RETURN TO ROISSY: The Final Chapter (Story of O II)
There is considerable confusion concerning the so-called sequel to Story of O. It is oft repeated that Dominique Aury (ne Anne Desclos) did not write this ‘final chapter’ at all. Why the confusion?
Angie David writes, “Dominique has only ever written one novel”, and so we find book dealers reporting,”The sequel “Return to Roissy” does not stem from Anne Desclos, according to Angie David’s biography.”
Return to Roissy, or Return to the Chateau, is in fact the deleted chapter of Story of O, suppressed, just as it says in the first novel: a second ending, and in fact deleted by Aury herself upon the advice of her lover Jean Paulhan.
Or is it? – To Angie David, Aury explains Retour à Roissy is not the last erased chapter but a request from the editor, a request that she deems totally stupid. The only true ending is the one she recognizes, the death of O.
And yet Angie David concedes, “In 1969, she would publish a sequel of sorts to Story of O called Retour à Roissy, which included the first novel’s original (unpublished) final chapter, and a third-person account (entitled “Une Fille Amoureuse,” or “A Girl in Love”) about the genesis of O, signed by Réage. She’d worked on it as Jean Paulhan lay dying in a hospital room in a Paris suburb. Aury slept in his room each night for four months, until his death at eighty-three in October, 1968.”
With the original Histoire d’O Paulhan, according to Aury, changed just one thing [“He took out one adjective,” she told John de St Jorre, “Sacrificiel… he changed nothing else – not a single comma.”] but it seems Paulhan had a little more to do with the shaping of Aury’s original manuscript than that.
The Christie’s sale of the hand-written manuscript in 2006, revealed various crossings-out, two of which are “in ink from the hand of Jean Paulhan.”
The first finds Paulhan simplifying the book’s opening sentence, makes the novel “begin more abruptly – the name O, added in ink “from the hand of Jean Paulhan” appears from the first line; “Her lover one day takes O for a walk…”. The second revision in Paulhan’s handwriting are two words erased and rewritten somewhere in the chapter entitled ‘Sir Stephen’.
Christie’s ensure us that Return to Roissy (written in blue biro, partly on lined paper) was written at the same time as Histoire d’O “but taken out on the advice of Paulhan.” This confirms John de St Jorre’s statement that Retour à Roissy was “written at the same time as the original story” (The Good Ship Venus pub 1994).
Angie David insists Paulhan intervened twice more. First, he asked Dominique not to make O die, an ending that he esteemed too violent, too realistic. Then he removed the last chapter, where O is abandoned at Roissy. He rejects all form of degradation, this ending didn’t suit him: it took away from the narrative its mystical aspect and brought it back to a writing of genre – a seedy representation of the fate of slavery. The concerns of Paulhan were intellectual, but also editorialistic. The text was less dangerous that way, more ‘mainstream’ (avoiding the accumulation of the apology of crime; prostitution and murder).
Indeed Aury later agreed, “It was a mistake… it was the other side to the dream… it was a degradation into reality… prostitution, money, force, etc. It was une mauvaise fabrication, as we say.”
“Paulhan and I agreed that the book [Histoire d’O] was very beautiful,” recalled publisher Pauvert, “very classic without the last chapter which was more like something out of a spy novel. – So we told her that we would like to leave it out.”
Smoke screens and subterfuge filter into the story of the two books however; In his deposition to the French vice squad in August,1955, Jean Paulhan declared, “I was somewhat mislead, for Monsieur Pauvert, with the accord of Mme. Réage, had deleted from the book the third part, in which the heroine is confronted with her downfall, without my having been informed.”
Misled or misleading? Paulhan was covering his tracks. But there you have it. The ‘third’ chapter existed from the beginning. There is no way Return to Roissy was written especially for publication in 1969, nor was it written by anyone else save ‘Pauline Réage’.
Translator Richard Seaver made it clear in Confessions of O by Régine Deforges (New York 1979), “This long, hundred-page chapter was originally to be published as part of Story of O but was deleted. It was first published fifteen years after the original work, in a separate volume.”
Aury recalled, “it was extremely bad, abominable”. And so it is. For the O-reader who has become acquainted with Story of O’s simple house of cards, inhabited by intentionally but acceptable cardboard-characters, the novel’s sequel may come as a disappointment, an insubstantial last-chapter which indeed seems to be a negation of or ‘degradation’ of the original tale.
It is as if the previous simplicity suddenly required an additional veneer of solidity. The house of Roissy is explained in detail and we begin to learn a little more about the characters and their place in the world. Money enters the equation (O no longer works as a photographer and now accepts payment from visitors to Roissy), and lingers like the cause of so much mathematics.
We are told how many days, how many women, how many hours, how many men – as if the earlier simplicity (remember Aury recalled the first hundred pages just flowed from her hand) needed reinforcing, by way of simple sums.
And finally, as though another writer had stepped into the breach, we have diamond mines and murder, and newspaper-headline intrigues. It seems finally Sir Stephen is out of the picture completely and O is free to go her own way. There is an unfortunate darkness, a coarseness, to the proceedings.
This is a shame but perhaps the author warns us from the very beginning of this Return to the Château. After all, within the opening page of Retour à Roissy ‘O’ senses a foreboding of danger,
“as though fate was being tempted…”
As a consolation, Aury’s veiled revelations ‘A Girl in Love’ by ‘Pauline Réage’, which precedes Return to Roissy, is a delight and an engaging example of Aury’s inspired, and perhaps unique, way with words. It traces the origins of Histoire d’O and takes the reader back to the very beginning;
One day a girl in love said to the man she loved: ‘I could also write the kind of stories you like…’
– O –
© Stefan Prince