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.