Biography of the Original Masochist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Part 1

About the original masochist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, history and biography of the man who coined the sexual term.


MASOCHISM (mas'e-kiz'em) n. 1. Psychiatry. An abnormal condition in which sexual excitement and satisfaction depend largely on being subjected to abuse or physical pain, whether by oneself or by another. 2. a. The deriving of pleasure from being offended, dominated, or mistreated in some way. b. The tendency to seek such mistreatment. 3. The turning of any sort of destructive tendencies inward or upon oneself. Compare sadism.

The earliest memories of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch were of the dark and bloody tales told by his wet-nurse Handscha--tales of Ivan the Terrible, of the Black Czarina of Halicz, of Casimir III, called the Great, and his tyrannical Jewish concubine Esther--tales full of cruelty and torment, in which, more often than not, the tormentor was the dominating, lascivious female, and the tormented, the sentimental victimized male.

During Leopold's childhood his father was chief of police of Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, and he added to his son's education in violence with the tales he brought home. Leopold was 10 when the Polish landowners staged an armed revolt against the Austrian aristocracy. He was 12 in 1848, that year of revolutions, and he viewed them from the bloody streets of Prague, where his father was then posted. His imagination was stirred by the ruthless cruelties of the times, and he composed plays about the revolts and acted them out in his little puppet theater. His dreams were haunted by scenes of execution and martyrdom in which he usually found himself the prisoner of some merciless, demonic figure.

Outwardly, life was calmer after Leopold's father was transferred to Graz, in southern Austria. The Von Sacher-Masochs moved in the best society, and Leopold was their pride. The boy was granted his doctorate in law at 19 and became a lecturer in history at the university the following year. He marked his coming-of-age with the publication of The Rebellion in Ghent under Charles V, an excellent history grimly ignored by his academic colleagues because of its readability and because its author was known to be only 21, stagestruck, and full of wild ideas about universal freedom.

By the time he was 25, Leopold had given up both history and law for literature. He seemed to be a normal young Austrian of good family, considerable charm, and growing literary prestige. But his European sophistication hid a maelstrom of primitive emotions. His subconscious was peopled not by the educated, civilized Austrians he saw every day, but by the fierce, half-savage peasants of his Galician childhood. The mother of his vivid dreams was not the delicate, accomplished madonna-figure who presided over the elegant Graz residence, but the robust, mercilessly bullying, fear-inspiring female of the Carpathian mountains.

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