By Anne Desclos writing as Pauline Réage and Dominique Aury
Story of O is about the initiation of Odile, a beautiful, Parisian fashion photographer, into an underground sex society for the very elite. Trained in the sub/dom arts, Odile is turned into an orifice to be possessed at the whim of any member, always prepared, physically and emotionally, to please anyone that desires her. Published in 1954, Story of O is one of the first erotic novels written about love, dominance, and submission. It includes many elements that were highly taboo for the time and even today. It was originally written as a series of love letters by the author to her lover, Jean Paulhan, who admired the writings of Marquis de Sade and said no woman could write the same. Paulhan was impressed with the result of his challenging statement and sent the story to a publisher. He is the writer of the book’s preface “Happiness in Slavery” wherein he claims to have no idea as to the real identity of the author. The book was published under multiple pen-names until finally being claimed by the author under her real name 40 years after publication. This reader found the book to be more fascinating than anything else because of its extreme and revolutionary nature.
The writing in Story of O is in keeping with its reputation and acclaim as the 1955 winner of the French literature prize, Prix des Deux Magots. Although it was written informally, the complex writing and psychology behind its controversial sexuality make it a literary enigma that has started many debates including a case of obscenity charges. The courts dropped the charges, but a publicity ban was placed on the book for a number of years.
In the book, Odile becomes involved in the mysterious world of submission at the Château Roissy at the urging of her lover, René. She gives her consent for each alteration and act done to her body in the form of beatings, piercings, brandings, and the constant availability of every one of her orifices for the use of the Roissy gentlemen. She is proud of the loss of her identity and her power to choose, and relishes her transformation into ‘O’, a willing slave to be used for the pleasure of others. O could stand for Odile, but the emphasis made in the novel was on the abbreviation of orifice or object. It could also represent a circle, depicting her primary importance as the holes she provides.
This book has very strong BDSM elements even to the extent of creating most of the jargon now found in the BDSM culture. The violent acts done to O could give the reader pause, however O gives her permission for all of them making it only slightly less shocking. At the time of its publication one journalist, François Chalais, criticized Story of O, claiming that the novel glorified violence; he described the novel as “bringing the Gestapo into the boudoir”. The language used is explicit for its time, but in relation to modern erotica, it is slightly more reserved in the words used to describe the sexual scenes. However, the ideas portrayed are explicit and sometimes sexually bizarre. Overall, this reader did not find this novel to be consistently erotic, instead found it to be an important introduction to the historic evolution of erotica and a necessary pioneer for the genre.