"l' Histoire d'O" by Pauline Reage

"Bianca's Smut Shack" says:"In 1954 when this French novel was published, you had to be an adult to purchase it. Considered obscene and too erotic,it was banned in many countries. The Story of O was /is the most erotic novel I have ever read. It is the story of a young , beautiful Parisian fashion photographer who wants nothing more than to be a sex slave to her lover, Rene.

The book tells of her being taken to a training "Hotel" to be taught the role of a sexual slave. She is whipped and sexually abused by many men and then given to another lover, Sir Stephen, by her original lover. She is told to love another woman and experiences all sorts of erotic forms of instruction. You might say that this is a "Classic" novel of B & D."

I have found the book very inspirational, while realising that the book has been misused by base spirits as an inspiration for simply abusing women (& men). As to the motivation of Sir Stephen or Rene, the executors, see the quoted sections below. It is hard to subscribe to their actions, as they are selfish and have not O's well being, but that of their male elite group in mind.

In contrast, the mental journey of O is made clear and understandable. I can identify with her, however far she debases herself. Self sacrifice is the key. I desire to be like her, in spirit! In spirit, I emphasise, since this best remains a fantasy, a thought experiment. She becomes the property of a man, his elite group, his half-brother. She is raped interminably through all orifices, an infinite number of times. She is whipped with the objective of leaving permanent marks. Quite in line with increasingly commonplace practice, though, she is forced to wax her genital area, her labia are pierced, Sir Stephen's initials on metal discs are suspended on the ring through them and a dog leash is attached. She is branded on her buttocks. In this state, less than an animal, she is paraded on to a party, where people are much upset by the sight, but later they curiously draw near, rather: descend upon her, like vultures. (Yes, a parallel to my Statuesque Beauty story.)

Many have suggested (e.g. Erica Jong) that the book must have been written by a man, with Sadistic tendencies. I had never any such doubts. (My only doubt would centre on the fact that no attention is given to the constraints that the quintessentially female process of menstruation poses on the availability.) It has since been confirmed that the book was indeed written by a woman for her lover-publisher. Interesting. The author was named Dominique Aury, which itself was a psuedonym of Anne Declos. She was not so much a novelist but a critic and translator. She wrote the book, indeed an 'idea-novel', to impress her lover, the publisher Jean Paulhan, who had provocatively said that no woman could ever write a truly erotic novel. He was wrong, but right to say so and provoke her to write this book. Reage/Aury/Declos died on 30 April 1998, age 90.

See the underlying reference by Andrea Dworkin for a critical feminist analysis of the Story of O. I quote:

The Story of O, by Pauline Reage, incorporates, along with all literary pornography, principles and characters already isolated in my discussion of children's fairy tales. The female as a figure of innocence and evil enters the adult world--the brutal world of genitalia. The female manifests in her adult form--cunt. She emerges defined by the hole between her legs. In addition, Story of O is more than simple pornography. It claims to define epistemologically what a woman is, what she needs, her processes of thinking and feeling, her proper place. It links men and women in an erotic dance of some magnitude: the sado-masochistic complexion of O is not trivial--it is formulated as a cosmic principle which articulates, absolutely, the feminine.
Also, O is particularly compelling for me because I once believed it to be what its defenders claim--the mystical revelation of the true, eternal, and sacral destiny of women. The book was absorbed as a pulsating, erotic, secular Christianity (the joy in pure suffering, woman as Christ figure). I experienced O with the same infantile abandon as the NEWSWEEK reviewer who wrote:
"What lifts this fascinating book above mere perversity is its movement toward the transcendence of the self through a gift of the self . . . to give the body, to allow it to be ravaged, exploited, and totally possessed can be an act of consequence, if it is done with love for the sake of love." Any clear-headed appraisal of O will show the situation, O's condition, her behavior, and most importantly her attitude toward her oppressor as a logical scenario incorporating Judeo-Christian values of service and self-sacrifice and universal notions of womanhood, a logical scenario demonstrating the psychology of submission and self-hatred found in all oppressed peoples. O is a book of astounding political significance.

Friend or foe, l'Histoire d'O is a book worth reading.

The novel is not a realistic one, but an idealistic one, the ideals being the unlimited love, devotion, surrender. In the realms of BDSM, there is the notion of consent. A paradox almost, to submit oneself totally, but within certain agreed boundaries and with a safeword at its centre. l'Histoire d'O (and my own humble piece 'Waiting') deal with a subject who consents to total, unequivocal submission, although O maintains a job and therefore has a life of her own. Total submission, allowing her Master to pass her on to a second, who still lends her to others and finally abandons her completely (after which she chooses to die.) Can a person consent to be the possession of someone, like a piece of furniture, to be humiliated, tortured, to be given away and abandonned? That's the paradox. To close, I give the following excerpts (page references refer to the Grove Press' 1967 paperback edition, translated by Sabine d'Estree.)

pg. 31

'... he (Rene) told her it was his intention that henceforth she should be shared by him and those of his choosing .... That she was dependent on him, and on him alone, even though she might receive orders from persons other than himself, whether he was present or absent .... That he would possess her as a god possesses his creatures .... He gave her only to reclaim her immediately, to reclaim her enriched in his eyes, like some common object which had been used for some divine purpose and has thus been consecrated. For a long time he had wanted to prostitute her, and he was delighted to feel that the pleasure he was deriving was even greater than he had hoped, and that it bound him to her all the more, as it bound her to him, all the more so because, through it, she would be more humiliated and ravaged. Since she loved him, she could not help loiving whatever derived from him.

pg. 59

'"Are you naked?" René went on.
"Yes," she said. "But where are you calling from?"
He ignored her question, merely adding:
"Did you keep your ring on?"
She had kept her ring on.
Then he told her to remain as she was until he came home and to prepare, thus undressed, the suitcase of clothing she was to get rid of. Then he hung up.
It was past one o'clock, and the weather was lovely. A small pool of sunlight fell on the rug, lighting the white nightgown and the corduroy dressing gown, pale green like the shells of fresh almonds, which O had let slip to the floor when she had taken them off. She picked them up and went to take them into the bathroom, to hang them up in a closet. On her way, she suddenly saw her reflection in one of the mirrors fastened to a door and which, together with another mirror covering part of the wall and a third on another door, formed a large three-faced mirror: all she was wearing was a pair of leather mules the same green as her dressing gown - and only slightly darker than the mules she wore at Roissy - and her ring. She was no longer wearing either a collar or leather bracelets, and she was alone, her own sole spectator. And yet never had she felt more totally committed to a will which was not her own, more totally a slave, and more content to be so.

pg. 81

'The very idea that Rene could imagine giving up any part of her left O stunned. She had taken it as the sign that her lover cared more about Sir Stephen than he did about her. And too, although he had so often told her that what he loved in her was the object that he had made of her, her absolute availability to him, his freedom with respect to her, as one is free to dispose of a piece of furniture, which one enjoys giving as much as, and sometimes even more than, one may enjoy keeping it for oneself, she realised that she had not believed him completely.

'... However offensive and insulting his conduct may have been, O's love for Rene remained unchanged. She considered herself fortunate to count enough in his eyes for him to derive pleasure from offending her, as believers give thanks to God for humbling them.'

Pauline Reage is apparently associated with another book: l'Image (The Image) by Jean de Berg. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the preface is presented under her name (falsely, as it turned out. Film director and author Alain Robbe-Grillet did, husband of "Jean de Berg"/Catherine, the author). Secondly, the subject matter is the same as that of 'O'. Thirdly, Jean de Berg is another mysterious person, otherwise untraceable (pseudonym for Catherine Robbe-Grillet. Read John Leo's compelling quest for the R-G connections.)

"Pauline Reage" fuels the mystery by declaring that Jean (a French male name) de Berg would in fact be a woman. Why? Because Jean de Berg sides with the two main female characters and the single male character is less well defined. I disagree. l'Image is not a bad effort, but an intelligent person of any sex could have written it. Unlike 'O', which delves deeply into the female protagonist, l'Image is relatively superficial. (Man meets lady-friend, whom he fancies, but who is unattainable. She is in the company of a beautiful girl, whom she embarrasses in front of the man. Further meetings take place, in which the former two progress from embarrassment via humiliation to outright torture of the girl. When that process is complete, the lady-friend finally offers herself to the man, who knows what to do and the circle is complete. The motive of the man is unclear. The motive of the girl entirely undefined. The lady-friend must be said to have a rather oblique manner of offering herself to the man. In short, the story is aesthetical instead of ethical, like many of the erotic stories.) The highlight of the book is the lingerie store scene in which the man exposes the submissive girl to a shop attendant. In tribute, I played around with that scene, reversed the roles and created my Mirrors - Reflections.

The preface, however, is of 'O''s standard, although spanning a mere two and a halve brief pages (Grove Press pocket edition, 1967), and could have been written by Dominique Aury. The main issue of the preface is that the two female characters are in fact Siamese twins and a metaphor for the two generic sides of woman as such: both mistress and slave. This manifests itself in the relationships with men, in particular the dominant types of man. She may be submissive, but only inasmuch as she allows. In that sense, it is woman who is the mistress, not man, who knows not what he is and what he does. Dominant man is merely the priest, who celebrates the ceremonies around the twin goddesses of woman, who is sacrificed but reborn, 'whose only joy... lies in contemplation of herself.'

I was most encouraged to read this as I (toujours l'arrogante - after Brel) had discovered this independently. I refer to my unworthy efforts 'Who is in Charge?', the reworked 'A Statuesque Beauty', 'Anne-Marie and O' and 'Full Circle'.

My own humble works inspired by the seminal "l'Histoire d'O" are: