The Story of the Story of O

by Carmela Ciuraru

The Story of O shocked readers worldwide with its sadomasochistic love affair written in a style “too direct, too cool, to be that of a woman.” Carmela Ciuraru examines the life of O‘s author.

Ciuraru-575.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by Vectorportal

Not many authors can boast of having written a best-selling pornographic novel, much less one regarded as an erotica classic—but Pauline Réage could. Make that Dominique Aury. No: Anne Desclos.

All three were the same woman, but for years the real name behind the incendiary work was among the best-kept secrets in the literary world. Forty years after the publication of the French novel Histoire d’O, the full truth was finally made public. Even then, some still considered it the most shocking book ever written. When the book came out, its purported author was “Pauline Réage,” widely believed to be a pseudonym. Although shocking for its graphic depictions of sadomasochism, the novel was admired for its reticent, even austere literary style. It went on to achieve worldwide success, selling millions of copies, and has never been out of print. This was no cheap potboiler. There was nothing clumsy, sloppy, or crude about it. Histoire d’O was awarded the distinguished Prix des Deux Magots, was adapted for film, and was translated into more than twenty languages.

Desclos (or, rather, Aury, as she became known in her early thirties) was obsessed with her married lover, Jean Paulhan. She wrote the book to entice him, claim him, and keep him—and she wrote it exclusively for him. It was the ultimate love letter.

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