The most famous work of erotic fiction ever written.

The story within the book is startling, and the story behind it equally intriguing.

Histoire d'O first appeared as an underground and mysterious work in Paris in 1954. In 46 years it has sold millions of copies, and has never once been out of print.

It is the tale of a young woman, who is taken to a chateau by her lover and subjected to a vividly described array of sadomasochistic and misogynistic sexual practices. Within the sinister yet sophisticated confines of this sexual prison, O is broken down and learns to take pleasure in fulfilling the roles and fantasies which her masked masters demand of her.

Speculation was rife as to whether material of this nature, cruel and depraved, romanticising womens' humiliation, slavery and pain, could have been the fruit of a female author.

The truth is that the book was written, not only by a woman, but also in an effort to impress and retain her own lover.

Behind the nom de plume, Pauline Reage lay Dominique Aury, a woman who had taken a lover during the Nazi occupation while working for an underground resistance journal. Her affair with writer and critic Jean Paulhan, continued in the wartime vein of secrecy and intrigue for 30 years, as he would not consider leaving his wife, who suffered from Parkinson's disease.

It was in her 40's that Dominique decided to write a wildly extreme S & M novel almost as a challenge to Jean, himself a de Sade scholar:

"I wasn't young, I wasn't pretty, it was necessary to find other weapons,"

The stark black cover, with plain white text is meaningful and symbolic to many people, though the sequel, is a disapointing affair, which ruins the fairytale atmosphere of the original by introducing realism into the readers' mind - lethal to the fantasy land which one must inhabit to coax out the full power of one's sexual imagination.

Opinion is divided as to the true value of this, woman's most successful contribution to pornography.

While it can be read, despite being a blatantly pre-feminist text, as a story which does not negate and disempower womens' sexual identity, it has been vilified by some:

"The thesis of O is simple. Woman is cunt, lustful, wanton.
She must be punished, tamed, debased. She gives the gift of herself, her body, her well-being, her life, to her lover. This is as it should be--natural and good. It ends necessarily in her annihilation, which is also natural and good, as well as beautiful, because she fulfills her destiny."

Andrea Dworkin

Pauline Reage died on May 2nd 1998, aged 91.

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