Leopold was born at Lemberg in Galicia. He was of Spanish, German and more especially Slavonic descent. The novelist's father was director of police in Lemberg and married Charlotte von Masoch, a Little Russian lady of noble birth. The novelist, the eldest son of this union, was not born until after nine years of marriage, and in infancy was so delicate that he was not expected to survive.
While still a child young Leopold was in the midst of the bloody scenes of the revolution which culminated in 1848. When he was 12 the family migrated to Prague, and the boy, though precocious in his development, then first learned the German language, of which he attained so fine a mastery.
As a child, he was greatly attracted by representations of cruelty; he loved to gaze at pictures of executions, the legends of martyrs were his favorite reading, and with the onset of puberty he regularly dreamed that he was fettered and in the power of a cruel woman who tortured him.
At the age of 13, in the revolution of 1848, young Sacher-Masoch received his baptism of fire; carried away by the popular movement, he helped defend the barricades together with a young lady, a relative of his family, an amazon with a pistol in her girdle, such as later he loved to depict. The episode was, however, but a brief interruption of his education; he pursued his studies with brilliance, and on the higher side his education was aided by his father's esthetic tastes.
Amateur theatricals were in special favor at his home, and here even the serious plays of Goethe and Gogol were performed, thus helping to train and direct the boy's taste. At the Universities of Prague and Graz he studied with such zeal that when only 19 he took his doctor's degree in law and shortly afterward became a privatdocent for German history at Graz.
Gradually, however, the charms of literature asserted themselves definitively, and he soon abandoned teaching. He took part, however, in the war of 1866 in Italy, and the battle of Solferino he was decorated on the field for bravery in action by the Austrian field-marshal. These incidents, however, had little disturbing influence on Sacher-Masoch's literary career, and he was gradually acquiring a European reputation by his novels and stories.
A far more seriously disturbing influence had already begun to be exerted on his life by a series of love-episodes. Some of these were of slight and ephemeral character; some were a source of unalloyed happiness, all the more so if there was an element of extravagance to appeal to his Quixotic nature. secretary.
Most often these episodes culminated in deception and misery. It was after a relationship of this kind from which he could not free himself for four years that he wrote Die Geschiedene Frau, Passionsgeschichte eines Idealisten, putting into it much of his own personal history.
He met a young woman at Graz, Laura Rümelin, 27 years of age. A strong attraction grew up on both sides and, a relationship formed and a child was born. Thereupon, in 1893, they married. Before long, however, there was disillusion on both sides. Soon after marriage, in the course of an innocent romp in which the whole of the small household took part, he asked his wife to inflict a whipping on him. She refused, and he thereupon suggested that the servant should do it.
Sacher-Masoch formed a relationship with Hulda Meister, who had come to act as secretary and translator to him, while his wife became attached to Rosenthal, a clever journalist later known to readers of the Figaro as "Jacques St.-Cère", who realized her painful position and felt sympathy and affection for her. She went to live with him in Paris and, having refused to divorce her husband, he eventually obtained a divorce from her.
In 1883 Sacher-Masoch and Hulda Meister settled in Lindheim, a village in Germany near the Taunus, a spot to which the novelist seems to have been attached because in the ground of his little estate was a haunted and ruined tower associated with a tragic medieval episode. Here, after many legal delays, Sacher-Masoch was able to render his union with Hulda Meister legitimate; here two children were in due course born, and here the novelist spent the remaining years of his life in comparative peace.
At first, as is usual, treated with suspicion by the peasants, Sacher-Masoch gradually acquired great influence over them; he became a kind of Tolstoy in the rural life around him, the friend and confidant of all the villagers (something of Tolsoy's communism is also, it appears, to be seen in the books he wrote at this time), while the theatrical performances which he inaugurated, and in which his wife took an active part, spread the fame of the household in many neighboring villages.
Meanwhile his health began to break up; a visit to Nauheim in 1894 was of no benefit, and he died the following year at Lindheim, Assia.