SMOKE & MIRRORS: “Pauline Réage… c’est moi.”


In his A Slave’s Revolt; An Essay on The Story of OJean 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.”


UNDER COVER: “Pauline Reage” receives the Prix des Deux Magots literary prize for ‘Histoire d’O’, with writers Albert Simoni and Raymond Queneau

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.

storyofo1 (2)



Screenshot (48)

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.”


(Story of O) Fruits of Passion

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.”


paulhan at desk

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 Réagewould 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) 




Damsels, Doms & Automobiles: O’s Clandestine Car Ride To Submission

ocar4         Screenshot (472)

Screenshot (563)

Return Journey:

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 headquarters of the NRF, rue Sébastien Bottin in Paris, 1930 – Photo Henri Manuel © Archives Éditions Gallimard

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.

Screenshot (566)


“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.Walking

“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:

Histoire-D-O-Japan-cover (2)

A Bentley Mk VI features in Histoire d’O (1975)

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.


A red 1933 Renault Taxi as featured in Story of O (1975)


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.





In the 1975 film ‘O’ delivers Jacqueline to the Roissy château in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.

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 RoisKlosO2sy 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.



Photographer Doris Kloster’s ‘Story of O’




Just before summer, in June, I published, very officially, Histoire d’O.” 
– Jean-Jacques Pauvert –


le choc d’Histoire d’O proclaims L’EXPRESS in its issue of 1st September 1975.

How shocked was Paris in 1975 at the release of the Just Jaeckin film Story of O, or at the publication of Histoire d’O twenty years earlier, is difficult to ascertain at this distance in time. By all accounts it seems the book was a slow-burn. Whilst gossip and scandal waited in the wings, “Commercially,” recollected publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert, “in the first year, the book was a disaster.” For the book, “there was a deafening silence, one without precedent… the press stayed mute with stupefaction.”

L’Express had started up in the previous year but even that publication deleted any mention of Story of O in their survey of then recent books which defined the era. In their interview Jean Paulhan had been quick to cite above all Histoire d’O but to no avail. The era was an austere one.


Too shocking for words? The press kept silent and attention was refocused upon the much talked about and somewhat scandalous Bonjour tristesse by Francoise Sagan, published at around the same time.

As for Histoire d’O, what was the literary crowd to make of it? “Everybody was expecting a total ban,” recalled Pauvert (in the following year the judicial authorities would hound Pauvert and Paulhan for the true identity of the book’s author), and everyone was participating in the argument that Histoire d’O surely could not have been penned by a woman – such an idea was inconceivable to many. “I think the idea that it was a woman was a big part of the rejection of the book.” recalled Jean-Jacques Pauvert, years later, “The novelty was surprising and shocking: that the most scandalous book that ever existed could have been written by a woman, played a primordial role.”

Speculation about the identity of the book’s author continued for years to come. “Candidates, principally male,” wrote John de St Jorre, “included André Malraux, Henri de Montherlant, Louise de Vilmorin, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Raymond Queneau…” As time went on the atmosphere changed. “It was quite extraordinary and funny,” recalled Jean-Jacques Pauvert, “… people took a delight in claiming they had written O.”

Story of O

By the end of 1954 just a thousand copies of Histoire d’O had sold, printed in small runs (Bonjour tristesse had a million copy run). Not quite the imagined start for the book with which its publisher deliriously imagined he would “change the era”! Novelist and broadcaster John Baxter claims Maurice Girodias of the Paris based Olympia Press, fared no better with his ham-fisted rushed-out English edition of Story of O, made available from the same date of publication. “Not for the last time”, writes Baxter in his A Pound of Paper, “Girodias had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

n_a (5)


By the time the film came out in France twenty years later, things had moved on. Histoire d’O was in general circulation, despite the ban on being sold to minors, the ban on its display and restrictions placed upon advertising the book.

The mysterious “Pauline Réage” had published a sequel, Retour a Roissy in 1969 with Pauvert, and she regained the spotlight in 1975 with the publication of O m’a dit, an interview between Réage (her true identity remaining intact) and the erotic publisher and writer, Régine Deforges.


Régine Deforges

By the mid-1970s France was riding a wave of big-budget sex film production due to the recent relaxation of government censorship. With the film Histoire d’O in production, the sales of the book increased rapidly from the modest figure of 4,000 copies (over the previous twenty years), to around 2,000 for the first year of the nouvel intérêt.


Just Jeackin’s Emmanuelle (1974)

French director Just Jaeckin (Just Jacki

‘Story of O’ director Just Jaeckin with actresses Sylvia Krystal & Corrine Cléry

The film, a German- French co-production directed by Just Jaeckin (fully embracing the prestige awarded him by the phenomenal success of Emmanuelle), saw the novel jump from page to screen in the midst of a new debate about sex and violence. Not only did the news magazine L’Express (where Françoise Giroud, the Under-Secretary of State for Women’s Condition under Valery Giscard-Estaing, was editor) cover the release of the film, it also published, in three subsequent issues, excerpts from the book Histoire d’O. The public and the French Women’s Liberation Movement (MLF) were incensed. 

The magazine was accused of trying to profit from the wave of ‘metro-boulot-porno’ sweeping across France. Both the film and the excerpts published in L’Express gained negative press, particularly among readers whose letters revealed both moral opposition to the book and their critique of the magazine’s obvious attempt at sensationalism; the film’s ‘O’ (Corrine Cléry) barring her breasts, whip marks and all.


Even in 1974 and later, the debate continued about whether ‘Pauline Réage’ was the pseudonym of a female or male writer. Numerous names were put forward. Angela Carter in The Sadian Woman (Virago Press, 1979) proclaimed, “Many pornographic novels are written in the first person as if by a woman, or use woman as the focus of the narrative; but this device only reinforces the male orientation of the fiction. John Cleland’s Fanny Hill and the anonymous The Story of O, both classics of the genre, appear in this way to describe a woman’s mind through the fiction of her sexuality. This technique ensures that the gap left in the text is just the right size for the reader to insert his prick into, the exact dimensions, in fact, of Fanny’s vagina or of O’s anus.” How wrong was she proved to be. 

An Outrage To Common Decency…?

Sadly some feminist critics just did not do their homework. Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth naively dismisses “pirated copies” of Histoire d’O as the words of “a woman with an apt business sense and a flat prose style counting her money.” Such assumptions were corrected by John de St Jorre in his book The Good Ship Venus (pub 1994); This highly skilled and respected woman of letters (Dominique Aury, journalist, editor and translator, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur) “had no thoughts – or intention – of publication. She had written nothing like it before, nor had she since.” 

Feminist critics generally opted for the imagined male status. Followers of Kate Millett (“The Story of O tells it like it is about masculine phantasy better than does Romeo and Juliet.”) considered Histoire d’O an extreme legitimization of the domination of women by men, a result of the male opinion; “they enjoy it”. Alternative opinions interpreted Histoire d’O as a woman’s admission that she did indeed enjoy subordination, and refused to link the text to the ongoing debates about misogynistic violence.


French feminist author Françoise d’Eaubonne, who had raised questions about the motivations of L’Express, had initially defended the book, its “confession” being an important contribution to feminism”. Jennifer Sweatman in The Risky Business of French Feminism points out, “Male literary critics generally stressed the book’s “literary beauty”, defiance toward censorship of erotica and its provocative confessions. But, for feminist critics, the status of the author was in doubt; they couldn’t believe a woman had written the book.”

Sweatman maintains that ultimately “D’Eaubonne drew a feminist lesson from Histoire d’O, especially when reading it alongside Erin Pizzey’s book, Crie moins fort, les voisins vont t’entendre, which highlighted women’s complicated psychological reactions to abuse.”

Maria Marcus, who like many feminist critics (including Erica Yong) mistakenly assumed the true author of Histoire d’O a man, admits the novel filled her with a mixture of sexual excitement, horror, anxiety and envy. (Andrea Dworkin in Women Hating (1974) recommended a schema for self-protection “for those women who are convinced yet doubtful, attracted yet repelled”). Maria Marcus felt many readers would feel (whether they admitted it or not) that O’s passage through Roissy was good and right, and that O should return there.


Maria Marcus died earlier this year

In A Taste For Pain Marcus states, “- I know no other book expressing so well all the contradictions involved in our image of womanhood.” and continues, “O gives us a kind of answer, for she lives out what many of the rest of us have vague dreams about.” She concludes, “So we shall have to continue concerning ourselves with The Story of O, and I know no book that should be more central for the feminist movement to commit itself to, among other things, to be able to answer the young woman at the meeting with Germaine Greer.”

The young woman at a talk by Greer in Copenhagen in 1972 had “cried out” with desperation in her voice: “But how can we start a women’s movement when I bet three quarters of us sitting in this room are masochists?”


With the MLF in Paris there was little discussion about “contradictions”. It used its various press outlets to denounce Histoire d’O and published tracts that linked it with a recent rape of two Belgian women who had been holidaying in France in the summer of 1974. A tract entitled “Histoire d’O, ou le fascism sexuel,” was distributed during a demonstration against the book and the film held in September 1975, the year in which the film was banned in several countries including the UK. The tract accused the book and film of portraying a false image of abuse in which “women like it” and specifically targeted L’Express, which the authors insisted had “doubled its sales in Paris”.

As a result of the controversy French writer Paul Guimard resigned from L’Express, and following several enforced meetings with militant feminist groups Françoise Giroud, along with Interior Minister Michel Poniatowski, “promised to help create a refuge” for battered women or “women in distress”.


Truly, 1974 was “the year of Histoire d’O” (Pauvert). And was Histoire d’O still an outrage to common decency? Twenty years earlier the Paris Book Commission reported;

Judging that the book, consciously and violently immoral, in which scenes of debauchery with three or more characters alternate with scenes of sexual cruelty, contains a detestable and reprehensible excitement, is in this way an outrage to common decency… there is enough here for prosecution.”

“thanks, to Aury for showing me, and others, the way into the chateau.” retorted Molly Weatherfield (Pam Rosenthal) – “Or the ways – in the first pages of the novel O enters the château twice, once blindfolded, once not – take our pick, it doesn’t matter. Just as it doesn’t matter how we stumble in, stupidly, haphazardly, purposefully, sex-positively — the door will open to disclose our own half-forgotten, naively imagined visions waiting there for us. Just as Aury’s imagination waited for her to write this most serendipitous of masterpieces, this most inevitable of visions.”

“O’s story is no simple housewife’s tale,” writes feminist theorist and psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin in The Bonds of Love (pub 1988), “it is rather that of the “new woman” who emerged in this century… From such desires the bonds of love are forged.” 

I have chosen the last word to go to Humo’s film journalist Erik Stockman who writes,

What Histoire d’O showed us eventually reminded us of something that Oscar (Peter Coyote) said in Roman Polanski‘s amazing Bitter Moon:

In love nothing can be obscene! Everything that happens between two loved ones becomes a sacrament!”

Final Word:

2308034_m3t1w645h430q75s1v62683_201421_286245_3_024But no, the last word should go to “Pauline Réage”: What did Dominique Aury think of the scandalous nature of Story of O forty years on from the time she put pencil to paper?

Much ado about nothing” she said firmly to John de St Jorre in 1993, “that’s what I think. It was just saying in plain words what has been going on for centuries. Why make so much noise about it? It was just human nature, human conduct, the good and the bad together.”


text © S Prince


Find out more about Story of O @….. NEXT BLOG coming soon!

UK Censorship & London bans The Story of O:


“Films rated X are intended only for viewing by adults…”

UK Film magazines promised British film-goers more than the British film censor would allow in 1976. The three British film magazines from my ‘O’ archive, which feature Story of O upon their covers promised the flesh and golden tones of Just Jaeckin’s Histoire d’O (one reviewer, it was said, “had seen so much flesh he was considering turning vegetarian”) but the film would not be made available to UK cinemas until late 1999, and to video issue until 2000.

The Story of O film was presented several times for certification, firstly in 1976 when it was rejected by the BBFC censors headed then by James Ferman. Ferman

Ferman was born in New York on April 11 1930, the son of a film director who had worked with D W Griffiths. He was brought in to the British Board of Film Censors, as it then was, in 1975 when the board was in danger of losing its remit after a number of its decisions had been overturned by local authorities and some films had been subject to prosecutions by anti-pornography groups such as The Festival of Light.

In many ways he had a successful run (of 24 years): no film he certificated was ever prosecuted and yet the proportion of censor-cut films was reduced from 40 to four per cent as he replaced scissor work with classification upwards. Ferman gained a reputation as an overzealous censor as result of his refusal to allow several films from the 1970s to be released following the introduction of video censorship and the media outcry over “video nasties”. However, during his 24 years as director, he frequently came under fire for allowing the screening of violent or sexually explicit films such as Crash, Lolita, and Natural Born Killers.

355_004 (2)

After being refused by Ferman and his team the distributors of The Story of O appealed to the Greater London Council’s film viewing board. They also refused a certificate. A number of cuts were made but these did not satisfy a full meeting of GLC members. September 26th 1978 found the London Evening Standard declaring on its front page:

“London bans The Story of O”

The Story of O was shown for the first time finally in London in December 1999, having been awarded a Camden Council 18 certificate, for a short run at the ABC Leicester Square and then for a run at the Picadilly, – twenty five years after its British ban.


‘O’ had been shown previously in London on a small number of occasions to private audiences. One showing was to a capacity audience in London at the French Institute. 

Membership undertaken previously was a requirement eagerly taken up by the London kink community. The London Institut Francais presented Histoire d’O (in its original French language) as part of a erotic film season entitled plaisir interditin (Eroticism in French cinema, 1930-1996) in the April of 1997.

The two part season saw Histoire d’O shown again in the May. Oddly, the accompanying still in the programme, attributed to the National Film Archive, was incorrect. It was an image from Kenneth Anger’s unfinished (and unseen) Story of O. Other films over the two months included Just Jaeckin’s Emmanuelle, Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales and Bernado Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris.

The Continental Film Review was a British film magazine celebrating all things sexy and continental. Undoubtedly a film magazine for incorrigible optimists. Continental featured movies from Italy, France, Sweden, and other continental countries that would rarely have been seen in the UK, except occasionally at gentleman’s adult cinema clubs, or at a flea-pit cinema for “one-day-only”, and stripped of all coherence by the British censor. I recall a European ‘The Sadist’ as a case in point, and a tiny cinema in Weston Super Mare, now long since demolished.


Continental Film Review did however, focus on the serious side of new cinema and championed the likes of Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Borowczyk, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The magazine started up in 1952 and ran for almost four hundred issues terminating in 1984. As an art student in the early 1970s I found back-issues invaluable for collage and scrap-booking. Issue #288 sports ‘Story of O’ on its cover and is dated October 1976.

n_a (5)

Sporting Jane Birkin on the cover (a still from Catherine & Co.) Films and Filming dated March 1976 does in fact feature “The Story of O – Pictures inside” – a four page picture spread (in black and white) of the film then denied UK audiences.

Britain’s longest established screen monthly Films and Filming ran from October 1954 through till March 1990. In its original form it ceased publication with the June 1980 issue.


With a colour spread rivalling the Playboy edition featuring Story of O in December 1975, Cinema X proudly displayed The Story of O on its cover in the previous month. Originally A Cinemonde publication in colour, Cinema X appears to have been envisioned by the company as the British arm of their publishing empire, which already included a similar publication in France (Cinemonde) and in Italy (King Cinemonde). Gerald Kingsland was the magazine’s first editor. Very much born of the permissive climate of the late sixties, the first issue’s editorial stated: “So far the more adult magazines have reserved a few pages for the X cinema… blood and sex are only lightly touched on, Cinema X devotes all its time to the world’s X cinema.” 

Una-Histoire-dO-CivettaWikipedia states, “Cinema X was initially supportive of home-grown British sex films… By the mid-seventies, though, Cinema X’s love affair with the British sex film had begun to falter. The then extant policies of UK censorship meant that British films had to remain softcore while the United States and most of Europe headed into the hardcore porno chic era.” Cinema X ceased publication in the late 1970s but not before spawning its very own spin-off, Cinema Blue, in 1975, the year Jaeckin and his team completed Story of O.


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


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.”


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


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.”


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.


“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!



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

The Gothic Element in Story of O: Roissy

“books are full of summonses. Of these some are constantly heard, others once only… all our secrets lie there.” Dominique Aury: Literary Landfalls


O in the garden at Roissy, as portrayed in the 1975 film Histoire d’O.

“The unfortunate, persecuted maiden! The subject is as old
as the world…”

Mario Praz The Romantic Agony

It is said the Gothic novel was invented almost single-handedly by Horace Walpole, whose The Castle of Otranto (1764) contains essentially all the elements that constitute the genre. The Castle of Otranto has influenced the novel, the short story, poetry, and film-making, ever since. The principle element, the remote castle, has been repeated down the ages with the addition of secret passages, abandoned wings, trap doors, secret rooms,Corridors and trick panels. Such a powerful motif of unease and abandonment has also in modern times, found its expression as the old dark house and its opposite, the modern home haunted by the past.


The ancient walls of de Sade’s La Coste

Dominique Aury writing as ‘Pauline Réage’ drew upon her huge store of knowledge and reading (she was familiar with the English Gothic novels) as well as from her repository of personal fantasies, in the formulation of her Histoire d’O. The castles of de Sade faultlessly become the novel’s private house of clandestine assignations to which ‘O’ is taken by her lover Rene, amid a secluded avenue of dwellings in “Roissy”.

C390N74 (2)

Did Aury imagine the chateau at Roissy-en-France or Roissy-en-Brie, both on the outskirts of Paris?


The discreet mansions of the Faubourg Saint-German

Roissy is described variously as a house or small private home (depending on which internet version of the novel you are reading), or as a hôtel (mansion – if you are reading the original text), in the style of those found about the Faubourg Saint-Germain in Paris.


Roissy as imagined by photographer Doris Kloster

By the following page the mansion is described as a château, presumably of some size. A ‘red wing’ is mentioned, marble floors lead to antechambers, drawing rooms, corridors, and the library, – long windows look out onto gardens – there are subterranean vaults. Little wonder many writers refer to the O château as simply a castle. In a trice we are in our very own Château de Lacoste. Our imaginations conjure a well furnished Castle of Otranto, Udoltho, or the Chateau d’O which Guido Crepax re-imagines, taken from its green Normandy riverside and perched upon a rocky cliff, Gothic and forbidding as approached by O and Rene.


The romantic Chateau d’O in Normandy, France, the inspiration for the Roissy of Italian comic-strip artist Guido Crepax


“she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery
and menaced by a sadistic nobleman…”


A cold draught does indeed blow all the way from Otranto and Mrs Radcliffe’s Udoltho to the corridors of Roissy. Walpole describes the,

lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters…an awful silence reigned throughout these subterranean regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the door she (Isabella) had passed and which grating on the rusty hinges were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness.”


Compare this with Reage;

Her bare feet froze on the icy tiles, she realized that she was walking down the red wing hallway, then the ground, as cold as before, became rough, she was walking upon flagstones, sandstone, perhaps granite. Twice the valet brought her to a halt, twice she heard a key scrape in a lock and a lock click as a door closed.”


Despite O’s acquiescence (her gaolers continually seek her approval) her stay at Roissy is tantamount to imprisonment well within the tradition of the damsel in distress. She suffers painful whippings, sexual assault, and many hours chained in silence and solitude. O takes her place in a long line of women in peril.

Wikipedia explains, “Reprising her medieval role, the damsel in distress is a staple character of Gothic literature, where she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery and menaced by a sadistic nobleman, or members of the religious orders. Early examples in this genre include Matilda in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Emily in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Antonia in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk.”


Mario Praz in his authoritative The Romantic Agony has shown how essential features of the Romantic (‘Gothic’) literature were the peculiar “erotic sensibility” – a sensibility obsessed with the idea of pleasure obtained through cruelty, inflicted or received, sadistic or masochistic; and the presence of the ‘persecuted woman’, existing beside her opposite the Fatal Woman or femme fatale.


Praz identified the legacy and archetypes of the fatal man, the “Fatal Nobleman with piercing eyes and deadly ambition”, and also that oh so powerful a motif, the castle as “ruin”, one that now “implied the possibility of sinister developments – since old superstitions believed ruins haunted.”

Charles Lamb recorded, “the archetypes are in us and eternal.”

“In our sleep and in our dreams,” Dr Jung quotes Nietzsche, “we pass through the whole thought of earlier humanity. I mean, in the same way that man reasons in his dreams, he reasoned when in the waking state many thousands of years… the dream carries us back into earlier states of human culture…”

As if reiterating the sentiment Dominique Aury (“Pauline Reage”) wrote aptly,

“Who am I, finally, if not the long silent part of someone, the secret and nocturnal part… which communicates through the subterranean depths of the imaginary with dreams as old as the world itself – ?”



Old dark houses are, of course, traps.” writes Kim Newman. “The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly,” Count Dracula comments in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931).

The continuing tradition of the ‘old dark house’ inspired Kim Newman to write, ” Old dark houses squat atop Carpathian mountains or moulder deep in Louisiana swamps, sit quietly in America suburbs or fester ion British council estates. They are hard to find on the map but impossible to avoid in a storm.”

DSCN0990 (2)

Count Dracula’s Carfax Abbey as it appears (although at night) in the 1978 John Badham directed “Dracula” starring Frank Langella. In actual fact, St Michael’s Mount, a walk away from my home in Penzance, West Cornwall.

image005 (2)
“The house was like a castle with its turrets, buttresses and matriculated towers
– a landmark to sailors who would know where they were when they saw that
pile of ancient stones…” MENFREYA Victoria Holt

Picture 032
PULP FICTION: Barrymore Tebbs writes. “To heighten the sense of threat, the foreboding house often had a narrow sliver of light in a single window like a watchful eye keeping track of the desperately fleeing heroine to make certain she didn’t stray too far from the grounds of the estate. This lighted window, in fact the entire motif of the Gothic Romance cover, was the brainchild of one man, Lou Marchetti.

From the early 1950s through the late 1980s, Marchetti was a prolific cover artist in all genres for the leading paperback publishers of the era including Avon, Ballantine, Pocket Books, Dell Warner, Lancer, Popular Library and Fawcett Publishing.”


The women of Roissy from the 1975 film Histoire d’O



Screenshot (501)O嬢の物語 A JapaneseMiss O”prm1504040020-p3

KANEKO Kuniyoshi, was a Japanese painter, illustrator and photographer, perhaps best known for his paintings and drawings of women in bondage and his illustrations for a Japanese edition of Louis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. He was one of the most beloved and respected surrealist painters of Japan and sadly died of heart failure, in Tokyo, on the 16th of March 2015.

Screenshot (498)

Kaneko was born in Saitama (a region north-west of Tokyo) in 1936. He graduated in 1959 from Nihon University College of Arts where he studied under the stage designer Motohiro Nagasaka. Kaneko worked briefly for a graphic design company before going it alone as a painter. From 1964 he started drawing and finding his ‘style’ with oil paintings which drew on the inspirations of Balthus, Félix Labisse, and Western women’s fashion plates from the previous decade.

In the following year he met Ryuhio Shibusawa who was translating “Story of Ofor Japanese publication. Kaneko was charged with designing and drawing illustrations for the publication. It was a turning point for him. By way of Shibusawa’s enthusiastic introduction, Kaneko made his debut at the solo exhibition “Flower Maidens” at the Aoki Gallery in Ginza, in 1967.

[Some years previously O-translator Shibusawa produced Akutoku no sakae, a translation of de Sade’s L’Histoire de Juliette; ou, Les Prosperites du vice. The work was immediately controversial, and in 1960, he and Kyōji Ishii the publisher, were prosecuted for public obscenity. Shibusawa, although discouraged, was not deterred, and continued to write works on eroticism and to translate the works of de Sade, as well as other French authors; he also produced essays and art criticism, and became a specialist in the study of medieval demonology.]


Screenshot (504)

“Kuniyoshi Kaneko was
an extraordinary artist
whose comet-like rise
began with his début in 1967”


His women of a sophisticated decadence, perhaps from a period earlier than his own, struck a chord. He went on to illustrate a number of other novels of French literature including Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye and Madam Edwarda5103727270df5f7efac99a4b7461cb90

He also received enthusiastic support for his cover illustrations for Eureka and Fujin Koron magazines. He Admired the surrealist artist Leonor Fini, and agreed with her when she remarked that “there is a white canvas which speaks to you. You don’t have to think of what to paint.”

In 1991 Kaneko provided the artwork for Alice: An Interactive Museum click-and-go adventure game. In 1992 his work was included in Adam and Eve an exhibition at the Saitama Kenritsu Kindai Bijutsukan (Museum of Modern Art) in Saitama. In his last years he contributed cover illustrations for a Japanese edition of Shakespeare, consolidating his success in his homeland.



In addition to painting, Kaneko’s activities encompassed a broad range of genres, including woodblock printing, kimono design, and scenic art.

The latter found Kaneko assisting in 1967 with the production of a staged dance performance inspired by Story of O. It was staged by Mika Ito (1936 -1970) avant-garde dancer and leader of the Bizar Dance Group.


The first performance of “Lady O Story” was held in October 1967 in front of a 700 strong audience – with stage design by artist Kaneko Kuniyoshi, publicity design by Aki Uno, – Yotsuya Simon, doll-maker, assisted with costume design. A performance in the December of 1967 resulted in some controversy after the audience, who had queued down the street for tickets, responded in a rather ‘hands-on’ fashion during the final scene.

‘O’ dancer Mika Ito was at this time married to Bungaku Itō, one of the founders of Japan’s first gay magazine Barazoku. He recalls Mika saying,

When I came into contact with this French female writer Pauline Rèage, I trembled with quite a lot of excitement, and it seems that such writers did not actually exist anywhere in reality, according to the translators’ postscript, it is probably someone anonymous. However, I did not care about such things, I shouted with my heart “This is it!” I thought whether there was such a suitable work for what was expressed in the form of modern dance, which is art of the body. “



KANEKO Kuniyoshi talks about Story of O:


Blogging “O”:

Margaret Drabble:
“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.”

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

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 GreyFifteen 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 O6yjM1Vk


… “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.

Screenshot (26)

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.