* * * * *
What an accident! Through a Jew, dealing in photographs I secured a
picture of my ideal. It is a small reproduction of Titian’s “Venus
with the Mirror.” What a woman! I want to write a poem, but instead,
I take the reproduction, and write on it: Venus in Furs.
You are cold, while you yourself fan flames. By all means wrap
yourself in your despotic furs, there is no one to whom they are more
appropriate, cruel goddess of love and of beauty!–After a while I add
a few verses from Goethe, which I recently found in his paralipomena
“The pair of wings a fiction are,
The arrows, they are naught but claws,
The wreath conceals the little horns,
For without any doubt he is
Like all the gods of ancient Greece
Only a devil in disguise.”
Then I put the picture before me on my table, supporting it with a
book, and looked at it.
I was enraptured and at the same time filled with a strange fear by
the cold coquetry with which this magnificent woman draped her charms
in her furs of dark sable; by the severity and hardness which lay in
this cold marble-like face. Again I took my pen in hand, and wrote
the following words:
“To love, to be loved, what happiness! And yet how the glamour of
this pales in comparison with the tormenting bliss of worshipping a
woman who makes a plaything out of us, of being the slave of a
beautiful tyrant who treads us pitilessly underfoot. Even Samson, the
hero, the giant, again put himself into the hands of Delilah, even
after she had betrayed him, and again she betrayed him, and the
Philistines bound him and put out his eyes which until the very end
he kept fixed, drunken with rage and love, upon the beautiful
I was breakfasting in my honey-suckle arbor, and reading in the Book
of Judith. I envied the hero Holofernes because of the regal woman
who cut off his head with a sword, and because of his beautiful
“The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman.”
This sentence strangely impressed me.
How ungallant these Jews are, I thought. And their God might choose
more becoming expressions when he speaks of the fair sex.
“The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman,” I repeated to myself. What shall I do, so that He
may punish me?
Heaven preserve us! Here comes the housekeeper, who has again
diminished somewhat in size overnight. And up there among the green
twinings and garlandings the white gown gleams again. Is it Venus,
or the widow?
This time it happens to be the widow, for Madame Tartakovska makes
a courtesy, and asks me in her name for something to read. I run to
my room, and gather together a couple of volumes.
Later I remember that my picture of Venus is in one of them, and now
it and my effusions are in the hands of the white woman up there
together. What will she say?
I hear her laugh.
Is she laughing at me?
It is full moon. It is already peering over the tops of the low
hemlocks that fringe the park. A silvery exhalation fills the
terrace, the groups of trees, all the landscape, as far as the eye
can reach; in the distance it gradually fades away, like trembling
I cannot resist. I feel a strange urge and call within me. I put on
my clothes again and go out into the garden.
Some power draws me toward the meadow, toward her, who is my
divinity and my beloved.
The night is cool. I feel a slight chill. The atmosphere is heavy
with the odor of flowers and of the forest. It intoxicates.
What solemnity! What music round about! A nightingale sobs. The
stars quiver very faintly in the pale-blue glamour. The meadow seems
smooth, like a mirror, like a covering of ice on a pond.
The statue of Venus stands out august and luminous.
But–what has happened? From the marble shoulders of the goddess a
large dark fur flows down to her heels. I stand dumbfounded and stare
at her in amazement; again an indescribable fear seizes hold of me
and I take flight.
I hasten my steps, and notice that I have missed the main path. As
I am about to turn aside into one of the green walks I see Venus
sitting before me on a stone bench, not the beautiful woman of
marble, but the goddess of love herself with warm blood and throbbing
pulses. She has actually come to life for me, like the statue that
began to breathe for her creator. Indeed, the miracle is only half
completed. Her white hair seems still to be of stone, and her white
gown shimmers like moonlight, or is it satin? From her shoulders the
dark fur flows. But her lips are already reddening and her cheeks
begin to take color. Two diabolical green rays out of her eyes fall
upon me, and now she laughs.
Her laughter is very mysterious, very–I don’t know. It cannot be
described, it takes my breath away. I flee further, and after every
few steps I have to pause to take breath. The mocking laughter
pursues me through the dark leafy paths, across light open spaces,
through the thicket where only single moonbeams can pierce. I can no
longer find my way, I wander about utterly confused, with cold drops
of perspiration on the forehead.
Finally I stand still, and engage in a short monologue.
It runs–well–one is either very polite to one’s self or very rude.
I say to myself:
This word exercises a remarkable effect, like a magic formula, which
sets me free and makes me master of myself.
I am perfectly quiet in a moment.
With considerable pleasure I repeat: “Donkey!”
Now everything is perfectly clear and distinct before my eyes again.
There is the fountain, there the alley of box-wood, there the house
which I am slowly approaching.
Yet–suddenly the appearance is here again. Behind the green screen
through which the moonlight gleams so that it seems embroidered with
silver, I again see the white figure, the woman of stone whom I
adore, whom I fear and flee.
With a couple of leaps I am within the house and catch my breath and
What am I really, a little dilettante or a great big donkey?
A sultry morning, the atmosphere is dead, heavily laden with odors,
yet stimulating. Again I am sitting in my honey-suckle arbor, reading
in the Odyssey about the beautiful witch who transformed her admirers
into beasts. A wonderful picture of antique love.
There is a soft rustling in the twigs and blades and the pages of my
book rustle and on the terrace likewise there is a rustling.
A woman’s dress–
She is there–Venus–but without furs–No, this time it is merely
the widow–and yet–Venus-oh, what a woman!
As she stands there in her light white morning gown, looking at me, her
slight figure seems full of poetry and grace. She is neither large, nor
small; her head is alluring, piquant–in the sense of the period of the
French marquises–rather than formally beautiful. What enchantment and
softness, what roguish charm play about her none too small mouth! Her
skin is so infinitely delicate, that the blue veins show through
everywhere; even through the muslin covering her arms and bosom. How
abundant her red hair-it is red, not blonde or golden-yellow–how
diabolically and yet tenderly it plays around her neck! Now her eyes
meet mine like green lightnings–they are green, these eyes of hers,
whose power is so indescribable–green, but as are precious stones, or
deep unfathomable mountain lakes.
She observes my confusion, which has even made me discourteous, for I
have remained seated and still have my cap on my head.
She smiles roguishly.
Finally I rise and bow to her. She comes closer, and bursts out into
a loud, almost childlike laughter. I stammer, as only a little
dilettante or great big donkey can do on such an occasion.
Thus our acquaintance began.
The divinity asks for my name, and mentions her own.
Her name is Wanda von Dunajew.
And she is actually my Venus.
“But madame, what put the idea into your head?”
“The little picture in one of your books–”
“I had forgotten about it.”
“The curious notes on its back–”
She looked at me.
“I have always wanted to know a real dreamer some time–for the sake
of the change–and you seem one of the maddest of the tribe.”
“Dear lady–in fact–” Again I fell victim to an odious, asinine
stammering, and in addition blushed in a way that might have been
appropriate for a youngster of sixteen, but not for me, who was
almost a full ten years older–
“You were afraid of me last night.”
“Really–of course–but won’t you sit down?”
She sat down, and enjoyed my embarrassment–for actually I was even
more afraid of her now in the full light of day. A delightful
expression of contempt hovered about her upper lip.
“You look at love, and especially woman,” she began, “as something
hostile, something against which you put up a defense, even if
unsuccessfully. You feel that their power over you gives you a
sensation of pleasurable torture, of pungent cruelty. This is a
genuinely modern point of view.”
“You don’t share it?”
“I do not share it,” she said quickly and decisively, shaking her
head, so that her curls flew up like red flames.
“The ideal which I strive to realize in my life is the serene
sensuousness of the Greeks–pleasure without pain. I do not believe
in the kind of love which is preached by Christianity, by the
moderns, by the knights of the spirit. Yes, look at me, I am worse
than a heretic, I am a pagan.
‘Doest thou imagine long the goddess of love took counsel
When in Ida’s grove she was pleased with the hero Achilles?’
“These lines from Goethe’s _Roman Elegy_ have always delighted me.
“In nature there is only the love of the heroic age, ‘when gods and
goddesses loved.’ At that time ‘desire followed the glance, enjoyment
desire.’ All else is factitious, affected, a lie. Christianity, whose
cruel emblem, the cross, has always had for me an element of the
monstrous, brought something alien and hostile into nature and its
“The battle of the spirit with the senses is the gospel of modern
man. I do not care to have a share in it.”
“Yes, Mount Olympus would be the place for you, madame,” I replied,
“but we moderns can no longer support the antique serenity, least of
all in love. The idea of sharing a woman, even if it were an Aspasia,
with another revolts us. We are jealous as is our God. For example,
we have made a term abuse out of the name of the glorious Phryne.
“We prefer one of Holbein’s meagre, pallid virgins, which is wholly
ours to an antique Venus, no matter how divinely beautiful she is,
but who loves Anchises to-day, Paris to-morrow, Adonis the day after.
And if nature triumphs in us so that we give our whole glowing,
passionate devotion to such a woman, her serene joy of life appears
to us as something demonic and cruel, and we read into our happiness
a sin which we must expiate.”
“So you too are one of those who rave about modern women, those
miserable hysterical feminine creatures who don’t appreciate a real
man in their somnambulistic search for some dream-man and masculine
ideal. Amid tears and convulsions they daily outrage their Christian
duties; they cheat and are cheated; they always seek again and choose
and reject; they are never happy, and never give happiness. They
accuse fate instead of calmly confessing that they want to love and
live as Helen and Aspasia lived. Nature admits of no permanence in
the relation between man and woman.”
“But, my dear lady–”
“Let me finish. It is only man’s egoism which wants to keep woman
like some buried treasure. All endeavors to introduce permanence in
love, the most changeable thing in this changeable human existence,
have gone shipwreck in spite of religious ceremonies, vows, and
legalities. Can you deny that our Christian world has given itself
over to corruption?”
“But you are about to say, the individual who rebels against the
arrangements of society is ostracized, branded, stoned. So be it. I
am willing to take the risk; my principles are very pagan. I will
live my own life as it pleases me. I am willing to do without your
hypocritical respect; I prefer to be happy. The inventors of the
Christian marriage have done well, simultaneously to invent
immortality. I, however, have no wish to live eternally. When with
my last breath everything as far as Wanda von Dunajew is concerned
comes to an end here below, what does it profit me whether my pure
spirit joins the choirs of angels, or whether my dust goes into the
formation of new beings? Shall I belong to one man whom I don’t love,
merely because I have once loved him? No, I do not renounce; I love
everyone who pleases me, and give happiness to everyone who loves me.
Is that ugly? No, it is more beautiful by far, than if cruelly I
enjoy the tortures, which my beauty excites, and virtuously reject
the poor fellow who is pining away for me. I am young, rich, and
beautiful, and I live serenely for the sake of pleasure and
While she was speaking her eyes sparkled roguishly, and I had taken
hold of her hands without exactly knowing what to do with them, but
being a genuine dilettante I hastily let go of them again.
“Your frankness,” I said, “delights me, and not it alone–”
My confounded dilettantism again throttled me as though there were
a rope around my neck.
“You were about to say–”
“I was about to say–I was–I am sorry–I interrupted you.”
A long pause. She is doubtless engaging in a monologue, which
translated into my language would be comprised in the single word,
“If I may ask,” I finally began, “how did you arrive at these–these
“Quite simply, my father was an intelligent man. From my cradle onward
I was surrounded by replicas of ancient art; at ten years of age I
read _Gil Blas_, at twelve _La Pucelle_. Where others had
Hop-o’-my-thumb, Bluebeard, Cinderella, as childhood friends, mine
were Venus and Apollo, Hercules and Lackoon. My husband’s personality
was filled with serenity and sunlight. Not even the incurable illness
which fell upon him soon after our marriage could long cloud his brow.
On the very night of his death he took me in his arms, and during the
many months when he lay dying in his wheel chair, he often said
jokingly to me: ‘Well, have you already picked out a lover?’ I blushed
with shame. ‘Don’t deceive me,’ he added on one occasion, ‘that would
seem ugly to me, but pick out an attractive lover, or preferably
several. You are a splendid woman, but still half a child, and you
“I suppose, I hardly need tell you that during his life time I had
no lover; but it was through him that I have become what I am, a
woman of Greece.”
“A goddess,” I interrupted.
“Which one,” she smiled.
She threatened me with her finger and knitted her brows. “Perhaps,
even a ‘Venus in Furs.’ Watch out, I have a large, very large fur,
with which I could cover you up entirely, and I have a mind to catch
you in it as in a net.”
“Do you believe,” I said quickly, for an idea which seemed good, in
spite of its conventionality and triteness, flashed into my head, “do
you believe that your theories could be carried into execution at the
present time, that Venus would be permitted to stray with impunity
among our railroads and telegraphs in all her undraped beauty and
“_Undraped_, of course not, but in furs,” she replied smiling, “would
you care to see mine?”
“Beautiful, free, serene, and happy human beings, such as the Greeks
were, are only possible when it is permitted to have _slaves_ who will
perform the prosaic tasks of every day for them and above all else
labor for them.”
“Of course,” she replied playfully, “an Olympian divinity, such as
I am, requires a whole army of slaves. Beware of me!”
I myself was frightened at the hardiness with which I uttered this
“why”; it did not startle her in the least.
She drew back her lips a little so that her small white teeth became
visible, and then said lightly, as if she were discussing some
trifling matter, “Do you want to be my slave?”
“There is no equality in love,” I replied solemnly. “Whenever it is
a matter of choice for me of ruling or being ruled, it seems much
more satisfactory to me to be the slave of a beautiful woman. But
where shall I find the woman who knows how to rule, calmly, full of
self-confidence, even harshly, and not seek to gain her power by
means of petty nagging?”
“Oh, that might not be so difficult.”
“I–for instance–” she laughed and leaned far back–“I have a real
talent for despotism–I also have the necessary furs–but last night
you were really seriously afraid of me!”
“Now, I am more afraid of you than ever!”
We are together every day, I and–Venus; we are together a great
deal. We breakfast in my honey-suckle arbor, and have tea in her
little sitting-room. I have an opportunity to unfold all my small,
very small talents. Of what use would have been my study of all the
various sciences, my playing at all the arts, if I were unable in the
case of a pretty, little woman–
But this woman is by no means little; in fact she impresses me
tremendously. I made a drawing of her to-day, and felt particularly
clearly, how inappropriate the modern way of dressing is for a
cameo-head like hers. The configuration of her face has little of the
Roman, but much of the Greek.
Sometimes I should like to paint her as Psyche, and then again as
Astarte. It depends upon the expression in her eyes, whether it is
vaguely dreamy, or half-consuming, filled with tired desire.
She, however, insists that it be a portrait-likeness.
I shall make her a present of furs.
How could I have any doubts? If not for her, for whom would princely
furs be suitable?