This is the continuation of my translation of Régine Desforges’ interview of Pauline Réage, author of Histoire d’O, in 1975.
RD – There is one thing I would like you to tell me about since I don’t understand it well, I who dreams only of bright things open to the world, even if that world were to collapse as a result. (Oh! I am not always satisfied on that account.) But tell me about secrecy, which one meets at every step in your life.
PR – It’s a somewhat childish reaction, like the kids who are happy to have, in the woods, or at the bottom of the garden, a place noone knows they go to and where they meet. It’s the story, romanticism is full of those, it’s The story of the Thirteen [l’Histoire des Treize] in Balzac. The story of the secret society applies to all. In childhood for the comradeship, the friendships; when one is adult, for love stories, illegitimate love; during the war, for actions of resistance. I mean the fact of having agreed meeting places, that are only known to you. Then the sign of identification is almost pleasurable. Not in a love affair of course. But everything that touches secrecy can be fascinating.
RD – Because it’s different from daily life?
PR – Because it’s a way to be apart from the rest of the world, a way to have, besides everybody’s world, a world to oneself.
RD – But one which is shared with someone, necessarily?
PR – Ah, of course. If it is not shared there is no interest.
RD – You were talking about secrecy in loving. Sometime one has no choice, but more often it’s something very hard to bear.
PR – It is certainly hard to bear. But there is a bitter sweetness almost intoxicating in seeing the man one loves in a crowd at a party, and he dares not look at you, nor you at him. And you tell yourself: a moment ago he was holding me in his arms, and only him knows, and only I know.
RD – Yes, but sometime, other times, one desires to shout it out to everyone. Why has one to pay so much for being in love?
PR – Because anything precious always has a high price, whatever happens. One pays that price always, whatever happens.
RD – Is it inevitable?
PR – I think so. What we want to hold on, we must pay for. We pay with silence, we pay with patience, with obscurity.
RD – You frighten me, as I frightened you earlier with jealousy. Silence, patience, obscurity… I don’t want that. Is patience a great virtue for you?
PR – It’s a useful virtue.
RD – You were patient when you were a little girl?
PR – I was trying to be.
RD – There are words that come back very often in what you say or write. When you are speaking the word “abandon” comes out often.
PR – That’s for me it is an ideal, the absolute trust to what we love, the total embracing of one’s fate, the acceptance, if you prefer, of both oneself and of the others.
RD – But this is so contrary to the aspirations of this epoch. If you were to say that you are oldfashioned, I would find this quite right.
PR – I don’t even know if I am oldfashioned. I am not in my conduct in any case. I am someone who earns her living and has done so for a very long time, I face my responsibilities, like a man therefore. Besides, the number of women who have been like this since for ever, one forgets. There were many in 1900, in 1800, in 1700, there always were, who lived through their work, all the shopkeepers, the peasants, the factory workers, the maids, all the women of the working class, to summise, that is the majority of women, who were neither aristocrats nor bourgeoises, but often perfectly exploited, like the men. One did not notice, it did not look extraordinary. Have you never heard a peasant, a bricklayer, a carpenter, tell you: “Ah, you will ask the patronne”?
RD – So why are we making such a dish of work now, either for men or women?
PR – I find this is wrong. It may be a way to give people some consolation for something, in the end, unpleasant. I was lucky, I have a job that fascinates me, but to work solely to earn a living without being interested in what one does, I find this awful and exhausting.
RD – Yes, what strength is there left for living?
PR – Well there is. It’s a sort of every day’s miracle – but I find it elusive. Every day I have to force myself to get going again, I kick myself.
RD – But you find that strength since you are there.
PR – One is on board, one has to row, and how to let down one’s fellow comrades on board? One will end up drowning one day, it’s a conviction that helps much to continue.
RD – But this life brings you many things does it not?
PR – Of course, it’s fascinating.
RD – Curiosities?
PR – Yes, I am curious, I always want to know what’s happening next.
RD – Because it is in the flow of life? Why is that?
RD – Are you moved by people?
PR – Yes, I like them.
RD – But people are very fragile.
PR – I know, and it must be one of the reasons, but it’s very tough too. Enthusiastic, of an incredible resilience, intellectual, physical, moral, on all fronts. Isn’t there something fascinating and incomprehensible in this swarming of men, women and children? Mankind together is a single body, as if it were an animal, as if it were an ants colony. It is said that an ants colony is a single being, in the same way as each of us is a colony of cells. Isn’t mankind a human colony? Those chromosomes that split, divide, split again, come together, divide again, and split, must end up forming some sort of homogenous material. When it shears at one end, heals at the other. What is sheared pays for the repairs. It’s this idea that I find extraordinarily beautiful, which is like the christian myth of reversibility, where the merits of some buy back the faults of the others, and may be after all it is true, on a different plane. The famous DNA which transits from one to the other via the vertical generation chain, and horizontally through cross breeding, makes all of us of the same flesh, the same blood: “We are of the same blood, you and me!” Mowgli shouts to the panther, and why not the panther too?
RD – At the extreme, one could think that if you were hurt, I would feel the pain. Oh! I am sure I would.
PR – You should.
RD – Is it the same feeling which pushes people to do everything in groups now: travelling, “therapies”, love making? It’s an open subject now.
PR – What used to be called “partouzes” [dirty parties]? It’s a contemptuous name. I suppose that to say more elegantly “love in groups” is to take the guilt away.
RD – What do you think? There is a social aspect, that of couples who have difficulties in their sexual and affective life and who hope to resolve them in groups.
PR – They are the ones who organise themselves in US style: small ads in specialised magazines, meetings in cafés, one couple likes the other or not. If one does, there is another date, one visits each other, preferrably when the children are away on weekends or on holiday. All goes well, everybody’s happy. Then one advertises again and start anew with another couple.
RD – But for that it’s got to be people with houses, apartments, cars, a job and money etc… But there are also the younger people, the students, the hippies, those who live more or less in communities, where everyone sleeps with anyone. At the extreme the girls don’t know who is the children’s father.
PR – And why not? Although it is much more dangerous, those girls who get pregnant, they don’t know by whom, and they may get aborted since they are troubled by not knowing who.
RD – There is no acknowledgement of the possible fathers?
PR – In the case I am talking about there was no organised community. I assume one could envisage an organised community where there would be such an acknowledgement, one would know since declaring paternity is obligatory, under the law, or the women declare their children alone and those have no father, who cares?
RD – I don’t know exactly where, in one of the Scandinavian countries, they may have passed a law, if a girl had intercourse with several men when she could get pregnant, those men are obliged to pay a pension.
PR – But, my dear Régine, this has existed in England for fifty years. Also in some American states there are surprising laws in protection of women, I am not sure it’s still the same. For example, if you live for eight or fifteen days, say a month, with a man, you are considered a common-law wife, that is a wife from custom law. That woman can request a pension, which explains why, in America, men have been afraid for a long time to go and live somewhere with a woman: it’s easy to get caught. That is feminism US-style. From a time when a woman, a white woman, was sacred, had all the rights. My father told me that in the streets of New-York, that was in the 30’s, one had to be very careful not to talk to an unknown woman, as one could get arrested if she did not like it. Since he loved women, and he wished to talk to pretty girls, he was very bothered.
RD – He must have been very unhappy there.
PR – He was unhappy, but he had very well understood that if he happened to pick the wrong one, the girl could get him locked up, instantly.
RD – Instantly. While in France if you tell a cop: “This guy has been annoying me for an hour, he touches my bum, get him to stop.” He’d reply: “Wait till I finish my shift and I’ll take over.” Whereas if it’s the guy who complains about being propositioned, they take the girl away.
PR – They take her away, a very good example.
RD – The cops whistle you in the street if you’re pretty, they tell you: “Hey lovely! See you soon!”
PR – But of course.
RD – But you, if you whistle a cop in the street telling him he looks nice, what happens? Nothing if he has a sense of humour, mind you with a cop… But then in the US, with those groups that are so developed, what happens in that case with the protection laws? Are they as much at risk those gentlemen with house parties?
PR – No, since everyone is involved, the risks are shared, noone could object I guess.
RD – But isn’t this troubling you that kind of thing? It might do. But not organised like a charity meeting, a fitness lesson.
PR – I’ll tell you what I find troubling, it’s the small ads, troubling, obnoxious. But that side is another trump card. I have a friend [according to Angie David’s biography of PR, she is Janine Aeply, the wife of the painter Fautrier, and a close friend of Dominique Aury] who used to recruit men with small adds, she was bringing me the correspondance, as she could not keep it at home.
RD – But she was not recruiting in the “Chasseur Français”? [literally The French Hunter, traditional hunting and country life magazine, famous for its small matrimonial ads]
PR – In the Chasseur Français these ads are very decent, and really in view of marriage. No, I don’t know where she advertised, she told me but I forgot. But it’s frequent. She tells me that often one finds half crazy people.
RD – Half crazy! Not very encouraging: but why not? But I am afraid of madness.
PR – It’s not reassuring, but that element of danger, having to face the unknown by definition, one that never says his name nor his profession, that anonymity, total and dangerous, don’t you think that for the woman who organises the date that is something fascinating? Never to know who one is about to meet, who one has to tame, nor what one may have to defend against… One has the adventures one can find, I know, but that’s one.
RD – You’re right, it is fascinating. It’s often in anonymous encounters that one can find a variety of pleasures. For fear adds savour to the slightest erotic adventure and so much enhances desire. And so the pleasure one takes at such encounters is the greater for it. Yet one cannot ignore the danger which is real. But isn’t that danger that one seeks, as a young woman walking alone in the Paris streets at night, that desire for the male and rape, buried in our civilised unconscious minds. OK, but for those legitimate couples, is the Saturday night “partouze” still an adventure? There are in this city distinguished gentlemen who organise those “partouzes” in nice houses. Very beautiful and comfortable houses. Superb parks. The guests undress in good order. Gentlemen roll their socks in their shoes, as at the swimming pool. Ladies hang their mink coats on the clothes rack. And all this, is in the name of a certain morality, a certain idea of bourgeois society and its survival. It is befitting to arrive with the person one lives with. There is no question of bringing the girl one has picked off the street. Those are decent people; one does not drink as one must not drink too much; no loud or lascivious music, that is excluded. One makes love as a duty. They are people who are afraid of intimacy for two, that is wholly unthinkable. For it takes much more effort and many more qualities to feel good as two than as a dozen. Where is the feast? Where is the intoxication of the senses, the exulting bodies, the sacred pleasure, of all pleasures? I feel this is an ersatz of eroticism, that one f*** cheaply. It’s not my way. And do you know the big reason I often hear in favour of those meetings? That it reconciles couples in peril. It may be often true. It looks to me illusory that sexual freedom one speaks so much about.
PR – Why illusory, that is not proven. I believe there is something disturbing, perhaps revolting and perhaps intoxicating, in showing oneself in front of one we love, or have loved, making love to another. Why deprive people of that emotion? And one never can preserve oneself really; there is no possible protection. Married couples, who have decided to be faithful at all costs, nothing stops them, one day or another, one or the other, to fall in love with someone else. And one says, that’s because he or she was in jail at home, he or she must freed, if only they had kept their freedom… But for couples who live freely, all goes well once, twice, ten times, fifty times if you want, but nothing guaranties that the fiftieth time, you won’t fall – man or woman – on someone you start loving. Then everything changes, nothing is of the same nature anymore. Then all breaks down. One wants to divorce, one wants to get away, one feels in jail if one stays, if one cannot see the one one now loves, or live with him. If the husband disagrees, if he feels robbed, if he’s jealous, if he demands, let’s break up, do what you want, one has to break it all. And to break it all, and for not breaking all, in both cases, takes a serious strength of the soul. The small stories of partouzes, then, have no longer any importance, once love has intervened. It’s strange that noone realises this. Noone says so. What is dangerous is to love people, not to sleep with them – but if one sleeps with them, one takes the risk. One never knows.
RD – I must tell yo a story, which to me is examplary. Very much in your direction. The lover of a lady I know once drew her to certain erotical domains (and, as you said so well, bless him for asking her). As this gentleman is not a simple spirit, he once indulged in a somewhat bent exercise, by drawing her attention to, as it were, a specialist in eroticism, well known in Paris, great theorician of libertinage, of anti-jealousy etc… Married, evidently, to a lady who shared his views, both of them, together or separately, practising their theories as often as possible. To start with my friend was not very attracted, but there was the unknown, the challenge… Followed a kind of bizarre liaison, not unpleasant, opportunity for some interesting experiments, more or less overseen by the lover. The end of the story is that my friend and the famous libertine found themselves one night walking along the romantic alleys of the a large park, him in tears (he was no young boy then, far from it), begging her to leave France with him, both of them, alone, far away, admitting he could no longer stand her libertinage etc… The classic love story.
PR – So, you see, drama.
RD – Wait, it’s not quite the end. Some time later, my friend’s lover invites the libertine’s wife to dinner, to discuss anti-jealousy, yes! And he asks her how she’d felt when her husband wanted to leave with another woman.
PR – And then?
RD – Then, of course, there was a small drama, in the style: I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying, how can you invent such a thing. Her husband had told her nothing. To finish this off, I think my friend’s lover also had a worried moment. Isn’t all this very moral?
PR – I don’t know about moral, but satisfying to be sure.
RD – I cannot find sleeping with someone like that all that simple and easy as you seem to imply. Yet I have done it.
PR – But for many people it’s the simplest and easiest thing to do. A small drink, some music, a little tenderness, a bit of admiration, a tiny bit of friendship, a little challenge: and there you are, let’s go to bed? It happens all the time. And why, in whose name would we blame them? But note that I am talking as a blind person of colours: I have never done it. But I can perfectly imagine doing it, and having done it not worry about it. I understand very well that it is done. And now, with the pill, young girls do it all the time, why not?
RD – May be those young girls…
PR – I knew a boy who used to say: “I only need 37 degrees”. There are many people who only need 37 degrees, just the proximity. Why was it forbiddeen in the old times for two strangers to sleep in the same bed in the old inns? Evidently it ended always in the same way.
RD – But it’s not so simple. I cannot see as without danger to sleep with someone.
PR – Don’t get confused. Of course it is dangerous, it’s both easy and dangerous. Where do you see the contradiction?
RD – There is an abandonment of the self, there is something of one’s own that is given, and something taken from the other. I feel that then, at that precise instant, one touches something, I almost said, sacred. It’s another dimension, it reaches something at the deepest part of oneself. It is so amazing to make love. Why do you think the “partouze” draws more and more people? What does it mean?
PR – That’s, simply, because everyone, at one time or another, desires to sleep with someone else than his own wife or her own husband, and that it is more practical to do it without risk. I don’t think there is anything else. He can’t say anything, he’s agreed. He is not going to blame me, he’s done it too. And it’s you who took me there, I did it becauee you wanted me to, you can’t say anything. He was there, he can’t argue. It’s a way to to keep shelter, to avoid risk. While nothing is more dangerous than love, it’s a way to prevent danger, I think. One does not risk anything, one knows they are not ill, since they had to prove it. But those two things endure, that are worthy: the miracle of pleasure when it arises, and the risk still of falling in love, despite all the caution and the fences. You know the small boy with arrows, one cannot get rid of him.
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- Angie David: Dominique Aury, the Secrete Life of the Author of Story of O/ I – Pauline Réage/Story of O/Publication (honoratus2001.wordpress.com)
- Of genders and feminism #quote #women (honoratus2001.wordpress.com)