Story of O

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Story of O (Histoire d'O) ( 1975 ) Starring Corinne Clery, Udo Kier, Anthony Steel, and Jean Gaven

Story of O.jpg

Histoire d'O (English title: Story of O) is a sadomasochistic novel by French author Anne Desclos (1907-1998) under the pen name, Pauline Réage.

(Desclos only revealed her identity as the author forty years after publication and shortly before her death. Desclos said that she had written the novel as a series of love letters to her lover Jean Pualhan who admired the work of the Marquis de Sade. Desclos also wrote under the name of Dominique Aury.)

Published in 1954 in French by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, editor, it is a story of female submission about a Parisian fashion photographer who is blindfolded, chained, whipped, branded, pierced, made to wear a mask, and taught at the Chateau d' Roissy to be "constantly available" for oral, vaginal, and/or anal intercourse.

In February 1955, it won the French literature prize Prix des Deux Magots, although this did not prevent the French authorities bringing obscenity charges against the publisher. The charges were later rejected by the courts, but a publicity ban was imposed for a number of years.

The first English edition was published by Grove Press, Inc. in 1965. Eliot Fremont-Smith (of the New York Times) called its publishing "a significant event."

A sequel, was published 1969 in French, again with Jean-Jacques Pauvert, editor, Retour à Roissy (Return to Roissy, but often translated as Return to the Chateau, Continuing the Story of O), was published again by Grove Press, Inc., in 1971.

The English edition published by Grove Press, as An Evergreen Black Cat Book. Printed in the United States. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

A critical view of the novel is that it is about the ultimate sexual objectification of a woman. The heroine of the novel has the shortest possible name, consisting solely of the letter "O". Although this is in fact a shortening of the name Odile, it could also stand for "object" or "orifice", since an O is a symbolic representation of any "hole".

It is assumed that a real-life O and inspiration in the entourage of Pauline Réage was French novelist Janine Aeply, the wife of French painter Jean Fautrier, and one of the friends of Dominique Aury.

The book has been the source of various terms that are used in the BDSM subculture such as "Samois", the name of the estate belonging to the character Anne-Marie, who brands O.

Gallery of stills from the movie

Hidden identities

Anne Declos

The author used a pen name, then later used another pen name, before finally, just before her death, revealing her true identity. Her lover, Jean Paulhan, wrote the preface as if the author were unknown to him.

According to Geraldine Bedell, "Pauline Réage, the author, was a pseudonym, and many people thought that the book could only have been written by a man. The writer's true identity was not revealed until ten years ago, when, in an interview with John de St. Jorre, a British journalist and sometime foreign correspondent of The Observer, an impeccably dressed 86-year-old intellectual called Dominique Aury acknowledged that the fantasies of castles, masks and debauchery were hers." According to several other sources, however, Dominique Aury was itself a pseudonym of Anne Desclos, born ((star}} 23 September 1907 in Rochefort-sur-Mer, France, and deceased 26 April 1998 (at age 90) in Paris.

The Grove Press edition (U.S., 1965) was translated by editor Richard Seaver (who had lived in France for many years) under the pseudonym Sabine d'Estrée.

Jean Paulhan

Jean Paulhan, the author's lover and the person to whom she wrote Story of O in the form of love letters, wrote the preface, "Happiness in Slavery". Paulhan admired the Marquis de Sade's work and told Desclos that a woman could not write like Sade. Desclos took this as a challenge and wrote the book. Paulhan was so impressed that he sent it to a publisher. In the preface, he goes out of his way to appear as if he does not know who wrote it. In one part he says, "But from the beginning to end, the story of O is managed rather like some brilliant feat. It reminds you more of a speech than of a mere effusion; of a letter rather than a secret diary. But to whom is the letter addressed? Whom is the speech trying to convince? Whom can we ask? I don't even know who you are. That you are a woman I have little doubt." Paulhan also explains his own belief that the themes in the book depict the true nature of women. At times, the preface (when read with the knowledge of the relationship between Paulhan and the author), seems to be a continuation of the conversation between them.

In an interview Paulhan explained that O, in a religious-like obsession, was seeking the loss of the responsibility on her body and mind much like many religious women losing themselves in the mercy of God. In both cases it is the joy of destruction. Paulhan was also quoted: "To be killed by someone you love strikes me as the epitome of ecstasy".

Discussing the ending, Paulhan states, "I too was surprised by the end. And nothing you can say will convince me that it is the real end. That in reality (so to speak) your heroine convinces Sir Stephen to consent to her death."

One critic has seen Paulhan's essay as consistent with other themes in his work, including his interest in erotica, his "mystification" of love and sexual relationships, and a view of women that is arguably sexist.

Legacy of Story of O

  • Emmanuelle Arsan claimed the Story of O inspired her to write her own erotic novel Emmanuelle (1967).
  • A sequel to Story of O, Retour à Roissy (Return to Roissy, but often translated as Return to the Chateau, Continuing the Story of O), was published in 1969 in French, again with Jean-Jacques Pauvert, éditeur. It was published again in English by Grove Press, Inc., in 1971. It is not known whether this work is by the same author as the original.
  • The town Samois-sur-Seine is mentioned in Story of O as the location of the fictional mansion managed by Anne-Marie, a lesbian dominatrix. In 1978, the name Samois was adopted by a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization based in San Francisco that existed from 1978 to 1983. It was the first lesbian BDSM group in the United States.
  • In 2007, the National Leather Association International inaugurated awards for excellence in SM/fetish/leather writing. The categories include the Pauline Reage (a pen name of Anne Desclos, author of Story of O) award for fiction novel.
  • In 2020, Anne Desclos (author of Story of O) was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.
  • The Ring of O is a specially designed ring which has been worn as a distinctive mark among BDSM practitioners, mainly in continental Europe — and especially the German-speaking countries — since the 1990s. Its use is relatively widespread within this subculture. Its name derives from the name of the central female character in Story of O, who was a sex slave and wore an analogous ring. The ring mentioned in the original novel was quite different from what is most commonly known as the "Ring of O" today. The novel describes the ring as shaped similarly to a signet ring (with a seal disk on top which was relatively large for a woman's ring), made out of dull-gray polished iron, lined with gold on the inside, and with a golden Triskelion on its top area. The ring's symbolic meaning in the novel also differs quite a bit from the one commonly used among BDSM practitioners today. In the book, such a ring is worn by a female "slave" after she has finished her training at Roissy. Those wearing the ring are obliged to be obedient to any man who belongs to the secret society of Roissy (whose emblem is the triskelion), and must allow him to do absolutely everything with them that he pleases. This stands in strong contrast to the ring's meaning today. People indicate by wearing such rings that they are interested in BDSM, and sometimes by the hand they wear it on whether they are a Top or a Bottom; usually left for Bottom, right for Top.


For a very long time, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot had dreamed to adapt the novel. Finally, a film, The Story of O, was made in 1975 by director Just Jaeckin, starring Corinne Clery and Udo Kier. The film met with far less acclaim than the book. It was banned in the United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Censors until February, 2000.

  • When this film was released in the US, about twenty members of BackDrop traveled to Berkeley where it was being shown.

See also Hayward

  • In 1975 it was adapted for comics by the Italian artist Guido Crepax.
  • In 1979, Danish director Lars von Trier made a short movie which is a homage] to Story of O and Dominique Aury, entitled Menthe - la bienheureuse.
  • A Brazilian miniseries in ten episodes with Claudia Cepeda was made in 1992 by director Eric Rochat, who was the producer of the original 1975 movie.
  • Finally, in 2002, Phil Leirness directed a modern-day, English-language remake of the Story of O, which he co-wrote.

See also [[Ring of O]]

A Personal Note from Robin

I have this book stored on disk -- If you would like a copy of it, send me an email request

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