“The most erotic book I ever read was an anonymous novel called L’Histoire d’O, which I think was by a woman called Pauline Réage. It was a sado-masochistic romp and I was given a copy in France in the 1960s when it was probably illegal in England.”
I am reminded that Histoire d’O means (if it means anything at all) many things to as many people. This week I received an email claiming the “alternative” end scene of Story of O (in which ‘O’ chooses death) should be played out to a rendition of the Nazi party anthem Horst Wessel Leid;
“What Reage’s novel has given us is not an erotic experience.” my writer maintaines, “Reage has perverted that experience into the Nazification of love and desire. The silly rituals, the rules, the punishments, the rapes in the presence of witnesses seem more appropriate to a Nuremberg rally gone even more wrong, or to a Gotterdamerung scored by Joe Goebbels himself…”
My attention is also drawn to a blog in which , artist, poet, writer and animal rights activist Heidi Coon looks at Story of O through the prism of French philosopher Michel Foucault;
“the reader is immersed in a confessional of desire. A confession that, indeed, liberates the individuals simultaneously, freeing binding chains and exposing their truths. The deployment of sexual desire, the act of the mutual exchanges of power, the gift giving and receiving, are all ultimately confessed inside Roissy.”
“The women at Roissy have consented to their silence, limiting their confessions to physical demonstrativeness…”
Heidi continues; “Whether dominance versus submission, slave versus master, or pain versus pleasure; they both need to be present. They exist in both a shocking and dramatic polar opposition. The chateau is a nondescript, private home, situated on an avenue near the park, yet it holds dark secrets and screams deep inside its belly. Rene is cruel, yet loving. Sir Stephen is brutal, yet gentle. O is willingly possessed, yet filled with a deep desire for love. For Rene, she will do anything to please him, as to please him is to know that she is loved by him. His preference was for her to submit, and her submission was solely for the sake of her lover, Rene. Reage, one might suppose, takes ‘re-gifting’ to an extreme as O’s gift of her body becomes Rene’s gift to the men at the chateau.”
Story of O seems forever on the edge of our culture and publishers were quick to remind the general reader of its existence in the wake of the hugely successful Fifty Shades of Grey… Fifteen years ago readers in Norway had a full awareness of the book’s existence. The Times of August 2003 announced,
“The Bookseller noted that the most stolen book in Norwegian bookshops was The Story of O – to the extent that the publishers have now put a band around it saying, “NORWAY’S MOST STOLEN BOOK!“…”
Story of O even got a shout out in Frasier. There’s an episode of Frasier in which the character Roz Doyle comes to a Halloween party as O from Story of O. Nobody gets it, – she reveals;
“I’m ‘O’ from the Story of O”
… “it’s gonna be a long night”
I am reminded Story of O also crops up in François Ozon ‘s motion picture 5×2 (2004). A yellow paperback is surreptitiously drawn from a packing box by Marion (Valeria BruniTedeschi) and leafed through briefly by herself and then by her husband, both sitting on the floor of their empty apartment. The book is, of course, Histoire d’O and forms a momentary, but unconsummated, opportunity for reconciliation. The next scene takes place in the divorce lawyer’s office.
The book scene was dropped from the final edit and remains a “deleted scene”, part of the ‘Extras’ on the DVD release.
5×2 (also known as Cinq fois deux) is a 2004 French film directed by François Ozon, which uncovers the back story to the gradual disintegration of a middle class marriage by depicting five key moments in the relationship, but in reverse order. Ozon also directed 8 Women, The Swimming Pool, and Under the Sand.
By its very nature Histoire d’O remains on the edge of the culture but forever worthy of study, examination and discussion.