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The Story of O: An Iconic Novel

The Story of O is an erotic novel published in 1954 by French author Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage, and is a milestone of modern SM literature and is a truly iconic part of this lifestyle.

The novel tells the story of a young Parisian fashion photographer referred to only as “O” and her introduction to the world of sado-masochism at the hands of her lover Rene, the enigmatic “Sir Stephen, and other members of a clandestine society dedicated to the pleasures of sado-masochism. The story starts with O being taken by Rene to a chateau on the edge of Paris called “Roissy,” where she is systematically subjugated and moulded into a willing slave through sexual assaults, regular whippings, and long hours in solitude.

When The story of O was first published, it naturally caused intense controversy during the sexually uptight 1950’s. The daring exploration of dark themes of sexuality quickly became the talk of the French salons and cafes and there was fevered speculation as to the true identity of its author.

The following year the novel established its literary credentials by winning the Prix des Deux Magots, a literary prize generally awarded to new and unconventional books. Despite continuing public outrage and a police investigation involving the interrogation of the publisher, Jean-Jacques Pauvert, the book continued to be published — and the identity of Pauline Reage remained a well-kept secret.

Desclos did not reveal herself as the author for forty years after the initial publication. Desclos claims she wrote the novel as a series of love letters to her lover, Jean Paulhan, as a way of keeping his interest alive after an affair lasting almost two decades. Paulhan, a well-respected respected literary figure in France, loved it and suggested immediate publication.

The book was first published in a limited edition of 600 copies, and some of those copies carried a small lithograph on the title page by Austrian artist Hans Bellmer, and are quite valuable today.

In the 50 years since it hit the literary world, the Story of O has sold millions of copies and has never been out of print. Some regard its descriptions of sado-masochism as subtle, enigmatic and incredibly erotic while others find the writing clumsy, the characters wooden, and the plot weak. Whatever its value as a work of literary art, the impact of this book is still felt today.

The Story of O has aquired an iconic status amongst those with an interest in BDSM and remains an almost required reading.

There are a thousands of books out there that have been inspired by The Story of O. I would love to know what books you’ve read, and what you think about them. Let me know in the comments.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Stefan
    April 7, 2017 at 9:14 am

    “The Image” comes a little close to Story of O (or in French “L’Image”). It is a classic 1956 sadomasochistic erotic novel, written by Catherine Robbe-Grillet and published under the pseudonym of Jean de Berg. Her husband Alaine Robbe-Grillet was the novelist and filmmaker responsible for many lovely kinky moments on paper and on the screen. (See http://www.storyofo.info). The Image was made into a 1973 film, “The Image”.

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