The Story of O – The First Erotic Romance Novel of Our Time

The Story of OThe Story of O is the first erotic romance novel of our time and one of the most controversial works of all time. Published in 1954, its authorship was long cloaked in mystery, but it’s clearly a landmark in women’s erotica.

The woman who wrote it concealed her identity until 1998 shortly prior to her passing. French journalist Anne Desclos, who also used the pseudonym Dominique Aury, wrote The Story of O under the pen name Pauline Réage. What she created and brought into the open we cannot easily repay. Before her, the genre was pretty much limited to the puerile, repetitive musings of de Sade like Justine and 101 Days.

Desclos re-invented erotica. She bestowed a feminine wisdom on her characters, seeing actions and intent – bereft of specifics – through O’s eyes as only a woman could. Note not only the symbolism of O’s name but how she is any woman. O has no physical characteristics save those shared by all women.

For those readers who find this tale shocking and disturbing, it is important to understand the purpose. Desclos presented it as a series of love letters to her boyfriend who admired de Sade and claimed women couldn’t write erotica.

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Desclos took that as a challenge. In the tradition of de Sade, she described a young woman’s descent into sexual degradation. O falls deeper and deeper until she reaches bottom with nowhere left to go, nothing left to do. Her feminine twist is totally distinct from de Sade and other male authors. O is not driven by lust but by love. First it’s her love for Rene and later for Sir Stephen. The whips and chains symbolize the strength of her devotion. The ending of this erotic book represents her fear of being abandoned for a younger woman.

This Erotic Book Triggered Many Discussions

When I first read this erotic book, I had strong mixed feelings. Yes, I was entranced by it. It was hot and elegant. This was not pornography you read once and throw away. The cultured prose told unabashedly of a love so deep death was preferable to its loss, while teasing us with taboo elements `good’ people did not speak of.

But I hated the ending. O’s masters didn’t deserve her. I wanted to rewrite it so O dumped those jerks and ran off with her girlfriend. And it disturbed me because I know women who go that far to keep a man and they end up betrayed and abandoned too. The Story of O illustrates a terrible truth of womanhood, and it’s easy to forget that the author was telling a story, not advocating abuse or codependency.

I cannot do full justice to the work here, but it is truly literature. For more insights, read Desclos’ own interviews or the many scholarly essays online. The Story of O is something special and this erotic romance novel will always be treasured despite, or maybe because of, the controversy surrounding it. Be warned, this book is not for the faint of heart. It has many graphic scenes that are hard to read. Even with that, I would still highly recommend it!

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