Book review: Venus Without Furs, Gabrielle Everall

A collection of poetry that riffs and talks back to Leopold von Sascher-Masoch, author of notorious classic 'Venus in Furs'.
Venus Without Furs. On the left a shot of the author, who is a middle aged white woman with short brushed back grey hair. She has glasses on her head, a green and black dress and is standing in front of a microphone reading from a book. On the right is a book cover showing an artistic nude looking to the right and her mirror double looking to the left.

Gabrielle Everall has experienced debasement and she’s fighting back with her poetry – one literary lash at a time. Venus Without Furs is a wild ride. Each line of poetry drips with fetish and subversion. The experience of reading it is like having your neural pathways tantalised with a velvet whip. It stings but you long for more – each new poem is a Saint Andrew’s Cross upon which the reader is tortured with intellectual porn, the perversion of patriarchy, feminist rage and the vehement ire of the poet scorned. 

Venus without Furs is a scalding feminist revision of Venus in Furs, the sadomasochistic classic by Leopold von Sasher-Masoch. In the original, the masochist Severin submits to the whip and will of the sadist Wanda. In Everall’s revision she posits herself as “Severin as a She” and asserts that she does not in fact welcome submission.

She rejects her abusers and defiantly turns the conventional patriarchal power structure on its head.

And yet, despite her critique of the debasement of women and the fetishisation of this debasement in pornography, this collection of poetry drips with masochism. Everall employs humor and irony to illustrate the whips and chains of the patriarchy.

The poet acknowledges the contradictions that exist within her, and within many women – the desire to be held and to have autonomy over one’s body – the sweetness and ease of submission versus the challenge of self-determination. She explores the tension between corporeal desire and intellectual idealism in her brilliant poem ‘Doublethink’.

I laughed out loud reading many of the poems in Venus without Furs. Everall’s wit is unapologetically subversive and outrageously in-yer-face. Her punk feminist poetry is as anarchic and entertaining as the Sex Pistols. Her writing is sprinkled with references to punk porn writer Kathy Acker – whose influence is apparent in Everall’s writing, as well as Sinead O’Connor and female intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir.

Venus Without Furs is an exciting collection of poetry because it gives voice to the abused, the downtrodden, the invisible and the overlooked. Everall writes of panhandling in the streets of Fitzroy – her poverty and desperation acting as a cloak that renders her invisible to the people whose money and sympathy she solicits. They turn away from her in disgust. And here she fights against their indifference with her best weapon – her pen. Her poems shout, “Look at me! I’m human! I exist! What are you going to do about it?”

Read: Book review: Thunderhead, Miranda Darling

Everall is an exciting voice in Australian poetry. Her work teeters magically on the edge of genius and insanity and boldly goes where few other poets dare to tread – into the psychology of debasement. If you love poetry you need to read this book. If you hate poetry you need to read this book – Everall’s bold, sardonic voice that drips with desire may just be the thing that turns you on to poetry. She demands that you listen and listen you must. She may not have the answers to the degradation of women by the patriarchy, but hers is a voice that demands to be heard and it sheds a fascinating light on the subject. 

Venus Without Furs, Gabrielle Everall
Publisher: Collective Effort Press
ISBN: 9780959375541
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 2024
RRP: $20

Tiffany Barton is an award winning playwright, actor and independent theatre producer who has toured shows to Melbourne, London and New York. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Curtin University and an MA in Writing for Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts.