This post continues my translation of Régine Deforges‘ interview of Pauline Réage, “O m’a dit”, started there.
The interview took place in 1975. Régine died on April 3, 2014.
RD – You said: I long had hope to rebuild my life, in a certain way. In what way?
PR – Well, to have a life like everyone else does, with a husband and children. I long dreamed of living in the country, in a big house with plenty of kids, like women always lived. Apparently, this was not for me.
RD – Why is it part of the dream of women like you, educated women, who have the luck of exercising a profession they love? I happen to dream of jam making. Anything that preserves is so important in this feminine universe.
PR – I suppose that it is ancient nostalgia, the happiness of the home, the happiness of closed dwellings. We have seen so many images. A minute apartment, in darkness, in the evening, curtains drawn, a pregnant woman, sowing in the light of a lamp, a yellow light like that of oil lamps of childhood, silence, a table set for two, the closed world of happiness. But does it last?
RD – Of course it does not last. But it is still true that those feelings of plenitude, for a woman, reach you in those quite moments, when one is busy with small tasks, sowing a button, iron a shirt, sort lentils.
PR – The safety of home, the safety in waiting, a temporary loneliness, a wait without anxiety, it’s a common dream for all women, I believe. It’s just that some women miss their destiny.
RD – But you were not misled since you chose another, different, destiny.
PR – How does one know? Do we really chose?
RD – Can one love two men at the same time?
PR – Of course.
RD – Please explain why, how?
PR – And why not? I think you can be very attached to one man and have a lover you are much in love with as well.Why not? I have known a number of men who loved profoundly both their wives and their mistresses, madly both of them.
RD – Madly, yes, but is it the same quality of love?
PR – It may not be the same kind of love, maybe, but the same quality, yes. Quality may not be the right word, rather importance. Both matter, no question of leaving one or the other. You should read a book that has just been published , “l’Histoire d’un Marriage” (Portrait of a Marriage), I believe. It’s the story of Harold Nicholson and Victoria Sackville-West. It’s one of the most beautiful marriage stories I know of. A marriage where both partners loved deeply and loved other people at the same time. They were very happy.
RD – You said that you are not jealous, you don’t know what jealousy is. But if one is jealous, can one still love several people?
PR – I think one can. I may be a pervert, it’s possible, I don’t care.
RD – I’d like to love two people. It never happened to me, and it looks rather incompatible. We look to living under someone’s eyes, the one who can all permit, since he can punish, and since he can absolve. There can’t be two pairs of eyes, two gods, two men. Once there is one, one rejects the others.
PR – Definitely not. The threesome appears to me to be worthy, liveable and viable, to the contrary.
RD – I can say you are talking like a man, men say that.
PR – But it’s true, they are right.
RD – Of course, from their point of view, they are right!
PR – I am talking about a threesome, two women and a man as much as two men and one woman.
RD – I know of some; I don’t believe in them. I mean I don’t believe there is love there. The love I understand. There might have been, there isn’t any more, or very little. There are commodities. Or else, there is love for two out of the three, and the third one is duped, and suffers. You believe in this because of your generosity.
PR – I don’t see where there is any generosity. I imagine there is something for everyone. I would have accepted either case [two men or two women]. I happened to accept one, but the other was not found: I have known only jealous men, so…
RD – How did their jealousy manifest itself?
PR – By forbidding: “You have looked at that guy again. What on earth do you find in him?”
RD – When you said earlier that you had only met jealous men, you also added “as if I meant to.” Precisely, didn’t you mean to?
PR – To be locked up, like O? While shouting I wanted to be free. It may well be, but I did not know then.
RD – How important is beauty for a woman?
PR – Oh! It is a great strength. Beautiful women are very lucky. Often they don’t always know how much. I once knew a girl who took my place in the heart of a boy I loved, and who was, at the time, an extraordinary beauty, a beauty that left me speechless, amazed: there is an echo of this in Histoire d’O. It’s impossible to resist that, and he was right. She was beautiful, she knew how to dress. I wasn’t, I had just a little charm, nothing more, I was poor as Job, I dressed as I could afford, without chic, I knew, I could see it, I could do nothing about it: I had no money to do otherwise, and of course I suffered from that. And I worried her!
RD – Did this please you?
PR – Oh! yes. I thought, it serves you well for being so beautiful. I saw the same thing with a boy who was one of my friends’ lover while rather preferring boys. He was one of the most handsome men I ever met. A kind of giant, with broad shoulders and narrow hips, a beautiful regular face, big grey eyes, black slightly wavy hair, a splendour, a marvel! He was humiliated, constantly, because people found him beautiful. “And then, I have some talent.” He had talent indeed, but was all the time humiliated by his beauty. And that girl had all she wanted, but was not interested. She was so used to it. It’s the story of Marilyn Monroe, who never felt safe despite her extraordinary beauty.
RD – I did not find Marilyn extraordinarily beautiful, but rather extraordinarily moving.
PR – It’s even better.
RD – It’s even better, but it is someone one always feels like protecting or hitting. You said of O that she was facile, facile with a loyal heart. But why does a facile body look to you as one of the charms of a woman?
PR – Because it’s congenial. The facility everyone mocks, I find congenial. Remember what was said of Madame, the celebrated Madame of Bossuet’s oraison: “Madame demanded the heart.” Facile girls, one treats with such contempt of “good girls”, care for others, often.
RD – And what better way to prove it than give oneself. But one can give oneself for many other reasons. To get rid of an annoying man, for example, to whom one has no longer anything to say.
PR – I would not have thought of that reason, as it seems to me rather encouraging.
RD – It depends. There is a way of saying, or to let understand: “Listen, if you really insist, let’s do it, show me what you can do, and then let’s forget it,” which is most discouraging and even insulting for a man, it seems. Often, they don’t do it, precisely, and one doesn’t see them again. Or they try to do it, fail pitifully, and disappear even faster.
PR – Ah! I wouldn’t have thought of that.
RD – Does impossibility strengthen feeling? Is it true for you that not being able to join someone, to touch him, for reasons of etiquette, or others, strengthens your feelings?
PR – Not for me, no. I’ve had small affairs, falling in love with a boy who appeared to be in love with me, but refused to do anything because “it wasn’t done”. That “it wasn’t done” seemed to me… He may have been right, but after all, if he hadn’t put up this obstacle himself, I wouldn’t have made things complicated. So, after fifteen days, once I understood it was hopeless, I gave up, and that was it. In that case impossibility did not strengthen feeling.
RD – If it’s impossible you give up.
PR – One does not force someone. A fist axiom is not to force anyone, and a second is not to besiege anyone.
RD – But there were passions when a man besieged a woman who eventually surrendered.
PR – He was well disappointed.
RD – He was well disappointed, he is angry with her, like Baudelaire when he wrote to the Présidente: “How come you surrendered, I don’t want to see you anymore.” Does that happen often?
PR – It happens. If you want another quote: “To be fulfilled is bitterer than being disappointed.”
RD – But why?
PR – I don’t know. Men are strange. I had a strange adventure. I was very young, was always in a difficult situation, and I was trying to earn some money by giving French lessons to foreigners. I met an American, who happened to be a very rich American, a young man, but older than me. He presented well, intelligent. In total innocence I was giving him lessons, and then, one day he wanted to invite me to dinner. I accepted. Another time he wanted me to go out with him one evening. I declined, saying I could not. He asked me again, and again I accepted. I was vaguely aware that it was some way of courting me, and then, to conform with my own moral code, not to let people start, I explained that I was not free, that I loved someone! We had dinner, then I left. I was due to give him another lesson the day after, I went to the hotel where we met, rue des Saints Pères. I found a letter. He’d packed and gone, and had written a letter, a true declaration letter, saying: “Never do that again, never tell anyone what you told me.” I fell off my pedestal.
RD – What advice would you give girls to conduct themselves well in life?
PR – Oh! I don’t know. There is no morality in this domain. One can find maxims, that one may try and practise. I like this phrase of Luther: “Pecca fortiter”, sin with courage. It’s courage that matter, not sinning. Or that English saying: “Never explain never complain”. In Histoire d’O nobody ever complains. “All is fair in love and war” says another adage – which I find disputable, is everything permissible in war and love? And what are we to think of this axiom of French law: “In marriage cheat who can”? It’s the manoeuvres that are painful, for both men and women. Morality has nothing to do with it.
RD – You refused to play that game?
PR – I would have liked not to play it, I played badly. I also had to manoeuvre, I am not proud of it.
RD – Did you lack coquetry toward men?
PR – Oh not at all!
RD – Yet it is coquetry to…
PR – Yes, but one shouldn’t lead people up the garden path, this is it. I used coquetry when I had intentions.
RD – So you are, as one used to say, an honest man.
PR – Maybe, but I was wrong.
RD – One expects duplicity from women.
PR – Yes, I know.
RD – If they don’t conform to the idea one has of them, men are lost, they no longer know who they have to deal with. And you liked seeing them lost? Or rather, you kept being yourself, which was more satisfying?
PR – One cannot do that to anyone! [being deceitful]
RD – Even if it is what is desired?
PR – I do not understand how one can desire being duped.
RD – But you know that it is what it is.
PR – Yes, I know very well. And God knows that most intelligent men are not exempt from that sort of weakness.
RD – It looks that way.
PR – To what extent they accept to be duped by these little women, when everyone sees how crude it is. But I think also they see it too, and maybe even are amused by it.
RD – Don’t you think there is something rather erotic in the “little woman”?
PR – Of course. Firstly because the man feels he dominates her more. Because, socially, he feels above her. Ancillary love has its price.
RD – I think there are also masochist men. Those who let themselves duped, trodden on, as they enjoy their humiliation. Its’ fairly frequent. I wonder also if some women, who have understood their power, stay deliberately “little women”.
PR – Then, those are very clever.
RD – Why would they not, they are absolutely right.
PR – Of course, but all that treachery is discouraging.
RD – I agree, but I did not always have scruples. Sometime, but not always. I have often been a dishonest man.
PR – But you are an honest woman.