Book of the Month - A Brief History of Pauline Réage's Story of O
However, the author's life is so fascinating and the hidden tale behind the Story of O so intriguing, there's no way that we couldn't let you in on it!
Story of O is widely acknowledged to be one of the most famous erotic novels of all time. Graham Greene described it as "a rare thing, a pornographic book well written and without a trace of obscenity".
Harold Pinter called it "a remarkable piece of work", while Brian Aldiss proclaimed, "I do believe that Pauline Réage had confounded all her critics and made pornography (if that is what it is) an art".
These are just a few of the incredible compliments from some of the most prolific literaries of modern times, especially as Story of O has been so controversial and divisive in its approach to sex, feminism, discipline and submission.
Pauline Réage was the pen name for Anne Desclos, a French journalist and novelist who also went under the name of Dominique Aury. Each pen name appeared to come with its own persona - Anne Desclos being the humble, well educated, bilingual journalist who was known for her hard work and commitment. Dominique Aury was less shy and retiring, becoming a go-getter in the competitive world of editorial and becoming the only woman to sit on the reading committee of publishers Gallimard. Pauline Réage was the complete opposite however, an accidental author whose own personal life reflected the characters she created - submissive, loyal and completely consumed by love.
Story of O was originally created almost as a dare; Jean Paulhan, Réage's lover, admired the work of Marquis De Sade and insisted that women could not write compelling sado-masochistic erotica the same way a man could. Réage knew that she could prove him wrong and fearing that Paulhan may leave her for a younger woman reasoned: "I wasn't young; I wasn't pretty, it was necessary to find other weapons".
That weapon being Story of O, which were initially love letters to Paulhan, written in pencil in an old exercise book. Upon reading these overwhelming letters of complete and unsparing sexual imagination, he insisted that she develop them further, eventually turning them into a story which was to be published.
The book was originally published in 1954 under the pseudonym of Pauline Réage, and became an enormous, yet controversial success. Although winning the French literature prize, Prix des Deux Magots, French authorities went about bringing obscenity charges against the publishers. The charges were rejected by the courts, but a publicity ban was imposed for many years afterwards.
Even up to 15 years ago, many people doubted that Pauline Réage really existed. Many thought that such a tale could only be written by a man or was the work of 2 or more writers. Only 4 years before her death did Réage reveal herself to be the author, having kept it a secret for so long as not to shame her family or lose her position at the publishers at which she worked.
It was only to be expected that the book would eventually be adapted for screen. The movie Histoire d'O was originally released in 1975 but this, along with the several TV adaptations, paled in comparison to the beauty, passion and ferocity of the book. Many people were unable to relate or empathise with the characters and felt that a lot of what made Story of O what it is, had to be toned down in order to get an 18 rating.
A follow up book Story of O Part II was created, but the authorship is questionable. The language used is not as fluid and graceful as the original, but still has the same powerful eroticism of the first novel. The story returns to the place of O's original initiation in to the world of submission, the elegant chateau outside of Paris where once again she submits completely to the sexual whims of her lover.
If you enjoyed Story of O and want to explore the subjects of domination and submission further then it's definitely worth reading Story of O Part II.
If you're a little unsure and want to find out more, check out the reviews or hop over to Erotic Book Club Discussion Forum and find out what other people make of it!