Category Archives: Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von

‘Bloody Wedding in Kyiv’ by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (GLM X)

Bloody Wedding in Kyiv is based on a real person and real events, Olga, or Olha, of Kiev (b.890?-925?, d.969) though what is actually real is not known as it has been embellished in its re-telling over the centuries. Sacher-Masoch was obviously attracted to the tale of a beautiful, cruel, imperious woman exacting revenge on her husband’s murderers. I’m not going to concern myself with what is, or isn’t, true, or with any inaccuracies in the story but just concentrate on the story as a work of fiction.

Image source: publisher’s website

This edition actually comprises of two stories by two authors: Bloody Wedding of Kyiv (1866) by Sacher-Masoch and Kniahynia’s Comb(2015) by Petro Haivoronskyi. The full title is Bloody Wedding of Kyiv: Two Tales of Olha, Kniahynia of Kyivan Rus and was published by Sova Books in 2016. The translator is Svitlana Chornomorets and the beautiful cover is by Nikola Nevenov. The book also contains some illustrations of the events from The Radziwiłł Chronicle.

The story begins with Kniaz Ihor (or Igor of Kiev) having his chess game interrupted by the arrival of some diplomats from Derevlia. Ihor reluctantly agrees to see them. Their leader, Mak, asks Ihor to remove the levies that he has placed on the Derevlians claiming that they are crushing his people but Ihor, who doesn’t believe that they can’t pay him, refuses to retract the levy and threatens to collect it himself. His beautiful wife, whom Mak is besotted by, says that they shouldn’t be let off so slightly but should be tortured instead.

So Ihor goes to collect his tribute from the Derevlians. They meet and escort him to their capital, Iskorosten where he will be based. His soldiers meet resistance when they try to collect the tribute and it erupts into an uprising. This infuriates Ihor even more and when he personally goes out to assist he is confronted and killed by Maz. Ihor is buried outside Iskorosten and his troops return to Kyiv.

The Derevlians decide that it would be advantageous if Mak were to marry Olha which would bring Kyiv under their control. Also Mak is attracted to Olha. So Mak sends some diplomats by ship to Kyiv to offer Olha his hand in marriage. Olha tricks them and has them captured then they are buried alive, together with their ship, in a huge pit that has been dug. Another group of Derevlian diplomats, who are unaware of the fate of the first group, are burnt alive in a bathhouse, much to Olha’s delight. Olha then goes to meet Mak, ostensibly to marry him, but in fact to get revenge; she agrees to the marriage but it must be in Kyiv. When Olha is told that Mak is handsome she replies:

“He is handsome and noble,” added the Kniahynia, reflecting, “but his hands are awash with blood. The blood of my master, my husband – and a warrior demands revenge! I could love him, if I did not have to hate him with all my heart.”

So Mak arrives in Kyiv, prepared for marriage but curious as to what happened to his diplomats. There is a big feast and the Derevlians get drunk. When Mak approaches Olha in the wedding chamber she attacks him and with help from her guards they bind him. Meanwhile most of the Derevlians are massacred but for those that were involved in the murder of Ihor ‘inhumane tortures’ are invented. Limbs are chopped off, some are burnt alive, some buried alive.

Olha then takes up arms and completely subjugates Podillia, the land of the Derevlians. Villages are burnt and people massacred. On her return she decides on Mak’s cruel punishment.

And the cruel woman ordered that the Derevlian Kniaz’s arms and legs be severed. For the rest of his life he was to stay under her table and gather the breadcrumbs with his tongue.

Olha rules on behalf of her son, Sviatoslav, until he is old enough to rule himself. Olha is christened in 955.

The Kniahynia’s Comb by Petro Haivoronskyi is also based on Olha. In present day Ukraine some archaelogists discover a coffin from the tenth century which still contains a corpse. In the coffin there is a silver comb which has two names inscribed on it: ‘Prekrasa’ and ‘Vedmid’. ‘Pekrasa’ was Olha’s original name and ‘Vedmid’ was an early admirer of her. The story tells how Vedmid sacrificed his life to save Olha from assassination. The discovered comb appears to have some healing properties.

Bloody Wedding in Kyiv was read as part of ‘German Literature Month 10’.

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‘Love. The Legacy of Cain’ by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (GLM X)

The Legacy of Cain (Das Vermächtnis Kains) is an unfinished cycle of stories/novellas which was to be split into six volumes of six stories, with each concentrating on a specific theme. Only the first two volumes were completed: ‘Love’ and ‘Property’. ‘Love’ also contained a prologue, called The Wanderer (Der Wanderer). The prologue and the first three stories from the original volume are included in this Ariadne Press edition of Love. The Legacy of Cain from 2003; the other stories are Don Juan of Kolomea (Don Juan von Kolomea), The Man Who re-enlisted (Der Kapitulent) and Moonlight (Mondnacht). The original volume, Love (Liebe) was published in 1870, though some of the stories had already been published separately. The original version also included Sacher-Masoch’s most famous work, Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz) and two other stories that aren’t included in this translated edition: Plato’s Love (Die Liebe des Plato) and Marcella (Marzella oder das Märchen vom Glück). This translation was by Michael T. O’Pecko.

The first story in this collection is the shortest, The Wanderer, being the prologue in the original version. In this story Sacher-Masoch sets out his plan for the whole cycle of stories by having the narrator, whilst out shooting in the forest with a companion, meet a religious wanderering ascetic who sees everything about modern life to be evil; he describes himself as ‘fleeing from life’ and in his long monologue he explains that he is looking forward to death and that he must die as he has lived, ‘in flight’, as we are all descendants of Cain and that ‘existence is a kind of penance’. Whilst his hunting companion has departed, the narrator is intrigued with what the wanderer has to say. The wanderer sums up his monologue with the six ‘evils’ of life, which then become the themes of the six volumes of Sacher-Masoch’s books.

“And these six things: love, property, the state, war, work, and death, are the legacy of Cain, who slew his brother and whose brother’s blood cried out to heaven, and the Lord spake to Cain: ‘You shall be cursed upon the earth and a fugitive and a vagabond.'”

As with all the stories in this collection Don Juan of Kolomea is set in Galicia (in present day Ukraine) and begins with a frame story. It begins with some travellers being waylaid in a tavern whilst they’re waiting for their papers to be checked. I found this story rather humorous and contains one of my favourite passages from the whole book.

I was soon bored, for my friend Moschku had his hands full with serving his guests with brandy and gossip, and only seldom did he hop over the bar to my table, sink his verbal claws into me, and attempt a learned conversation about politics and literature.
I was bored even without that and looked around the room.
Its basic color was green.
The frugally trimmed petroleum lamp filled the room with greenish light. Green mold lay on the walls, the great rectangular oven was lacquered green, and green moss grew out of Israel’s fieldstone floor. Green sediment in the schnaps glasses, green oxidation on the small tin measuring glasses that the peasants drank out of when they walked up and put their copper coins down on the bar. A green vegetation covered the cheese that Moschku placed in front of me, and his wife was sitting behind the oven in a yellow nightgown with bluish green flowers and rocking her pale green child. Green in the Jew’s careworn face, green around his small, restless eyes, around his thin, motionless nostrils, and in the mockingly twisted, sour corners of his mouth.

When a man enters and starts talking to the bartender’s wife, the bartender, Moschku, pulls her away from him and calls him a ‘dangerous man’. When this man ends up telling the narrator his story we expect, given the title of the story and the man’s apparent reputation, to hear a story of his love conquests, but instead we hear about his married life. It’s an amusing tale of how he was ignorant of women as a young man but fell in love with Nikolaya Senkov, whom he describes as ‘walking like a princess’. So, they fall in love, marry and are happy – for a while. The story, as told by Demetrius, or ‘Don Juan’, is in his own colloquial style as he chats with the narrator and sometimes teases him, sometimes berates him. Things start to go wrong with the marriage when they have children; when the narrator says ‘Usually a child is seen as a pledge of love’ this really tickles Demetrius and he henceforth refers to his children as his ‘pledges of love’. They now argue, grow apart, Nikolaya flirts with other men and Demetrius fools around with peasant girls. Demetrius is getting drunker as he tells his tale but by the end he claims that he and his wife get on ok now, then he departs to go visit his current lover.

The second story, The Man Who Re-enlisted begins with some poetically descriptive passages of nature and another traveller who meets up with a band of soldiers, one of whom tells us his story. This story is different than the first and told in a more straightforward style but we get comments from some of the other soldiers, who are all interested in the love story. It concerns Frinko Balaban, the ‘re-enlsited man’, and Katharina; they fell deeply in love when they were young but as both were peasants there was little chance of advancement in life, except Katharina is beautiful and catches the eye of the young master of the estate. Katharina readily ditches Balaban to marry the master and so become mistress of the estate. Balaban ends up joining the army and re-enlisting to stay away from Katharina but ends up returning to his home village after his parents die. Balaban never marries as he’s still in love with Katharina. The men talk about what Katharina did and they can all see, including Balaban, why she married the count, as Balaban explains:

“But a smart woman isn’t satisfied with a bag of money. She drags the man off to a priest.
“Do you understand me? That’s why there is such a great enmity among women, just like there is among tailors or basket-weavers. Every one of them is trying to sell her little basket as best she can. And is she wrong to do so?
“Isn’t the woman judged by who her husband is? Once a girl from the village marries a count, she’s a countess, isn’t she? Her husband’s honored position is hers, and that’s why a woman is always prouder of his titles and his wealth than the man is himself. You understand?”

And Balaban goes on to justify this mercantile nature of love, to the bemusement of the more Romantically-inclined narrator:

“A man’s love soon comes to an end, and I say that women are right to look to their interests while they can, as long as they’re young and pretty, and as long as the man’s head is on fire; a fire like that is soon extinguished, and a little woman soon becomes old.”

But we see in Moonlight, the last story, what may happen to a woman who marries for money and titles. There is rather an unusual frame story to this one in that a traveller is told a story, whilst lodging for the night, by the mistress of the house after she sleepwalks into his room at night. Olga tells the traveller, Leopold, the story of her life. Olga, a beautiful child, is destined for a ‘good’ marriage and she is brought up by her parents with the intention of marrying her off to a ‘good’ family. Mihael, an estate-owner, is attracted by her and they soon marry; Olga is whisked off to Mihael’s estate where she is soon bored with having nothing else to occupy her except her children. Her husband’s time is taken up with managing the estate and his involvement in local politics. Olga ends up falling in love with Mihael’s rather self-important friend, Vladimir, which lasts for a year before Mihael finds out and kills him in a duel. Olga and Mihael then stay together in a loveless marriage. This is almost an archetypical nineteenth century story about marriage but it’s interesting that Sacher-Masoch makes all the characters in the story believeable and even likeable; no-one is a demon, each person’s actions is understandable, instead it is the social structure of the standard marriage that, Sacher-Masoch seems to imply, is at fault.

Before reading Love I also read The Master Masochist, which is a 1968 collection of stories, each concentrating on tales of cruel, evil, domineering women, which is, of course what the author is most famous for, through the novel Venus in Furs. It’s a curious collection of tales, and I suspect the stories have been heavily edited to pick out the more salacious parts of his stories. There is a story called Girls Who Whip Men and the last story, The Female Hyena of the Hungarian Plain, has the ‘Hyena’ having a man whipped and tortured so that he bleeds upon the woman so that she can bathe in his blood. All the women wear furs and love whipping men in these stories, though they usually get their comeuppance in the end. Although in Love the women occasionally don furs and show a cruel smile, it’s all in the ‘background’, whereas the stories in The Master Masochist read more like nineteenth century soft porn—I’m intrigued just how much was altered or cut in these translations. Still, I enjoyed them in a way, they weren’t very ‘literary’ but it was interesting to see Sacher-Masoch play out his fantasies in other stories.

‘Love’ was read as part of ‘German Literature Month 10’.

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‘The Mother of God’ (Die Gottesmutter) by Sacher-Masoch

GLM-V 2015
After reading Vishy’s review of Venus in Furs I happened to mention that ‘Venus’ was the only book by Sacher-Masoch that was available in English; well that was the case when I’d previously checked, however, I had another look and found that a translation of his 1883 novel Die Gottesmutter was published in 2015 as The Mother of God. It was translated by William Holmes and is available on Amazon. I’m guessing that it was a self-published translation as there are no publisher details on my kindle version. From the details on the Amazon page it’s a bit unclear whether Holmes translated it directly from the German or from the French translation, La Mère de Dieu. When I saw this was available I dropped my intended read for GLM and switched to this as I was excited to actually read something other than Venus in Furs by Sacher-Masoch. I really didn’t know what to expect but the Amazon blurb made it sound promising.

The story begins by describing Sabadil, a thirty-year old peasant from Solisko who likes spending time alone wandering in the forest. On one of his walks he stops to look in a pond and is surprised when he sees a beautiful woman’s face appear next to his in the reflection. Although he hadn’t heard her approach he finds that she is indeed standing next to him.

At his side now stood a young woman, strongly built and tall, so much so that she was looking down on him, even though he was of medium height. Her face was that of a Madonna with a white complexion, delicately tinted pink. Her blonde hair, with tawny highlights, was braided and arranged in heavy layers on top of her head. The stranger wore tall red leather boots, a percale skirt in bright colours and a dark green cloth corsage mounted on a shirt of dazzling whiteness.

Sacher-Masoch_Mother-of-God-fcSabadil’s heart is pounding and there’s a buzzing sound in his ears; he’s smitten. He tries to engage her in conversation and is soon picking flowers for her and helping her crosss streams. Sabadil’s subservience seems natural to her and Sabadil is attracted to her ‘natural, cold and majestic’ manner. When he tries to kiss her she evades him and says that it is a sin for him to touch her and she escapes. After a period of time he tracks her down to a neighbouring village called Fargowiza-polna and first sees her driving a horse-drawn cart with a whip in her hand and later she appeared to be ordering others about. He learns from a little girl that she is called ‘The Mother of God’ and later discovers her name is Mardona. He discovers from a Jewish trader that Mardona is part of a Christian sect called the Duchobarzen who have no priests, marry and divorce freely and worship the Mother of God who is believed to be the manifestation of the Virgin Mary.

Sabadil begins visiting Mardona and sees that she is indeed revered by the other villagers. Although Sabadil is accepted into their life he does not worship Mardona as a God as the others do; he is, however, in love with her. Sabadil gets drawn further into the sect and it becomes apparent that everything is not as rosy as it first appeared. Not everyone is happy with the situation and the position of ‘Mother of God’, being essentially an elected position, has to be defended against usurpers. When Mardona feels that her position is under attack she feels it necessary to issue severe punishments on those who are deemed guilty. When Sofia, a young attractive woman, is judged to be guilty of adultery she is taken out, dragged through the streets and stoned by the others. Only Mardona’s intervention prevents the crowd from killing her. While witnessing this Sabadil is horrified and mesmerised by it and also a little turned on.

Sabadil stood at some distance away, observing Mardona closely. He never had seen her so beautiful, despite her angry face and quivering lips.

The sect, however, is part of a larger world and can’t hide from the police and accusations of attempted murder. But Mardona is quite capable of manipulating those outside of the sect as well as those within – she just has to use different tactics.

Possibly one of the most interesting characters in this book is Sukalou. He’s introduced as a comic figure, basically someone who is constantly hungry and begs food from others whilst pretending to be an ascetic who has been fasting for days. Here is how his entrance is described:

Suddenly a man arrived who immediately caught Sabadil’s attention, or, rather, did not arrive. He simply poked his nose, long and pointed, through the gap in the barely opened door, followed by his bald head, revealing a face with blinking eyes and ears adorned with thick silver rings. […] But he did not come in right away. A few moments passed; then his long neck extended through the opening in the door. After this came a boot with a worn heel and finally Sukalou in person dressed in an extremely long light blue coat. He remained near the door, drew from his pocket a small birch bark snuff box, delicately pinched a little of the tobacco between finger and thumb and snuffed it with a triumphant air, as if challenging everyone to do likewise.

Although a comical figure, he also gets involved in some of the political manoeuvrings and subsequent punishments.

I won’t reveal any more of the story as it would spoil it for anyone who fancies reading the book for themselves. The ending is particularly powerful and a little unexpected although we can see which way the story is heading. But as powerful as the ending is, curiously, the translator decided that he didn’t particularly like it and decided to write a few more chapters. I have to say that I disagree with him and prefer the way that the original novel cuts off at the most dramatic point. There is nothing particularly wrong with Holmes’ added chapters as they form a type of epilogue to the story but I don’t think it adds anything to the novel. At least we are warned that these chapters have been written by the translator and so can decide for ourselves whether to read them or not. As far as I can tell the translation was excellent and the style of the novel was very readable. The translator also included many notes that I found useful.

The Mother of God would certainly be interesting for anyone who’s read Venus in Furs not least because it also shows Sacher-Masoch’s obsessions of dominant females, subservient males and the abuses of power that appeared in his more famous book. But it does show what a great storyteller he was and that he could incorporate his obsessions into different types of stories and the novel is easily as good as ‘Venus’, maybe better. I’d love to read more by him.

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