A 1954 erotic novel by Anne Desclos, written under the pseudonym Pauline Réage. By far the most famous and generally considered the best-written piece of BDSM pornography. She wrote it to win back her lover, Jean Paulhan. The novel has become a major source of tropes for later BDSM, although most of what Desclos describes existed in previous pornography. (The plot itself is closest to Marquis de Sade's Philosophy In The Bedroom.) Predictably, it was a major target of criticism by the French government, who tried to ban it, and later by (some) feminists, many of whom argued that the book was obviously written by a man. Desclos remained anonymous for four decades, during which time several movie adaptations were made, and someone else even published a sequel under the Pauline Réage pseudonym. She finally came clean in an interview with The New Yorker.
The story is as follows: A photographer known only as O is taken by her lover to a chateau in Roissy, outside Paris. Here she is forced to become one of many sex slaves for a secret society of men, and is routinely beaten. All the same, she finds that she enjoys this role. Released from Roissy back into a version of her everyday life, she is enjoined by her lover to obey a series of rules. As time passes, O's lover asks her to help him in seducing her friend Jacqueline and bringing her to Roissy as well. At the same time, he "gives her" to his stepbrother, Sir Stephen. Stephen, in turn, turns O over to Samois, an all-female environment similar to Roissy, in which she is beaten and eventually pierced and branded. Finally, she agrees to seduce Jacqueline and Jacqueline's younger sister, as well.
Contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Situation: Is the main relationship in the novel simply Casual Kink and Property of Love, or is it Destructive Romance presented as Romanticized Abuse?
- Costume Porn: The book features a lot of descriptions of clothing and trying them on.
- Destructive Romance: The novel exists in two versions. These versions have very different endings, casting the rest of the story in a very different light. In the most popular version, which most adaptations are built on, the relationship is simply Casual Kink and Property of Love. The other version is a Destructive Romance presented as Romanticized Abuse during most of the book but then abruptly changes tone at the end. It ends with the protagonist and her boyfriend agreeing that she should commit suicide... and she does.
- My Girl Is a Slut: O's lover would rather see her available to other men than have her himself.
- One-Letter Name: The protagonist is referred to only as O.
- Purple Prose: The writing style is often quite flowery with many loving descriptions of clothing, sex acts, and emotions.