Sir Stephen’s Melancholic “China Doll”


Oddness abounds in Shūji Terayama’s Les Fruits de la Passion (1981), sometimes called ‘The Story of O-Pt.2’ – “Like Magritte let loose in Wonderland,” wrote Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. The result perhaps, one blogger has imagined, of “Oshima & Borowczyk working together after their notorious years at Argo Films and still there”.

The film promotes itself as based on the novel Retour à Roissy by Pauline Réage, the so-called ‘sequel’ to Story of O, but we find Fruits of Passion has very little to do with Réage.

Fruits of Passion 1

In an interview, Andre Heinrich reveals Philippe d’Argila, son of Dominique Aury (Pauline Réage) and one of the producers on Borowczyk’s Blanche, wished to cash in on the success of Just Jaeckin’s Story of O (1974) by producing a sequel based upon his mother’s Retour a’ Roissy for which she retained the rights. As Associate Producer on Fruits of Passion one can only assume d’Argila had to make-do with this 1981 French-Japanese co-production (Shanghai Ijin Shōkan – “China Doll”) which claims to be the sequel to Story of O but is as far from Return to the Château as one can imagine.

The film’s oddness, however, and the casting of Klaus Kinski compensates somewhat for the film’s shortcomings. It comes across as an epic poem to melancholy. The film rambles through a series of eccentric set pieces interspersed with moments of surreality, with a story setting the sadness of brothel life against a slim plot involving Sir Stephen financing a Coolie uprising! How fascinating a concept.


The lead characters of Histoire d’O and Retour à Roissy, Sir Stephen and O, are placed in the southern China of the 1920s where Sir Stephen owns a casino located in the slums of Shanghai. Sir Stephen ( Klaus Kinski) places O (Isabelle Illiers) in a Chinese brothel for “training” and O is then subjected to a variety of humiliating experiences to prove her unconditional obedience. Meanwhile Sir Stephen finds a new toy in the character of Nathalie (Arielle Dombasle).

A sub-plot concerns a coolie rebellion due to the resentment towards Europeans by the local population and a young man desperate to afford O’s favours at the brothel. O falls in love with the poor young man who joins the revolutionaries, hoping to get some money in order to come to her. Everything ends somewhat badly and melancholia prevails.

Les fruits de la passion (5)


Jasper Sharp in his Behind the Pink Curtain calls Fruits of Passion “minor Terayama” whose “charms are mainly cosmetic”; the costuming, sets (the work of Hiroshi Yamashita) and cinematography (Tatsuo Suzuki). He has a point. One is apt to come away from the film with a clear sense of its quirkiness, moments of beauty and designer-melancholy. It is without doubt a surreal, & at moments, erotic work of art. It failsFruits-of-Passion38 ultimately, however, to deliver what is intended  and this is a great shame. Few reviewers give it its due. Many fall over themselves to deride the film. One purchaser explains, “It is made with a high sense for colours, great images, perfectionism in detail and a beauty in its pictures that is found rarely in newer movies in the western world. Maybe this is one reason why it may bore some people with a more speedy expectation for films then it is shown in this slowly developing story.”


Director Shūji Terayama(1935 – 1983) was an avant-garde Japanese poet, dramatist, writer, film director, and photographer. Critics view him as one of the most productive and provocative creative artists to come out of Japan. His art lives on with annual theatre events, and every 10 years a full summer festival features his life and works.



Retour à Roissy





© Stefan Prince



Return to Roissy : Story of O 2 – Tempting Fate


RETURN TO ROISSY: The Final Chapter (Story of O II)

There is considerable confusion concerning the so-called sequel to Story of O. It is oft repeated that Dominique Aury (ne Anne Desclos) did not write this ‘final chapter’ at all. Why the confusion?

Angie David writes, “Dominique has only ever written one novel”, and so we find book dealers reporting,”The sequel “Return to Roissy” does not stem from Anne Desclos, according to Angie David’s biography.”


Return to Roissy, or Return to the Chateau,  is in fact the deleted chapter of Story of O, suppressed, just as it says in the first novel: a second ending, and in fact deleted by Aury herself upon the advice of her lover Jean Paulhan.

Or is it? – To Angie David, Aury explains Retour à Roissy is not the last erased chapter but a request from the editor, a request that she deems totally stupid. The only true ending is the one she recognizes, the death of O.


And yet Angie David concedes, “In 1969, she would publish a sequel of sorts to Story of O called Retour à Roissy, which included the first novel’s original (unpublished) final chapter, and a third-person account (entitled “Une Fille Amoureuse,” or “A Girl in Love”) about the genesis of O, signed by Réage. She’d worked on it as Jean Paulhan lay dying in a hospital room in a Paris suburb. Aury slept in his room each night for four months, until his death at eighty-three in October, 1968.”


With the original Histoire d’O Paulhan, according to Aury, changed just one thing [“He took out one adjective,” she told John de St Jorre, “Sacrificiel… he changed nothing else – not a single comma.”] but it seems Paulhan had a little more to do with the shaping of Aury’s original manuscript than that.

The Christie’s sale of the hand-written manuscript in 2006, revealed various crossings-out, two of which are “in ink from the hand of Jean Paulhan.”

The first finds Paulhan simplifying the book’s opening sentence, makes the novel “begin more abruptly – the name O, added in ink “from the hand of Jean Paulhan” appears from the first line; “Her lover one day takes O for a walk…”. The second revision in Paulhan’s handwriting are two words erased and rewritten somewhere in the chapter entitled ‘Sir Stephen’.


The original manuscripts for Story of O and Return to Roissy, handwritten in pencil and biro

Christie’s ensure us that Return to Roissy (written in blue biro, partly on lined paper) was written at the same time as Histoire d’O “but taken out on the advice of Paulhan.” This confirms John de St Jorre’s statement that Retour à Roissy was “written at the same time as the original story” (The Good Ship Venus pub 1994).


Image from the American hardback cover

Angie David insists Paulhan intervened twice more. First, he asked Dominique not to make O die, an ending that he esteemed too violent, too realistic. Then he removed the last chapter, where O is abandoned at Roissy. He rejects all form of degradation, this ending didn’t suit him: it took away from the narrative its mystical aspect and brought it back to a writing of genre – a seedy representation of the fate of slavery. The concerns of Paulhan were intellectual, but also editorialistic. The text was less dangerous that way, more ‘mainstream’ (avoiding the accumulation of the apology of crime; prostitution and murder).


Indeed Aury later agreed, “It was a mistake… it was the other side to the dream… it was a degradation into reality… prostitution, money, force, etc. It was une mauvaise fabrication, as we say.”

“Paulhan and I agreed that the book [Histoire d’O] was very beautiful,” recalled publisher Pauvert, “very classic without the last chapter which was more like something out of a spy novel. – So we told her that we would like to leave it out.”


Smoke screens and subterfuge filter into the story of the two books however; In his deposition to the French vice squad in August,1955, Jean Paulhan declared, “I was somewhat mislead, for Monsieur Pauvert, with the accord of Mme. Réage, had deleted from the book the third part, in which the heroine is confronted with her downfall, without my having been informed.”

Misled or misleading? Paulhan was covering his tracks. But there you have it. The ‘third’ chapter existed from the beginning. There is no way Return to Roissy was written especially for publication in 1969, nor was it written by anyone else save ‘Pauline Réage’.



Translator Richard Seaver made it clear in Confessions of O by Régine Deforges (New York 1979), “This long, hundred-page chapter was originally to be published as part of Story of O but was deleted. It was first published fifteen years after the original work, in a separate volume.”

Aury recalled, “it was extremely bad, abominable”. And so it is. For the O-reader who has become acquainted with Story of O’s simple house of cards, inhabited by intentionally but acceptable cardboard-characters, the novel’s sequel may come as a disappointment, an insubstantial last-chapter which indeed seems to be a negation of or ‘degradation’ of the original tale.

StoryofO-SirStephen&OIt is as if the previous simplicity suddenly required an additional veneer of solidity. The house of Roissy is explained in detail and we begin to learn a little more about the characters and their place in the world. Money enters the equation (O no longer works as a photographer and now accepts payment from visitors to Roissy), and lingers like the cause of so much mathematics.

We are told how many days, how many women, how many hours, how many men – as if the earlier simplicity (remember Aury recalled the first hundred pages just flowed from her hand) needed reinforcing, by way of simple sums.

And finally, as though another writer had stepped into the breach, we have diamond mines and murder, and newspaper-headline intrigues. It seems finally Sir Stephen is out of the picture completely and O is free to go her own way. There is an unfortunate darkness, a coarseness, to the proceedings.


This is a shame but perhaps the author warns us from the very beginning of this Return to the Château. After all, within the opening page of Retour à Roissy ‘O’ senses a foreboding of danger,

“as though fate was being tempted…”

As a consolation, Aury’s veiled revelations ‘A Girl in Love’ by ‘Pauline Réage’, which precedes Return to Roissy, is a delight and an engaging example of Aury’s inspired, and perhaps unique, way with words. It traces the origins of Histoire d’O and takes the reader back to the very beginning;

One day a girl in love said to the man she loved: ‘I could also write the kind of stories you like…’


– O –

© Stefan Prince

Reading ‘Story of O’: Make mine a Flat White…


Reading ‘Story of O’, “the reader is immersed in a confessional of desire”, writes blogger Heidi Coon. And how might that immersion be attained? In the bath? outside a coffee bar? In the busyness of Paris? By the pool? In your bed socks, or in bed with your pet cat?…

Instagram reveals all the aforementioned and more. With all due respect I feature the readers of ‘O’ in this pictorial celebration: ‘Reading STORY OF O’.

“50 Shades of Grey doesn’t even compare. I can’t believe I found it. I hit the book Thrifting gold mine!”


“Story of O has stuck with me. It’s terrifying yet beautiful, and I think it takes a fall down a dark dark rabbit hole to appreciate it and to see how fascinating it is.”

“Holy Heck!” (reader’s reaction)


 “Filthy Sunday reading- a zillion times better than 50 Shades” (O reader)

“Please no Fifty Shades of Grey but Histoire d’O ….. Or just read Justine by Sade.”


“I remember being grounded for owning this at
like 12 years old.
Love that it was written by a woman, too.”

“- hands down one of the best pieces of literature -”

– O O O –


© the above ‘O’ readers on Instagram







COLOURS OF S&M : O’s Regency Yellow – a Two Way Traffic of “Vice & Sin”


Yellow is the colour of Regency fashion and décor, ‘Regency’ being the period at the beginning of the 19th century when the British developed a swagger in their dress as a result of having at last beaten the French. Somehow, thereafter, we exported the colour to France. The French editions of Histoire d’O come in the brightest of yellows. Rare first editions from 1954, with their now slightly faded yellow paper covers, are still to be found among the book-stalls of Paris, and sometimes sell at considerable prices on the internet.

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Jonquil, or ‘daffodil’ yellow, was THE colour of the 1801 season as jonquil was everywhere. Both the primrose colours, ‘primrose’ and ‘evening primrose’, were popular during the whole Regency period, and the height of fashion 1807-1817.

The Regency era in Great Britain was a period when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. On the death of George III in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV. The Regency era ended in 1837 when Queen Victoria succeeded William IV.

The Regency period saw society considerably stratified. In many ways there was a dark side to the beauty and fashion in England at this time. In the dingier, less affluent areas of London, thievery, womanizing, gambling, the existence of slum-house prostitution and constant drinking ran rampant.


Later in the 19th century yellow would colour the whole Decadent period when the swagger of the ‘dandy’ hinted at vice and sin,  and when the likes of Swinburne and Oscar Wilde exploited their enthusiasm for Baudelaire, Flaubert, de Sade and Gautier (the ‘dandy’ flourished on both sides of the English Channel).


The Decadent period, now often referred to as the “Yellow Nineties”, owed much, in fact, to France. Wicked and exotic French novels bound in yellow had become the vogue in London for a decade. In Oscar Wilde’s novel, Dorian Gray’s education in vice is helped along by a “poisonous book” in a yellow cover. One reviewer described Wilde’s novel as “a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Décadents.”Blogger JD Ellevsen states, “During the Victorian era, two kinds of books were commonly presented in yellow dust jackets: sensation novels (The Woman in White, Lady Audley’s Secret, etc.) and—horror of horrors—French fiction.”


When in 1894 writer Henry Harland, artist Aubrey Beardsley, and publisher John Lane, were casting around for a title for their new (and as it turned out, short-lived) monthly journal that has come down to us as the decade’s “most glamorous monument”, the title chosen was The Yellow Book. From this the decade took its name.

Rather tame by today’s standards The Yellow Book championed the cause of new talents as a quarterly review, self conscious of excellence in yellow board covers with thick paper and wide margins. The splendid cover illustrations for the first four volumes were the work of Aubrey Beardsley, who along with Wilde perhaps epitomizes the whole period. It was almost solely Beardsley’s contribution which gave The Yellow Book its ‘decadent’ reputation, the result of which was a storm of moral outrage.

Sadly Beardsley’s association with The Yellow Book was brief. When Oscar Wilde was arrested on a criminal charge of committing indecent acts, several newspapers seized the opportunity to concoct the headline; “arrest of Oscar Wilde, Yellow Book under arm”. Shortly afterwards John Lane bowed to public pressure and dismissed Beardsley from his post as art editor.

Not surprisingly the tradition of the yellow paper book-cover continued in France. Also not surprisingly, writer Pauline Réage (Dominique Aury) furnishes Sir Stephen’s Paris apartment in her novel Story of O, (a home-from-home on the rue de Poiters) with a touch of Regency yellow thus;

[the room] furthest from the entry was the largest and the most restful, furnished in dark English mahogany and pale silks, striped yellow and grey.”


Yellow Book 2



The tradition of the yellow book-cover saw its last flowering in the UK during the 1960s and early 1970s. Who can forget, once discovered, the distinctive yellow and illustrated covers of the popular Luxor Press and similar UK publishers, boasting such tempting titles as Venus In Furs, Slaves to Sin, The Story of Corporal Punishment, Flagellation, Nell in Bridewell, and The Age of Perversion? Make mine a yellow book!

Yellow Books3.JPG

© S. Prince (



AHOY THERE! : Three more “Artists of O”


Three would-be seafarers of differing artistic ability: Three art-takes on STORY OF O

Loic-DubigeonLoïc DUBIGEON (1934-2001) was born in Nantes to a family of shipowners. He became interested in painting from the age of fourteen. There followed frequent exhibitions, some in the company of André Lenormand, a painter from Nantes who enlightened him with his knowledge. From the Arts et Métiers in Paris, Dubigeon graduated as an architect. After training and an early career in architecture, he became an artist with a very varied repertoire. In 1963, he received the prize of the Biennale de Paris, award following which he exhibited in France but also abroad.

As a subject the sea was an inexhaustible source, but also still lifes, anonymous characters, derelict neighbourhoods, or beach cabins battered by time, were all of interest to Dubigeon. His work, including paintings, collages and drawings, is to be found in various museums around the world.

He also produced large murals, and designed Hermès scarves.



For his erotic work his style, mostly in pencil, is sophisticated realism, – hand drawn, in black on white. In his Cent dessins pour illustrer HISTOIRE D’O, Paris 1981, scenes of violence and physical acts seduce the viewer in numerous drawings inspired by Story of O. Further drawings were published in Paris in 1997 as Retour de Roissy. Dobigeon draws all the facets of such eroticism strongly tinged with sadomasochism: exhibitionism, flogging, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, lesbianism, and sodomy…

“In the late 70s… a big Munich publisher… suggested I illustrate a luxury edition of the Story of O. I was very keen. I started work straight away, but the project was called off… When Alaine Robbe-Grillet saw my plates, he put me in touch with Roger Borderie. We made an agreement and Story of O was published with my drawings in September 1981. I was knocked out by the quality of the writing in Pauline Reage’s novel… I found making the drawings extremely captivating.” (Loic Dubigeon ‘La Scene’)
In tribute to the artist who had lived and painted in the two villages on the Normandy coast where he is remembered (Dubigeon lived in the area of Wargemont but rented a studio in Berneval), the library of Derchigny-Graincourt and a street of Berneval le Grand, were named after Loïc Dubigeon respectively in 2007 and 2006. 


David WILDE (Norman Shacklock 1918-74)

Manchester born David Wilde died 43 years ago, it is suggested, under mysterious circumstances. I cannot help but imagine that those who value his work today have embroidered upon the truth, as the artist may well have done himself.
Born Norman Shacklock but adopting the name Wilde as he felt it suited his temperament, David Wilde certainly wore two hats as a painter but did he really exhibit alongside Dali and Picasso in Paris as is continually repeated? I doubt it.


Wilde’s notoriety belongs to mainland Europe and not to his home country. It is for his erotic drawings he is remembered on the Continent. In the UK an attempt has been made to promote his idiosyncratic and semi-abstract attempts to configure the northern industrial landscape of LS Lowry as brightly coloured mishmashes of vorticism, futurism and surrealism.


His erotic work (which at best is extremely uneven in quality) managed to find a place in Erotic Masters of the 20th Century (pub. Germany 1984-5). When one considers the amount of poor quality drawing upon which Wilde eschewed self appraisal much of his erotica is sadly wanting in comparison to ‘masters’ working in a similar vein.

It is recorded he studied at the Manchester College of Art and was employed to draw the female anatomy for surgeons at the local hospitals and illustrated a medical textbook on birth. During the war he served as a draughtsman at the rank of Petty Officer and later became a freelance artist and designer “for large national companies”. He worked for 9 years as senior technical artist at Carlton Press. During this time, it is said, he became acquainted with Lowry and Peter Blake.


One of the ‘secret’ drawings of LS Lowry

On-line gallerist Jane Jones states: “David Wilde is quite an intriguing figure. He chose the pseudonym Wilde as it reflected his lifestyle. When he died, after a short illness, there was some mystery about the manner of his death, apparently because of his determination to expose various secret societies. For that reason, his work was hidden away for safe keeping. Now, with those days behind us, we can show his wonderful, colourful, expressive pieces once again.”

At its best Wilde’s art has a confidence and surety of line suited to the eroticized nude. His erotic drawings were often inspired by classic literary texts and for a private client he produced a portfolio of works inspired by Story of O.



Jack Purvis

Artist Jack Purvis worked from a studio in Kettering, Northamptonshire before retiring to Cromer on the north coast of the English county of Norfolk. He is self-taught moving from watercolours through to oils and occasionally graphite and charcoal. He writes, “Retired from gainful employment. Have been a dancer, salesman (failure), soldier, ship’s steward, personnel director, adviser and negotiator. My occupation now is painting subjects which are meaningful to me. The figure usually occupies a role in my works. I want people who view my work to see their own story. I don’t find painting easy or really relaxing. I work with a model, I read something, or I see something, which creates the urge to paint a story. The end product is ‘narrative’.”


I have certain books,” reports Jack, “novels, purchased over the years which I have read more than once. I also dip into them just to re-visit certain passages. These books include:‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber, ‘Once’ by James Herbert, ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ by John O’Brien, ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters, and my most recent ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson.”

Now blogging through WordPress, Jack adds, “I have been painting for over twenty years. Now having retired to the UK coast I am now more of hobby painter but still manage to churn out some reasonable stuff. I also love words so also do bit of poeting, – really they are rhymes…”


Of his rendition of O masked as an owl, Jack tells me, “My model was a young lady who was with me for four years, As she held the pose I told her the story. She smiled.”





“Stories of O” – the Unseen Art of Stefan P.

File #5 in a series of YouTube videos celebrating ‘Story of O’

View Now!

O is for Ocean, Octopuses, (and Motorcycles): Mandiargues, the Champion of Story of O


André Pieyre de Mandiargues (1909–91) was a French writer of the fantastic whose prolific output included poems, plays, essays, novels, and short stories. Born in Paris he became an associate of the Surrealists and married the Italian painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis.FiniOwlsmsmaller
He was a particularly close friend of the painter Leonor Fini whose feathered costumes, worn to post-war Surrealist balls, inspired the owl mask in Story of O. In a poem to Fini he writes,

“Because she covers herself with feathers sometimes like the king of the owls.”

The correspondence of Léonor Fini and André Pieyre de Mandiargues includes five hundred and sixty letters (three hundred and seventy of Leonor Fini, one hundred and ninety of Mandiargues) exchanged between 1932 and 1945. Fini’s letters to Mandiargues came to light many years after his death. They had been hidden in a secret compartment in his writing desk, away from the prying eyes of his potentially jealous wife Bona.

In his letters Mandiargues recounts his wanderings through the ghostly roads of Eastern Europe with his old Buick, intent on becoming a writer, and his visits to museums of ancient painting in Ghent, Brussels, Bruges or Antwerp when he marvels at a polyptych of Jan van Eyck, a temptation of Saint Anthony or a Calvary of Bosch. He never fails to finish his letters by way of adoration, to the “Chat Mammon”. In Monte Carlo Mandiargues studied the writings of Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Mallarmé. In Nice he found a rare nineteenth century book, Les Réves et les moyens de les diriger (Dreams and How to Control Them), by the marquis d’Hervey-Saint-Denys. From then on he diligently recorded his dreams, and this practice informed his writing.

Bona and André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Bona and André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Known for his flamboyant style and fascination with the erotic and macabre Mandiargues’ most popular book was The Motorcycle (1963), which was adapted for the 1968 film The Girl on a Motorcycle, starring a young Marianne Faithfull. His 1967 Goncourt-winning novel La marge was translated as The Margin (Calder & Boyars, 1969) by Richard Howard. The novel was adapted to film in 1976 directed by Walerian Borowczyk as La Marge, internationally as The Margin and in the UK as The Streetwalker. One of his short stories, The Tide, was also adapted in the erotic film Immoral Tales (1974) also directed by Borowczyk.


Another ‘Boro’ collaboration saw Mandiargues’ novel Tout disparaîtra adapted as Cérémonie d’amour (1988) also known as Queen of the Night or Love Rites. Manchester Metropolitan University Associate Lecturer Jonathan Owen claims “Both artists emphasise sexuality as a shocking and scandalous power”, and aligns this impulse with George Bataille’s understanding of eroticism, that eroticism is at once prohibited by but also realized by the codes of civilization. “Transgressive acts of eroticism gain potency from their own interdictions,” records Owen, “and ultimately reinforce the taboos without which transgression is impossible.”


A Refined Voice Expressing Horrible Things

Fini described Mandiargues as one of those “strange boys, extremely shy, cultured, childish and detached from everyday life“. Jean-Jacques Pauvert, the publisher of Story of O, recalled, “Mandiargues was also someone we liked a lot, tall, extremely polite, with a refined voice expressing horrible things.”

Prior to the publication in June 1954 of Story of O, Pauvert published Mandiargues’ L’Anglais décrit dans le chateau fermé under the pseudonym Pierre Morion. Impatient for the promised but long overdue engravings from Hans Bellmer, Pauvert had the novel printed without the engravings. The bookseller-publisher Visat published a separate edition of the novel some years later which included the engravings.


In his memoirs regarding Story of O, Pauvert bemoans the fact that after publication, “The press stayed mute with stupefaction.” One article appeared in 1954 (Claude Elsen in Dimanche-matin) and two notable articles in 1955; one in Critique by Mandiargues, the second by Georges Bataille in La Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue francaise.

Mandiargues enchanted by Story of O busily supported the book and its mystery author ‘Pauline Réage’, describing the novel as,

“certainly the most beautiful novel which has appeared in French since the war (and even before), the newest also. This careful, precise prose, which is so chaste even when describing the most horrible things is admirable, intelligent, perfidious…”

Such a descent into hell…”

“… the Story of O is not, strictly, an erotic book. For at the two levels it is constructed, that of the spirit (or better: of the soul) dominates pitilessly that of the flesh. The image that four long chapters (a fifth one may have been suppressed) give of the modern world, the action, the characters, are extraordinarily vivid; above all they do not depend on the sensual fire, as they would in an erotic book. Here is a genuine novel (and this is so rare in French literature, since Proust, that one must applaud and rank Pauline Réage among the two or three novelists known today), and one would say this is a mystic work.”

André Pieyre de Mandiargues “Histoire d’O”, Critique, June 1955

Mandiargues’ impassioned note on Story of O is to be found in the Grove Press edition of the translated novel. He is seen to concur with Jean Paulhan that the novel “which relates the progressive, wilful debasement of a young Parisian photographer – a via dolrosa sexualis – could only have been written by a woman.” Both men had been amongst those named as possible candidates for the honour of fathering Story of O (along with André Malraux, Henri de Monterlant, Raymond Queneau and Dominique Aury). Both men knew exactly who hid behind the mask of ‘Pauline Réage’. Paulhan was her lover. Mandiargues, it has been pointed out, “must know who the author is since he gives her exact references, religious and classical poetry of the 17th century.”

“what we are shown in Story of O” Mandiargues points out, “is a complete spiritual transformation, what others would call an ascesis. Madame Réage, who has a good knowledge of English and does not mind showing it, could have entitled her book: A Woman’s Progress.”


“Yes, Story of O, as I have said, is indeed a mystic book!” continues Mandiargues, “Proud Réage… In the midst of her glowing tale, she has a way of involving herself, of slipping, at the worst possible moments, into the skin of her heroine, which is enough to make one shudder and at the same time make one feel a certain tenderness for her. The way one would feel towards a brave bull who has fought well. The château at Roissy, like the bull ring, is the sacrificial site. When women become exasperated, they sometimes assume postures wherein they seem to be offering themselves to the arrows of misfortune…”

Arrows of Misfortune

The “arrows of misfortune” of course references de Sade. Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out that although French literature is generally known, outside France, for its humanism & rationalism, it has always produced “works that are secret & black, ” which may well be “its most beautiful creations”(Sontag The Pornographic Imagination). And by way of the dark impulse shared by other French writers such as Mario Mercier (Le Journal de Jeanne) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (in his controversial Un Roman sentimental) André Pieyre de Mandiargues explores the Sadien and sacrificial setting of the château in his A Portrait of an Englishman in His Chateau.

The Englishman

Condemned on June 20, 1955, for contempt of good morals L’Anglais décrit dans le chateau fermé has few rivals in its sexual and sadistic echoing of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 days of Sodom. We follow a nameless narrator as he visits the isolated sea-bound château of a former English diplomat, the fetchingly titled Sir Horatio Mountarse who in order to fit in with his new French surroundings has translated his name, thus becoming M. de Montcul. He delights in torturing his fellow château dwellers in order to maintain his erection and the narrator joins in lustily. Along with the erotic clichés of bestiality, paedophilia and sexual torture, we are treated to intriguingly creative variations on the theme, including one extraordinary episode involving a young female victim and several flesh-hungry octopuses. The writing is purposely crude, the scenarios obscene. Mandiargues’ mock Gothic explores the “extremes of sadism and scandal, but with a certain irony”. Little wonder the author’s wife Bona recorded, “The only sublime thing that I recognize in man is his free imagination.”


André Pieyre de Mandiargues died in Paris on 13 December 1991. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

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Sixty Years of Story of O: the book

Treat yourself this Christmas:

CLICK on book cover image
for page-by-page PREVIEW

STORY OF O: Sixty Years





There is a fantasy England populated by “brutal aristocrats with enormous sexual equipment and violent tastes…”. The ‘vice anglais’ is spanking on the buttocks sometimes referred to as CP or ‘corporal punishment’. Apparently the English have spanking and flagellation all to themselves as both proclivities tend to be labelled as the ‘le vice anglais’ (flagellation stemming from the Latin flagellum, “whip, lash, switch”). The term can also be applied to buggery, though why this should be a purely English proclivity makes no sense.

The English ‘public’ school system used corporal punishment for many years. Commonly it is claimed that many an English schoolboy acquired a taste for such treatment that carried on into his adult life. The poet Swinburne recalls ‘birching’ at Eton, claiming that his own proclivity for that particular pastime had been cultivated by such school practices.

It seems to be an assured fact,” writes Praz in his chapter entitled Swinburne and ‘Le Vice Anglais’ (The Romantic Agony), “that sexual flagellation has been practised in England with greater frequency than elsewhere -”. In the broadest sense of the term the English vice can be interpreted to suggest the Englishman’s penchant for cruelty, both received, given or observed.


This derives not surprisingly, from the huge reputation gained by one George Augustus Selwyn (1719-91), the sadistic English nobleman, politician and member of the notorious Hellfire Club. Selwyn’s obsession with executions and corpses was so well known he is referenced in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, de Goncourt’s Le Faustin, and Chrysal; or, the Adventures of a Guinea, by Charles Johnstone.

It was widely reported that he had travelled to Paris to witness the protracted torture and death of the failed assassin Robert-François Damiens (by drawing and quartering). His manner in the crowd was such that an aristocrat at the scene asked him if he were an executioner and he replied “No, Monsieur, I have not that honour; I am only an amateur”. He was accused of attending all executions, stated Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, “and sometimes, in order to elude notice, disguised in a female dress.”


The failed assassin Robert-François Damiens before the judges

It is little wonder that ‘Pauline Réage’ chose an Englishman, ‘Sir Stephen’, into whose hands her protagonist ‘O’ should be placed. Hands tempered with ‘le vice anglais’. Such a figure has become a literary and cinematic trope (see Portrait of an Englishman in his Chateau by André Pieyre de Mandirgues or Story of the Eye by George Bataille).

But there is more to it than that. Réage (Dominique Aury) had read Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and Anne Radcliffe, and being familiar with the English Gothic writers she would have known the tradition of the mysterious or ‘fatal’ nobleman, or villain, stretching back to Milton and beyond. Indeed the perverse charm of the Byronic hero was quick to infiltrate the offerings of French writers and was seen to merge with that of France’s own Marquis de Sade in the writing of Baudelaire and the literature of the Decadence.

“La Philosophie Dans Le Boudoir” (Philosophy In The Bedroom), illustrated by “Le Loup”

Lo! the spell now works around thee,
And the clankless chain hath bound thee;

What Byron’s Manfred said of Astarte (‘I loved her, and destroy’d her’] Mario Praz points out, became “the motto of the ‘fatal’ heroes of Romantic Literature”. Such heroes were in the habit of destroying the unlucky women who came within their orbit.


‘His was not the melancholy of a sensible and wounded heart, but apparently that of a gloomy and ferocious disposition.’ (Mrs Radcliffe’s Schedoni recalls the sinister on-screen Christopher Lee here seen in Jess Franco’s ‘Eugenie’)

The same could be said of Sir Stephen who, on the final page of Story of O, in one of two alternative endings to the novel, consents to O choosing death.

Akin to the fiercely solitary Manfred and his, “lone thoughts and wanderings, the quest for hidden knowledge” Sir Stephen claims he has “a fondness for habits and ritual.” He could easily be drawn as the fatal hero or villain with “certain qualities”. Praz lists; “mysterious (but conjectured to be exalted) origin, traces of burnt-out passions, suspicion of a ghastly guilt, melancholy habits, pale face, unforgettable eyes.”


DSCN2740 (2)

Upon first meeting Sir Stephen is described as “a sort of grey haired athlete” (with “hard grey eyes”). His gaze has an “attention so precise and so sure of itself” that O feels held and weighed. He is expressionless and speaks not a word, his bow is imperceptible. Later Sir Stephen seems continually on the point of revealing something like love to O, but can only allude to it, or whisper it in fragments. On one such occasion:

O suspected that this brutality [Sir Stephen’s] was directed at himself as much as at her…”

She soon divines in Sir Stephen, “a glacial unswerving will which desire was powerless to deflect from its purpose…”

Story of O-SirStephen

Is not the screen Sir Stephen reminiscent of Byron’s heroes … “That brow in furrow’d lines had fix’d at last, And spoke of passions, but of passions past…”?

The Story of O 1975

Anthony Steel (1920 – 2001) was an English actor and singer best known for his appearances in British war films of the 1950s, and his marriage to Anita Ekberg. He was described as “a glorious throwback to the Golden Age of Empire… the perfect imperial actor, born out of his time, blue-eyed, square-jawed, clean-cut.”


“I didn’t really find it that erotic. I think this was mainly because the characters are not developed at all…”

Thus have numerous new readers of Story of O been disappointed by the cardboard characters that furnish the novel. But as in Sade the fantasy of Histoire d’O is built upon exclusion. The characters are stripped of their flesh and blood, their everyday complexity. Male protagonists, though deific forces, never assume their full identity as human beings. They are little more than the human chess pieces occupying the tableaux vivants observed in Robbe-Grillet and Alain Resnais’s Last Year in Marienbad.


In Story of O the whole relation between the sexes is bathed in religious as well as sadomasochistic imagery and as O journeys through her ordeals towards some higher, transcendent reality, the men are seen to be shallow and promiscuous. True metaphysical and spiritual devotion is reserved for O.

What does Sir Stephen do for a living?” asks Maurice Charney (Sexual Fiction pub 1981). It is only in the sequel to the novel, Return To The Cháteau, that we learn some tantalizing details: “he is Scottish, a member of the Campbell clan (although he is everywhere described as an English lord), he is involved in international finance, perhaps in diamond mines in the Congo…”

Fruits of Passion

Klaus Kinski as Sir Stephen in Fruits of Passion (1981)

These are all meaningless details of Gothic fiction and have no bearing on the novel,” continues Charney, a novel which is, “deliberately static, non referential and ahistorical. Everything occurs as if in a dream.” The chateau of Roissy “marshals the old forms of bondage…” writes Jessica Benjamin (The Bonds of Love).

On the set of Histoire d'O

Corrine Clery as ‘O’ – Histoire d’O (1974)

Charney reminds us, “There is a great deal of deliberate archaizing in Story of O. The narrative is simplified, and the style is highly reminiscent of an eighteenth-century conte in the style of Voltaire. Everything is stripped down and displaced. The author cultivates an effect of distance and distancing. If we are still in the twentieth century, the narrative has been slowed down and abstracted, There is an air of elaborate manners and ritualistic formality from another era. The characters move in and out of their roles with an obsessive, dance like symmetry.”

Sade formed the starting point for Histoire d’O. The author’s lover Jean Paulhan was a great enthusiast of the ‘Divine Marquis’ and it was he who challenged Pauline Réage (Dominique Aury) to write something akin to his taste. “But what stands behind Story of O is not only Sade,” points out Susan Sontag (The Pornographic Imagination),

The book is also rooted in the conventions of libertine potboilers written in nineteenth-century France, typically situated in a fantasy England populated by brutal aristocrats with enormous sexual equipment and violent tastes…”

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©Stefan Prince



STORY OF O: Searching for the book (UK)


The year was 1967, the place was Fort McClellan, Alabama; I was twenty years old, and the book was Story of O by Pauline Réage. I read it with intense interest… even the most casual reader must ultimately find himself implicated in the paradoxes and ambiguities of this unsettling novel. For here is a story with its well-springs in the deepest recesses of consciousness…”

Gregory Stephenson Name Upon Name: Encountering Pauline Réage (Rain Taxi USA)


I found Story of O on my father’s night stand where he kept his copies of Penthouse and Playboy. I guess it was around 1974 and he was away on business for several months. I read it over and over during that time.” (quoted from a social media group, USA)


I was working in an internal department part of the time and discovered a secret collection of pornography kept by the library. I read it in, er, snatches over the course of a week. It was thrilling to me. But I forgot all about it until sometime in my 30s when I remembered the book and went and bought a copy.” (quoted from a social media group, USA)


I read the excerpt in “Evergreen Review” (Sept, 1963) and immediately began searching for the book, which I had to order via mail.” (quoted from a social media group, USA)


I read the first part of the novel, “The Story of O” by Pauline Reage, in “The Evergreen Review” in late 1963. I was working overseas at the time. It hit me between the eyes and I knew I had to obtain the book. When I did, I almost wore it out, reading it over and over. Something about the book fit directly into my mind, making connections between memories and thoughts…” (quoted from a social media group, USA)


Like most readers who are quick to recall just when and where Story of O came into their lives and left such a profound impression, I can recall precisely where and when I first made for home with such a prize. When, however, I first heard of, or read of, this novel remains seemingly beyond the reach of mine recollection.

By the time I reached my teens I was definitely, so to speak, setting out my book-store. Things were falling into place in respect of what interested me most (both public and private). Already my bookshelves were weighted in favour of romance (H Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs), science fiction (H G Wells, John Wyndham, Fred Hoyle), horror (Poe, Lovecraft, Robert Bloch) and Art.

An Introductory Essay of numerous pages in the newly published (1968) Penguin paperback ‘Three Gothic Novels’, penned by Mario Praz, led the way forward (within eighteen months, whilst in the armed forces, I was reading de Sade).


What a wonderful compendium of the literature of beauty, romance, terror, pain and pleasure, is Praz’s The Romantic Agony. But sadly written too early (1933) to be able to mention Pauline Réage and the Story of O, in conjunction with de Sade or in respect of Burke’s famous Philosophical Enquiry (1757), where there occurs the startling statement: ‘Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the idea of pain, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible… is a source of the sublime’.

“Whilst yet a boy”, wrote Shelley in his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, “I sought ghosts, and sped through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin…” Such a journey taken through the dusty books of Praz must surely lead the modern reader inevitably to Story of O.

“Who am I, finally,” asked Dominique Aury (in the guise of Pauline Réage), “if not the long silent part of someone, the secret and nocturnal part… which communicates through the subterranean depths of the imaginary with dreams as old as the world itself -?”


Where then did I first read of Story of O? No mention of Réage is to be found in the preface to Venus In Furs (Luxor Press, London, 1965), or in the exemplary introduction by Alan Hull Walton to Justine – or the Misfortunes of Virtue (Neville Spearman Ltd, 1964, and Corgi 1965). Nothing is mentioned in Peter Quennell’s introduction to John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1963).

Lo Duca’s A History of Eroticism (J J Pauvert, Paris, 1961) in its adaptation “from the French by Kenneth Anger” (Rodney Books, London, 1966) at least lists Histoire d’O in the index, though only Pauline Réage is mentioned in the text. I recall finding a used copy for sale outside a newsagent near Covent Garden, but that was later, in 1973.

Much later too, I discovered Wayland Young’s Eros Denied (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1965) and its two pages devoted to Histoire d’O. But by then Story of O had held a prominent place on my bookshelf for some while.


“But the frantic excitement of all Sade’s writing prevents him being able to give a cool map even of the sado-masochistic lock. This has been achieved in our day in a French novel called Histoire d’O, which made a succés de scandale when it was published because everyone thought they knew who was concealed behind the pseudonym of ‘Pauline Réage.’”

Wayland Young Studies in Exclusion 1: EROS DENIED

So, maybe the first definite indication, for me, that the novel with the mysterious title, was somewhere out there (Story of O was never officially banned in the UK) waiting to be discovered, was in Gillian Freeman’s The Undergrowth of Literature (Panther Books, London, 1969) first published by Thomas Nelson & Sons Limited in 1967), in which Freeman writes, “The absolute masochist occurs in Histoire d’O… This is a sad and horrifying book, ending with O’s death.” Mm, not quite the recommendation which might send you to London’s Soho in search of the novel. So maybe the temptation and the mystery was engendered elsewhere, and prior to Freeman’s “fascinating dip into the pornographic underworld”.


It is fascinating reading other readers’ recollections regarding Story of O. In my case this novel, with its strange title, remained a mystery for quite a few years, until the summer of 1975. I was working part-time in my college summer break, at a huge retail store on London’s Oxford Street. One day, out of the blue, a colleague produced an American paperback copy of Story of O and suggested I borrow it. Reading it was like a homecoming. Story of O was no longer a mystery. It was a defining moment. I’m forever grateful to that person and to that moment. I returned the paperback and ordered the newly published UK hardback edition from my local book store. Not long afterwards, the French film was released in Paris but banned from UK cinemas.


 © Stefan Prince 2017