The Story of O: The Manuscript

You’ve never tied her up?”
“No, never.”
“And never whipped her?”
“No, never whipped her either. But as a matter of fact…”
It was her lover speaking.
“As a matter of fact,” the other voice went on, “if you do tie her up from time to time, or whip her just a little, and she begins to like it, that’s no good either. You have to get past the pleasure stage, until you reach the stage of tears.”

maskedHistoire d’O was written for Jean Paulhan, the oft described “ultimate love-letter”. Author ‘Pauline Réage’ was in fact his devoted mistress Dominique Aury (Anne Desclos). Story of O was written in answer to his challenge that no woman could write in the fashion of de Sade.”

For Aury it was une entreprise de seduction. Literature was their shared passion. “Theirs was a relationship of minds as well as bodies, so it was fitting that, when she started to worry about losing him, she should try to win him back with sex in the head.” writes Geraldine Bedell.

The result was Histoire d’O. In her book Nom De Plume, Carmela Ciuraru explains, “The novel was written as a challenge to Paulhan’s dare… Aury never intended the novel to be made public, but Paulhan insisted on it.”

“Story of O was written at night, in secret, without respite or erasure, as in a dream…”

After Jean Paulhan’s death (he died in early October 1968), the original ‘O’ manuscript, Aury’s night time jottings in pencil, sold to a wealthy Swiss collector , for “several thousand francs”. Swiss bibliophile Gérard Nordmann (1930-1992) made a lifelong avocation of collecting rare and obscure erotic works. Many of these were clandestine or anonymous publications, often distributed to a private society of subscribers. Nordmann prided himself on collecting works, or versions of works, so rare that they didn’t appear in the catalog of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.


Nordmann’s son sold the de Sade manuscript to Gérard Lheritier, president and founder of Aristophil, a firm specializing in rare manuscripts. In the autumn of 2017 the French government declared the manuscript a national treasure as it was about to be sold at auction in Paris.

Nordmann was 17 when he began buying erotic books. He was Jewish by birth, Swiss by nationality. His family owned a chain of department stores, including Le Printemps. He was protected through the second world war by family wealth and the neutrality of his native Switzerland. Nordmann’s Jewish heritage instilled in him a strong sense of the fragility of literature which the authorities are want to destroy. His collection amounted to over 1,000 books and manuscripts, and was regarded by many as the greatest private collection of erotica in the world. Notoriously it included the original scroll recovered from a cell wall at Paris’s Bastille prison, on which the Marquis de Sade wrote the draft of his novel of sexual depravity and murder The 120 Days of Sodom. 


The Nordmann collection was auctioned by Christie’s in Paris in two sales during 2006. 1,200 items found new owners including the ‘O’ manuscript which was purchased for €102,000 by Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jnr (1958 – 2009), the director of the Santo Domingo Group, his family’s conglomerate of more than 100 companies.


Dominique Aury’s original manuscript of Histoire d’O

Domingo was a keen collector of French literature and of printed books and manuscripts. He had a particular regard for Marcel Proust, but he also greatly admired and collected the works of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine. He had huge collections of rock and roll and antique Chinese opium paraphernalia. His acquisitions followed his wide-ranging personal interests including the exploration of man’s inner world through drugs, mysticism, the occult, sex, and social taboos. He died in New York from cancer, diagnosed in October 2008

Domingo with Bowie

Julio Mario Santo Domingo (1957-2009) (seen here with David Bowie) was a collector and visionary who filled his homes and warehouses with the world’s greatest private collection related to the subjects of drugs, sex, magic, and rock and roll. A library of more than 100,000 items, it contained everything from rare manuscripts and photos to posters, bottles, letters, opium pipes, and pinball machines.

In September 2012 the Houghton Library at Harvard University, Massachusetts, announced, “The Modern Books and Manuscripts department is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Julio Mario Santo Domingo collection, comprising over 50,000 books, manuscripts, works of art, audio recordings and films, placed on long-term deposit at Harvard by the collector’s son, Julio Mario Santo Domingo III.”

The Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection is now the largest of its kind in the world, and the 50,000 plus item collection is gradually being made available to scholars of literature, fine art, photography, film, history, medicine, popular culture, and more. This is a range of disciplines that makes the collection uniquely rich even within Harvard’s enormously diverse collections. Harvard describes it thus;

The collection was formed by Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. (1957–2009), an investment advisor who resigned his business interests to devote himself to collecting. His acquisitions followed his wide-ranging personal interests, from a passion for French 19th-century poetry and fin-de-siècle culture that developed when studying comparative literature at Columbia University; to exploring man’s inner world through drugs, mysticism, the occult, sex, social taboos; to a fascination with the interrelationships of “high” and “low” culture. In very basic terms, his collecting centered on sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Houghton Library - University

“Its size is really unprecedented,” said Leslie Morris, the curator of modern books and manuscripts. Turn-of-the-20th-century literature is particularly well represented and there is an extensive collection of French erotica. The collection’s breadth owes a lot to the two extraordinary collections that Santo Domingo had the foresight to buy and combine: that of the late Gérard Nordmann, and the one once held at the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library in San Francisco.


The STORY OF O manuscript: “Manuscript, probably autograph, with revision; written on recto only, chiefly in pencil with only part of last section in pen. The sheets are gathered in 5 paper wrappers numbered in Roman numerals. In tray case with a blue morocco spine. In French.”

O-imageThe Santo Domingo collection is on long-term deposit at Harvard. Is Harvard to be the final resting place of Aury’s nocturnal outpouring, the entreprise de seduction that was Histoire d’O?

“To me,” expressed Leslie Morris, “this is the iconic erotic novel of the 20th century.”

The boxed manuscript, mostly in pencil, with scant revisions, is in five folders of paper, each sheet torn from an adhesive pad as it was finished. By the last folder, the manuscript is hurried along in ink, and revisions appeared in flurries.

No longer in the hands of private collectors Histoire d’O is now available to be studied by all-comers intrigued by this unique book and its back story. When asked how the manuscript compares with the novel’s many editions, Morris suggested “This is a good project for a graduate student.”



text © Stefan Prince/


Seeking Sir Stephen

DSCN5736 (2)

A Fondness For Habits & Ritual

In her veiled and beautifully written confession A Girl in Love, published as an introductory essay to Retour à Roissy (Story of O Part Two) Dominique Aury, writing as Pauline Réage, identified the origins of her cast of characters. René was “the vestige of an adolescent love”. As was Jacqueline, “the first to break my heart”, but mixed with a young actress, “with whom I lunched one day… I never saw her again.”

The Story of O 1975

Anthony Steele as Sir Stephen in Just Jaeckin’s 1975 ‘Story of O’

As for Sir Stephen,” she writes, “I saw him, literally, in the flesh”. Her lover pointed him out to her, one afternoon in a bar near the Champs Elysées. “half seated on a stool at the mahogany bar, silent, self composed, with that air of some grey-eyed prince that fascinates both men and women… fifty years old probably, an Englishman certainly.” This ‘older man’ that Aury agreed women find desirable and in preference to younger men, drew, in a later interview, the response; “…women are always looking for a father figure.” Indeed, ‘O’ in the novel transfers from her young boyfriend René to Sir Stephen, the older man.


STORIES OF O : Sir Stephen as imagined by artist Stefan Prince (detail)

Not surprisingly we find the author’s father Auguste Victor Desclos was English by birth. He and her lover, literary giant Jean Paulhan (over twenty years her senior), and such literary eccentrics as Georges Bataille or William Seabrook, all men attached to learning and literature, could easily be contenders for the Sir Stephen of Dominique Aury’s imaginings. At least, this is my fancy.

Susan Sontag suggests Story of O is “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…”

And although Story of O is situated in the author’s home city of Paris, her “leading man” is indeed the aristocratic Englishman now famously known for his sometimes violent subjugation of ‘O’. Akin to the fiercely solitary Manfred of Lord Byron, and his, “lone thoughts and wanderings, the quest for hidden knowledge”, Sir Stephen claims he has “a fondness for habits and ritual.”


Sir Stephen as imagined by Guido Crepax

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. We know a little about him from the ‘suppressed’ chapter of Histoire d’O, that he is Scottish, a member of the Campbell clan (although he is everywhere described as an English lord), and that he is involved in international finance, perhaps in diamond mines in the Congo.

Such a protagonist and his literary lineage will have been familiar to Dominique Aury through her choice of reading. Particularly those books she read in private as a teenager, stealing into her father’s library.

Her English father Auguste Victor Desclos, who was born in London in the autumn of 1876 to restaurateurs Auguste and Victorine, in adulthood claimed noble roots and to have inherited the title of count of Robins of Brittany, the “men of dress” of the Ancien Régime (the claim has been disproved).256px-Coronet_of_a_British_Earl.svg

By her own account her father, “could in no way be described as handsome. On the contrary he was stocky and strong.” When asked if there was “a certain sensuality” in their father/daughter relationship Aury was quick to respond with the affirmative. She conceded, “I adored him. And admired him greatly… He was – “ladies’ man” would be the wrong term – someone who adored the ladies. He was so gallant and generous with them – not in a material sense, because he wasn’t wealthy, but generous in his sentiments and his friendship. He was marvellous. Open and attentive.”



What precisely are the habits and rituals Sir Stephen has a fondness for? The protocol rituals adopted within a dominant/submissive relationship have been described as “something that you do without fail with your partner or for your partner daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.” (It provides reliability and consistency). Likewise a ‘rule’ can be interpreted as a ritual. ‘Collaring’ is one example of such a ritual and if demanded daily is a rule seen as ritual. Such rituals are seen as a way to “help keep the dynamic alive, and help deepen bonds between partners”.



Seabrook: “the desire to torture women in a more or less benign manner” (Man Ray)


One man who knew of ritual in a wider sense was American in Paris, Lost Generation occultist, explorer, traveller, cannibal, and journalist William Seabrook (1884 – 1945). Like Georges Bataille, Seabrook transgressed taboo lines most obviously by way of sexual sadism. David Rolfe has written, “William Seabrook was a popular writer… notably weirder than most, and pressed by psychological dysfunction to run in oddball directions and write about what he found. His reports were personal and often had a lurid and/or supernatural edge. Among other adventures, he spent a year in Haiti, mingling among the locals, finally producing a book about voodoo (The Magic Island, which introduced the term “zombie” to the American culture). His odyssey was a strange one, carrying him through alcoholism and eventually mental hospitals and ultimately suicide. For his small but unusual place in history, some people will be drawn to hear his story.”


Seabrook’s slave photographed by Man Ray


Seabrook claimed. “The key to a locked man is his supreme want.” Eric Hoffman, drawn to Seabrook’s story, writes, “Seabrook’s supreme ‘want’ involved women in chains, an obsession he traced back to an almost hallucinatory childhood memory of being led by his laudanum-addicted grandmother to an imaginary ruined castle in which he discovered a young woman chained to a throne.”

Surrealist photographer Man Ray (1890-1976) records one occasion in Paris where he was asked by Seabrook to “baby-sit” a young slave for him during his absence:

Seabrook-Man-Ray-3She was nude except for a soiled, ragged loincloth, with her hands behind her back chained to the post with a padlock. Seabrook produced a key and informed me that I was to release the girl only in the case of an emergency – a fire, or for a short visit to the bathroom. She was being paid to do this for a few days, was very docile and willing… Seabrook was so pleased with the docility of his hired girl he took her with him when he went down south for the summer.” (Man Ray Self Portrait)


William Seabrook photographed with Lee Miller


Marjorie Worthington in her memoir of life with Seabrook recalls, “He was about six feet tall, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He dressed in a style of his own: in winter he wore brown corduroys or heavy tweeds, made to order by Lloyds of London, with a red bandanna handkerchief tied round his neck; in summer he wore blue denim pants or red-orange ones from Brittany, with short sleeved tricot shirts and bare-foot Capucine sandals. – He had blue eyes, a rather pudgy nose, a smallish mouth with a brush mustache, and a cleft chin… What was more important, he had a tremendous amount of personal magnetism.” Worthington met Seabrook in 1926 and moved with him to Paris. They married in 1935 in New York and were divorced in 1941.

Seabrook-Man-Ray-2Hoffman explains, “Seabrook married three times, and because of his fetishism, his first two marriages were strained to the breaking point. Possibly sexually impotent, Seabrook’s appetite for bondage and sadism were pronounced… (he) hired young women, whom he bound and gagged, and he took to designing his own bondage gear; the artist Man Ray photographed him with one of his restraints around the neck of photographer Lee Miller. Seabrook married a final time, in 1942; they were divorced the same year. He committed suicide by drug overdose in 1945.”



The fantasies of William Seabrook captured on camera by surrealist photographer Man Ray.


Slave Mask designed by William Seabrook


Georges Bataille: “with his charming looks, his white hair, his voice as unctuous as a priest.” (Jean-Jacques Pauvert)


Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille (1897 – 1962), French intellectual and literary figure working in literature, philosophy, anthropology, economics, sociology and history of art (His writing, which included essays, novels, and poetry, explored such subjects as eroticism, mysticism, surrealism, and transgression) almost single-handedly established de Sade’s place in the realm of 20th century ideas.

He credits de Sade for revealing a link between sexuality and a wish to destroy oneself; “this tormenting fact: the urge towards love, pushed to its limit, is an urge towards death”. This links nicely to the journey towards the destruction of the ego and towards death which ‘O’ in Histoire d’O is invited to take.

Fantasies of Mr. S Paris, 1930 gelatin silver print

‘Fantasies of Mr Seabrook’ Paris, 1930 gelatin print owned by Georges Bataille

Besides appealing to the authority of Sade in defending this claim,” writes Geoffrey Roche, “Bataille cites examples from natural history, of animals who expend themselves in coitus (suggesting the danger of sex), the mystic insights of St. Theresa, and the association of sex and death implicit in the French expression for orgasm, ‘la petite mort’ (‘the little death’).” Both Sade and Bataille, in “the name of ‘authenticity’ and the ‘natural,’ seek to convince the reader that sexuality cannot and should not be separated from the notion of sin and from the infliction of pain.”


Mark Hudson has written, “With so many central taboos long since blasted into history, it’s difficult now to imagine the constricting atmosphere that formed Bataille’s obsessive preoccupations. “Fascinated by human sacrifice, Bataille founded a secret society, Acéphale, the symbol of which was a headless man. According to legend, Bataille and the other members of Acéphale each agreed to be the sacrificial victim as an inauguration; none of them would agree to be the executioner.

Although we know nothing of the actual ritual we do know from Pierre Klossowski’s account that;

Georges Bataille, Colette Peignot (1933-34)

Georges Bataille & Colette Peignot (1933-34)

About twenty of us took the train to … Saint-Nom-la-Bretéche… We were told: ‘meditate, but secretly. Never speak a word of what you felt or thought!’ Bataille never told us anything more. He never explained what this kind of ceremony represented. I can tell you that it was very beautiful… I only remember that particular evening as pouring with rain. There was a Greek fire at the foot of a tree struck by lightening. A whole stage set… It was very beautiful. But we all had the feeling of participating in something happening within Bataille, in his head.” (Les Aventures de la liberté)

If no sacrifice took place we know at least that Acéphale had its day. Indeed, the topography of Bataille’s “impossible plan” has been recorded. It included a brothel in the rue Pigalle “where Bataille and Colette Peignot indulged their tastes, and another in Saint-Germain-en-Laye which they frequented more often”. (Michel Surya quoting Isabelle Waldberg)

Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille



Jean Paulhan: “this tall, thick-set man, his head resembling an owl a bit… who talked in a thin little voice”. (Jean-Jacques Pauvert)


Jean Paulhan


Dominique Aury (Anne Desclos) photographed with Jean Paulhan

Jean Paulhan (1884 – 1968) was a French writer, literary critic and publisher, and director of the literary magazine Nouvelle Revue Française. He was a member of the Académie française. His work includes stories and writings on art (cubism and informal art), but it is especially for his essays on language and literature that he acquired fame. It was Jean Paulhan who passed the manuscript of Histoire d’O to publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert.


William Seabrook’s “Lizzie in Chains”

Story of O had been written for him, Paulhan, by his lover Dominique Aury as a series of seductive ‘love letters’. The ‘episodes’, with their kinship to de Sade (of whom Paulhan was a great admirer), were an inspired response to Paulhan’s challenge that no woman could write such material. Georges Bataille and André Pieyre de Mandiargues praised its subsequent publication.

Aury first met Paulhan at the beginning of the Second World War. He was on his second marriage and already well established as one of France’s leading intellectuals. He had been editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française since 1925.

During the German occupation they worked together at Gallimard and became lovers. Aury loved him passionately and he loved her. He was however, married and had a family. He also had a roving eye and Aury was forced to avert her gaze from other women who came into his life.

Aury described Paulhan thus: “He was tall, broad-shouldered, somewhat heavy set, with a Roman like face and something both smiling and sarcastic in his expression. Existence filled him with wonder. Both the admirable and the horrible aspects of existence. Equally so. The atrocious fascinated him. The enchanting enchanted him. A phenomenal temperament. He had his whole life that same gift my father had, but much more consciously so, almost deliberately so. A gift for happiness, of being there, being present and of finding it fascinating.”

Aury’s essay A Girl In Love was accurate, she told interviewer John de St Jorre. “It is a moving piece of writing describing the clandestine love affair between a single woman (living with her mother) and a married man living with his family.” That it was written at the hospital bedside of her dying lover sharpens the poignancy. This remains Dominique Aury’s story behind Story of O.

As for de Sade, Aury claimed she didn’t read him before the writing of Histoire d’O. And of torture? “O submits to it in various forms, and we’re told she finds peace through torture. I think that requires some explanation.” prompts Régine Deforges in her interview with ‘Pauline Réage’ (Confessions of O). Aury (Réage) answers thus;


One speaks of the peace that passes understanding. There’s a parallel here, I think, in that in both instances one is taken out of oneself. Bear in mind that, as I’ve said before, this notion is an intellectual one with me. I have no talent for torture, nor any propensity for it. The very thought frightens me to death. But it might be meaningful to trace it back to where it came into my life. I remember as a child being obsessed by the matter – probably the influence of devotional books. There’s nothing like devotional books to give you a good idea of what torture is all about. All the martyred saints, for instance, each tortured in a different way. And all these books were profusely illustrated.”


“A body is the place where happiness and misfortune conjoin, the site of triumph and sacrifice…”

Dominique Aury (Confessions of O: Conversations with Pauline Réage by Régine Deforges)


text © Stefan Prince


O is for Opulance: the ‘Story of O’ (1975) Movie

die-geschichte-der-o (2)

“My obsession. My illogical and unconditional love. My jewel of French cinema.”

Disparaging remarks about Just Jaeckin’s 1975 feature film Histoire d’O (Story of O) are today common place. One is used to reading about how the film veers away a little too much from the novel, how ridiculous the men’s clothing appears to us today, or the women’s coiffures, or how bad the acting is. In the UK we had to wait 25 years for the censor’s ban to be lifted. So, not surprisingly, reviewers and critics in Britain upon its final release, had little patience for a French film belonging to an era long gone. The days when British film-goers thronged to see Sylvia Kristel as Emmanuelle. Even established UK film magazine Sight & Sound damned the film with faint praise: 

“For the most part, this tale of self-annihilation looks like a cross between a Biba commercial and a progressive rock video, awash with knee-booted, shaggy haircut ‘chicks’ drifting across misty landscapes in pseudo-medieval frocks… The film does, however, have a certain kitsch charm, awash as it is with appalling synthesised elevator music sweeping across the embarrassing dialogue dubbed into English.”

Story of O (1975) the library at Roissy

So I find it refreshing when someone tells me this forty three year old film improves with age, indeed gets better with each viewing. Even more refreshingly, one current Instagram-user is inspired to write of the film thus;

“My greatest discovery. My fetish My obsession. My illogical and unconditional love. My jewel of French cinema. My thesis never written. My before and after. The beauty in each frame. The elegance of each scene. I fell in love with Corinne Clery and her story from the first time I saw her years ago, and today I am still in love like the first day.”

Corinne Clery & Others - The Story of O - 2_2-500

I cannot help agreeing with such sentiments. The film is a minor gem. Certainly it’s the best translation to celluloid the book has acquired so far, even if it is not quite the film the book deserves.die-geschichte-der-o


It has been stated that as with many books, “the best adaptation to the screen is the one that is never done.” yet Jaeckin “captures a certain spectral atmosphere found in the text”.

Even after all these years Just Jaeckin deserves applause for even attempting to adapt the Réage text. The film is rich with good casting and a décor the set-designer should be eternally proud of. If budget restrictions demanded creative economy it hardly shows. And the film’s first half, the scenes at Roissy, are bathed in golds and browns creating an opulent and ideal setting for the radiant charms of the disquieting and angelic French actress Corinne Clery (who later became a Bond girl).

Corrine Clery/ Story of O

Art Director Baptiste Poirot, set decorator Olivier Paultre and cinematographer Robert Fraisse clearly formed a creative and fruitful team. Everything is mostly how it should be, if not more so. How lucky were the cast to find themselves surrounded by such professional and talented craftsmen such as these.

Story of O 1975

Just Jaeckin directing Corrine Clery and Udo Kier on the set of Histoire d’O

4523b_RaisatCinema_Histoire d'O_b (2)

Paris born cinematographer Robert Fraisse has proved himself again and again in such films as The Lover (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award), The Notebook, and Girl on a Bicycle. On Histoire d’O he worked side by side with cameraman Yves Rodallec.

Story of O/ Samois

The film’s romantic costumes are credited to one-time Dior studio assistant Tan Giudicelli (born 1934) who later became the 80’s master of formal dressing. He designed for Chloe & Hermes, opening his own design house in 1984, backed by Gunther Sachs, who at the time was one of the richest people in the world. His clothing was “wildly romantic and very feminine, with fitted waists, full skirts lots of attention to detail which in the over the top 80s could mean, embroidery, embellishment and luxuriant fabrics.” Of his perfumes Giudicelli stated they reveal “a delicate alchemy between the soul and the skin, between mystery and sensuality, between yin and yang”.

Story of O (1975)

“O recalled the prisoners she had seen in engravings and in history books,
who also had been chained and whipped many years ago, centuries ago…”


Story of O screenwriter Sébastien Japrisot was born in Marseille of Italian descent. A former student of the Sorbonne, Japrisot won critical acclaim for his first novel published when he was just eighteen years old. As a screenwriter he was much in demand. After his death in 2003 his novel Un Long Dimanche de Francailles was adapted for the the cinema screen as A Very Long Engagement (2004).

24cfbad6-cfe1-11e5-9372-5336b029222d (2)

On the set of Story of O (1975)

Story_of_O-film 1975

“Jaeckin’s film stands the test of time”

Of Histoire d’O Necronomicon writer Andy Black maintains, “Jaeckin’s film stands the test of time rather well thanks to its stylised milieu and hedonistic concept…” and continues, “With Story of O being one of those all-too rare examples of an “intelligent” adult film, the plot may be rather pedantic in places but it is the psychological aspects of the central characters and their behaviour which provides the most riveting aspects, together with the stunning locations brought to screen by Robert Fraisse and Yves Rodallec’s vivid photography.”

Just Jaeckin/ Story of O

‘O’ film director Just Jaeckin was born in 1940. His father was Dutch and his mother English and he spent the first five years of his life in England. He trained as a photographer in the army and later studied architecture and interior design in Paris. He became art director of Marie Claire and his photographs appeared in numerous glossy fashion magazines including Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. Later he worked for TV and made commercials.

He aspired to make a thriller but the first feature he was offered was Emmanuelle. Its astonishing success (the film was seen by 50 million viewers worldwide) led to Jaeckin being offered Histoire d’O the following year.

Just Jaeckin

Just Jaeckin with Corrine Clery and Sylvia Kristel

The offer came despite the blacklisting of Jaeckin. Regardless of the success of Emmanuelle in its homeland many critics and media people painted him as the ‘devil’. “This is the first film to talk about sexuality in a loving, beautiful way,” maintained Jaeckin, “showing that the woman is not a slut, or that two women have the right to love each other.” For some while Jaeckin was forced to suffer the applied stigma of “pornographer”, the one that has soiled the French cinema.

Emmanuelle spearheaded social change. It was of the moment, and despite the criticism which without a doubt, effected his health and well-being, Jaeckin saw his film triumph. “Films of eroticism didn’t exist.” recalles Jaeckin, “There were only pornographic movies, viewed by men only. Then, Yves Rousset-Rouard refused to release Emmanuelle on the X distribution circuit, preferring a traditional distribution circuit. The film was released on traditional movie screens, at a time when French society was changing.”


Sylvia Kristel as ‘Emmanuelle’

Of the film’s social significance Jaeckin stated, “That is Emmanuelle to me, and we owe a lot to the screenplay of Jean-Louis Richard.” And in a sentiment that could be similarly applied to Story of O, Jaeckin mused, “Emmanuelle, it’s not just me, it’s a whole team.”

Writers Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs later recorded, “Jaeckin’s contribution to world cinema, was to help define, or more accurately, popularise – a new form of eroticism: glossy, escapist, and decidedly bourgeois, aimed largely at couples.”


Upon the film’s release in France L’Express reported, “these films, and triumphantly History of O, have the audacity… hitherto unprecedented, to show that women want as much as men… For the film-maker Just Jaeckin, Story of O is above all, he says, “overwhelmingly A Love Story writ large.” ”

Story of O 1975 movie

Scenes at Roissy (Story of O – 1975)


Below: garden scene at Samois ‘Story of O’ (1975)



Returning to photography and the making of sculpture in recent years Just Jaeckin with his wife Anne established the Galerie Anne & Just Jaeckin on the Rue Guenegaud in the heart of Paris, a showcase for their own work and that of other artists and photographers. Now retired from film making, Jaeckin (now 77) spends his retirement with his wife in their converted mill close to Saint-Briac in Brittany.


Anne and Just Jaeckin

“Piece together incredible sets and atmospheric locations, intricate costumes a smart script and sympathetic (well acted) characters and you’ll start to get the idea of what makes a film like The Story of O so special. … The Story of O is a shining example of just how good erotic cinema can be.” Lawrence P. Raffel


text © Stefan Prince


Story of O: the ‘O’ Ring


The literal translation of the German phrase “je lieber je langer” is “the better the longer”

In her poem which begins ‘Even long after my death’ Maria Martins (1900-1973), the vivacious wife of the Brazilian ambassador to the United States who was known to others as simply ‘Maria’ the surrealist sculptor and lover of artist Marcel Duchamp, exclaimed;

Even long after my deathMaria Martins
Long after your death
I want to torture you
I want the thought of me
to coil around your body like a serpent of fire…
I want the nostalgia of my presence to paralyze you.

A passion reciprocal is offered here amid ‘sleepless nights’, a legacy wherein a ‘haze’ of ‘desires’ stretches through time until death. We are reminded of Petrarch’s ‘variis terroribus’ and his 14th century poems addressed to Laura, an idealised beloved who is thought to have been the unattainable Laura de Noves, the wife of Count Hugues de Sade (an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade).

Petrarch & Laura

Petrarch and Laura (from Boccaccio, Vornemmste) woodcut

Laura de Noves married at the age of 15 (January 16th, 1325) and Petrarch saw her for the first time two years later on April 6th (Good Friday) in 1327 at Easter mass in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon. Falling in love at first sight, Petrarch would be haunted by her beauty for the rest of his life. Already being married she would turn down all advances he made toward her.

Did Laura exist? Fontenelle in his Nouveaux dialogues des morts (1773) re-imagines Laura in conversation with Sapho contemplating the “inexpressibly delightful mixture of pleasure and pain, which is the soul of the amour.”laure_de_neves

In a letter Petrarch assured his close friend Bishop Giacomo Colonna, that Laura was indeed a real woman and his love a cruel passion.laura Her image haunted him by day and by night, at home and out of doors, awake or asleep, even after her demise. The relentless vision of Laura became an illness, a yoke of unbearable chains. Even as the poet sought refuge in the thickest woods Laura’s face seemed to appear in thickets, trunks of trees, fountains, and rocks. “In fact, often in the dead of night,” writes Aldo S Bernardo, “she breaks through the locked doors of his bedroom to claim her slave, causing him unspeakable agony and terror…”

Laura died at the age of 38 in the year 1348, on April 6th, Good Friday, exactly 21 years to the very hour that Petrarch first saw her (as Petrarch noted in his copy of a work by Virgil). Several years after her death, Maurice Sceve, a humanist, visiting Avignon had her tomb opened and discovered inside a lead box. Inside was a medal representing a woman ripping at her heart, and under that, a sonnet by Petrarch;

Here now repose those chaste, those blest remains
Of that most gentle spirit…
O lovely beauteous limbs! O vivid fire,
That even in death hast power to melt the soul!

Sketch of Petrarch and his Laura as Venus (ca. 1444)

Aury’s ‘O’


Before his death in 1374 Petrarch bequested a sum of money to astronomer and horologist Giovanni de Dondi to be exchanged for a ring – a simple ‘O’ ring – “to be worn by him in my memory.” This image, a simple O, was used as a mnemonic device following Petrach’s death, to teach the alphabet in a book about memory, Giovambattista Della Porta’s The Art of Memory.

One is put in mind of another ‘O’, and the rings worn by the protagonists in Story of O, particularly that which is worn by O herself in order that memories of Roissy might sustain her paralysis of subservience. Indeed, Dominique Aury (1907-1998) who hid behind the pseudonym Pauline Réage for forty years, created in Histoire d’O another simple ‘O’ which has become a bequest, a simple (and as it turned out, single) gift which after 64 years still weaves its own haze of desires, and might even be blamed for many of our ‘sleepless nights’.


Histoire d’O (1974) directed by Just Jaekin with Corrine Clery and Udo Kier 

The Two Rings

O’s ring is worn also as a symbol of her ‘graduation’ from the Roissy chateau and, upon recognition, grants freedom of access to O’s body, if wished for, by those in-the-know, the members of the Roissy clandestine society.

Today two O-rings can be found to have derived from Story of O. The so-called shackle slave ring and the BDSM emblem ring, or Triskelion.

Beautiful shackle slave ring by ‘Franklin’

Of the slave ring FetJeweller Franklin explains, “Over time these rings have also come to be called “Collar Rings” because they look similar to the collars worn on necks. These rings are fashioned after the ring that O wore in the film version of “Story of O” as she experiences her journey through BDSM exploring her submissiveness. Often known as the “Story of O ring”, it has also been called the “Story of O slave ring”, or simply a “slave ring”.


Ornate shackle ring by Obsession Jewellery

Franklin states, “the slave O-ring is now worn by submissives, Dominants, Tops, and bottoms alike. They are worn on any finger, including the thumb. Some wearers choose to wear a slave ring on the left hand if submissive and on the right hand if Dominant; however, this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.”


The ring mentioned in the original novel is unlike that which features in the 1974 movie. Wikipedia reminds us it, “was quite different from what is most commonly known as the “Ring of O” today. The novel describes the ring as shaped similarly to a signet ring (with a seal disk on top which was relatively large for a woman’s ring), made out of dull-gray polished iron, lined with gold on the inside, and with a golden Triskelion on its top area.”


Guido Crepax imagines, in a somewhat ambiguous fashion, the described Triskelion ring in his Histoire d’O

The triskelion symbol appears in many early cultures, the first in Malta(4400–3600 BC). The triple spiral motif is a Neolithic symbol in Western Europe. Though popularly 6257_-_Archaeological_Museum,_Athens_-_Gold_cup_from_Mycenae_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_Nov_10_2009considered a “Celtic” symbol, it is an ancient Aryan symbol. 800px-BDSM_logo.svg

In the USA Stephen Flowers, head of the self styled Order of the Triskelion, a magical order in Texas dedicated to the practice of carnal alchemy, maintains in his book Carnal Alchemy that the symbol of the triskelion appearing in Story of O is one of the clues to a hidden reality behind the fiction.

The slave ring’s symbolic meaning in the novel also differs somewhat from the one commonly used among BDSM practitioners today. In the book, Wikipedia explains, such a ring is worn by a female “slave” after she has finished her training at Roissy. Those wearing the ring are obliged to be obedient to any man who belongs to the secret society of Roissy (whose emblem is the triskelion), and must allow him to do absolutely everything with them that he pleases.bague0

The France based La Communauté du Triskel has made available to its members a ring designed to mirror that described in the book:

Il la pria ensuite de choisir, parmi des bagues toutes semblables, qu’il lui présentait dans un petit coffret de bois, celle qui irait à son annulaire gauche. C’étaient de curieuses bagues de fer, intérieurement cerclées d’or, dont le chaton large et lourd, comme le chaton d’une chevalière mais renflé, portait en nielles d’or, le dessin d’une sorte de roue à trois branches, qui chacune se refermait en spirale, semblable à la roue solaire des Celtes.

Fet Jeweller Franklin explains, “In the mid 1990’s, a discussion on AOL set the course for what we know as the BDSM emblem. There was an idea that a symbol was needed to represent this brand of sexuality and lifestyle. As well, the symbol needed to be a bit mysterious. When worn, it could not attract a great deal of attention from “vanilla observers”. It did have to be easily recognized by those who knew what it was.


beautiful BDSM emblem rings by ‘Franklin’

In the end, Steve Quagmyr, a leader of the discussion, created an emblem reminiscent of the yin-yang design. The choice of design was influenced by a description of the ring that “O” was given in the novel “The Story of O” (which is very different from that worn in the movie version). The ring as described in the book ” . . . bore a three-spoked wheel . . . with each spoke spiralling back upon itself . . .”.


One of Obsession Jewellery’s well crafted emblem rings 

So, there you have it. The BDSM practitioner has basically two choices of symbolic ring. Of the Triskelion ring Franklin explains, “Within the BDSM emblem that we use today are the three spokes which create three divisions along several possible lines of representation. One is that they represent the three divisions of BDSM: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. A second idea is that each division represents one aspect of the BDSM motto of “safe, sane, and consensual”. A third meaning that can be derived from the divisions is that of the three segments of the BDSM community, namely, tops, bottoms, and switches. –  Quagmyr describes the metallic colour as a representation of the chains or irons of BDSM and the black background as a celebration of the controlled dark side of BDSM sexuality. The curved lines symbolize the “lash as it swings”, and the circle shape represents the unity and oneness of a “community that protects its own”.

Two O-Ring Makers


After graduating with an Honours Diploma in Jewellery Arts at the top of his class and then achieving the coveted title of Graduate Gemologist, ‘Franklin’ embarked upon a fascinating career. He spent four decades designing and constructing fine jewelry. For most of those years he worked for himself, but when he did work for others it was for some of the finest jewellery firms in Canada and the U.S. Website:

Triskelion RingObsession Jewellery might be your choice of maker for high-end, handmade BDSM jewellery. Every piece in their kinky erotic jewellery collection is hand-crafted in Canada by Mr. Beast, an experienced and respected member of the kink community. Contact him via:

“He then asked her to choose, from amongst all those identical rings he was presenting to her in a little wooden case, the one which would go on the ring-finger of her left hand. They were curious, these rings, made of iron, the inner surface was of gold; the signet was massive, shaped like a knight’s shield, convex, and in gold niello bore a device consisting of a kind of three spoked-wheel, each spoke spiralling in towards the hub, similar, all in all, to the sun-wheel of the Celts.” – Story of O


“Somewhere I have the name of the goldsmith that made the ring used in the movie.”


writes Franklin, ” I will try to find it. He designed the ring for the movie and that design did not exist prior to that. – The ring in the movie had a different top to hold the “shackle” than the “ball” that we usually see. The shackle was also very big and the ring was very wide. – I took that original design and made several addition designs based upon it. The “shackle’ on the ring is also featured in pendants, bracelets and anklets that I make.”


images © the individual makers
text © Stefan (Bookkeeper) Prince


ARTISTS of ‘O’ #10


“I seek to build a serene and peaceful world full of fulfilled dreams” – Françoise Muller

French artist Françoise Muller illustrated Histoire d’O for Éditions Famot, a Swiss publishing house located in Geneva , created by Jean-Pierre Mouchard. Her illustrations for ‘O’ are little gems.


Born in Strasbourg in 1949, Muller has describes her work as, “all about the continuing desire for a balance between heaven and earth, a harmony of bodies for spiritual well-being and an eventual transcendence… I seek to construct a peaceful and serene world full of realized dreams.” In her pictures birds are the messengers of the invisible world, fish signify renaissance and ceremonies are inspired by “ancient mysteries”.


Trained at the Decorative Arts of Strasbourg, Muller continues to develop richly detailed work marked by surrealism and fantasy. Each element of her paintings has a symbolic meaning, allowing a double reading of the image, of the senses first, and then of the intellect.

Her illustrations for the little ‘deluxe’ edition of Story of O, published by Editions Famot in 1977 (one of a series of illustrated erotica), draw out the innate romanticism to be found in theFrancoise-Muller-O-7 book. Her images of ‘O’, René, Sir Stephen and the other protagonists are simply drawn characters, wisps of line, merging with detailed, stylized flora, and fanciful clothing enriched with elaborate pattern. Her ‘Roissy’ is all garden, outsize blooms and mildly threatening bull-rushes. Her whips are as ineffectual as spiders’ webs. Her ‘owl-mask’ is more flora than fauna.

Once again we find Aury’s Histoire d’O inspiring a different take on our favourite subject. These illustrations recall the Golden Age fairy book plates of old… “My characters evolve in weightlessness, (of water, air)” says Muller, “where they engage in celebrations within nature.”

Her ‘celebrations’ are “inspired by ancient mysteries. They dance and carry messages of fraternity.”

Fittingly, for Muller, Story of O ends at a garden party;


A dozen people were dancing on the terrace and in a courtyard, a few women with very low-cut dresses and some men in white dinner jackets were seated at small tables lighted by the candlelight; the record player was in the left-hand gallery, and a buffet table had been set up in the gallery to the right. The moon provided as much light as the candles, though, and when it fell upon O, who was being pulled forward by her black little shadow, Natalie, those who noticed her stopped dancing, and the men got to their feet. The boy near the record player, sensing that something was happening, turned around and, taken completely aback, stopped the record. O had come to a halt; Sir Stephen, motionless two steps behind her, was also waiting.

The Commander dispersed those who had gathered around O and had already called for torches to examine her more closely. “Who is she,” they were saying, “who does she belong to?”

Muller exhibits regularly in the United States, Germany, Belgium and France. She has exhibited in Japan, Lebanon, Greece, Cairo and Tunisia.

1968-1971 – Elève aux Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg/ 1971-1973 – Collabore au journal”La Maison Française” à Paris/ 1973-1974 – Professeur de gravure à l’Académie d’Art de Provence.


DSCN4963 (2).JPG

The Éditions Famot Histoire d’O (1977) illustrated by Françoise Muller (right) in its ornate binding. To the left is the equally ornate edition by Hachette (1976)




Joyeux anniversaire Histoire d’O


Controversial book publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert recalls in his La Traversée du livre, “Just before summer, I published, very officially, Histoire d’O.”

In the sixty four years that has since passed, Story of O has become one of the most widely read French novels. This is a book that had never been out of print. During the 1960s it was the most widely read contemporary French novel outside France. Today, this book has sold more than one million copies worldwide and has been translated into some 20 languages.

This extraordinary pornographic novel appeared in Paris in June 1954, published simultaneously in French and English. Story of O portrayed explicit scenes of bondage and violence in spare, elegant prose, the purity of the writing making the novel seem reticent even as it dealt with Sadean debauchery, with whips, masks and chains.


Pauline Reage, the author, was a pseudonym, and many people thought that the book could only have been written by a man. The writer’s true identity was not revealed until. in an interview with John de St Jorre, a British journalist and some-time foreign correspondent of The Observer, an impeccably dressed 86-year-old intellectual called Dominique Aury (born Anne Desclos) acknowledged that the fantasies of castles, masks and sadomasochism were hers.

n_a (1)



Jean Paulhan

Jean Paulhan, who was the author’s lover and the person to whom she wrote Story of O as a form of love letter, wrote the preface, “Happiness in Slavery”. Paulhan admired the Marquis de Sade’s writing and told Dominique Aury that a woman could not write in a similar fashion. Aury interpreted this as a challenge and wrote Histoire d’O. She filled half a dozen school exercise books with her written fantasies, never intening the work to be published.


Dominique Aury

“She wrote it as a dare,” writes Geraldine Badell, “a challenge and an enterprise de seduction for her lover, Jean Paulhan. They’d met during the German occupation, when she distributed a subversive magazine, Lettres Françaises, which he edited. Probably, they were first introduced by her father, in the hope that she might solicit Paulhan’s aid in publishing the volume of 17th-century devotional poetry she had collected. (She did, and it was.) Subsequently, they worked together at the literary magazine Nouvelle Revue Française and at Gallimard. Paulhan was a towering literary figure, handsome in an imperious way, with features that most readily expressed amusement and disdain. In film footage from 1986, when she was 81, and which she stipulated was not to be shown until after her death, Aury remembers him as ‘tall, broad-shouldered, somewhat heavy-set, with a Roman-like face, and something both smiling and sarcastic in his expression’. Nearly two decades after his death, her eyes had a faraway look when she talked about him. ‘Existence filled him with wonder,’ she continued. ‘Both the admirable and the horrible aspects of experience, equally so. The atrocious fascinated him. The enchanting enchanted him.”




In the wake of the unexpected success of the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy, translations of ‘O’ found themselves republished for new readers. “I predict that in a hundred years ‘Histoire d’O’ will still be read, while ‘Fifty shades of Gray’ will be forgotten,” writes Raymond van den Boogaard in his preface to a new Dutch edition of the translation by Adriaan Morriën. Blogger Dirk Leyman agrees, adding, “Story of O is still a pretty disruptive reading experience!”


Buy: ‘Story of O: 60 years’



#MeToo Campaign Rejects Story of O Show

Screenshot (343).png

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.


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?”


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.” 


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.


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’?…”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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


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


“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.


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.

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…”

Dominique- Aury-3

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’

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. 


Desclos family tree


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.

View of the Bay.jpg

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.”

Le Val-Saint-Père

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.”


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.


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.


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


“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.”


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.”

Dominique- Aury-2

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.”

Dominique Aury AutoLi

Dominique Aury, driving license (1939).


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

astro_dominique_aury (2)

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.



Text © Stefan Prince

ARTISTS of ‘O’ #8: Lynn Paula Russell



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.”


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.


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.

PaulaMeadowsFilm (2)

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.’

Paula-Russell Beatrice

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.


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.


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!”

Story of ORussell Story of O 004

“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.”


Russell Story of O 007


Images © the artist /o/ Text © Stefan Prince


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