Story of O

“…for as a matter of principle he was participating in whatever might be demanded of or inflicted on her, and that it was he who possessed and enjoyed her through those into whose hands she had been given, by the simple fact he had given her to them. She must greet them and submit to them with the same respect with which she greeted him, as though they were so many reflections of him. Thus he would possess her as a god possesses his creatures, who he lays hold of in the guise of a monster or a bird, of an invisible spirit or a state of ecstasy. He gave her only to… reclaim her enriched in his eyes, like some common object which had been used for some divine purpose and has thus been consecrated.”

Story of O, P.31.

There is a special category of books I love into which Story of O falls, along with Hubert Selby Junior’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. These are books I HATED the first time I read them, went away and thought about, re-read and then discovered they had completely rewrought the way I thought. As books, they actually pushed me out of one phase of psychological maturity and into another.

I was speaking to my excellent friend Sophie Matthiesson the other week, who bought up Story of O in the course of conversation. She told me about an article she had read in Guernica magazine, at

Put simply, Story of O is a pornographic novel whose eponymous heroine is asked by her lover to consent to a test of devotion. She agrees, so he makes her hand over her underwear, puts her in a taxi and sends her off to a mysterious château. This turns out to be a kind of gentleman’s club in which she becomes a member of staff. Her job, like the other girls imprisoned there, is to simply stand around with her skirt up and be fucked whenever one of the ‘gentlemen’ feels like it. This is generally a matter of being pushed up against the wall or bent over the furniture and then dispensed with afterwards. She is required to be submissive at all times, keeping her eyes lowered from the faces of the men around her, permitted only to look at their cocks.

The whole reading experience is made more disturbing by the fact that the sex always figures as rape. The men in the chateau don’t get turned on by the experience of sex itself; it’s sex as forceful domination that does it for them. The themes of slavery and torture are always explicit features of the tableaux. Reading it troubled me; my concept of sex is that there is no greater compliment than to be desired by a woman you find attractive, so to have to force yourself on her is even worse than being rejected.

The other thing that really worried me, like the vague sense of someone following you when you’re walking at night, was the realisation that this was intended to arouse somebody, and therefore, is representative of someone’s ideal experience of sex. The novel progresses from one scene of degradation to the next with O submitting to each trial as it arises.

The novel comes from a dramatically different place to my experience of porn (photography-based) and is concerned with different things. This is also porn with a genuine narrative, which I would define as a succession of scenes that, like an equation, add up to convince a reader of a central idea via its ability to draw that reader into a vicarious emotional experience which parallels that of the characters (!)

When I reached the end of the book, I was absolutely fucking horrified. Sickened and horrified. I was horrified by the fact that one person would do those kinds of things to another. Even more horrifying was that someone else would submit and enjoy it. I think the thing that I really hated, that drove me away like the smell of carrion, was that O’s experience was a portal to enlightenment. Her experience actually caused her to transcend her former self and leave it behind.

I can also understand why feminists would have hated O and sworn up and down that its anonymous author was a man. She is the ultimate betrayal of woman as the equal of man. O herself is essentially a piece of livestock who exists to be tortured and degraded.

Some years later, I was reading A Book of Five Rings by the Japanese samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. That book is the condensation of Musashi’s wisdom about being a warrior, written while he was living in a cave toward the end of his life. Each aspect of swordsmanship is denoted by an element; earth, water, fire, wind and the void. The first four deal with the elements of the craft, while the last, the book of the void, deals with the correct mindset. Essentially, it’s what Eugen Herrigel dealt with in Zen in the Art of Archery; the ability to achieve physical mastery as a direct result of spiritual mastery, which requires that the student learns to leave the self, the ego, behind.

The name of the protagonist of Story of O is the answer to the riddle which was staring at me through the bars of the text the whole time I was reading. She is a zero. She is a cipher. She is a nothing. She becomes through sex, rather than swordplay or archery, egoless and enters the void. The mind-blowing irony of this is that for Musashi or Herrigel, Enlightenment is achieved by defending the self through the literal fight for survival. In fact, the word mastery is an apt summation. For O, however, it is the opposite; she gives herself away and becomes the slave.

I’m not sure if I feel horrified or inspired; I think it is actually a commingling of both. In this, the novel exerts a profound measure of genius.

4 Responses to “Story of O”

  1. S&M or D&S is a complex subject rarely talked about seriously. Most of the movies and books are pure voyeurism for both sides of the equation without touching on the underlying motivations. People tend to focus on the silly or the sadists however in reality the community is mostly made up of submissive females with constant complaints about the lack of dominant men. CollarMe is a good starting place for those who wish to travel that road.

    My partner and myself explored this culture extensively over many years and both had major personal growth into what we feel is a deeper understanding of human sexuality and ultimately or ironically a more peaceful, deeper and loving relationship with ourselves and those around us.
    Possibly we destroyed our innocence, possibly we exercised our demons but we learned to love our bodies, became comfortable in them and shed their beastly interference in our lives at the same time. On the whole it was a thoroughly worthwhile experience.

    We eventually came to the fundamental belief that S&M is a component to some degree of almost all human sexual relations even if so subtle as one pushing just a fraction harder than required during sex. In this understanding we separated love and sex which enabled much of our sexual relationship to become a sort of explosive stress relief program for everyone involved and not something cruel. At the same time the love aspect of our relationship become completely immune to sexual interference which in itself has bought an uncommon internal peace. Most of our friends in the community experienced the same thing. This is often lost in the literature or video which is designed as shocking titillation for the perverse. Not having read the book I can say the movie trys to take a serious approach to the subject but this is lost in the cinematic.

  2. Avid reader Says:

    Matt I would be interested on your thoughts on the Marketplace series by Laura Antoniou. I read them a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend who spent many years as a submissive. Quite remarkable the power that the written word has to evoke certain feelings.

    • I am afraid I havnt read them and neither has my wife but I did take the time to google a bit to get an idea. It seems quite a genuine depection of the more intense side of the lifestyle. For us this was like therapy many years ago and hardly plays in our current comfortable polyamourous relationships so we are unlikely to explore the literature mostly due to lack of time. We started as depressed, neurotic personalities and came out the other end super chilled, happy, self caring, balanced and loving people. We also gained a new appreciation for taking care of our bodies. I can imagine alot of people would assume its some kind of nasty destination where you start soft and spiral into the extreme unable to ever go back to normality which is usually what is portrayed.

      If you think about it, the human being wasnt designed to be as comfortable as we are today. Physical pain is sopposed to be an integral part of human existence by design. I imagine Jarrod has learned this lesson through his years the boxing ring.

  3. Le origini di Histoire d’O

    «Che a esser prostituita lei potesse guadagnare in dignità stupiva, eppure proprio di dignità si trattava. Ne era illuminata come dall’interno, e dal suo portamento traspariva la calma, dal suo volto la serenità e quell’impercettibile sorriso interiore che s’intuisce negli occhi delle suore di clausura».

    Questo passo di Histoire d’O è forse la chiave di volta del raffinato romanzo di Pauline Réage, e induce lettori e critici a interrogarsi sulle fonti di quel capolavoro della letteratura erotica.

    Histoire d’O ci ricorda che tutto nella donna richiama la sessualità, e che ogni femmina è una schiava sessuale che gode allo stesso modo delle carezze e delle frustate. Il romanzo per certi versi ha l’aspetto di un testo religioso: una vera e propria mistica dell’ascesi erotica in cui la protagonista annulla la propria personalità, quasi come certe monache visionarie che raggiungevano l’estasi nella contemplazione del divino.

    Il tema non è certo nuovo: tra le forme del sacro che si manifestarono nel mondo antico spicca tra le più singolari l’istituto della prostituzione sacra. Presso i Sumeri, i Babilonesi, i Fenici, i Greci, gli Etruschi, c’erano sacerdotesse che si offrivano all’unione sessuale coi pellegrini che visitavano i templi dedicati alle divinità dell’amore.

    Le prostitute sacre potevano essere donne di alto rango che si accoppiavano coi sovrani, oppure erano schiave che si univano coi visitatori dei templi. In ogni caso sappiamo che le prostitute sacre avevano ruoli importanti nelle cerimonie religiose e che eseguivano la celebre “danza dei sette veli”, di cui resta ricordo anche in testimonianze letterarie e in racconti popolari. È probabile che le sacerdotesse praticassero anche riti di espiazione, come sembrano suggerire certe testimonianze iconografiche, ad esempio gli affreschi della “Villa dei Misteri” a Pompei, o la “tomba della fustigazione” nelle pitture etrusche di Tarquinia.

    Tuttavia alcuni aspetti della prostituzione rituale sembrano aver ispirato forme liturgiche cristiane come le “processioni delle verginelle” e affiorano in sopravvivenze letterarie che attraversano i secoli, al punto che non è azzardato supporre l’esistenza di una società segreta femminile che ha tramandato per millenni i misteri dei riti sessuali…

    Un autentico antesignano di Histoire d’O si può considerare il carme latino medievale Disciplina Amoris, recentemente scoperto in un codice del XII secolo. Si tratta di un pezzo poetico che appartiene a un filone di letteratura goliardica molto in voga nel medioevo. Il testo descrive una sacerdotessa impegnata in una sorta di liturgia penitenziale. Leggendo queste eleganti quartine sembra proprio di poter individuare un filo conduttore che dalle antiche sacerdotesse della prostituzione sacra, ci porta al leggendario romanzo di Pauline Réage.

    Disciplina Amoris

    Ave Venus, mater diva,
    fons suprema bonitatis,
    tege me, dea lasciva,
    sub praesidium sanctitatis.

    Prostitutio ritualis
    valde Venerem honorat:
    sum beghina sexualis
    quae devota semper orat.

    Sanctam Venerem exoro
    in vigilia feminarum
    monasterii. Lunam oro,
    devotissima servarum.

    Ad altare introibo
    sanctae Veneris praeclarae.
    Labia vulvae aperibo
    super saxum sanctae arae.

    Penetratio in vagina
    semper regula iucunda
    et sum Veneri vicina
    madens sic seminis unda.

    In divinis sum versata,
    sacrificiis colo deos,
    nudo corpore elata
    patefacio sinus meos.

    Venus iubet paenitentiam:
    a flagellis verberata
    sic demonstro sufferentiam,
    in dolore sum beata.

    Sub flagelli ictus ploro,
    corpus tendo cum dolore:
    in suppliciis semper oro
    deam matrem cum ardore.

    In catenis vinculata
    semper nuda ago vitam;
    in hoc templo obiectata,
    praebeo vulvam non invitam.

    Nudis pedibus incedo
    super saxa, super spinas,
    a dolore non recedo:
    patior poenas femininas.

    Cera fervens liquefacta
    super nudum corpus meum:
    et dolori assuefacta
    nunc amoris precor deum.

    Culus meus penetratur
    dum me verberant tergino,
    et os meum irrumatur:
    totum corpus sic inclino.

    Urit fortiter flagellum,
    ictus signant mollem pellem;
    sicut miserum asellum
    verberari fortius vellem.

    Voluptatis sum amica,
    semper cupida amoris;
    mollis lambo, impudica,
    vulvam madidam sororis.

    Habeo anulos in sexu,
    tinniunt valde et conturbor
    tacta sic eorum nexu:
    dum deambulo masturbor.

    Vitiosissima puella
    sentio multum desiderii:
    claudo digitum in cella
    corporalis monasterii.

    Copulare apud templum
    dat divina privilegia,
    vita mea est exemplum:
    sacratarum sum egregia.

    Sint patricii vel plebei
    omnes mentulam sublevant
    in conspectu sexus mei:
    asininas voces levant.


    Sibilla di Saxatica
    Società Editrice «Il Ponte Vecchio»

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