DeadGirl Drama's Reviews > Story of O

Story of O by Pauline Réage
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's review
Sep 02, 2010

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bookshelves: bdsm, captivity, non-consensual, erotica

“A Classic Story Eclipsed by Contemporary BDSM Erotica”

The Plot:
The Story of O, originally Histoire d’O, is a classic novel that elicited quite a stir (not to mention obscenity charges against its publisher) when it was originally published in 1954. The author, Anne Desclos, writing under the pen name Pauline Réage, wrote the story as a series of love letters in response to her lover, who challenged that a woman could not write erotic literature similar to that of the Marquis de Sade. In fact, Desclos did not even publicly admit to being the author until several decades later, shortly before her death.

Desclos had written the tale of O. O is taken by her lover without her consent to a chateau in France called Roissy, where she is stripped of her clothing and her self and trained to be a sexual slave to any man who is trained in the ways of Roissy — complete with regular beatings and a mandate to make herself available to any Roissy affiliate upon command. She is released from Roissy weeks later with another view on life — one complete without undergarments and an iron ring so that she can be recognized by Roissy affiliates anywhere she goes.

But O’s lover, René, is not done with her yet. He decides to give O to his more dominant half-brother, Sir Stephen, where she is to become Stephen’s personal slave. Initially, Stephen is a cold stranger compared to René. He uses and abuses O as a detached owner, putting her through beatings and sexual escapades with little love or concern. But even Stephen begins to develop feelings for O and René eventually fades into the background.

In the end, O finds herself at the mercy of a sado-masochistic cycle of dominance and submission from which she discovers she has no desire to escape.

Zelda’s Take:
Reading The Story of O was a strange experience for me. In some regard, reading the book is a bit of a right of passage in the world of BDSM literature. Many people have admitted that it was reading The Story of O (or watching the documentary) that set them on their own path to discovering their kinky preferences For me, I discovered BDSM erotica after having discovered my kink, so in a way I am playing catch up with the psychological and emotional mindfuck that can be BDSM erotica. Because of this, The Story of O may have been less meaningful to me, or less life-altering, than it has been for others.

Throughout, I couldn’t help but feel that The Story of O was a bit elementary and shallow as compared to other more recently written novels I’ve read. Sure, perhaps it was the progenitor of those novels, but I just couldn’t get over some striking disappointments.

Most notably, I had great difficulty connecting with the characters, most of which are virtually devoid of emotion throughout. O barely reacts at all to her situation. When René first captures her and carts her off to Roissy, she does not exhibit fear, confusion or anger as one would expect. Despite the fact that René gave her no indication of his desires previous to this point, she is not surprised either. Every step of the way, O takes her situation in stride, as if simply her love for René alone is enough to make everything okay for her. She even admits to liking what he puts her through, but we see no character development that even makes this pleasure believable. She loves René and is willing to submit to him in any way he sees fit. In fact, this love for René is pretty much the only strong emotion we get from O throughout the entire story.

René, himself, is a shell of a character as well, although admittedly one with slightly more intrigue than that of O. What brings René to Roissy in the first place? What is his deal? Why does he willingly subject O to Roissy and then discard her without, seemingly, a second thought? Why is René fearful of going further with O? There are so many questions that go unanswered about René that it’s more of a frustration than anything else.

Sir Stephen is another enigma. We know that he is a strong dominant and that he likely does develop true feelings for O. He is also a sadist to the extreme, forcing O to accept his irons and brand, and then, depending on which translation you read, apparently tires of her and ditches her in the end regardless.

I couldn’t help but read the story and get irritated with O for being so weak and vapid, at René for being so manipulative and empty, at Sir Stephen for not caring more. In the end, my reaction to the story is probably driven by the fact that participating in BDSM and power exchange is very much an act of love for me — both on the receiving end, as well as on the giving end. The fact that neither René nor Stephen ever exhibit true caring or concern for O or her well-being is endlessly frustrating for me. And the fact that O hangs on to René despite his obvious mistreatment of her breaks my heart. For me, the return for an individual’s total submission is to know that the dominant has the submissive’s best interests in mind. I felt that René and Stephen could not have cared less about O, as evidenced by their treating and playing her like a vapid fuck-toy without a care for maintaining or nurturing her psyche.

Now, if you are a voyeuristic reader looking for a step-by-step, how-to illustration of sadism and the domination of a woman, The Story of O will satisfy. The techniques used at Roissy and by Stephen and René are textbook D/s-M/s, complete with psychological, emotional and physical domination and ownership. The story is made even more colorful by its somewhat Victorian feel, with complex undergarments and makeup, and the pomp and circumstance of a society far removed from our modern, 21st century world. It is remarkable for being revolutionary for its time — giving the world a glimpse into a lifestyle unheard of by most, and opening many individuals’ eyes to their own repressed or hidden desires.

But, for me, the fascination that O’s world inspires was not nearly enough to keep it afloat. In the end, The Story of O is simply a story about nonconsensual slavery without the safeword of love or tenderness to pull it from the depths of despair. It is simply a story about the hapless shell of a victim of two sadists who have their way with women without reason aside from the gratification of their own selfish desires — a tragic, shallow tale of cruelty as illustrated in the context of BDSM.

I gave The Story of O a 3-book rating and do recommend reading it, but only as a method of better understanding the origin and progression of BDSM erotica in the past half a century in order to gain a greater appreciation of more contemporary titles.


Check out more of my reviews at Zelda's Bookshelf!
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Reading Progress

September 2, 2010 – Started Reading
September 2, 2010 – Shelved
September 2, 2010 – Shelved as: bdsm
September 2, 2010 – Shelved as: captivity
September 2, 2010 – Shelved as: non-consensual
September 2, 2010 – Shelved as: erotica
September 6, 2010 –
September 9, 2010 –
73.0% "Rene is an ass."
September 12, 2010 –
94.0% "ah, Sir Stephen."
September 13, 2010 – Finished Reading

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