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Confessions of Wanda von Sacher-Masoch Excerpt: “One must not use common standards…”

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When I had climbed the two flights which led to Sacher-Masoch’s apartment, I found myself on a large landing with numerous doors. I stood there not knowing which I should knock upon, when one of them opened and he himself appeared and bade me enter. I was surprised, because I had expected to find him in bed.

He took me through a dark little antechamber where there was a frightful odor of cat, to a vast room filled with books. In the uncertain light of a large lamp with a green shade, he appeared pale but not gravely ill. He wore clothes of a Polish cut, which lent him a foreign air to my eyes.

He seemed quite emotional as if vainly searching for words. A painful silence prevailed, which I ended by asking him how he was feeling. He did not answer me at once, but led me to a sofa on which I sat while he remained standing in front of me. Finally he said, “You see in what state your visit puts me. I am scarcely able to thank you.” Then it is better that I go away,” I said, smiling.

“Oh!” he cried. And kneeling at my feet he joined his hands as if for prayer, and raised his eyes toward me.

“But how young you are,” he cried, “and how charming! Quite other than I had imagined! And how should I have been able, from such severe, serious letters, to expect the face of such a delicate girl? What an adorable surprise!”

He had taken my hands, and having removed my gloves took them in his and kissed them at intervals. I questioned him again about his illness, and he told me the story with many details, which permitted me to infer than the “pneumonia” had only been a bad cold. Seeing how serious and solemn he was when speaking about it, I had difficulty restraining a smile.

I had expected exaggeration on his part, but I had firmly decided to allow them as little room as possible in our relations. I felt how dangerous they could become for both of us, if they came to encroach upon reality.

He seemed slightly disappointed and regarded me intently, as if searching for something in my features. Then he said, “Yes, you are just as I imagined you from your letters. In your eyes I find all the just and precise thoughts that gripped me, and that made me believe they came from a woman who was no longer young, a woman of…experience.”

I remained at his house almost two hours, and when I left it was with a chaotic whirl of thoughts, and a painful feeling of heaviness in my soul. In speaking with him, I had exerted myself to strip away pretension and extract the truth behind the “literature” of his words, but everything was now confusing me, and I no longer knew where I stood.

From that day forth I saw Sacher-Masoch two or three times a week–always in his apartments, which for a long time he did not dare to venture out from.

He told me about his life, his travels, and his work. He showed me the job offers he had received, told me what was at the printers, what had been published, and what was going to be published before long. Also he told me about his family: his mother whom he had idolized; his dead brothers and sisters; his brother Charles, with whom he shared a mutual affection; then of his father. His love for his family seemed to stop at that old gentleman, who had been neither a tender father to his children nor a good husband to their beloved mother.

Wanda von Sacher-MasochIn all that he told me, I found Sacher-Masoch good and generous, full of pity for the poor and unlucky, and indulgent toward the faults and weaknesses of others. But in these early days what was especially painful for me was the apparent obliviousness with which he recounted his past liaisons. Far from suspecting any impropriety in this, he thought me pleased to listen to him relive such memories.

“For a man such as Sacher-Masoch, one must not use common standards,” Madame Frischauer had said. Now, and many a time in the future, that statement would spring to mind.

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