WHAT IS Story of O?
Story of O is a small literary gem. It is also a dangerous book. It is a romance of violence written by a gentle French woman who for over forty years hid behind the name 'Pauline Reage'. It is a book which should come with a health warning... Story of O might seduce your heart. It might claim your soul. It could even change your life.
Originally published in France in 1954 by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, Histoire d'O relates the tale of a young Parisian fashion photographer, called O, and her willful debasement at the hands of her lover Rene and the members of a clandestine society dedicated to the pleasures of sadomasochism.
O is taken by Rene to a chateau 'Roissy' on the edge of Paris where she is systematically turned into a slave through sexual assaults, regular whippings, and long hours in solitude. Despite her harsh treatment, O grants permission beforehand for everything that occurs, and her permission is consistently sought.
The publication of Histoire d'O caused immediate controversy. The daring nature of the novel became the talk of the French salons and cafes and there was much speculation as to the true identity of its author.
In the following year Story of O won the Prix des Deux Magots, a literary prize generally awarded to new and unconventional books, with a number of famous writers amongst its earlier recipients. The literary quality of Story of O was confirmed and the novel's notoriety was firmly established.
Despite subsequent public outrage and a police investigation involving the interrogation of the publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert, the book continued to be published, and the identity of Pauline Reage, who, it is said, quelled further police intervention after meeting the Minister of Justice over lunch, remained a well kept secret.
For many years Story of O was assumed written by a man but in fact its author was a French woman of letters who kept her identity secret until just before her death on 2 May, 1998 - at the age of 91 - when she revealed that she had written it as a 'love letter' to her lover of 20 years.
Pauline Reage, revealed before her death as journalist and translator Dominique Aury, claims the book was nothing more than a love letter to her lover Jean Paulhan, une entreprise de seduction, a way of keeping his interest after an affair of almost two decades. Paulhan, one of France's most respected literary figures, loved it and suggested immediate publication.
Histoire d'O by Pauline Reage with a foreword by Jean Paulhan, was published in an edition of 600 copies by Jean-Jacques Pauvert and appeared in June 1954. Some copies - nobody seems to know how many - carried a small lithograph by Austrian artist Hans Bellmer on the title page. The novel has since sold millions and hasn't been out of print for nearly 60 years.
' "Bestseller" hardly covers it. ' - Molly Weatherfield
'For a period it was the bestselling and most widely read French novel outside France...opening the door to a new generation of women writers and expanding public acceptance of what could be read.'
John de St Jorre 'The Good Ship Venus'
.O'Such a voice, even as it seeks to blot itself out, stands out against the backdrop of the male canon, articulating a credo of feminine pleasure.'
Emily Apter 'Feminizing the Fetish'
.O"Story of O is one of those books which marks the reader..."
.O"thanks, to Aury for showing me, and others, the way into the chateau. Or the ways -- in the first pages of the novel O enters the chateau twice, once blindfolded, once not -- take our pick, it doesn't matter. Just as it doesn't matter how we stumble in, stupidly, haphazardly, purposefully, sex-positively -- the door will open to disclose our own half-forgotten, naively imagined visions waiting there for us. Just as Aury's imagination waited for her to write this most serendipitous of masterpieces, this most inevitable of visions.'
Molly Weatherfield (Salon 1978)
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