A Conversation for The True Story of 'The Story of O' by Pauline Reage

Backstory of O?

Post 1


There's lots of talk about O and her experiences, but I do not think I've seen anything that tried to take her perspective. The most common view may see her as the powerless victim of people who exploit her for selfish reasons. Many others seem to think of the story as pure fantasy, good to the extent that it stimulates readers' interest.

The first approach sees lots of stereotypical male attributes: hierarchy, patriarchy, explotation, ... but does little with Anne Marie and nothing with O except as victim. The second does little with any of the characters as people.

Suppose the people in The Story of O are as real as the characters in any novel or play. From that point of view, each of them must have some reason for participating as they do, especially O. O must be a at least as much a voluntary participant as Renee, Sir Stephen, Anne Marie, or the chauffer.

Where did O come from? How did she meet Renee? How did she and Renee happen to be in that park on that evening? I think that...

O was a young, reasonably well educated, artist who was earning enough to afford an apartment by herself in Paris. That's not an inconsiderable feat in a major city, even more rare I imagine in whatever time the story is set. Renee was a well-to-do junior executive. They met as artists and junior executives have always met; at a gallery, a museum, a party, ....

As their relationship developed, they walked and talked, as couples do. They observed street walkers and their clients, and one of them said "I wonder what it's like..." They giggled and spun out the fantasy, played with it in her apartment and the streets of Paris; I would not be surprised to find out that many couples do something very similar.

Did she know Renee had an opportunity that may have required him to provide a woman? I don't know. The two openings offer both possibilities.

Did she have any chances to say "No?" I think she did, and she didn't take them. Did she like what was going on at each moment? No, and she had some objectively horrific experiences, but she did choose.

Perhaps O's experiences were something like the reports graduate students make of writing their theses and dissertations. Perhaps Return to the Chateau was something like a first post-graduate job. Perhaps New Story of O shows her at the height of her profession.

Perhaps O is us, a mythic hero?

Backstory of O?

Post 2


Sorry it took so long to get back to you, I was on holiday last week.

This was really interesting, it brought up things I hadn't thought about before. I don't think that she's much of a hero though, she was just a bit kinky. Only a bit, mind.

Backstory of O?

Post 3


I've been away, too, Mina. Thanks for writing. Please let me restate my case in the event that I was unclear.

Story of O is definitely a very well done kinky novel. To me, O is the prototypical kinky woman and I have no interest in changing that status for myself or anyone else.

O is not a hero in the way of a person who risks her life in hopes of saving another's. Greek and other mythic traditions offer other kinds of heroes, though, like the person who challenges the gods to bring fire to people. Some say that we lack heroes who "do the right thing" in that sense, outside the national defense, public safety, or shoot-'em-up movie senses.

Joseph Campbell (Hero with a Thousand Faces) compared those who complete a quest to discover their individuality with the mythic heroes of Greece and other traditions. People who overcome the objective and psychic monsters they meet are the contemporary equivalent of mythic heroes themselves, in his view.

Cleaning the Augean stables or killing the Gorgon doesn't do much for us now that we've seen trench warfare, concentration camps, nuclear weapons, and all the rest of post-1914 life. Each of us faces our own fears and the risks that come with loving or beginning a career, though. We must volunteer for our own quest or join the sagging couch brigade.

If O is a volunteer, might her story express the universal quest in a way that is meaningful to the last third of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries?? Is it reasonable to read her story as the increasingly demanding and dangerous stages of a quest?

That's the case I'm interested in, because then her story is more than very well done kinky smut. She's been in print in the US since the late '60's, a really long time for any novel. She's available all over the country, in small town malls, and not just under the counter. Readers enjoy the kink, but are they atracted to something else, too? Is that what the reviewers were aluding to 35 years ago?

If O is a real person and a volunteer, there is only one ending, and it involves the chateau rather than suicide. She would choose life after the party and life when she discovers that Sir Stephan is an international criminal.

Being a volunteer would not make O less kinky, but it might make her a hero, too. Is she a volunteer?


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