_”But the Almighty Lord hath struck him,
and hath delivered him into the hands of
–The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.
_”But the Almighty Lord hath struck him,
and hath delivered him into the hands of
–The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.
My company was charming.
Opposite me by the massive Renaissance fireplace sat Venus; she was
not a casual woman of the half-world, who under this pseudonym wages
war against the enemy sex, like Mademoiselle Cleopatra, but the real,
true goddess of love.
She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose
reflection ran in red flames over her Asian face with its dark eyes,
and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them.
Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all
I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge
fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat.
“I don’t understand it,” I exclaimed, “It isn’t really cold any
longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You
must be nervous.”
“Much obliged for your spring,” she replied with a low stony voice,
and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. “I
really can’t stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to
“What, dear lady?”
“I am beginning to believe the unbelievable and to understand the un-
understandable. All of a sudden I understand the Germanic virtue of
Asian woman, and German philosophy, and I am no longer surprised that you
of the North do not know how to love, haven’t even an idea of what
“But, madame,” I replied flaring up, “I surely haven’t given you any
“Oh, you–” The divinity sneezed for the third time, and shrugged
her shoulders with inimitable grace. “That’s why I have always been
nice to you, and even come to see you now and then, although I catch
a cold every time, in spite of all my furs. Do you remember the first
time we met?”
“How could I forget it,” I said. “You wore your abundant hair in
brown curls, and you had brown eyes and a red mouth, but I recognized
you immediately by the outline of your face and its marble-like
pallor–you always wore a violet-blue velvet jacket edged with
squirrel-skin and sheathed your legs in black hosiery.”
“You were really in love with the costume, and awfully docile.”
“You have taught me what love is. Your serene form of worship let me
forget two thousand years.”
“And my faithfulness to you was without equal!”
“Well, as far as faithfulness goes–”
“I will not reproach you with anything. You are a divine woman, but
nevertheless a woman, and like every woman cruel in love.”
“What you call cruel,” the goddess of Asian love replied eagerly, “is
simply the element of passion and of natural love, which is woman’s
nature and makes her give herself where she loves, and makes her love
everything, that pleases her.”
“Can there be any greater cruelty for a lover than the
unfaithfulness of the woman he loves?”
“Indeed!” she replied. “We are faithful as long as we love, but you
demand faithfulness of a woman without love, and the giving of
herself without enjoyment. Who is cruel there–woman or man? You of
the North in general take love too soberly and seriously. You talk
of duties where there should be only a question of pleasure.”
“That is why our emotions are honorable and virtuous, and our
“And yet a restless, always unsatisfied craving for the nudity of
paganism,” she interrupted, “but that love, which is the highest joy,
which is divine simplicity itself, is not for you moderns, you
children of reflection. It works only evil in you. _As soon as you
wish to be natural, you become common._ To you nature seems something
hostile; you have made devils out of the smiling gods of Greece, and
out of me a demon. You can only exorcise and curse me, or slay
yourselves in bacchantic madness before my altar. And if ever one of
you has had the courage to kiss my red mouth, he makes a barefoot
pilgrimage to Rome in penitential robes and expects flowers to grow
from his withered staff, while under my feet roses, violets, and
myrtles spring up every hour, but their fragrance does not agree with
you. Stay among your northern fogs and Christian incense; let us
pagans remain under the debris, beneath the lava; do not disinter us.
Pompeii was not built for you, nor our villas, our baths, our temples.
You do not require gods. We are chilled in your world.”
The beautiful marble woman coughed, and drew the dark sables still
closer about her shoulders.
“Much obliged for the classical lesson,” I replied, “but you cannot
deny, that man and woman are mortal enemies, in your serene sunlit
world as well as in our foggy one. In love there is union into a
single being for a short time only, capable of only one thought, one
sensation, one will, in order to be then further disunited. And you
know this better than I; whichever of the two fails to subjugate will
soon feel the feet of the other on his neck–”
“And as a rule the man that of the woman,” cried Madame Venus with
proud mockery, “which you know better than I.”
“Of course, and that is why I don’t have any illusions.”
“You mean you are now my slave without illusions, and for that
reason you shall feel the weight of my foot without mercy.”
“Don’t you know me yet? Yes, I am _cruel_–since you take so much
delight in that word-and am I not entitled to be so? Man is the one
who desires, woman the one who is desired. This is woman’s entire but
decisive advantage. Through his passion nature has given man into
woman’s hands, and the woman who does not know how to make him her
subject, her white slave, her toy, and how to betray him with a smile in the
end is not wise.”
“Exactly your principles,” I interrupted angrily.
“They are based on the experience of thousands of years,” she
replied ironically, while her brown fingers played over the dark fur.
“The more devoted a woman shows herself, the sooner the man sobers
down and becomes domineering. The more cruelly she treats him and the
more faithless she is, the worse she uses him, the more wantonly she
plays with him, the less pity she shows him, by so much the more will
she increase his desire, be loved, worshipped by him. So it has
always been, since the time of Helen and Delilah, down to Catherine
the Second and Lola Montez.”
“I cannot deny,” I said, “that nothing will attract a man more than
the picture of a beautiful, passionate, cruel, and despotic woman who
wantonly changes her favorites without scruple in accordance with her
“And in addition wears furs,” exclaimed the divinity.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I know your predilection.”
“Do you know,” I interrupted, “that, since we last saw each other,
you have grown very coquettish.”
“In what way, may I ask?”
“In that there is no way of accentuating your white body to greater
advantage than by these dark furs, and that–”
The divinity laughed.
“You are dreaming,” she cried, “wake up!” and she clasped my arm
with her marble-white hand. “Do wake up,” she repeated raucously with
the low register of her voice. I opened my eyes with difficulty.
I saw the hand which shook me, and suddenly it was brown as bronze;
the voice was the thick alcoholic voice of my cossack servant who
stood before me at his full height of nearly six feet.
“Do get up,” continued the good fellow, “it is really disgraceful.”
“What is disgraceful?”
“To fall asleep in your clothes and with a book besides.” He snuffed
the candles which had burned down, and picked up the volume which had
fallen from my hand, “with a book by”–he looked at the title page–
“by Hegel. Besides it is high time you were starting for Mr.
Severin’s who is expecting us for tea.”
“A curious dream,” said Severin when I had finished recounting it.
He supported his arms on his knees, resting his face in his delicate, finely
veined hands, and fell to pondering.
I knew that he wouldn’t move for a long time, hardly even breathe.
This actually happened, but I didn’t consider his behavior as in any
way remarkable. I had been on terms of close friendship with him for
nearly three years, and gotten used to his peculiarities. For it
cannot be denied that he was peculiar, although he wasn’t quite the
dangerous madman that the neighborhood, or indeed the entire district
of Kolomea, considered him to be. I found his personality not only
interesting–and that is why many also regarded me a bit mad–but to
a degree sympathetic. For a Galician nobleman and land-owner, and
considering his age–he was hardly over thirty–he displayed
surprising sobriety, a certain seriousness, even pedantry. He lived
according to a minutely elaborated, half-philosophical, half-
practical system, like clock-work; not this alone, but also by the
thermometer, barometer, aerometer, hydrometer, Hippocrates, Hufeland,
Plato, Kant, Knigge, and Lord Chesterfield. But at times he had
violent attacks of sudden passion, and gave the impression of being
about to run with his head right through a wall. At such times every
one preferred to get out of his way.
While he remained silent, the fire sang in the chimney and the large
venerable samovar sang; and the ancient chair in which I sat rocking
to and fro smoking my cigar, and the cricket in the old walls sang
too. I let my eyes glide over the curious apparatus, skeletons of
animals, stuffed birds, globes, plaster-casts, with which his room
was heaped full, until by chance my glance remained fixed on a
picture which I had seen often enough before. But to-day, under the
reflected red glow of the fire, it made an indescribable impression
It was a large oil painting, done in the robust full-bodied manner
of the Belgian school. Its subject was strange enough.
A beautiful Asian woman with a radiant smile upon her brown face, with
abundant black hair tied into a classical knot, supported on her left arm.
She was almost nude in her dark furs: clad only in the finest of thin black
tights. Her right hand played with a lash, while her black nylon foot rested
carelessly on a man, lying before her like a white slave, like a dog. In the sharply
outlined, but well-formed linaments of this man lay brooding melancholy
and passionate devotion; he looked up to her with the ecstatic burning eye of
a martyr. This man, the footstool for her feet, was Severin, but beardless,
and, it seemed, some ten years younger.
“_Venus in Furs_,” I cried, pointing to the picture. “That is the way
I saw her in my dream.”
“I, too,” said Severin, “only I dreamed my dream with open eyes.”
“It is a tiresome story.”
“Your picture apparently suggested my dream,” I continued. “But do
tell me what it means. I can imagine that it played a role in your
life, and perhaps a very decisive one. But the details I can only get
“Look at its counterpart,” replied my strange friend, without
heeding my question.
The counterpart was an excellent copy of Titian’s well-known “Venus
with the Mirror” in the Dresden Gallery.
“And what is the significance?”
Severin rose and pointed with his finger at the fur with which
Titian garbed his goddess of love.
“It, too, is a ‘Venus in Furs,'” he said with a slight smile. “I
don’t believe that the old Venetian had any secondary intention. He
simply painted the portrait of some aristocratic Mesalina, and was
tactful enough to let Cupid hold the mirror in which she tests her
majestic allure with cold satisfaction. He looks as though his task
were becoming burdensome enough. The picture is painted flattery.
Later an ‘expert’ in the Rococo period baptized the lady with the
name of Venus. The furs of the despot in which Titian’s fair model
wrapped herself, probably more for fear of a cold than out of
modesty, have become a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that
constitute woman’s essence and her beauty.
“But enough of that. The picture, as it now exists, is a bitter
satire on our love. Venus in this abstract North, in this icy
Christian world, has to creep into huge black furs so as not to catch
Severin laughed, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Just then the door opened and an attractive, small, Asian woman
entered. She had alert, watchful eyes, was dressed in a maid’s outfit
with thin black pantyhose and sensible shoes. She brought us cold meat
and eggs with our tea. Severin took one of the latter, and decapitated it
with his knife.
“Didn’t I tell you that I want them soft-boiled?” he cried with a
violence that made me tremble.
“But my dear Sevtchu–” she said demurely, her eyes half-lidded.
“Sevtchu, nothing,” he yelled, “you are to obey, obey, do you
understand?” and he tore the _kantchuk_ [Footnote: A long whip with a
short handle.] which was hanging beside the weapons from its hook.
The woman smiled and murmured, “We will address this later,”
She left the chamber slowly, her graceful steps purposeful and measured.
At the door her deep brown eyes gazed at him; a promise?
“Just wait, I’ll get you yet,” he called after her.
“But Severin,” I said placing my hand on his arm, “how can you treat
a pretty young woman thus?”
“Look at the woman,” he replied, blinking humorously with his eyes.
“You are mistaken about our relationship my friend. It is I who in
thrall to her, answerable to her, punished by her. This, is just an act.”
“Nonsense, nothing, you need to look more carefully.”
“She looks so timid–”
“But she is not,” he said animatedly. “Goethe’s ‘you must be hammer or anvil’
is absolutely appropriate to the relation between man and woman.
Didn’t Lady Venus in your dream prove that to you? Woman’s power lies
in man’s passion, and she knows how to use it, if man doesn’t
understand himself. He has only one choice: to be the _tyrant_ over or
the _ white slave_ of woman. As soon as he gives in, his neck is under the
yoke, and the lash will soon fall upon him.”
“Not maxims, but experiences,” he replied, nodding his head, “_I have
actually felt the lash. It has changed me. Do you care to know how?”
He rose, and got a small manuscript from his massive desk, and put
it in front of me.
“You have already asked about the picture. I have long owed you an
Severin sat down by the chimney with his back toward me, and seemed
to dream with open eyes. Silence had fallen again, and again the fire
sang in the chimney, and the samovar and the cricket in the old
walls. I opened the manuscript and read:
The margin of the manuscript bore as motto a variation of the well-
known lines from _Faust_:
“Thou supersensual sensual woer
A woman leads you by the nose.”
I turned the title-page and read: “What follows has been compiled
from my diary of that period, because it is impossible ever frankly
to write of one’s past, but in this way everything retains its fresh
colors, the colors of the present.”
Gogol, the Russian Moliere, says–where? well, somewhere–“the real
comic muse is the one under whose laughing mask tears roll down.”
A wonderful saying.
So I have a very curious feeling as I am writing all this down. The
atmosphere seems filled with a stimulating fragrance of flowers,
which overcomes me and gives me a headache. The smoke of the
fireplace curls and condenses into figures, small gray-bearded
kokolds that mockingly point their finger at me. Chubby-cheeked
cupids ride on the arms of my chair and on my knees. I have to smile
involuntarily, even laugh aloud, as I am writing down my adventures.
Yet I am not writing with ordinary ink, but with red blood that drips
from my heart. All its wounds long scarred over have opened and it
throbs and hurts, and now and then a tear falls on the paper.
The days creep along sluggishly in the little Carpathian health-
resort. You see no one, and no one sees you. It is boring enough to
write idyls. I would have leisure here to supply a whole gallery of
paintings, furnish a theater with new pieces for an entire season,
a dozen virtuosos with concertos, trios, and duos, but–what am I
saying–the upshot of it all is that I don’t do much more than to
stretch the canvas, smooth the bow, line the scores. For I am–no
false modesty, Friend Severin; you can lie to others, but you don’t
quite succeed any longer in lying to yourself–I am nothing but a
dilettante, a dilettante in painting, in poetry, in music, and
several other of the so-called unprofitable arts, which, however, at
present secure for their masters the income of a cabinet minister,
or even that of a minor potentate. Above all else I am a dilettante
Up to the present I have lived as I have painted and written poetry.
I never got far beyond the preparation, the plan, the first act, the
first stanza. There are people like that who begin everything, and
never finish anything. I am such a one.
But what am I saying?
To the business in hand.
I lie in my window, and the miserable little town, which fills me
with despondency, really seems infinitely full of poetry. How
wonderful the outlook upon the blue wall of high mountains interwoven
with golden sunlight; mountain-torrents weave through them like
ribbons of silver! How clear and blue the heavens into which
snowcapped crags project; how green and fresh the forested slopes;
the meadows on which small herds graze, down to the yellow billows
of grain where reapers stand and bend over and rise up again.
The house in which I live stands in a sort of park, or forest, or
wilderness, whatever one wants to call it, and is very solitary.
Its sole inhabitants are myself, a widow from Selangor, and Madame
Tartakovska, who runs the house, a little old woman, who grows older
and smaller each day. There are also an old dog that limps on one
leg, and a young cat that continually plays with a ball of yarn. This
ball of yarn, I believe, belongs to the widow.
She is said to be really beautiful, this widow, Asian Chinese and still very young,
twenty-four at the most, and very rich. She dwells in the first
story, and I on the ground floor. She always keeps the green blinds
drawn, and has a balcony entirely overgrown with green climbing-
plants. I for my part down below have a comfortable, intimate arbor
of honeysuckle, in which I read and write and paint and sing like a
bird among the twigs. I can look up on the balcony. Sometimes I
actually do so, and then from time to time a white gown gleams
between the dense green network.
Really the beautiful woman up there doesn’t interest me very much,
for I am in love with someone else, and terribly unhappy at that; far
more unhappy than the Knight of Toggenburg or the Chevalier in Manon
l’Escault, because the object of my adoration is of stone.
In the garden, in the tiny wilderness, there is a graceful little
meadow on which a couple of deer graze peacefully. On this meadow is
a stone statue of Venus, the original of which, I believe, is in
Florence. This Venus is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in
all my life.
That, however, does not signify much, for I have seen few beautiful
women, or rather few women at all. In love too, I am a dilettante who
never got beyond the preparation, the first act.
But why talk in superlatives, as if something that is beautiful
could be surpassed?
It is sufficient to say that this Venus is beautiful. I love her
passionately with a morbid intensity; madly as one can only love a
woman who never responds to our love with anything but an eternally
uniform, eternally calm, stony smile. I literally adore her.
I often lie reading under the leafy covering of a young birch when
the sun broods over the forest. Often I visit that cold, cruel
mistress of mine by night and lie on my knees before her, with the
face pressed against the cold pedestal on which her feet rest, and
my prayers go up to her.
The rising moon, which just now is waning, produces an indescribable
effect. It seems to hover among the trees and submerges the meadow
in its gleam of silver. The goddess stands as if transfigured, and
seems to bathe in the soft moonlight.
Once when I was returning from my devotions by one of the walks
leading to the house, I suddenly saw a woman’s figure, white as
stone, under the illumination of the moon and separated from me
merely by a screen of trees. It seemed as if the beautiful woman of
marble had taken pity on me, become alive, and followed me. I was
seized by a nameless fear, my heart threatened to burst, and instead–
Well, I am a dilettante. As always, I broke down at the second
stanza; rather, on the contrary, I did not break down, but ran away
as fast as my legs would carry me.