#WritersWednesday: O m’a dit/5

O m’a dit/4

Jesse Draxler -  From the ‘Imagina-Cells’ series, 2013RD – Why is it, in your view, that there is no other woman writing erotic books?

PR – There was none, I believe, twenty years ago, there are many now: Violette Leduc, Jeannine Aeply, Emmanuelle Arsan, Xavière – one out of two sign with her own name, the others with pseudonyms.

RD – Now, yes, as you said, but before?

PR – I don’t know at all. There were women in love poetry: Louise Labé, Mraceline Desborde-Valmore. There was the Écrits de Laure, who was George Bataille friend, but at the time – 1930 – the circulation was only among a small group. Of a specifically erotic novel written by a woman before contemporary time I know none.

RD – But how was it that you could write this story, besides the fact that it was a gift to the man you loved. How were you tempted to write it?

PR – I did have the temptation. But not before I met someone who wished to desired to read it. I would never have written the story without that need to write a letter. It [Histoire d’O] is a letter.

RD – So we can conclude that if you had not met the person you meant to write the letter for, Histoire d’O would never have see n the light of day?

PR – Exactly.

RD – So your readers are just lucky you met that man. Otherwise we would still be saying: “Women don’t write eroticism.” Finally Histoire d’O was written to seduce a man? It’s all there is.

PR – Yes, to seduce him.

RD – But why seduce him, he was already your lover?

PR – Because one is always afraid that it won’t last! And one always looks as a way to make it continue. Like Scheherazade.

RD – It could be read as a challenge. And in the case of Histoire d’O many people want it to be real. They confuse everything. “You could never have dreamed that story.” It makes one wonder if they have ever dreamed, to deny the other the right to fantasize that way. It can’t be, it bothers them.

PR – That’s what Mauriac called “Memoires d’une Belle” [A prostitute’s memories] without realising it was  phantasms.

RD – Yes, and in this domain of eroticism they are all so convinced. They want it to be you.

PR – Still in the most fantastic books there are plenty of small things that are true, that make the whole feel real, as you can only express a truth, when you want to express it, if the detail of what you are saying is true. The whole may be false, but the detail must be true. The rule, for example, of the early science fiction, in Wells’s extraordinary stories for example, or Swift, was the absolute veracity of the detail, which convinces the reader and gives the impossible the illusion of reality.

RD – That makes the success of the S.A.S. [I just don’t know what RD means here]

PR – And afterwards there is a multiplier.

RD – Then one can dream.

PR – You have set an “exponent” [again not sure of what they mean exactly, perhaps that once the reader has adopted the illusion thus created, more fantasies are possible]

RD – You are aware that this book, which for me is a master piece, is viewed by others as filthy, and they say so.

PR – I know, I have experienced it, as when one did not know it was mine, and people spoke freely in front of me, so I am used to be told, indirectly, you have written a revolting story, this is filthy, this is vile, you have dishonoured women, yourself, it’s badly written, badly composed, not thought through, everything. I even received a letter from a woman who cursed the body who held me as an unborn, biblical insult if there was one. I am ok with it, people have the right to judge as they see fit. I will not say: withdraw their word, it’s too unpleasant. You slut, just to make money… But it’s not true, it wasn’t to make money. I did not expect that. It took time, by the way.

RD – It was on top, a bonus. But why filthy? What did you disrupt, but did you touch exactly?

PR – I think now that I insulted women’s modesty and men’s honour, innocently, if I may say so, without trying to or even being aware of it, which is aggravating.

RD – Were you aware of what was happening, this rise in celebrity year on year, almost month on month, for more that twenty years, this general sensibility that you were ahead of and was now catching up with you? Today it is so obvious, one cannot deny you wrote the Liaisons Dangereuses or the Portuguese Letters of our time, as Jean Paulhan wrote [in the preface to H d’O.] What effect does this have on an author? And moreover an author whose real name or face the public does not know?

PR – But it’s not me the celebrity. It’s an image, a tale that has grown, little by little, I don’t know how nor why. Is it even mine? O is the symbol of pure love, love that remains pure through debauchery. That absolute love, we all search for it, and that search was caught one instant into a book written by chance, that’s all. It was a strange adventure. That book written by chance brought me deep friendships, insults, mocking, knowing smiles, sarcasms. Why did I do it? Let’s say it was a way to express childhood and adolescent phantasms  that lasted long years, repeated “time and again” [in English in the text] as one says, it is certain. Why describe them at that time? Things that are so essential, so profound, one needs, I believe, to express them sometime, and the circumstances were right for me.

RD – But why then? Why have you waited so long? [PR wrote H d’O. when she was forty five or six]

PR – Maybe because I had plenty of other things to do before, like living, and because I had found the instrument, after learning the business of writing a little [Pauline had written her own poetry anthology, as well as contributed to several other books, as well as articles and columns in various magazines]. You will tell me one is born with it or not, it’s not certain. It is sometime an unused instrument. One has to use it to know one can do it, and then one knows one can do more. And “more” means expressing the phantasms.

RD – But it’s a man who triggers the exposure of the phantasms?

PR – It’s a love that could have been another love, but it’s a love, of course. But one needs an accomplice for this kind of writing, as one needs an accomplice for this kind of action, inasmuch as someone would want to act, I mean in her/his life, would want to live this kind of story. A woman could not play this game without a male accomplice, and an accomplice who loves her, as nothing of the sort can be trusted to anyone other than the man she loves.

RD – Agreed. But in publishing the book, you two have chosen to make those phantasms public and make the other accept that complicity. There, for once, you came out of your clandestine life, even if you stayed there.

PR – Yes, but it was not me who thought of it. It’s not me who asked [to publish], I had not imagined for one second that it could be published.

RD – But you did not say no either.

PR – Of course not, why should I have refused? Because it was dangerous?

RD – You said you did it because you had an accomplice, the fact of making it public may lead to conclude…

PR – That I had numerous accomplices? A desire for communication, universal communication?

RD – A desire perhaps to let your phantasms and your unrest be shared with other men.

PR – Ah, no, no, that’s not what I sought; it was not a mean of seduction to just anyone. It was a mean of seduction for a specific man, yes.

RD – But publishing was a mean of seduction of that man too?

PR – Publishing was what he wanted, it did not matter to me.

RD – But it was not one more seduction?

PR – No, when one gives something, it’s given, one does not try to claw it back in bits. It’s very simple for me. I don’t undertsand why people ask this question. I have replied to that.

RD – Yes, in Une Fille Amoureuse [the introduction to Retour à Roissy]. But isn’t there a deeper reason?

PR – If there is I don’t know it, it may exist, but I don’t know it. I can’t determine that myself. It was a dangerous thing to do [to write such a book when she did] and I have always had a taste for danger, that is true. But it was the kind of danger I did not like, precisely. The physical danger I liked, but the social danger much less so; a danger that put at risk the family equilibrium was not attractive at all to me.

RD – But was it not a dangerous step regarding your love itself?

PR – Absolutely not. The dangerous step was at the beginning, when I wondered whether this text, as I was showing him [PR was taking to JP when she saw him what she had written since their last meeting] was not going to compromise the idea that he had of me, or the love he had for me. And no, I realised quickly it did not compromise anything, to the contrary. Thus that risk was promptly set aside. But if I took it, I was shaking when I did, as I did not want to take it [the risk to lose JP by showing him her manuscript] but I did because I could not not take it.

RD – And why could you not avoid it?

PR – If I wrote the story, I had to show him. Writing it and not showing it made no sense.

RD – But showing him was a risk?

PR – Yes of course.

RD – And that risk also meant you desired to do it.

PR – Without a doubt. But a risk, when one is in love, one takes everyday. One takes a risk with a new hairdo, when we say we want to travel, when we meet someone  we find horrible, or admirable, and we talk about him. One takes a risk all the time. To love someone is to live in danger and insecurity.

RD – But him, when her read this book which was a demonstration of physical love and of the noblest love, was he not tempted to put you to the test?

PR – But how, put me to the test?

RD – See how far you were able to go with your phantasms, those things you expressed to him, for at the same time you were inviting him. You seemed to say: this is what I expect from you.

PR – Of course. But no, he probably dared not, and besides, sharing as in the story was abhorrent to him. Thus, from that angle, what I might have desired, I precisely did not risk [sharing herself with other men] and what I did risk, of the order of physical violence, I did not accept, so it was a complete deadlock, since of the two phantasms one was unacceptable to the man I had met, and the other I could not bear.

RD – So?

PR – It was a deadlock, it stayed at the stage of phantasm, idea.

RD – Did it bother you?

PR – No, not at all. I had been used to this for a very long time after all. In my head it was not new.

RD – For me, these things in my head, very often I need to verify, even in this domain, even at the cost of disappointment. The challenge, the test, the risk, yes. But what marvel to be tested by the one we love, when we answer the challenge, and when the risk disappears only to be replaced by a higher risk, when the limits are pushed back… In truth, we are so similar and yet so different; I am fascinated by this. I am wondering if you would have gone much further than me [in the exploration of the phantasms]  if it had been given to you. If at every step you had been asked for another one? Until death, like O?

PR – Is not this the supreme temptation?

RD – I understand and I don’t. For me pleasure leads only to life, to more pleasure. Yet I also feel what you feel. But the more modest temptations you have always avoided?

PR – Since my first try with the unlucky Inca pottery collector, yes, I have eschewed them. I had to recognise that I had no gift for prostitution.

RD – Yet you think of it rather in good terms?

PR – I do, but I would have had to get on with it seriously, and I was too susceptible. It’s just ridiculous, I demanded respect, as if I were more respectable than anyone else. I realise how preposterous this is, but it is so.

RD – Because [respect] is totally excluded from that type of relationship?

PR – It seems to me.

RD – I am not sure. But do you think it [prostitution] is a desirable and enriching experience for a woman? I am not talking about professionals, but for one woman, me, for example?

PR – It seems to me it is, it should, it should have been, for me too. I end up thinking it’s a missed vocation, but those are vocations for which one has to be free, completely, and one has to start early.

RD – But you could have prostituted yourself for the other, the one you loved?

PR – Oh yes. I have known women, who had, shall we say, that opportunity – inasmuch as they desired it, it was an opportunity, but they did not desire it so it was a chore for them. They agreed to it or force themselves to it to prove they could do it. I find this both legitimate  and completely absurd and pointless at the same time. In this domain we should only do the things that please us.

RD – Or if your pleasure reaches that of the other.

PR – Or please someone, yes of course.

RD – One feels that there is like a disappointment somewhere between O and her lover, and that she wants to say: it is thus you desired me, wanted me, so be it, why not? It’s like a challenge, verging on aggressiveness.

PR – Yes, I think part of it is a challenge.

RD – One could think that there is something like a desire for retribution in the fact of going through with one’s fantasms.

PR – But retribution for what? None in any case toward that lover, as for him there was no case for retribution, those offered phantasms unrealised and unrealizable, either from him, or from me. But that, did not matter, it was already extraordinary that the idea [the book] was accepted. Then, retribution toward the male gender generally, I don’t deny it, and yet I  became aware of it only after the event [PR may mean either once the book was written, or after it was published, I don’t know which of the two]. I once received an astonishing letter from a man who told me: “The way you conceive men is unthinkable. They are awful bastards. Fancy that! Here’s a boy whom a girl trusts entirely, and the first thing he does, is to betray her, to give her to someone else, when she is in his hands.” Well, let’s say that my first idea of men was that of the fearless and noble knight, and that, after I was twenty, I fell from a great height. They were not at all what I thought. Those who love, do they really? Those who are courageous, what kind of courage? And those who have only one word, how much worth is it? So there is a challenge, always present for that stranger one imagines and expects: will he have enough strength and heart to accept that image I offer him and that frightens him?

RD – That disappointment  that arises in your twenties, what was it, what happened that confronted you with the cowardice of those men?

PR – Reality, evidently!

RD – What makes an adolescent have this certitude that will dominate all her life?

PR – Probably because she has too high and noble idea of what men are, and she discovers with experience that they are no Sir Galahad.

RD – But what shows you that, what makes you suddenly so certain?

PR – Evidence. They promise, and don’t deliver. They say they love you and it’s not true. Or if it is it does not make things any different. It’s extremely rare someone who keeps to his word in this world. You may tell me: neither women. Yes, but women don’t make the same claim.

RD – True. But what was the precise event? Or tell me you don’t want to answer.

PR – There is no precise event.

RD – Nothing precise?

PR – Yes, once, a secret given, a secret that was betrayed.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Charmed

Jean Paulhan The art of the right word, of the sentence which at once tells of an unassailable truth and how that truth fits in the world: you had this incredible gift.

Your childhood, the poignant poetry of the last decade of the dying 19th century, all the hopes that died in the tranchées, and yet, what was reborn, the talent, the unlimited thirst for renewal, then your courage in the face of evil, your gift of forgiveness, and unredeemed love: there is so much, for us, to learn from your life**, from your work.

You wrote: “Any family, any clan, any school shape those ‘words’, and those familiar phrases, loaded with meaning, which they keep secret for the stranger.”

How well you understood what laid ahead for literature: the tyranny of genres, the dominating influence of corporate interests, the deluded politics, and yet you predicted its survival, its triumph over stupidity.

As you rested, wounded, at the end of WWI, you wrote “Le guerrier appliqué” – which I chose to translate as “The thoughtful warrior”: A friend of yours much later would then describe* you as “L’écrivain appliqué” – the thoughtful writer, and in your charmed writing we find inspiration.


* Maurice Toesca: “Jean Paulhan, l’ écrivain appliqué” (Éditions Variétés, 1948)

** Frédéric Badré: “Paulhan, le juste” (Éditions Grasset, 1996)

The quote is from Jean Paulhan, “Les Fleurs de Tarbes” – “Toute famille, tout clan, toute école forme ces ‘mots’, et ces locutions familières, qu’elle charge d’un sens, secret pour l’étranger.”

Daily Prompt: Green-Eyed Monster

Tell us about the last time you were really, truly jealous of someone. Did you act on it? Did it hurt your relationship?  


I admire him, he is the father, the imperious maître, perhaps the last of the Renaissance men. And you loved him, you loved him beyond your life, and for him you wrote the story. He wrote: the most fearsome love letter a man ever received; he knew, and he wanted that letter to be known. You, pliant, at his feet, the loyal woman to your last breath, you obliged, for our pleasure. Am I jealous? How could I be: I was then that small boy, who was learning to read, who was dreaming, not big enough yet to be a soldier. Much later, it would be my turn to read the letter, and, like him, my turn to go to war. I cannot be jealous of a father, I wish only I could remember you through his eyes, for now, it is my turn to love you.

#WW ~ O m’a dit/1

O m’a dit/1


In the text: RD is Régine Deforges, PR is Pauline Réage, notes [in brackets] are from me. All html links are mine. © Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1975, 1995.

Lettres Portuguaises RD – Pauline Réage, you are the author of one of the most read modern French novels in the world: Histoire d’O.  A book that was scandalous and which still frightens people a little. A book which asks a number of important questions, above all for women, and a book that has changed many things, as well as people.  Jean Paulhan said so in his preface, in any case. Jacqueline Demornex, who has published in Elle the first and only interview with you so far…

PR – There won’t be another one.

RD –  Jacqueline Demornex introduced you in this way: “She is sitting there, silent.  How could I dare talk to her of eroticism, of Sadism, of O? Pauline Réage looks like a nun.  Navy blue suit, flat shoes, no make-up at all… One is intimidated.” And it is as you are, as little conforming to the idea the public may have of the author of a scandalous book. And here I am, in front of you, myself a scandal maker, a young woman who has published erotic books, who has posed naked for popular magazines! The public knows my image, and I know which idea they have of me: a sort of literary pin-up, champion of sexual freedom which she practises evidently twenty four hours a day. Image sometimes convenient, sometimes annoying. But for now it is your looking at me that matters to me, and I too am intimidated.

PR – That I could intimidate anyone, and you particularly, puzzles me. I do not understand. Because I am quiet? But I am going to talk…

RD – May I also tell you that I have for you an immense respect, and an immense admiration.  Admiration for the writer of Histoire d’O and of Une Fille Amoureuse [the preface to Retour à Roissy, written as Jean Paulhan was dying in 1968], a moving half-confession which is not known well enough. Respect for the woman who reveals herself a little in this latter text, and who I have the privilege to know now, a little better than her readers.

PR – I do not deserve more respect than anyone, you know, nor admiration. Please do not embarass me.

RD – Do you know that all the women I have asked to read Une Fille Amoureuse cry while reading it?

PR – No I have no idea.

RD – But, first, we are going to talk about Histoire d’O, of course. And before we talk about the book and its reading, I’d like to explore, for literature small history’s sake, what was Histoire d’O’s birth in 1954. There are facts still somewhat obscure, perhaps even things you, the author, do not know…

PR – Now you are surprising me, but then…

RD – I am going to read to you something I found during my research. It’s a testimony by Jean Paulhan to the Brigade Mondaine [Paris police vice squad responsible for offenses against decency and morality], on 5 August 1955, at the time court action against the book was being considered. Since the author was still unknown, the publisher and Jean Paulhan, who wrote the beautiful preface Le Bonheur dans l’Esclavage. Listen:

“Brigade Mondaine. Testimony of M. Jean Paulhan.

On 5 August 1955. We [name of officer]… taking statement from M.Paulhan Jean, man of letters, whose address is 5, rue des Arènes, Paris.

Who stated: about three years ago, Mrs Pauline Réage (which is a pseudonym) came to see me at the Nouvelle Revue Française [JP was a director, the NRF was the literary review published by Gaston Gallimard] which is under my direction and gave me a big manuscript titled Histoire d’O. I receive every day eight to ten manuscripts, but this one surprised me immediately, both by its literary quality, and, if I may say so, in a perfectly risqué subject, by its restraint and decency.

I sensed being faced with an important work as much for its form as for its tone, drawing much more from the mystical rather than from the erotic, and that could be in our epoch what the Lettres de la Religieuse Portuguaise [Letters of a Portuguese Nun] or Les Liaisons Dangereuses [The Dangerous Liaisons] were in other times. That’s what I said to Mrs Réage when she came to see me. I added that I would be willing to talk about this book to Gaston Gallimard, and that if Mrs Réage succeeded in having the book published I would try and write a preface.

Gaston Gallimard, after hesitating for two years, declined the book. M.Defez, director of the “Deux Rives” [small publishing house] first accepted it but later, bacause of some political trouble where he was involved (the Despuech affair) asked Mrs Réage to take it back.

It is then that I took the manuscript to M. Jean-Jacques Pauvert who accepted it enthusiastically and published it at once. In the meantime I had written the promised preface that was published as introduction to the novel. This preface, that insists on the philosophical and mystical sides of the work, found itself to some extent out of balance. M.Pauvert, in agremeent with Mrs Réage, having withdrawn from the book without telling me the whole of the third part where the heroine is faced with her decline.”

That is what we find in Retour à Roissy…

… “I am not aware of the numbers printed.

I add that Mrs Réage, coming from an academic family she feared to scandalise, has always refused until now to reveal her real name. It was her first novel.

Moreover I add that I am not the author of the manuscript, nor have I ever made corrections to it. It is enough to confirm this by comparing my style to that of Mrs Réage.

I do not think that there is a book to place in just everyone’s hands, no more than Les Liaisons Dangereuses or Les Lettres d’une Religieuse Portugaise, but it is enough if one reads it with attention, I believe, to realise it is on no account similar to pornographic material. If it presents any danger it is rather by the violence of the passion it describes, and by the endless dream it seems to be immersed in.

I have nothing to say neither on the material circimstances of its publishing nor its distribution.

As I told you, Mrs Réage does not want her name to be known. I have committed to her as I have done with other authors not to reveal her name.

Nonetheless, given that I have the opportunity to see her regularly, I will inform her of the statement I am making now, and if she were to decide to make herself known, I would invite her to contact you.


I also found the letter in which, a few days later, Jean Paulhan was explaining to the head of the Brigade Mondaine (“Dear Sir” he wrote) that he was sorry, but that decidedly, Mrs Réage wanted to keep her anonymity. Is this how it all happened?

PR – There are other things to say, it seems to me. But the police was rather generous. I learned at the time they had discovered my name, address, date of birth and everything on my identity. They never referred to it. I can’t help seeing in that a kind of Ancien Régime elegance, a sort of courtesy towards an unknown and insignificant woman simply because a woman. Maurice Garçon [Famous Advocate] who defended Jean Paulhan, said about me something  –  he did not know me either – in the same vein: “One must not bother her.”

But of course they turned against Jean Paulhan and Jean-Jacques Pauvert, and I have felt guilty to let them alone take all the risks…

RD – OK. In summary: in June 1954 an unknown lady publishes with Jean-Jacques Pauvert a novel called Histoire d’O. If the book has any impact, it is, at the beginning, in a very small lettered circle. Jean-Jacques Pauvert told me that the first run of two thousand copies lasted fifteen months. In January 1955 there was some agitation because the book received the Deux Magots prize, but sales were modest.

PR – The booksellers thought that the book was or was about to be banned and they were selling it under the counter, or even letting it, sometimes at a premium, a book one could find entirely normally at the publisher. There was a sort of really curious muffled scandal. Everyone talked about it in private, but the press was silent.

RG – Critics were not very courageous for example.

PR – Let’s say rather that they did not find the book interesting. I recall Claude Elsen’s article in Dimanche Matin, a weekly that has since disappeared, and of course [André Pieyre] de Mandiargues’ article in Critique, very early, and [Georges] Bataille’s in the Nouvelle Revue Française, a little later, and that’s about it. For an article in L’Express Jean Paulhan wanted to explain that Histoire d’O seemed to him one of the most important books of the last ten years, but his reply was taken out by the paper, apparently.

RD – That’s right. One talked about Histoire d’O only in private, or there were little allusive snippets in the gossips columns. One has to remember those times. In 1954, [Henry] Miller and Sade are on trial, the papers are careful. And Histoire d’O?

PR – I believe a number of judges wanted to take the publisher and the author of the preface to court, but many others did not want that. In the end advertising the book was banned, and that ban was lifted not that long ago [in 1960].

RD – Now, let’s talk about the novel itself. Why that scandal, in your view, those threats of law suit, those partial bans, that went on even when much less decently written – to repeat Jean Pulhan’s phrase – works were published?

PR – It is true that Histoire d’O long remained, still is for some, the most scandalous of books. It’s the subject, of course, but I think also that it is mainly because the book was written by a woman, even if some journalists believed for a long time its author to be Jean Paulhan.

RD – We all know now that it was a woman, and I believe you are right, that it is that fact that gave Histoire d’O its diabolical aura, that taste of sulfur. What what was it about? I’d like to recall, briefly, the subject for those who, extraordinarily, would not know it. O is a young woman whose lover prostitutes to the members of a sort of secret society, and then gave to her half brother Sir Stephen.  In the end O is about to be abandoned by Sir Stephen, and you wrote: “She wished to die. He consented.” In-between O is taken in all sorts of way, captive, whipped, always with her consent,  which she is always asked for.

There are two ways to read such a book. First by being sensitive to the literary master-piece, to the greatness of feelings, to that “inconceivable decency”, that “great wind of fanatism”, that “pure and violent spirit evoked by Paulhan [in his preface]. Then there is a vulgar way, of which the best example is in the report of the Commission du Livre [Censorship body tasked with supervision of publishers], that wanted to have Histoire d’O trialled in 54-55. I can’t resist the pleasure to quote, as it may be a text you don’t know either.

PR – Indeed…

RG – Here goes:

“The Commission, after listening to M… report and having discussed it.

Considering that this book published by Jean-Jacques Pauvert means to retrace the adventures of a young woman who, to please her lover, subjects herself to any erotic phantasm and any torture.

Considering that this book, violently and consciously immoral, where debauchery scenes with two or more characters alternate with scenes of sexual cruelty, contains an appalling and condemnable germ, and thus is an outrage to good customs.

Is of the view that there a case for trial.”

It’s a beautiful text is it not?

PR – “Violently and constantly immoral” is an exageration. I always feel to reply as the Junie of Britannicus [a play by Jean Racine, 1669]: that I have deserved neither that excessive honor, nor that indignity.  Also tempted to reply that good customs are offended by simply reading daily newspapers. Death camps offend good customs, so does the atomic bomb, and torture – life itself offends good customs, in my view, and at any time, not specifically the various ways to make love.

RD – Yes, but society always takes time to become aware of changes in customs. From time to time a book is published that is scandalous, that confuses, and then one realises that the author, before everyone else, and often without even being aware of it, has captured and updated what is called “a new wave of sensibility”, while only thinking of describing her own phantasms. It seems to me that this is what happened with Histoire d’O. If this book , as it is said, had such an impact on all those who read it, across the world, it is that the men, but above all the women, who read it, found in it an echo of their thoughts or secrete impressions, often without being aware of them. That sort of books is a pointer, and it is those that get burnt. Of course you knew that very well, didn’t you? You knew very well you had written a scandalous book?

PR – A socially scandalous book yes. Fated to the libraries’ inferno. That one would hide on a shelf behind other books, like Boccace [author of the Decameron], the Crébillon Fils [18th century French novelist] on my father’s bookshelves, and others more brutal.

RD – Did you find those? And at what age?

PR – Oh! Fourteen or fifteen, I believe. I was reading absolutely everything that came my way, so I read them, but did not understand much.

RD – And your father knew?

PR – Naturally.

RD – What did he say?

PR – He said: “Well, you’re starting early, but you won’t understand a thing, one will have to explain.”

RD – And he explained?

PR – Of course, a real natural sciences lesson, with anatomical schematics in colours. That put an end to school yards whisperings for me.  Moreover an older girl friend, whom I always suspected to be in connivence with my father,  proposed a cousin of hers for a real life lesson. The cousin swore to leave me intact, but to show me everything.

RD – At fourteen! What luck! I remember that extraordinary expectation, that vertigo in front of the unknown…

PR – Maybe I was fifteen, can’t recall.

RD – And you accepted? Did you like that cousin, did you love him?

PR – You’re funny! I had never met him. But I wanted to know and I did. I met him with my friend at a bar, and followed him to what turned out to be a hôtel de passe [brothel]. Still today I can’t understand how we got in. I looked so childish that eight days earlier I could not get in at the Sainte-Geneviève library. But we got in. And he did explain to me everything, with demonstrations and (limited of course) functioning to back it up. In short we two formed live anatomic drawings. It was well interesting.

RD – You make me dream! But weren’t you embarrassed?

PR – Not at all. I was a bit frightened by that erect member of which he was so pride – and frankly that pride was a bit comical. I thought that must be well embarassing for him, and that it was nicer to be a girl. You wouldn’t have to push me much for me to admit that I have hardly changed my mind on the subject. As for all that sweating, mixing of saliva and flooding, it was not terribly engaging. Fortunately there was hot water, towels and Eau de Cologne.

RD – Strange initiation. If it had been me I would not have come out of it a virgin. Listening to you I was trying to be in your place and I was very disturbed. And that freed you?

PR – Freed from what? Sexual taboos? But I did not know what taboos were. It was as if they did not exist. I did not make the link to religious education precepts, which had collapsed in one go well before that. What had moral interdictions to do with bodily functions? I did not even think of it. It remained only information that saved me looking for it in youthful flirting, a knowledge that made up some sort of obstacle. I knew what precise dangers and physical strain one had to go through to reach, in the body, that love for which I had only a simple idea, and not yet the least feeling at all. It remained also the certainty that there were things one did not do or talk about in the full light of day, because it was embarrassing for everyone. Of a strictly personal order. So long years later the imperative reaction played out: not to compromise family and close friends, not to sign. One speaks only to accomplices.

RD – But when the book was published, did anyone, bar the accomplices, have any clue? [about who had written it]

PR – Nearly no-one. But given the horrified reactions, I realised to what extent it caused scandal.

At a friend’s dinner party, there was a famous doctor I knew very well. My friend knew nothing about my part in the book at all, and she talked about it; that man always read new books just published. He had read it and said: “People who write that [sort of thing] are very ill”, which really amused me since I did not feel mentally ill at all, nor particularly perverted. Maybe I was wrong. There was an incident which confirmed for me why I had to remain silent. A chap from the provinces, who had been often at my parents’ when he was studying in Paris, as he was passing  through a few years later, came to pay a courtesy visit to my mother when I happened to be there. He had studied law but was mad for literature. Suddenly he turns towards me and says: “We (it was a small group in that remote province that was publishing a [literary] review), we are certain that it is you who wrote Histoire d’O.” I look at him without replying. There is a silence. Then my mother’s voice, very calm: “She has not told us this ever.” Another silence. Once the chap was gone, my mother asked me if I wanted tea. That was all, once and for all. But I understood.

RD – Understood what?

PR – That my freedom depended on my silence, and hers too: hers was the refusal to know, mine the refusal to speak.

RD – But were you O? Could you have behaved like O in some situations?

PR – I do not know. I know that, first of all, when I was young, the man I lived with liked the success I happen to have very much [success with men], it amused him a lot he used to say. If I was with him walking on the boulevard, or sitting in a café, he would say: “Did you see, on your left, you got a bite.” Yes, things like that. On the other hand if I was walking on my own on the Champs -Elysées, for example, like all  young women [PR says “girls young”] I flirted sometime. It never got further than a declined offer. Only once did it go further. It wasn’t in the street but at an exhibition, I flirted with a gentleman [“un monsieur trés bien”]. He was handsome enough, brown hair and blue eyes, very polished. “May I offer you a drink?” Yes we go for a drink. OK. One date, two dates, three dates, many compliments, and one day: “Let me invite you for tea, I know a quiet place.” We went to the quiet place. Of course it was a brothel. And there the gentleman undertakes to do more than tenderly pressing my hand. His hand goes for my knee, and he starts saying “tu” [“tutoiement” is a form of familiarity in France, and certainly at that time]. I stood up and slapped him, and left indignant for he had said “tu”.

RD – I fully understand that kind of reaction. You did well, he was not a gentleman at all that fellow.

PR – I do not know what he should have done, but he did not do what it would have taken, and nor did I.

RD – He did not do what he should have done and he did what he shouldn’t have. He did not have to say “tu”. One may make love with someone, but there are familiarities unacceptable, from some people.

PR – But we should [accept such familiarities?] Why giving ourselves such importance, why believe we are so precious? Yet I did not see myself as precious, not at all. But there you are, I was capable of telling myself stories, to stick my neck out a bit, but apparently, I was unable to act. It was neither logical, nor courageous. Maybe it was the fear of complications, of blackmail, of the drama of a possible discovery. I never tried to understand exactly why I never went any further. Probably because what I wished for, in fact, was some sort of proof I was given when someone showed interest in me at first sight, and that I did not want anything more. I was reassured enough by that sole fact. And maybe also I did not have the disposition, nor true desires, I mean physical, everything being in my head. With that man, for example, everything should have worked out very well. In my mind that is, everything was working well. But in reality not at all. I told myself I thought I had the vocation, well, apparently not, my system was not working. I was an idiot. It was mortifying was it not?

RD – You have just said something really interesting: “I thought I had the vocation.” Which vocation exactly?

PR – Soliciting, prostitution, I suppose. I was telling myself it must be exciting: being all the time desired, and without any doubt profiting from it, why not? Ah well, here we go! At the first opportunity I act like a stuck-up madame.

RD – And if that man had done what was required? That is if he had been considerate, but also determined, and had taken you firmly to his room?

PR – How does one know? Do you mean that my life would have been different? I doubt it. Otherwise I would have found other opportunities…

[end of part 1]

#FiveSentenceFiction: Shadows

For Dominique Aury

Permis de Conduire Through the magic of things written I am trying to find you: and you are in so many places, present, resolutely the woman you always were.

So it is, for me, that you live on, your writing a seductive light of decency and wonderful poetry, for everything I read from you is sheer delight…

And, yes, there is a bit of jealousy in this admiration, in this search through shadows, towards the man you loved and for whom you wrote the ultimate passionate letter, the one that cannot be forgotten.

You wrote of a gift never equalled since, of a sacrifice that only heroines of old were capable.

Is this madness, falling in love with someone who left this world so long ago?

#AtoZChallenge: April 17, 2013 ~ (Histoire d’)O

For @Unraveling_Mari

Histoire d'O When it was published in 1954 it was an immediate success spurred by the condemnation of the censors, worthy successors, in their ineptitude, of Lady Chatterley’s judges.

This is the story of O, a born and ingénue submissive to be, who learns the true meaning of openness and acquires the gift of obedience.  Chained, branded, whipped, pierced and transformed she will be, in a now legendary tale told by a woman author – and what author! O is the heroine of this literary introduction to the noble art of love and dominance.  O’s lineage is of course impressive, from the Marquis to Jean Paulhan, Anne’s master…


Pour mes lecteurs francophones…