Story of O

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Overview

The classic erotic novel, STORY OF O relates the love of a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer for Rene. As part of that intense love, she demands debasement and severe sexual and pychological tests. It is a unique work not to be missed.
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Story of O: A Novel

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Overview

The classic erotic novel, STORY OF O relates the love of a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer for Rene. As part of that intense love, she demands debasement and severe sexual and pychological tests. It is a unique work not to be missed.
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Editorial Reviews

Molly Weatherfield

Dominique Aury, who (as "Pauline Reage") wrote the classic Story of O in 1954, died on May 2 at 91. Naively, perhaps, I was surprised that more thoughtful notice wasn't taken of the event. Searching the Web for comment or tribute, all I found were obituaries like "Dominique Aury: Frenchwoman who wrote an erotic bestseller to keep her lover."

"Bestseller" hardly covers it. Story of O has sold millions of copies, and hasn't been out of print in more than 40 years. It has influenced numerous erotic fictions, been made into two (wretched) films and given shape to countless fantasy lives.

But it's a difficult book to think about right now, its structure and assumptions somehow out of tune with our times. O, a young fashion photographer, goes with her lover to a mysterious chateau, where she's whipped, chained, exposed and humiliated, all in the supplest, most finely poised sentences imaginable. Elegantly choreographed and costumed, Story of O seems a bit of a period piece now -- like 1950s haute couture in a world of latex and piercings.

But it's the novel's pre-feminism that makes it seem so foreign to us. The chateau is run entirely by and for the pleasure of men: No male submissives or female dominants need apply (though in the character of Anne-Marie, there's a suggestion that some of the middle management is female). Sexual power and privilege in Story of O are rigid, systematic, almost metaphysically encoded -- O is like a supplicant joining a religious order. But what seems most out of sync with our time is Story of O's utter lack of that therapeutic quality that pervades so much contemporary porn: that remarkable insistence that this stuff is good for you, bringing with it self-knowledge, autonomy and the ability to love.

O doesn't have to learn to love -- if she learns anything, it's her utter need to be dominated by love. And she certainly doesn't have to learn to live, since the novel ends with her death or abandonment by her lover, convincing us that the two eventualities are equivalent. Time away from a lover -- a master -- is dead time for O. In popular contemporary pornographies, on the other hand, time away from the lover is almost a convention, an opportunity for healthy soul-searching before the books' happy -- even wholesome -- endings. Beauty and her prince cuddle in the saddle in Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" trilogy. Pat Califia's lesbian biker girls ride off clean and sober at the end of Doc and Fluff. Even John Preston's eponymous leatherman, Mr. Benson, goes a little sappy on us, piercing his young partner with a diamond stud and growling, "I guess we're hitched now, asshole."

It's easy to smile at these simplified happy endings -- supermarket romance laced with the banalities of consciousness raising. But they also represent an achievement: a faith that it's possible to integrate daily life and supportive relationships with the extreme demands of the sexual imagination. And even if the stories get a little preachy at times, there's still a cheerful community spirit to them, as well as a nice dose of irreverence and a willingness to laugh at oneself. Contemporary sex radicalism's public conversation is in some way reminiscent of an earlier, equally pornographic era, the recklessly public and talky Enlightenment. Think of the Marquis de Sade's whacked out discourses on sex, power and "nature;" think of his dramatic dialogue Philosophy in the Bedroom as the proceedings of a group self-help session, perhaps with a hot tub nearby.

But is it possible to assimilate Story of O's lonely, pristine quest toward self-negation into this clamorous, self-actualizing, "sex positive" culture?

The answer to this question lies in the mysterious facts of the novel's genesis, first described by Jean de St. Jorris in a 1994 New Yorker article. As the obituary said, Aury did write the book in order to keep her lover, the critic and literateur Jean Paulhan. She'd become his mistress during the Nazi occupation, when both of them, unbeknownst to each other, worked for the same underground resistance journal. Their love affair, which spanned three decades, continued to follow wartime rules of silence and clandestineness -- the secret meetings, the meticulous planning. Though Paulhan never considered leaving his wife, who had Parkinson's disease, he expected her to accommodate to the affair, just as he expected Aury to fill in the lonely Sundays and vacation times. I think of the famous photograph of Francois Mitterrand's funeral, wife and mistress both in attendance, and what a fearsome investment of female tact and anxiety such an arrangement must entail.

For Aury, the anxiety came to a head in the early 1950s. She was in her middle 40s, and she began to fear that Paulhan might leave her for a younger woman. "I wasn't young, I wasn't pretty, it was necessary to find other weapons," she said.

"I could also write the kind of stories you like," she told him one day. Paulhan admired the work of de Sade; he'd written the introduction to an important edition of his work. When he had voiced his doubt that a woman could write compelling S/M, Aury said she knew that she could. The fantasy lay buried in the half-forgotten depths of her dreams, conceived before she had ever met Paulhan, before she had ever known sex or love. Story of O is in no way a humble entreaty by a woman terrified of abandonment. It was clearly meant to overwhelm. Revealing a fierce, complete and unsparing sexual imagination, it was every bit as much a dare as a love offering.

And it's in this way that the novel transcends the circumstances of its creation -- the history, the manners. Foreign to our own manners and circumstances, it's as much a dare to us as it was to Paulhan -- an invitation to rediscover a dimly remembered place in the imagination. In an essay called "A Girl in Love," Aury remembers "those oft repeated reveries, those slow musings just before falling asleep, always the same ones, which the purest and wildest love always sanctioned, or rather always demanded, the most frightful surrender, in which childish images of chains and whips added to constraint the symbols of constraint."

At the bottom of Aury's elegant and urbane pornography lies the fantasy life of an impressionable child -- the sort who listens carefully to the overheated perorations of an overzealous religious school teacher, who pores endlessly over the lurid imagery of a comic book or an illustrated saint's life. Because pornography's power doesn't reside in the extremity of its images and motifs, but in their naivete and redundancy -- in the pornographer's need to employ the symbols of constraint, and to spell out the abstractions of power and passion in the most primitive terms possible.

Pornography is not only shocking -- it's embarrassing, a return to a time when we hadn't yet learned to defend ourselves against the outrages of our imaginations. But Aury wasn't embarrassed. She almost, I think, saw the humor of the thing (Return to the Chateau, Story of O's muddled and largely unsuccessful sequel, contains a few wildly self-parodic passages). But she didn't seem to see the need (as I do, for example, in my porn) to use irony to bridge the gap between the outer and inner lives. Vastly literate, circumspect, living a life of quietly constrained passion, she was as unshaken by the same raging desire within her as Emily Bronte.

And so this is the essay I couldn't find -- my tribute, recognition, thanks, to Aury for showing me, and others, the way into the chateau. Or the ways -- in the first pages of the novel O enters the chateau twice, once blindfolded, once not -- take your pick, it doesn't matter. Just as it doesn't matter how we stumble in, stupidly, haphazardly, purposefully, sex-positively -- the door will open to disclose our own half-forgotten, naively imagined visions waiting there for us. Just as Aury's imagination waited for her to write this most serendipitous of masterpieces, this most inevitable of visions.
Salon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394171432
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/12/1969

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 120 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(34)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(18)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(36)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 120 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    Digital version is sloppy

    The spelling errors, editing errors and dropped paragraphs spoiled this digital version. The last pages are missing. Are the nook books even reviewed after scanning them in? The frequent errors took away from my reading enjoyment.

    35 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2012

    I don't understand why reviewers are calling this sexual abuse,

    I don't understand why reviewers are calling this sexual abuse, rape etc. The book describes a lifestyle that is not led by most. The situation we find O in, is very extraordinary. However we all need to keep in mind that the acts committed are done by consenting adults. Who are we to judge and criticize her actions?

    19 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Oh, wow.

    This is a very heavy handed erotic tale. It's not all fun and games, but I guess that is the point. I would go as far to say that it might not be for everyone out there in that it is very serious and hard-hitting--literally. Having said that, let me say that it is a classic for a reason and if you want to give it a try, to for it. It is like no other I've ever read and for that it gets five stars.

    17 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2001

    O's Woes

    Poor O. All she wants is to be loved, first by Rene, then by Sir Stephen, and finally by Jacqueline. She's willing to under go quite a bit (humiliations, rape, beatings, genital piercing, and branding) for this love. Is she ever really loved? It's hard to say. True, she's desired and sexually used a lot, but all of her so called lovers seem to remain aloof and demonstrate their feelings towards O by ever harsher punishments. I can imagine her thinking while tied spread eagled on the raised dias where she was flogged: 'Does he really love me?' Admittedly, it's hard not to be turned on by all of O's adventures, but it's a hard book to classify - classy porn or love story? This Story of O might be a love story, but it's a pretty grim one.

    17 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Wonderful work of erotic fiction

    Unlike many recent S/M novels that overtly describe the 'scenes', Story of O gets both into what happens to O and how it effects her. This novel, originally written by a woman for her lover, is excellent both as a work of literature and an intoxicating erotic novel. Highly recommended to those who are not bashful about sex/sexuality.

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    Don't buy this

    Don't buy it! The book is about a girl who is sexually abused by several men. It sounds just like what real sexual predators would do to girls they rape and tourture, i bet this really does happen and it is sad that somone gets off or finds pleasure reading this. The mental/ sexual abuse the girl gets reminds me of the Jaycee Dugard book.

    14 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    Dark and perfect

    For anyone who read the sleeping beauty books from ann rice, expect the less romantisized story of master and mistress. O's point of view is cold and more than a little desperate. But its another way of looking at what it means to be willingly dominated. I loved it.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012

    Disturbing

    This book is very disturbing. I was unprepared for the content in the story and had a hard time identiying with O and her need to please a man so badlyeven to the point of torture and mutilation and humiliation.

    9 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2001

    Disturbing. Compelling. A Must Have.

    To say that this story is disturbing is a complete understatement. I was appalled at the story matter for this book. More appalled at the way it was treated. I believe that I come out a better person knowing that this book is a work of fiction that of reality. I don't understand how a lover can turn his love over to other men out of 'love', but I guess that it can happen. However, I am recommending this book to others highly. I would recommend to the reader not to read the prefaces first, but go right to the story and start. I think that once you start, you will be unable to put it down. Then, when you finish, go to the prefaces for more information. I would also recommend finding a friend (preferrably from the opposite sex) to read this book and then have a discussion. This may answer some quesitons about O for you. I think that this book is a read for all adults. It is a shame that most libraries don't carry this one.

    9 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2012

    I read this many years ago and thought it was thrilling. I had n

    I read this many years ago and thought it was thrilling. I had never read anything like it at that time. I thought it was a beautiful but sad story. Now, after reading 50 Shades of Gray, I bought this book and read it again. I have to say, 50 Shades of Gray doesn't even compare. This is a classic.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2002

    waste of my time

    I don't recommend this book to any one. I couldn't believe this woman would feel happy or good about her self in the degrading and abusive ways that she was used. She had to be very messed up in the head. Maybe you need to have a better understanding of being submissive to like this book. This book leaves you with the feeling of being generally let down that any woman would accept this kind of treatment. O needs to get a back bone and a life! So don't waste your time with her story.

    7 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2002

    WHAT????????

    I have to say that this book was so very disappointing. I usually finish a GOOD book in a day. I just couldn't get into it. I kept finding myself putting the book down and struggled to finish it only because I had already purchased it. Pleasure enhanced by pain and total submission is one thing, but what was going on in this story? It was just pain, pain, and you guessed it, more PAIN, both physical and emotional.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Not 50 shades of grey

    I don't get it. I hate when I read review that says don't waist your time in getting this book. But this is the first time that I can say this fits. I just did not get it. It is about a lady named O. That loves a man that clearly is messed up in the head his self. He prostitues her out to who ever and has them beat her till she is bleeding tells her he loves her and just this alone makes her love to do what he wants. I just don't get it and for the first time in my adult life have not cared to finish this book. So I give it a big fat 0

    4 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    I tend to agree with those who were disappointed. Having finall

    I tend to agree with those who were disappointed. Having finally read it after hearing so much about it, the letdown was probably inevitable. There are so many modern imitations of this book that are more explicity graphic, so you're left with the "that's it?" impression. When you start with Reese Gabriel & N.T. Morley, a work like this just won't have quite the same punch. Still, it's one of the finest pieces of erotica you'll ever read from a literary standpoint and O is a compelling and enigmatic character, and a tragic one at that.

    It's $2.99. Read it because it's the seminal work of bdsm erotica.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2012

    Worst thing i ever read!!!

    I hated this book so much i couldnt even force myself to finish it!! I thought it was poorly written and very pointless. I would NOT recommend this book to any one!!!!

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2005

    disappointed..

    It seems as if everyone puts so much into this book. That 'story of O' is the story to read. That its good and blah blah..I personal don't think this book was porngraphic at all.I found it kind of boring and short. Maybe it wasnt detailed enough? because at the end I felt lost and cheated. I would not recommend this book to anyone thats looking for something hot and steamy or to have peek into someones elses lifestyle. the book was lacking.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2000

    Compelling, disturbing

    The Story of O is one of those books that just about everyone who is interested in SM has read at one time or another. Many of us have read it numerous times. It is a very rich portrayal of one woman's fantasy of how a deeply intense SM relationship might play itself out, and it deals with the eternal issue of sacrificing oneself to please your lover. I've read it several times and it still makes me hot. The one thing to keep in mind about this book is that it is fiction, not a how_to_do_SM book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    wow

    If you are not into erotica....dont read this book. I was expecting something like the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A. N. Roquelaure/ Anne Rice, but it was totally different. Not a love story!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012

    No

    This book was recommended for those who liked Fifty Shades of Grey. The story of O was nothing like Fifty. This book takes you down a very dark and disturbing path. I had to stop reading it. I do not recommend at all.

    2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    I sat down with The Story of O with the idea of enjoying some er

    I sat down with The Story of O with the idea of enjoying some erotic fiction, especially after the light mommy porn that 50 Shades and Bared To Me provided me. And even as far left field the Sleeping Beauty trilogy by Anne Rice was, I enjoyed it (a little blushed) but it was well written. However, I, like the others, felt The Story of O was borderline rape and what creeps must do to the women (young and old) in the sex traffic business. I could only stomach so many pages, trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, before I turned it away. I felt grimy and disgusted. This wasn't about doms enjoying the pain/pleasure of their subs; it was about doms strictly enjoying the pain/torment of their subs, especially with more than one master. I felt the pain, humiliation and the abuse within the first few pages that I wanted to rescue "O" from the monsters she was decieved by. Classic, cult fiction or extreme BDSM, I think I'll pass, thank you. If you are looking for BDSM-style reading, then I would suggest The Story of X by A.J. Molloy in addition to a few other authors.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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