Man in Furs

Man in Furs
Man in Furs review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - ‎ 978-1-68396-480-3
  • Release date: 2019
  • English language release date: 2021
  • UPC: ‎9781683964803
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

Austrian nobleman Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s effect on human sexual desires is so profound that a sexual trait is named after him, and his Venus in Furs remains an erotic classic, yet he is largely unknown. Much of him remains so after Man in Furs.

Catherine Sauvat and Anne Simon begin in 1872 with the adult Sacher-Masoch giving a reading from his novel, after which he receives an anonymous note from someone willing to live out his fantasies of domination by a woman. There follow several years of just that as Sacher-Masoch subjugates himself to this woman, now known as Wanda after his character in Venus in Furs. Sauvat confirms this is a fantasy representing its author, rather than an opportunist salacious novel.

Just as there’s a complexity to Sacher-Masoch’s desires, so there is to Sauvat’s script, which is nuanced and blurs the lines between a fantasy life and a real life into which the care of children and maintaining a career intrudes. She tells the story simply, though, and Anne Simon’s art reflects that, the pleasing wonkiness making it seem as if she’s drawn the figures in ink rather than pencilling them first.

Because Sacher-Masoch’s novels dealt with willing subjugation his name was assigned as a classification when Richard von Kraft-Ebing published his Psychopathica Sexualis in 1886, the first attempt to list what in the late 19th century were seen as sexual abnormalities. Sauvat allocates considerable space to Kraft-Ebbing, and subsequently to Wanda von Sacher-Masoch. Neither interlude is strictly necessary, and they add to a growing sense that while the prurient aspects of Sacher-Masoch’s life are covered, much remains unsaid. It’s only at the end when regretting his legacy to posterity that we learn of circumstances that shaped his desires, yet a timeline supplied at the back of the book indicates much of interest about his earlier life.

What Man of Furs relates is interesting, but it reflects the public image of its subject by offering a far from complete reckoning.