to be understood and enjoyed; both are traumatised by the first half of the twentieth century, both remain humanists. Read both. ...more
I almost threw this mess of pottage aside as unnecessary in my life at this point in time, but then I dipped into sections 7 and 8 and they are sheerlI almost threw this mess of pottage aside as unnecessary in my life at this point in time, but then I dipped into sections 7 and 8 and they are sheerly wonderful. ...more