When it comes to Story of O I love a challenge, and when a fan of the 1975 film recently asked on a social media site, why does a toy car feature in the foreground of the love-making scene between O and Jacqueline? I couldn’t help wondering whether its placement was just a simple matter of composition, like Cézanne positioning a knife to direct your eye to the still-life of apples. Or was this about something else? I couldn’t help recalling that a similar car appears in an old photo I came across on Google Images.
The car is, I think, a 1929 De Soto, American made, and parked outside the offices of the publisher Éditions Gallimard. The photo was taken in 1929.
“the only woman to sit on the reading committee”
It was Gallimard to whom Jean Paulhan offered for publication Histoire d’O, written by the anonymous “Pauline Réage”. Gallimard turned down the opportunity unaware that Réage was in fact their employee Dominique Aury (Anne Desclos) and the clandestine lover of Paulhan.
Forty years on from writing Histoire d’O Dominique Aury grumbled in a television interview she gave when she was 87, “Gaston Gallimard said, ‘We can’t publish books like this,” though he had published Jean Genet, which was much nastier!”
Éditions Gallimard was founded on 31 May 1911 in Paris by Gaston Gallimard (1881–1975) as Les Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française. It remains one of the leading French publishers of books.
“Gide, Claudel, Aragon, Breton, Malraux, Joyce, Faulkner, Saint-Exupery, Michaux, Sartre, Queneau, Ionesco, Pinter, Camus, Yourcenar, Duras, Kerouac, Modiano, Le Clézio, Kundera, Tournier … one could easily write a history of literature and ideas in the 20th century by reading the catalog of Éditions Gallimard “
(Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Dominique Aury was an eminent figure in literary France, and had been when she wrote Histoire d’O at the age of 47. A translator, editor and judge of literary prizes, for a quarter of a decade, Aury was the only woman to sit on the reading committee at Gallimard.
“Get in,” he says.
The film set design of Just Jaeckin’s Histoire d’O (1975) is credited to the talented set decorator and production designer Olivier Paultre. The previously noted model car is one of numerous props that give the film a distinctive richness. There is also a ceramic car-teapot (or is it a butter-dish?) within the same set as the model car, and it is understandable that the property ‘buyer’ should have chosen such things considering the screenplay takes the book’s opening car scenes (two alternative beginnings) as its starting point:
After they have taken a stroll in the park, and have sat together side by side on the edge of a lawn, they notice, at one corner of the park, at an intersection where there are never any taxis, a car which, because of its meter, resembles a taxi.
“Get in,” he says.
One can easily imagine the writer of Histoire d’O reading her newly written passages to her lover Jean Paulhan, quietly and secretively, within their parked car, during their clandestine meetings. Such are the scenes described by Réage in her mémoire, A Girl In Love. No doubt the streets of Paris were busy enough with cars, the city having been liberated from Nazi occupation just ten years earlier.
“The story was still not completely written when, having resumed their assignations back in Paris in the fall, the man asked her to read sections out loud to him, as she wrote them. And in the dark car, in the middle of an afternoon on some bleak but busy street, near the Buttes-aux-Cailles, where you have the feeling you’re transported back to the last years of the previous century, or on the banks of the St. Martin Canal, the girl who was reading had to stop, break off, once or more than once, because it is possible silently to imagine the worst, the most burning detail, but not read out loud what was dreamt in the course of interminable nights.”
(A Girl in Love – to be found as a preface to Retour á Roissy by Pauline Réage)
“you’re transported back to the last years of the previous century”
I count as possible precedents to the opening passage of Story of O photo features which the younger Aury/Desclos may have found in her father’s copies of Paris Magazine or indeed other such adult fare.
Maybe the “Get in” derived from Paulhan’s assertive manner during their long affair. Who knows? Italian comic-strip wizard Guido Crepax offers us a monster of a automobile whisking ‘O’ away to the Roissy château on the outskirts of Paris, in his own take, an illustrated Histoire d’O.
The rushing automobile is antique like many aspects of Histoire d’O with its ‘Gothic’ flavour and its trappings of Sade.
Is there not also a certain timelessness about Jaeckin’s film version of Story of O? Despite the datedness now, of the menswear and ladies’ coiffures!
………………………………………………………………………………………Time can be cruel in many ways.
TEXT © S PRINCE