Aury, Dominique 1907–1998
AURY, Dominique 1907–1998
PERSONAL: Born Anne Desclos, September 23, 1907, in France; name changed, c. 1940; died April 30, 1998 (some sources say April 26, 1998). Education: Lycée Fénelon (Paris, France), graduated; attended École du Louvre.
CAREER: Gallimard (publishing house), Paris, France, reader and editor, 1950–c.98; Nouvelle Revue Française (literary review), editor and, beginning 1953, general secretary; coeditor, beginning 1941, of Lettres Françaises. Worked as a translator and journalist, c. 1930s; worked for L'Arche magazine, c. late 1940s.
AWARDS, HONORS: Deux-Magots prize, 1955, for Histoire d'O; named to French Legion of Honor.
FICTION; UNDER PSEUDONYM PAULINE RÉAGE
Histoire d'O (novel), preface by Jean Paulhan, J.-J. Pauvert (Sceaux, France), 1954, new edition, 1972, translation of original edition by Jean Paulhan published as The Story of O, Olympia Press (Paris, France), 1954, published with illustrations by Guido Crepax as Story of O, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1978, translation by John Paul Hand published as The Story of O, Blue Moon Books (New York, NY), 1993.
The Wisdom of the Lash, with an essay by Jean Paulhan, Olympia Press (Paris, France), 1957.
Retour à Roissy: précédé de une fille amoureuse (erotic stories; sequel to Histoire d'O), J.-J. Pauvert (Paris, France), 1969, translated by Sabine d'Estrée published as Return to the Château; Preceded by A Girl in Love, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1971, published as Retour à Roissy; Une fille amoureuse, J.-J. Pauvert, 1975, published as Story of O, Part II, Return to the Château; Preceded by A Girl in Love, 1980.
(Editor, with Jean Paulhan) La patrie de fait tous les jours, textes français, 1939–1945, Éditions de minuit (Paris, France), 1947.
(Compiler) Poètes d'aujourd'hui, preface by Jean Paulhan, Éditions de Clairefontaine (Paris, France), 1947.
Lausanne, Guilde du Livre (Lausanne, France), 1952.
Lecture pour tous (criticism), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1958, translation by Denise Folliot as Literary Landfalls, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1960.
Lecture pour tous II (criticism), preface by Jean Roudaut, selected by Nicole Aboulker, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1999.
(With Nicole Grenier) Vocation: Clandestine (interviews), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1999.
Editor of anthology of religious poetry, Gallimard, 1943; editor, with Jean Paulhan, of anthology of writings on the French Resistance, 1947; translator of books. Contributor to Parlez-nous d'amour, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1986.
Histoire d'O has been translated into more than twenty languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Histoire d'O was adapted as a French film in 1974.
SIDELIGHTS: Throughout most of her life, Dominique Aury, who was born Anne Desclos, remained concealed beneath altered identities. A respected literary editor, she was also the mistress of critic and editor Jean Paulhan. In addition, she was eventually shown to be the long-unidentified author of the erotic fantasy Histoire d'O a book published under the pen name Pauline Réage. The true identity of Réage was kept hidden for forty years until it was finally publicly revealed by New Yorker writer John de St. Jorre in his 1994 article "The Unmasking of O." Aury kept her authorship a secret because she did not wish to embarrass her family and friends. In fact, when she originally wrote Histoire d'O—which was later translated into English as Story of O—it was not with the intention of having it published. Instead, it was an effort to woo the married Paulhan, because she was worried that he was losing interest in her as his mistress. Aury knew Paulhan was an admirer of the Marquis de Sade, and she thought that writing a sexual fantasy as a sort of extended love letter to Paulhan would revive their relationship. She was surprised when Paulhan encouraged her to publish the work. When the novel was released in 1954, it caused a sensation, and in the United States it became a popular success, particularly during the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Aury, whose mother abandoned her to the care of the child's grandmother, grew up living a solitary life that led her to find solace in books. She earned a teaching degree, but instead of becoming a teacher she found work as a translator. During World War II, when she abandoned her given name and adopted the name Dominique Aury, possibly because of her involvement in the French Resistance. She also worked as a literary journalist and compiled an anthology of religious poetry. Aury was trying to get the anthology published when her father introduced her to Paulhan. Paulhan had been the editor of the respected literary journal Nouvelle Revue Française prior to the German invasion of France and he now convinced Gallimard to publish Aury's work. Aury was enchanted by the brilliant, older married man, and the two collaborated on another journal, Les Lettres Françaises. Talking with De St. Jorre about these early days with Paulhan, Aury recalled that her feelings for him were not a matter of love at first sight: "It was slow, but it went very—efficiently. I didn't realize what was going on at first…. At first, I thought it was a caprice. But, no, it was better than that."
Although Aury could not deny her growing love for Paulhan, the fact that she became his mistress was uncomfortable for her because she felt embarrassed for Paulhan's wife and children. She especially felt guilt about his wife, who was suffering from a terminal illness. Nevertheless, she allowed Paulhan to buy a home for her, which he would regularly visit, and she remained faithful in her love to him until he died in 1968. He, on the other hand, was less-than-faithful to her, not to mention his wife, and had several other lovers besides Aury. It was this, along with her awareness that she was aging, that led her to write Histoire d'O as a gift to Paulhan.
Aury wrote the first sixty pages very quickly, in longhand. She surprised herself at how easily her fantasies flowed onto the paper, and was also nervous that what she had written would actually turn Paulhan away from their affair. The story had the opposite effect, however, and he urged her to write more. Aury was now working for the French publisher Gallimard, and when Paulhan presented them with the manuscript as the work of an author named Réage, it was rejected. Nevertheless, he kept trying and eventually found publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert, who had a reputation as a risk taker. Histoire d'O was thus released in 1954.
Histoire d'O is the ribald tale of the eponymous woman (her name was originally Odile, after one of Aury's friends, but was shortened to O when Aury decided she did not want anyone to think she was writing about a real person so close to her), who accepts the invitation of a man named René to join him at a château in Roissy. There she allows herself to be subjected to the sadomasochistic pleasures of both the male and female guests at the home. Startlingly, O seems to enjoy the debasing treatment and even expresses bisexual yearnings. Although the book depicts graphic erotic situations that many would label pornographic, critics have been impressed by its objective descriptions and great detail, which have the effect of distancing the reader from what is happening in the story. Further, because the acts depicted in the book are well beyond the norm, both the author and reviewers have asserted that Histoire d'O should not be considered as rooted in reality. Therefore, as Kenneth Anderson later pointed out in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, this "fairy tale is not fundamentally a morality tale, in the sense of cautionary moral preachment." Anderson further explained that critics against O who complain of her passivity at such treatment are misguided: "It seems just as plausible, rather, to read O not as a person psychologically needing to be dominated, by implication caught in the grip of false consciousness or morally damaged or defunct, but instead as a person powerfully drawn to the virtues associated with hierarchy; O, although pagan, has a vocation." The reviewer continued, "O seeks virtue, but the virtue she seeks flourishes only in hierarchy, and the modern world has done its best to abolish the hierarchies spiritually necessary for her. This simple theme is taken seriously in Story of O and unsurprisingly is a staple theme of much of BDSM [bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism] fiction."
As for her own take on the novel, Aury described it to De St. Jorre as "une lettre d'amour [a love letter]…. Nothing else." As for "the scandalous side of O," the New Yorker writer said Aury called it "Much ado about nothing." Aury, who continued to work part time for Gallimard into her eighties, also published a sequel to her sensational novel titled Retour à Roissy: précédé de une fille amoureuse, but this work received much less attention. In later life, she focused mainly on her more literary, critical books, revealing herself as the writer behind Réage only four years before her death. By that time, most of the people who might have been harmed by the revelation were no longer alive.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Deforges, Régine, O m'a dit: entretiens avec Pauline Réage, J.-J. Pauvert (Paris, France), 1975, translation by Sabine d'Estrée as Confessions of O: Conversations with Pauline Réage, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1979.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 20, 1999, Kenneth Anderson, "The Erotics of Virtue," review of Story of O, p. 3.
New Yorker, August 1, 1994, John de St. Jorre, "The Unmasking of O," p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, Maureen O'Brien, "Erotic 'O' Author Outed!," p. 13.
Signs, summer, 1998, Dorothy Kaufmann, "The Story of Two Women: Dominique Aury and Edith Thomas," p. 883.
Guardian (Manchester, England), May 4, 1998, p. 13. New York Times, May 3, 1998, section 1, p. 52.