#MeToo Campaign Rejects Story of O Show

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The world is becoming more open-minded and we hope this is another stepping stone!”
said photographer and exhibition director
Espen Krughaug on the eve of the ‘first’ London Exhibition of Erotic Art (April 2018) [see photo above]
Of course we know this is not the first exhibition of erotic art to take place in London in recent years (let’s not forget the Skin Two Expo’s, ‘Erotica’ at Olympia, and exhibitions of erotic fine art at the now defunct Coventry Gallery, in London’s East End.

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Exhibiting my ‘O’ paintings at Olympia, London

And far from becoming open-minded we seem to be in the midst of a new-censorship as a direct result of the #Me Too campaign. The #MeToo “movement” and its derivatives, is a campaign against sexual harassment and assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. It followed soon after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The phrase was popularized by Alyssa Milano when she encouraged women to tweet about it and “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. As a result of claims various actors have been dropped, TV programmes have been shelved, and various major Art exhibitions have come under scrutiny, leading to the published question, “Can Men Any Longer Paint Nudes?”

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Quartz reporter Aamna Mohdin has written, “The #MeToo movement, in which women have come forward in overwhelming numbers to speak out against sexual harassment and assault, has not left the art world unscathed. Last November, Canadian art collector François Odermatt was accused of rape by one woman and sexual harassment by others. In February, Los Angeles-based art dealer Aaron Bondaroff resigned amid claims of sexual misconduct.”

This ‘reckoning’ hasn’t been limited to curators. Big name American artist Chuck Close was also accused of sexual misconduct. “In response to these allegations, National Gallery of Art in Washington cancelled the artist’s forthcoming exhibition.” 

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Chuck Close self-portrait

In recent months New Yorkers launched a petition demanding that the Metropolitan Museum of Art remove a 1938 painting of a young woman with her underwear exposed due to the “current climate around sexual assault”. In Utah an art teacher was fired amid complaints that images of classical paintings containing nudity were passed out in a classroom and seen by sixth-graders.

In the UK A pre-Raphaelite “soft porn” painting removed from a Manchester gallery to start a debate about sexuality on canvas was speedily rehung after a public outcry in which the venue was accused of po-faced censorship.

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In Paris a manifesto was signed by 100 signatories. The letter was co-written by five French women: Sarah Chiche (writer/psychoanalyst), Catherine Millet (author/art critic), Catherine Robbe-Grillet (actress/writer), Peggy Sastre (author/journalist) and Abnousse Shalmani (writer/journalist). It was signed by some 100 others. It warned of the return to a “Victorian morality” hidden under a #MeToo “fever to send the pigs to the slaughterhouse”. It speaks out against the sudden current of blame and censorship “which does not benefit the emancipation of women”, but is at the service “of the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, such as religious extremists.” Catherine Deneuve, one of one hundred signatories, opposed this phenomenon stating, “I do not think it is the most appropriate way to change things. Then what will come? ‘Denounce your whore’?…”

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Balthus: New Yorkers launched a petition

Signatories also opposed the then recent censorship of a nude by Egon Schiele on the London Underground, the request to remove a Balthus painting from a New York Metropolitan exhibition and demonstrations against a Paris retrospective dedicated to the work of Roman Polanski.

ARTISTS of O # 9

At the height of this wave of censorship and recriminations a news item declaring, “Feminist Artist Is Censored by a Feminist Gallery,” has returned my attention to another “artist of O”, New York based painter/draftswoman Natalie Frank.

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Blogger Carl Swanson explains, “Frank’s dominatrix pictures showed at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, paired with portraits she’d done of ballerinas. She’d been without New York representation for a while when her friend Sara Kay, the founder of the non-profit Professional Organization for Women in the Arts, decided to open a space in Noho and scheduled an exhibition of the O pictures for this spring. But then, shortly before Christmas, Kay called Frank to cancel the show; it was, she felt, inappropriate given the social climate, since the broader culture, as well as the art world, was in the midst of what’s become known as the Reckoning. “It was a difficult decision, but I had a very real concern that the content of Story of O could act as a trigger for victims of abuse and violence,” Kay wrote me in an email, adding that she has recently become “a trusted colleague who women call when they’re experiencing gender bias or harassment in the workplace.”

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Frank was stung. For one thing, she’d recently written an essay for ARTnews about her experiences with predatory men in the art world. But more to the point, “As a feminist, it’s your job to take risks,” she says. “As a supporter of women artists, it’s important to take those risks.”

She set out on a frantic search to find a new home for her pictures, contacting her network of fellow artists and curators. But for practical reasons (exhibitions are planned months in advance), as well as #MeToo exigencies (so why exactly would we want to do such a potentially controversial show?), the task would prove difficult.”

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This problem has now been resolved. The Half Gallery on the Upper East Side, opens her show on May 16. Perhaps we can look forward to hearing more about Frank and her ‘O’ drawings. They are challenging pictures in the way that paintings by the likes of R.B. Kitaj or Paula Rego never approach their subject in a simplistic way. Frank’s ‘O’ drawings and paintings, like my own, are her own take on the book, and also on the nature of drawing and painting itself, the practice of picture making. They are nothing if not ‘painterly’, investigative, and perhaps brutally honest. One journalist writes, “”Frank’s illustrations of Story of O are more than just a bawdy interpretation of BDSM,,, They’re cleverly provocative and a touch jarring, just like Desclos’s book. Her gouache and pastel drawings depicting scenes of bondage and sexual power play are aggressive in subject matter but demure in expression; the larger paintings are more vivid in colour but the figures are further abstracted, giving them a fever dream quality.”

Frank first picked up a copy of Story of O at a bookshop when she was 15 and blushed constantly as she read it, while also, she admits, getting a kind of exhibitionist thrill from doing so in public. It was for her, a portable totem of boundary-breaking for a well-raised daughter of a Dallas pediatrician whose mother had accompanied her to life-drawing classes (she was too young to sketch naked people by herself!) “It was the first book I read that really explored a woman’s inner life and her erotic imagination. That was very compelling to me as a young person.”

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In her art works Frank divides Story of O into 15 different and brilliantly coloured drawings. “I only have one sex scene and one whipping scene,” she told the New York Magazine. To Frank, while the book may keep track of O’s butt-plug size, “it’s not about sex. It’s about power and sexuality and identity and the imagination … She is the main actor in all of the lines.”
The model for ‘O’ in Frank’s pictures is a friend of a friend who reminded Frank of a “sidewalk Catherine Deneuve.” Carl Swanson maintains, “She looks like someone you might know, half-satiated and out of it, the only solid form in a woozy phantasmagoria. The model asked that she not be pictured fully nude, which, one could argue, makes the images kinkier.”

Frank informed The New York Magazine that she considers the book, “a testament to the power of a woman to manipulate the tropes of pornography to suit her ends,” and that nowadays she re-reads Story of O every year. “The book begins with O’s consent, and ends with her consent. Every interaction is consensual. I see it as a very sex positive, feminist icon of literature. And many do, including Susan Sontag, who uses it to talk about the difference between art and pornography in “The Pornographic Imagination.” So in my drawings, I wanted O to come across as always self-possessed and I follow her in each scene I chose to depict—I wanted the images to feel like they were constructed from her point of view, not a voyeur’s.”

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One time student at the Slade School of Art, University College London, Natalie Frank was born in 1980 in Austin, Texas.

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A World of Books & Masks: Anne Desclos Writer of ‘O’

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“O is… little more than… a shadow that
murmurs in the night.” – Pauline Reage

In Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, A Room of One’s Own, Woolf noted,
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman”.

The writer of Story of O has been described as “the most secretive women of the literary world of the twentieth century.” Anne Desclos, Dominique Aury, and Pauline Réage… behind these three names hides a singular figure, a woman who devoted all her life to a cult of secrecy.

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It has been said of the writer that she was an idea, as smoke, a negation of a destiny. It is true that all her life Anne Desclos (to affix her birth name) cultivated a taste for secrecy and toyed with many masks to gain or conquer her freedom.

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Curiously, her protagonist ‘O’ can be seen as her own unfreedom. “O is… little more… than a shadow that murmurs in the night.” she maintained. O indeed has a lot to think about in her own shadowy nights. “He told her that, to begin with, she must not think of herself as free. From now on, that is to say, she was not free; or rather she was free in one sense, only in one: to stop loving him and to leave him immediately. But if she did love him, if she was going to, then she was not free at all…”

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As Reage revealed in A Loving Girl, the ultimate love letter written at the bedside of dying lover Jean Paulhan, Histoire d’O was written at night, in secret, without respite or erasure, as in a dream. The result of her murmurs; a pioneering book, a mystical quest for crazy love transcending the codes of dark eroticism, an unprecedented combination of decency and violence, condensed with coldness and fervour, ‘Story of O’
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In her introduction to a new edition of O m’a dit, (March 1995), Régine Deforges wrote, “She is now an old lady [in 1995 Pauline Reage was eighty-eight] but I cannot see her as such. I see her rather as a lost child, as I am, in the world of adults; always capable of saying things that surprise them or shock them.”

Was she so lost? I doubt it. Child perhaps. You only have to observe that glint in her eye. Her secrecy had become a habit, the masks handled with aplomb, but in interviews that glint in the eye was always there. She was winning by a long run, that arabesque of smoke. 

EARLY YEARS

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Born in Rochefort, Charente-Maritime, France, to a bilingual family, Anne Cécile Desclos, whilst still a baby, was entrusted by her rejecting mother, (an austere and misanthropic woman who felt disgust for the body – “She didn’t like men. She didn’t like women, either. She hated flesh.”) to her paternal grandmother, a Breton living since 1888 in the house once owned by the liberal Catholic writer (and academician) Charles de Montalembert in Basse-Normandie. 

cottageThe house is in a small village named La Butte, next door to Avranches. La Butte is an old hamlet of Val-Saint-Père, a stone’s throw from the Jardin des Plantes and Notre-Dame-des-Champs church, with a panorama of the Bay Mont Saint-Michel.

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As an only child, Anne Desclos grew up in a catechesis that seeks an abdication of self. As a little girl moved to tears by the choruses of the office, she discovered a voluptuousness in prayer and, although uncertain about the vow of chastity demanded she planned a life of seclusion, in obedience, prayer and poverty. At sixty eight she recollected, “I suspect that I would have made an excellent nun, at least for a short while.”

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Her grandmother, as a refugee of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, had helped her husband keep a restaurant in London’s Soho for some twenty years, raising her English born child Auguste Victor Desclos in the English language. Grandfather Auguste had been a member of the “francs tireurs,” French partisans who fought against the invading Prussians and who were usually executed if captured. Indeed, once her grandfather had been arrested by the Prussians on suspicion of being a partisan and had been led away with his hands bound before him, but he had managed to escape execution and had thereafter fled with his wife to England. There they remained for about twenty years, operating a small restaurant in Soho. The English census of 1881 has the junior Auguste (age 4) living in Putney, at 4 Heathside Cottages, with his father (31) and mother Victorine (28). In this way, Anne’s father was raised in England until he was nearly a young man. Auguste Victor was bi-lingual and had dual citizenship. In her turn Anne Cécile was raised reading English children’s books, including Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days. 

 

An interest in English literature naturally followed from these early experiences with English books. It is thus that Anne began reading in French and English at an early age, and it was secretly in the library of her English father, that she brought about her own initiation into the delights of libertine literature. The young Anne Desclos discovered “a libertine literature denouncing the hypocrisy of a morality and the failure of a religion that castigates the body and necessitates the anxiety of the sinner”.

“I was a voracious reader; I’d devour everything…” Reage/Aury

John de St-Jorre explains, “She read The Decameron, The Letters of a Portuguese Nun, Les Liasons Dangereuses (her favourite) and other books.” When her father found out, instead of punishing her, he explained the facts of life to her with elaborate diagrams. An older girl-friend then proposed a meeting with a male cousin who would give a more practical demonstration. Anne’s father apparently furnished him with un hôtel de passe, it “turned out to be a whorehouse” she later recalled. Her memory of the incident was one of mechanical crudity and mild amusement.Dominique- Aury-1

A voracious reader, Anne Desclos sought out the works of Shakespeare, Kipling, Virginia Woolf, Laclos and Racine. She read Proust in the French, Shakespeare in the English, the Bible, Baudelaire, Villon, her father’s hidden editions of Boccaccio and Crebillon, Malherbe, Bertaut, the English Gothic writers, Fenelon’s mystical writings. It is said she was seduced by the character of Valmont and was passionate about Kim, Cordelia and Virginia Woolf all of which she discovered through her father. As a child of eleven she read religious manuals given by her great- aunt, and devotional books illustrating the tortures of the martyred saints. She did not however, read de Sade until the age of thirty. In Confessions of O she maintains that it was not only books (“bawdy tales featuring monks and maids… not only illustrated but rather graphic.”) that provoked her fantasies; “my fantasies are much more autonomous… those ‘underground’ tales relate in a curious way to the fantasy world I created beneath the garden of the house I lived in as a little girl. The garden was in the form of a terrace that overlooked the road, and the walls of the terrace were covered with ivy, I realized that if one so desired, one could have fashioned windows in the terrace walls, windows that, thanks to the ivy, would have remained hidden, so that one could see out without being seen. I also realized that beneath that terrace one could have built rooms and passageways. And it was in those rooms that I installed my first heroines.”

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Drawing by Hans Bellmer

In fact, the first sixty pages of Story of O are literally copies of these fantasies.” Aury would declare, “Why did I write it? Let’s say that it was a way of expressing a certain number of childhood and adolescent fantasies that persisted into my later life, that not only refused to go away but came back time and again… Because things that are so basic, so profound, within you have to come out, I suppose, and are just waiting for the right moment to find expression.”

It was during her adolescence that the young Anne had to come to terms with her sexual ambivalence. As a brunette teenager she was fascinated by young girls, less in themselves than by the features supposed to make them attractive to men. At fifteen, in September 1923, she was banned from ever seeing her first love, Jacqueline. Her parents had intercepted their erotic correspondence. Twenty years later this relationship finds its echo in Histoire d’O.

For the young Anne Desclos there were three initial stepping stones which augured well for her future career in literature and criticism. Firstly she attended the Lycée Fénelon, the first high school for girls in Paris, founded in 1892 to prepare girls to École normale supérieure.

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Secondly she became one of the first three girls to enter the hypokhâgne Lycée Condorcet (1925), one of the four oldest high schools in Paris and one of the most prestigious.

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Thirdly, following in the footsteps of her father she pursued an English course at the Sorbonne (1926-1929).

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“She has deified her lover and, as we know, the gods are cruel…”

To acquaint myself with ‘Dominique Aury’s’ later writings (like Gregory Stephenson before me), I read a collection of her literary essays, Lectures pour Tous, or as the book is titled in English, Literary Landfalls. There are clear thematic correspondences between the essays collected in Literary Landfalls and Story of O. Both books, as Stephenson points out, celebrate passionate, obsessional, self-annihilating love.

Stephenson writes, “Aury’s essay on the writer and theologian, Francois Fénelon, treats with sympathy his concept of Pure Love, “the soul abandoned to God” in perfect obedience and in complete surrender to suffering even unto “death to self.” Aury expresses her admiration for the courage necessary to undertake such an uncompromising commitment; “to go with one’s fate, to reject nothing, surrender oneself to the last.” (Pursuant to Aury’s essay on Fénelon is the not altogether insignificant biographical side-note that as a young student she attended the Lycée Fénelon.).

The very title of Aury’s essay on the writings of Alfred de Vigny— “Obedience and Death”—resonates with Story of O. The ethos that informs Vigny’s writings may be seen to represent for Aury a military counterpart to Fénelon’s mysticism. “Man loves obedience,” she observes, “which delivers him from himself, because secretly he loves not to belong to himself, he loves to lose himself.” And in a spirit clearly akin to that of Story of O, Aury writes approvingly, indeed longingly, of the “fascinating existence of a universe apart from the everyday universe… where the result of formal servitude is inner freedom.”

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Writing of Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669), Aury is moved by the book’s eloquent expression of the ardent love of a young nun for a French cavalry officer. Such passionate, overmastering love, characterized by Aury as “the total possession of one person by another, without any sense, reason or justice” can be seen to correspond to the unreserved, unrestrained love of O for René and later for Sir Stephen.

Finally, among the essays, there is a comment on the nature of writing, which might well be taken as an expression of the author’s own experiences with regard to her pseudonymous clandestine masterpiece of erotic fiction: “Whoever ventures to write betrays himself. You think you are saying one thing and you are admitting another. You disguise things and speak more truly than you know. The very disguise betrays you.”

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Dominique Aury (Anne Desclos) & her son Philippe (1937)

In old French,” Stephenson concludes, “the word “desclos” was the past participle of the verb desclore, meaning to open, unlock or reveal, and thus “desclos” meant open, exposed, plain, explicit. (The English word “disclose” derives from “desclos.”) In one sense, the life of Anne Desclos, hidden as it was behind her pseudonyms, Dominique Aury and Pauline Réage, might seem anything but open, plain and exposed. In another sense, however, perhaps it was the pseudonyms themselves that served to quicken to life and give utterance to voices latent and hitherto silent in Anne Desclos. Perhaps, paradoxically, it was the masks, the disguises, the concealing names that permitted her to assert her true identity, to disclose secret selves.”

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Dominique Aury, driving license (1939).

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(Oooh! – lovely illustration by Amalia Russiello, with thanks)

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Capricorn Ascendant – Personality, Characteristics & Meanings
People with Capricorn Ascendant must first become aware of their two opposing sides. One is obedience and performing their duties properly. They need to manage energy well and this requires discipline and self-control. They must achieve some social prestige and recognition. The other side is the ability to organize practical matters and achieve their goals, and also the ability to enjoy sensual pleasures.

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Text © Stefan Prince
 

ARTISTS of ‘O’ #8: Lynn Paula Russell

 

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Alea iacta est (The die is cast)

For Lynn Paula Russell (you may know her as Paula Meadows, spanking-movie star and artist extraordinaire) the erotic novel ‘Story of O’ marked the beginning of a journey. It was her epiphany. The starting point for her very own sexual odyssey. “The woman I am now is not the one I used to be.”

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Russell was born Lynn Paula Smith in June 1949 in Whitstable, Kent, England. As one of three sisters growing up in middle-class propriety Russell’s childhood and youth proved to be a sheltered life. “I was very shy,” she states. Through her twenties Russell tried constantly, but without lasting success, to suppress her sexual needs.

Around 1970 she read the erotic novel The Story of O by Pauline Réage. She had never experienced corporal punishment either in the family or at school, but to her surprise the scenarios of female subordination described in the novel thrilled her with excitement, even though she did not believe she wanted to experience this kind of sexuality herself. However, the die was cast.

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It was only a few years later, after encountering practicing BDSM enthusiasts, that she changed her mind. By then Russell had turned to painting and illustration, discouraged from an acting career. Deciding to suppress her sexual desires no longer, and to actively fight her sexual inhibitions Russell “took the plunge”. Around 1980 she began posing for nude photos in magazines. Sex videos followed.

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Russell recalled, ‘I took the plunge, enjoyed it immensely, and to my utter astonishment ‘Paula Meadows’ was born. This new incarnation of me didn’t seem to resemble the earlier, rather timid version at all. Adventurous and insatiable, she launched herself into a new career; exhibiting herself without any shame in glossy magazines, making more films and creating new paintings out of the torrent of erotic imagery that was unleashed. I had already discovered my interest in the riding crop, the strap and the martinet, but now I found that I was not alone in my interest.’

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In 1982 Paula started working for the British magazine Janus, first as a model, then as an illustrator. Up until 1986 she created numerous fetish illustrations for Janus and continued to appear as a model. From 1989 to 1992 she worked for Fessée, another spanking magazine. In 1994 Janus launched a sister publication, Februs. Edited by Russell, it lent a feminine slant to the world of punitive and erotic corporal chastisement. Her own submissive needs were indeed reflected throughout its pages, making the magazine uniquely hers. Paula Meadows’ wonderfully revealing, drama-charged illustrations of yielding females became classics of the genre.

In 1990 Russell turned to drawing erotic comics. The British comic artist Erich (Robin Ray) von Götha made contact with a publisher in Paris, for whom she developed a story, set in the 1920s, with the help of her husband called Sophisticated Ladies. This was followed by Vacances d’été (Summer Holidays) and the graphic novels Sabina and Sabina 2.

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When Februs ceased publication in 2002, Russell decided to retreat from the spanking scene both in private life and as an artist. Since then she has largely withdrawn from illustration in favour of painting.

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For followers of the Zodiac those born under Cancer will be seen as sensitive, sympathetic, affectionate, creative and imaginative. Having met Lynn Paula Russell I can vouch for all of these aspects of her lovely personality. Her recollections of experiencing many aspects of ‘O’ are pertinent here and I’m fond of Russell’s recollections of an evening of the erotic at the heart of Paris at a time when she had launched herself into a series of detailed drawings based on all her most intimate experiences:9f6801b3be8f2ab31248bd17f4034c68

“There was an evening that combined all my favourite elements …”

“… no gallery in London would have taken a chance on my work. It really made a difference to me when my personal and highly explicit drawings appeared on the walls of the gallery ‘Les Larmes d’Eros’.
Russell Story of O 001The subject of sex had at last come out of it’s very cramped cupboard and could now be viewed properly like any other aspect of human behaviour. On the opening night of my show I was surrounded by an extraordinary assortment of people, some in fetish wear, some smart and glamorous. There were intellectuals, a psychologist, writers and other artists. I chatted to a petite lady in her sixties, her hair swept back severely off her face, who told me of her exploits as a dominatrix. This was obviously one of her great pleasures in life. To my delight, I also found out that she was quite a famous writer too. She had written a strange and darkly erotic book called ‘L’Image’. I knew it well and had assumed that the pseudonym Jean de Berg meant that the author must be a man. For a moment I felt a wave of excitement, as if I had been an eleven year old boy meeting their favourite football star! Just to think: this lady had probably actually KNOWN Pauline Reage!

 

I had found the very fount of my original fantasy, but at the same time I began to realize that what I had with my own friends now was every bit as fascinating and, who knows, maybe we had gone further than the originator.Russell Story of O

As if to confirm this point, the gallery door opened and in it’s portals was framed the impressive from of my own Master, unexpectedly arrived from London. His vast figure glided in to greet me and from then on the evening became a dream sequence, extraordinary people, familiar and unfamiliar swirling around me.

A group of us eventually left the gallery and found ourselves in a most unusual apartment, it’s owner’s taste in art reflecting a distinct leaning towards the bizarre, it’s furniture and fittings sparse but very useful if tying up a slave happened to be your preference, and it’s bookcase bulging with the literary outpourings of the Marquis de Sade! Just the sort of setting to make you feel that you are not back in your own home in London! I was swiftly squeezed into my leather costume by my Master…”

“To be ravaged, exploited, and totally possessed can be an act of consequence”

Russell Story of O 009“I was propelled through the cluster of people-shapes, past other slaves with a master or mistress to a sturdy table where there was a concentration of light. My Master helped me up and positioned me on all fours, them he proceeded to warm me up using a soft leather martinet. This is where I began to soar. I instantly felt the rapport between us. We were like a couple of dancers; positions and implements changed with barely a word needed and breathing began to accelerate as my master moved around me, using the whip with his customary blend of gentleness and severity. One moment it caressed me as if I were fragile glass, the next it cut across my rump and I reared like an excited pony!… there is a drawing called ‘The Party’ which shows the excitement of performing in front of an audience in this way. I am such an exhibitionist!”

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“I was commissioned by a private patron to illustrate The Story of O.” The perfect commission. Russell was delighted. The resulting ‘book plates’ have a sensitivity and softness despite the inherent violence. They are uniquely hers, and include one of my own favourite passages from the book, ‘O’ behind the large window past which the Roissy gardener clears fallen leaves in the early hours of the morning.

“What lifts this fascinating book above mere perversity” states Lynn Paula Russell, “is its movement toward the transcendence of the self through a gift of the self… to give 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.”

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Images © the artist /o/ Text © Stefan Prince

 

Sir Stephen’s Melancholic “China Doll”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.”

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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.

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Retour à Roissy

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© Stefan Prince

 

Return to Roissy : Story of O 2 – Tempting Fate

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

WRONG WORD

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’.

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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).

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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).

DEGRADATION

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.”

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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’.

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FINAL WORD

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.

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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…’

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– O –

© Stefan Prince

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

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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!”

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“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.”

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“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”

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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.

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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).

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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© S. Prince (www.storyofo.info)
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AHOY THERE! : Three more “Artists of O”

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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.

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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…
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“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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.”

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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…”

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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.”

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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.”

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

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