This is a book that almost did not come into the world. A few times. It had a long gestation and very delayed birth. The project often shuddered to a halt as either life took over or I just got discouraged from pursuing it. The day the actual book arrived in boxes was like seeing a new-born child. I felt immensely proud of it.
Venus in Furs, though not the book which awakened my interest in femdom, was always there in the background as a reference to femdom and as an inspiration. It wasn’t even my favourite book either, as I found the ending off-putting, but I came later to appreciate its incisiveness and vision, written at a time when the whole nature of that sexuality was completely misunderstood and undiscussed. Sacher-Masoch was writing in 1870 when feminism was barely making its voice heard, and though he was aware (though dimly) of his own ‘topping-from-the-bottom’, his creation of a woman who really thinks for herself and “does femdom” her own way is remarkable. It’s odd that while it is regarded as an erotic novel, there is in fact no sex portrayed. It’s more about a philosophical outlook which is developed by the author and either spoken by Wanda or more often, Severin. Sacher-Masoch knew the subject he was writing about from the inside, and details all the joys and perplexities that beset the submissive mind. Often I hear of experiences from my friends describing the ups and downs of their femdom relationships and think – that’s ‘Venus in Furs’ all over.
Of course, being one of the few illustrators who specialise in this genre, I was often asked my thoughts on the book and it was suggested I make my own version. My initial thought was simply to illustrate a few scenes from the novel and try to find a publisher who might wish to republish the book, but after a few approaches there appeared to be little interest in a new edition and the rough sketches just lay around for a few years. I sometimes toyed with the idea of releasing them as a set of prints, a portfolio of artwork or even as a graphic novel but it did not seem economically sensible. Previous experience taught me that prints of niche erotic artwork are difficult to sell (how many people would put them on their walls?) so I abandoned that idea and never having had any interest in comic strip could not seriously go down that route either. My interest to develop them remained however and so at last I conceived the idea of making my own book with my own translation. I reckoned that given the broadly popular appeal of the novel a book might be saleable and that perhaps seeing everything put together in a readily marketable form I could also at least approach publishers again.
So throughout 2012 I translated the novel myself. I had been dissatisfied with other translations, especially the copyright-free version by “Fernanda Savage” of 1921 which is rather stiff and old-fashioned in style. I preferred not to license an existing modern translation, nor did I know how to go about it. How could I feel confident enough to do this translation effectively? Well, I admit that my German is not that of a professional translator. But I took comfort that in the past translation was a more informal affair than it is today – Thomas Carlyle, for example, translated Goethe without a formal degree in German using only a basic dictionary. More importantly, I could justify that I understood the author’s thoughts better than any other translators and so I overcame any hesitancy in that regard. In parallel I proceeded to work on the ten main watercolours and cover and wrote to literary agents and publishers asking if they would be interested in publishing an illustrated book with completely new translation. Surprisingly or not, depending on your experience of the publishing world, I received only politely phrased refusals.
Early in 2013 all the translation was complete but I felt that to market it as a printed book it needed to have more than just ten paintings. So I designed twenty more line illustrations, and with the aid of a publishing programme laid out the book myself inserting all the illustrations into my own translated text – well, I have a training in graphic design as well as illustration so although it was not a simple matter, it was within my capability. I also received a lot of help from Tim Woodward of Skin Two, who is very experienced in publishing. You’ll be asking now if I printed the whole book by myself. Well, much as I’d like to impress by showing you my own printing operation, in fact I did need to find the services of a printer, but apart from that it was very much self-made. Thanks to a few ‘angels’ and some good luck financially I was able to fund the printing of the book and the book was eventually published within the imprint of Stiletto Books.
The book has had a great reception and now I am beginning to see the stock approaching depletion. It will not be re-published and stock will not always be available. Now is the time to buy unless you wish to buy second-hand copy for an inflated price later on.