In his A Slave’s Revolt; An Essay on The Story of O, Jean Paulhan writes, “From beginning to end”, the Story of O has the look more of “a letter than of a diary”.
Playing his part in the smoke and mirrors which portrayed the writer of Story of O as beyond reach and behind a mask of anonymity, Jean Paulhan asks in this, the book’s preface, “But to whom is the letter addressed? And whom does the discourse aim to convince? Whom is one to ask? I don’t even know who you are.”
This was a wonderful subterfuge considering Histoire d’O was written for him, the oft described “ultimate love-letter”, and that Pauline Réage was in fact his devoted mistress Dominique Aury. Story of O was written in answer to his challenge. For Aury it was une entreprise de seduction.
“Literature was a shared passion,” wrote Geraldine Bedell, “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.”
The result was Histoire d’O. Jean Paulhan, a generation older than Dominique Aury, was in his early sixties when she fulfilled his challenge to write something akin to Sade. He was married to Germaine Dauptain.
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.”
Aury told the documentary filmmaker Pola Rapaport shortly before her death,“I wrote it alone, for him, to interest him, to please him, to occupy him”.
“Story of O was written at night, in secret, without respite or erasure, as in a dream…”
Film director Eric Rochat, under the guise of Ron Williams (pseudonyms are numerous and multifarious in the story of the book, its translations and its various incarnations!) not surprisingly – having been producer on the 1975 film production of the novel, and director of Story of O 2 – took this idea, of the story as “letter”, as the leitmotif for his ten part TV series shot in Brazil.
At the beginning of each episode of Story of O – The Series, we see the writer of the story corresponding with her lover, his voice being that of the film’s “Sir Stephen”. And if the opening lines seem familiar but cannot be found in the novel, it is because Eric paraphrases the preface to Story of O. They are the words, almost, of Jean Paulhan;
“Rid me of these dreams, deliver me, take me so that I have not even the time to dream I am unfaithful to you.” demands the on-screen writer at her desk.
Sir Stephen’s voice relates, “What I have read so far in your story of O is the most fiercely intense love-letter a man could ever hope to receive. It’s also a fairy tale, for adults – a dream.”
“It’s more than a dream,” she replies, “You’ve got to understand, love is no joke. There’s no freedom in it. Damn the freedom! – My love, listen and live my dream – if you dare.”
Jean Paulhan, imagining the writer’s demands, had written;
Weary me, exhaust me. Rid me of these dreams. Deliver me. Take the lead, make haste so that I shall not even have the time to dream that I am unfaithful to you.
“I make a strange kind of progress as I advance in the Story of O,” Paulhan continues in his introduction, “advancing as through a fairy-tale… advancing as through one of those fairy-tale castles which seem so deserted…”
Indeed, it was Paulhan who wrote, “The Story of O is surely the most fiercely intense love-letter a man could ever receive.”
In writing the preface to Story of O, Paulhan attracted intense scrutiny by those tempted to attribute the novel to him. After all, it called to mind the mask of Georges Bataille who, having written his Madame Edwarda under the pseudonym Pierre Angelique, also contributed its preface under his own name.
As a prime suspect in the making of this scandalous text,” writes Carmela Ciuraru, “Paulhan paid a price.” The story goes, that when he was nominated for membership in the elite Académie Francaise (which consisted of 40 members known as “immortals”) the opponents of his candidacy placed a copy of Histoire d’O on every Academy member’s chair in protest.
Paulhan was elected anyway.
Dominique Aury is ‘O’
On my ‘O’ website I have written that knowing now what we have learnt about the writer of ‘O’ (birth name Anne Desclos) it is surely easy to see that Dominique Aury is ‘O’ and that ‘O’ is the Aury ‘Pauline Réage‘ would like her to be.
Aury spent her teens and adult life in clandestine liaisons – covering her tracks less she embarrass her family, particularly her mother (“my freedom lay in my silence, as my mother’s lay in hers…”) – even denying authorship of her one novel.
At Jean Paulhan’s funeral in 1968 only a select few recognised ‘Pauline Réage‘, walking behind the coffin upon which could be seen a large wreath without a name.
Paulhan’s daughter-in-law, Jacqueline, later claimed that she had learned the truth identity of the writer of ‘O’ only at Paulhan’s funeral;
“There was a very big bouquet of flowers with no name attached… I was standing next to Dominique Aury, whom of course I knew well, and I remarked, ‘I suppose they must be from Pauline Réage.’ Dominique turned to me and said, ‘Mais, Jacqueline, Pauline Réage c’est moi.’”
Jean Paulhan (1884 – 1968)
Anne Cécile Desclos
(Dominique Aury/ Pauline Réage)
(1907 – 1998)
TEXT © S PRINCE