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Story of O
AuthorAnne Desclos writing as Pauline Réage
GenreErotic novel
PublisherJean-Jacques Pauvert
Media typePrint

Story of O (French:Histoire d'O) is an erotic novel published in 1954 about Dominance/submissiveness (D/s) by French author Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage.

Desclos did not reveal herself to be the author until four years before her death, forty years after its initial publication. Desclos said that she had written the novel as a series of love letters to her lover Jean Paulhan,[1] who had admired the work of the Marquis de Sade.


Published in French by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, éditeur, it is a story of female submission about a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer, O, who is blindfolded, chained, whipped, branded, pierced, made to wear a mask, and taught to be constantly available for oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse. Despite her harsh treatment, O grants permission beforehand for everything that occurs, and her permission is constantly sought. While her friend and lover, Jacqueline, is repulsed by O's chains and scars, O herself is proud of her condition as a willing slave.

O's lover, René, brings her to the château of Roissy, where she is trained to serve the men of an elite group. After the training is finished, René hands O to Sir Stephen, an even more dominant master. O falls in love with him. As final proof of her love O decides to move to Samois, an old mansion solely inhabited by women for advanced training. There she agrees to receive a branding and a labia piercing with rings as a final sign of dedication to her lifestyle. At the climax, O appears as a slave, nude but for an owl-like mask, before a large party of guests.

Publishing history

In February 1955, it won the French literature prize Prix des Deux Magots, although this did not prevent the French authorities bringing obscenity charges against the publisher. The charges were rejected by the courts, but a publicity ban was imposed for a number of years. The prose style is terse, simple, and blunt. Rhetorical devices are avoided, although several levels of symbolism can be inferred.

The first English edition was published by Grove Press, Inc. in 1965. Eliot Fremont-Smith (of the New York Times) called its publishing "a significant event."

A sequel was published in 1969 in French, again with Jean-Jacques Pauvert, éditeur, Retour à Roissy (Return to Roissy, but often translated as Return to the Chateau, Continuing the Story of O). It was published again by Grove Press, Inc., in 1971. It is not known whether this work is by the same author as the original.

A critical view of the novel is that it is about the ultimate objectification of a woman. The heroine of the novel has the shortest possible name, consisting solely of the letter O. Although this is in fact a shortening of the name Odile, it could also stand for "object" or "orifice", an O being a symbolic representation of any "hole".

The book has been the source of various terms that are used in the BDSM subculture such as SAMOIS, the name of the estate belonging to the character Anne-Marie, who brands O.

Hidden Identities

The story behind Story of O is filled with hidden identities. The author uses a pen name, then later reveals herself under another pen name, before finally, prior to her death, revealing her true identity. Her lover Jean Paulhan writes the preface as if he doesn't know who wrote the book. The translator of the Ballentine edition (US) attributes her skillful translation to being a woman, but it turns out Sabine D'Estree is actually Richard Seaver.[2]

Jean Paulhan

It is interesting to note that Jean Paulhan, who was the author's lover and the person to whom she wrote the story of O in the form of love letters, wrote the preface, "Happiness in Slavery". Paulhan admired Sade's writing and had told Desclos that a woman couldn't write something like that. She took it as a challenge and wrote the book. Paulhan was so impressed that he sent it to a publisher. Interestingly, in the preface, Paulhan goes out of his way to appear as if he does not know who wrote the book. In one part he says, "But from the beginning to end, the story of O is managed rather like some brilliant feat. It reminds you more of a speech than of a mere effusion; of a letter rather than a secret diary. But to whom is the letter addressed? Whom is the speech trying to convince? Whom can we ask? I don't even know who you are. That you are a woman I have little doubt." (xxiv).[3] Paulhan also explains his own belief that the themes the book describes are women's true nature. At times, the preface (read with the knowledge of Paulhan and the author's relationship), seems to be a continuation of the conversation between them.

For the ending, Paulhan states, "I too was surprised by the end. And nothing you can say will convince me that it is the real end. That in reality (so to speak) your heroine convinces Sir Stephen to consent to her death" (xxvi).



French director Henri-Georges Clouzot wanted to adapt the novel to film for many years. It was eventually adapted by director Just Jaeckin in 1975 as Histoire d'O or in English as The Story of O , starring Corinne Clery and Udo Kier. The film met with far less acclaim than the book. It was banned in the United Kingdom by the British Board of Film Censors until February 2000.

In 1975, American director Gerard Damiano, well-known for Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) created the movie The Story of Joanna, highly influenced by the Story of O, by combining the motifs from one of the book's chapters and from Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit.

In 1979, Danish director Lars von Trier made a short movie, which is a homage to Story of O and Anne Desclos, entitled Menthe—la bienheureuse.

A Brazilian miniseries in ten episodes with Claudia Cepeda was made in 1992 by director Eric Rochat, who was the producer of the original 1975 movie.

In 1975, it was adapted for comics by the Italian artist Guido Crepax. It was parodied for comics(both the original and Crepax' adaptation) in 2007 by Charles Alverson and John Linton Roberson.

An ongoing pornographic film series entitled "The Training of O" likely takes inspiration for its name from Desclos' story.


Writer of O, a 2004 documentary film by Pola Rapaport, mixed interviews with reenactments of certain scenes from the book.

In 1975, Jean-Jacques Pauvert published in France "Confessions of O", a long interview of the (then still anonymous) author of the Story of O by French author Regine Deforges. An English-language edition was released in the United States in 1979 by Viking Press.


There is also reference to the characters "O" and "René" in the game Deus Ex, where in flat 12 of the Paris level the two can be found in conversation.

In the 1971 French film, Murmur of the Heart, the 15-year-old Laurent is caught reading The Story of O by his mother, with whom he later develops an incestuous relationship.

In the 1979 sexploitation film, Felicity, the title character is seen reading from the novel while on a plane.

In Series 5, Episode 3 of the sitcom Frasier, one the main characters Roz Doyle arrives at Niles' Halloween party dressed in bondage gear. When asked about her unusual costume (everyone else is dressed as characters from literature) she responds "Oh, I'm "O" from The Story of O", whereupon other guests respond with "Oh".

The Tori Amos song "Glory of the '80s" mentions having "The Story of O in my bucket seat of my wannabe Mustang".

See also


External links

es:Historia de O fr:Histoire d'O he:סיפורה של O it:Histoire d'O (romanzo) ja:O嬢の物語 nl:Histoire d'O sv:Berättelsen om O zh:O的故事