“With Histoire d’O, I would change the era…!”

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Model wearing hat by Jean Barthet, photo by Regina Relang, Paris, 1954

“the Histoire d’O was the dream book for me.” – Jean Jacques Pauvert

As a publisher of de Sade, Jean-Jacques Pauvert (who had began his career working in the mailroom at the Gallimard publishing house) became used to seeing much of Jean Paulhan. It irritated him however, that Paulhan continuously spoke of a mysterious manuscript which seemed never to appear. 

It did finally, and Story of O was delivered by Paulhan, into his hands, one cold and wet December night. A cleanly machine-typed manuscript with a little message:

“I would like you to read this. Either I am very mistaken, or else this book one day will have its place in the history of literature.”

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Players in the “great adventure”: Jean-Jacques Pauvert

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Jean Paulhan

Once home and having dined, Pauvert took a peek at the text and intrigued, read until he finished the manuscript at 1 am. He was stunned.

“It was the book I’d been seeking for years. Okay, I was the publisher of Sade, but with Histoire d’O, I would change the era… I felt delirious.”

Pauvert drew up a contract and after deliberating for some days upon the question of who the mysterious author must be of this manuscript (which had sent him light footed along the sidewalks of Paris as though at the start of a “great adventure”) he was introduced by Paulhan, in a bar at Pont-Royal, to Pauline Réage. “It was, of course, Dominique Aury. We knew each other well. And not only that, I had read her with delight.”

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The face behind the mask: Dominique Aury

Pauvert recalls, “She stayed there, in her chair, as always modest, almost invisible. And seductive (she was 47 in 1954) Discreetly coiffed, discreetly dressed, discreetly seated like a well brought-up young woman, her voice soft and sweet.”

“I carried on wildly about her novel:” continues Pauvert, “a masterpiece, but above all a revolution. No one had written anything like it, and we were going to change the world…”

Aury (Declos) apparently spoke very little (“finding me, no doubt, excessive”). Perhaps she foresaw how difficult it would be for people to accept Story of O. After all, this was 1954. In the succeeding months the press would remain silent about Histoire d’O. The book sold badly.

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“Everyone was expecting a total ban,” recalls Pf3efd889fc00e876b6cefe8105c0ff6aauvert. Rumors were spread. “They talked about a clandestine publication when, in fact, my name and my ad
dress were clearly written on it.”

 

One bookseller on the rue du Four went as far as claiming to customers, in whispers, that the book was banned. If customers were prepared to pay a big enough security deposit, they could RENT the novel for forty-eight hours!

 

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From the Bookkeeper’s archive: French, American and British editions of Histoire d’O

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