I wrote the story of O | Books | The Observer
The Story of O tells the story of a woman who gives herself up to every form of torture and finds mystical bliss in her enslavement. O is all orifices, offered to an endless stream of lovers: her lover Rene, the master Sir Stephen to whom Rene delivers her, and all those to whom she is presented, both proud and docile, ready to be mounted.
Prostrate and ecstatic, O has much in common with the sacred prostitute, the recluse, and the cloistered nun.
The author draws freely on religious imagery, and the Way of the Cross she describes marks O as a martyr to love. Identifying herself with the,”receptacle of impurity, the sewer spoken in Scripture,” she deems herself: “abandoned by God in the dark night,” and like Saint Teresa of Avila, “dies of not dying.”
What distinguishes the Story of O from the stories of the Marquis de Sade and Sacher-Masoch is that Love — not pleasure — is the Driving Force. While her master Sir Stephen tells the heroine, “You will obey me without loving me, and without me loving you,” she nevertheless loves her tormentor.
But then The Story of O is also a story about men. For O, her lover is a god, but Sir Stephen is placed on a similar pedestal by Rene. It is in fact Stephen’s mark that Rene seeks in O’s flesh:
“Under the outward appearance of the body they had shared,
they were seeking something more mysterious, and maybe more
cutting, than an amorous communion.”
The Story of O was published in 1954 under the pseudonym Pauline Reage, with an introduction by Jean Paulhan. In his introduction, Paulhan had insisted on the author’s “pure and violent spirit” and on the “pitiless propriety” of the work, which he defined as, “the most savage love letter a man has ever received.” Clearly, the introduction has made it quite obvious: Paulhan was the man for whose eyes this text was dedicated to and written.
The author of The Story of O kept her identity a secret for many years, and many even doubted whether the author was a woman at all. She did not reveal her identity until 1994. Her name was Dominique Aury, a translator and literary critic, who worked closely with Paulhan, with whom she had a romantic affair at the time of O’s publication.
She did indeed write The Story of O as a love letter. She did it to safeguard her relationship with Paulhan, who was at the time, married:
“I wrote it alone, for him, to interest him, to please him, to occupy him. I wasn’t young, nor particularly pretty. I needed something which might interest a man like him.”
Why did she remain silent for forty years? According to this article, she waited until her mother passed away, for time to go by until the sense of scandal coupled with the novel faded with the years.
As a character study, the novel seems to make it obvious that O wants to reach the end of herself, to the attain the Absolute that life refuses her. After all, what better can you do than use your body to prove to the man that you love that you belong to him, and therefore you no longer belong to yourself?
O’s Story exemplifies a powerful relationship in which the tormentor, is not, in the end, the master after all. Was O not also using Stephen and Rene to achieve the fulfillment of her dreams, in other words, her destruction and liberation from her self, her death?
Furthermore, according to Dominique Aury herself, who had studied the Marquis de Sade’s works: “Breaking accepted boundaries is a part of mutual fascination, and you sometimes have to lose yourself to find yourself again. Yielding yourself up in total trust, enables you to find new truths about yourself.”
I personally believe that the alchemy of Love can indeed transform pain into pleasure, and apparent enslavement into complete liberation.
This is why The Story of O speaks to me. Not just as a woman, but as a person.
The Story of O is not your ordinary naughty literary smut. The character of O had a presentiment of the kind of liberation she was making possible: that the complexity of the sexual power struggle between the genders which may be the source of alienation is also that of total freedom.
This novel gives women that voice. For many centuries women are silenced, out of prudence, out of a sense of propriety. It still continues to this day. But the novel is proof that women have in their minds a universe of Love, not necessarily the same as of O’s universe; but it is a universe all the same.
O for open.
O for all orifices.
O for offered.
O for all orifices, offered to an endless stream of lovers.
O for oblivious to self.
O for open to every thing.
O is our safeword.