Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs was first published in 1870, and it relates the tale of a psychologist's nightmare relationship between the masochist Severin and the "Venus in Furs", Wanda von Dunajew (a character not by chance resembling Sacher-Masoch's first wife).
As the curtain rises on the first act, the lonely intellectual Severin is boarding up with a hedonistic maiden in a large manor with only a little old lady to distract them. After this all-too-easy setup, the heartbreak begins.
Severin, it seems, read one too many epic tragedies as a child. Now, he's in love with the ideal of the martyr, and wants to be treated in accordance with that fantasy. Wanda, her heart full of endearment, can't make heads or tails of his desire to be treated like dirt:
"But, Severin," replied Wanda, almost angrily, "do you believe me
capable of maltreating a man who loves me as you do, and whom I love?"
"Why not, if I adore you the more on this account? It is possible to
love really only that which stands above us, a woman, who through her
beauty, temperament, intelligence, and strength of will subjugates us and becomes a despot over us."
"Then that which repels others, attracts you."
"Yes. That is the strange part of me."
And, though she understands it not, Wanda gradually takes to appeasing his deep dark desires. The relationship they develop becomes what is likely the first kinky couple in the history of literature.
The rest of the novel is a toss-up. Wanda gives Severin everything he'd hoped for... only to convince him that it wasn't quite what he wanted after all. Most of the time, it seems that Severin's ideals are splitting into a double standard - 'what I say I want' and 'what I really want'. Von Sacher-Masoch's character here expresses both jealousy and fear toward unorthodox treatment that he had, just pages earlier, literally begged for. As a submissive and a masochist myself, I found trying to relate to this character insufferable. That's right, I'm calling Sacher-Masoch's avatar a crappy masochist. Masochists should at least be happy with something. Severin, in contrast, is a whiner, finicky, and incapable of contentment.
Venus In Furs' ending is an interesting one. Severin is older and wiser, and the kinks that defined him before are all gone. As he converses with his friend--a confidant who read Severin's journal and the story described above--his last piece of advice can be seen as both misogynist and feminist:
"But the moral?"
"That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present
educating her, is his enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has
the same rights as he, and is equal in education and work."
"You want peace, you must work for justice." Social criticism and subculture roots all in one messy package.
The full text of Venus In Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch can be found at http://www.gutenberg.net/etext04/vnsfr10.txt. It takes up 235 kB and about 100 pages.