Tuesday, June 21, 2011
A great book, it is truthfully said, is more than a story. It is also an idea, and it is equally true that the better the story, the greater the idea. Some of the most influential novels in modern literary history can also be ranked among some of the most boring. But they all affected the way people live, and did so in a way that permeates our culture and language to this day.
read more on the book's background at Eden Fantasys.
A mid-1970s movie version (The Story of Joanna) starring Jamie Gillis and directed by Gerard Damiano only glanced at the novel itself, but will still be a familiar tale to anyone who discussed the unread book behind the gymnasium in High School.
My own novel Miss America was written with at least half my memory fixed on the distorted descriptions that I picked up in the years before and after I finally read it. And visitors to the Second Life virtual world will not only find communities, but entire life forces built around the characters, places, the acts and even the sex toys that appear in the book. Few of which, again, bear more than superficial resemblance to anything conceived by Anne Desclos/Pauline Réage herself.
Which, in turn, is the story’s greatest triumph.
French erotica of the late 1940s/early 1950s was all but consumed by bondage and BDSM (a symbol, say the sociologists, of the country’s liberation from Nazi rule at the end of the Second World War). Watch the short stag films that make up the DVD Vintage Erotica Anno 1950, and elements of The Story of O flicker in almost every reel.
For Réage, the greatest challenge was surely to transfer that imagery to the printed page, and it is true that little of what she writes is any more graphic than the action appearing in those flickering little films. It was the establishment’s response, and the attendant knee jerk publicity that attends any attempt to “ban” or “suppress” a piece of art which sent the Story of O soaring into legend. But having done so, the book proved that it deserved its notoriety.
Without ever setting out to write a text book, Réage penned the ultimate treatise; without ever imagining that she would be instructing the next half century on the mores and morals of dominance and submission, she wrote the last word in self-help books. And so deftly did she weave her tale that any attempt (and there have been many) to detail the book’s actual contents, as opposed to their imagined ones, simply fall into cliche and salacious vagaries. Because ultimately, the Story of O is not about its titular heroine getting fucked five ways to Christmas by a succession of her Master’s closest friends; nor about a seemingly independent fashion photographer’s descent into the realms of sexual slavery; nor even about the average male reader’s uncontrollable urge to go out and buy a Master coat or cloak of their own, and find a girl they can use in the same way as O.
It is about empowerment; it is about strength; and it is about freedom. All of which continue to blaze no matter how distorted the mirror they are seen through.
Posted by Jenny Swallows at 12:48 AM