O m’a dit ~ Avant Propos
This translation of “O m’a dit” is my own. I acknowledge all copyrights: editions Jean-Jacques Pauvert (1975 and 1995), Régine Deforges, Gallimard, estate of Ms Aury. An American-English translation of “O m’a dit” was published in the 80’s by Viking Press.
Régine Deforges interviews Pauline Réage in 1975, twenty one years after Histoire d’O was published (1954). Régine is then forty, and in 1968 has founded her own publishing house, “L’Or du Temps”, and its first erotic novel, Irène, was banned by the censors. Pauline is sixty-eight, but her true identity as the author of O has not yet be revealed (it will be in 1994, as the following text mentions).
For the new edition of O m’a dit, in March 1995, Régine wrote this introduction. Pauline will die three years later.
“I have with the author of Histoire d’O a relationship of infinite tenderness, made of profound affection and respect, and I know she has for me the softest of friendships.
She is now an old lady [in 1995 Pauline is eighty-eight] but I cannot see her as such. I see her rather as a lost child, as I am, in the world of adults; always capable of saying things that surprise them or shock them. This submissive is a free and loyal being. Even though I am not so sure that loyalty be such a great quality. One uses it when one needs it, as one can conclude by merely looking at our politicians… The loyalty, which one believes to owe to others, is a trap in which someone as free as Dominique Aury [Pauline’s “official” literary name] may sometime be caught. But I love her the more for it. Don’t we love the very weaknesses of those we cherish?
Why Dominique Aury instead of Pauline Réage? She herself lifted the veil over the identity of the author of Histoire d’O in a long interview with the New Yorker, in July 1994 [Pauline’s/Dominique’s real name was Anne Desclos but she was known in her profession as journalist and literary editor only as Dominique Aury]. There she “admits” being the author of the most erotic and troubling novel of the 50’s, which only knows a worldwide success twenty years later.
Cinema has not done justice to the book, the great film of O and her love is yet to be realised. Perhaps it is too late? Histoire d’O talked to us, as a disciple of Fénelon and of Madame Guyon (classical mystics of the 17th-18th century), of “abandonment in the hands of the Loved one”. This quietism is no longer of our time.
To please me, Dominique Aury agreed we composed O m’a dit. I owe to this proof of friendship to have overcome my fear of writing; she forced me to develop some of my questions or digressions. I obeyed her and this work appeased my anxiety. One or two years later I published my first novel Blanche et Lucie [Blanche et Lucie is the history of Régine’s two grand-mothers]. For this I am for ever indebted to her. The following year it was Le Cahier Volé [the Stolen Notebook], in which I tried to describe what would hinder my writing for more than twenty years. Of that fear I am not completely cured.
For a while Dominique and I thought of adding a chapter to O m’a dit. “But my child, I have told everything and I am so tired”. I did not insist. This book expresses the essential on the manner (the writing of) Histoire d’O was undertaken. Perhaps today I would be more combative, more incisive, more brutal? But already then, I wanted to protect her, and, I admit, she intimidated me still a little. I was amazed to know her so well, she the author of a book that had so much taken hold of me, that I had read so many times with the same emotion, the same deep effect on me. This was childish on my part.
Now, when we evoke Histoire d’O and O m’a dit, we feel that a long time has gone by, that women and men, overfed by television and films with forcefully realistic images, can no longer be moved by O. I did a survey of twenty and thirty year-old women [Régine writes “girls” and “young women”] who have read O. All have recognised, even when they disagree with the tortures O accept, that they felt like making love when they discovered the story. Thus the words still have the greatest strength of evocation. As for the men, something like nostalgia of a time that preceded feminism seems to float on their eyes. But they are wrong, one can be a feminist and take pleasure, like O, in being a sex object. For who decided to be that object, if not her?
O m’a dit is a sincere book, where neither Pauline nor I have cheated. It still looks like us.”