Individuals sometimes derive sexual pleasure from submission to cruel discipline. While that predilection was noted as early as the sixteenth century, masochism was not codified as a concept until 1890. According to John K. Noyes, its invention reflected a crisis in the liberal understanding of subjectivity and sexuality which continues to inform discussions of masochism today. In essence, it remains a political concept.
Viennese physician Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term masochism, based on the work of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Noyes analyzes the social and political problems that inspired the concept, suggesting, for example, that the triumphant expansion of European colonialism was in part animated by an ambivalence in masculine sexuality.
Noyes documents the evolution of the concept of masochism with scenes in literature from John Cleland's Fanny Hill through Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs and Pauline Reage's Story of 0. Analysis of Freud's vastly influential rereading of masochism precedes an exploration of the work of his successors, including Wilhem Reich, Theodor Reik, Helene Deutsch, and Karen Horney. Noyes suggests that the thematics of feminine masochism emerged only gradually from an exclusively male concept.
"Noyes has written an erudite, thoughtful book on masochism.... The breadth of Noyes's scholarship is impressive."
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
"An excellent and informative study.... John Noyes's book is rich in content, complex in argument, and profitable meat for the analytic reader to chew on."
"An interesting book.... Historians will find this book full of interesting historical speculations about the origin and evolution of masochism.... A very carefully argued and imaginative piece of work that will be indispensable to anyone working in the history of sexuality."
American Historical Review
"Noyes presents a scholarly examination of the history of ambiguities of the concept of masochism.... Throughout, he analyzes fiction dealing with masochism, and constantly points to the sociocultural milieu surrounding this behavior as both defining it and producing motives for engaging in it."
"That individuals sometimes derive sexual pleasure from submission to cruel discipline is no longer a dark secret hidden in society's closet. As witnessed in many popular movies, sadomasochism has entered the mainstream. How it achieved this status and, more important, its origins are the focus of this scholarly work.... This well-researched and penetrating study, geared to academics and the most informed lay readers, is recommended for academic libraries."
"A very erudite, comprehensive, and searching study, which investigates masochism from a variety of perspectives."
Elaine Showalter, Princeton University