The Story of O (1954)
When it comes to the most shocking erotic novels, The Story of O is usually at the top of everyone’s list. Playing out like a male dominance fantasy, a Parisian photographer’s lover René initiates her to the BDSM lifestyle by bringing her to a chateau, where a secret club trains her in the art of submission. When they arrive, to prove the strength of their connection, Rene tells O that he is giving her to his stepbrother as a sex slave.
Sir Stephen proves to be stricter than her lover, but that is the point: Rene wants to teach O how to be a submissive lover when there are no personal feelings involved. By summer, Sir Stephen has complete control over O, who sends her to a mansion of dominant female masters for further training. When O returns to Sir Stephen, he presents her to a party as a sex slave, and everyone at the party objectifies her in every possible way.
Written under the pen name Pauline Réage, French novelist Anne Desclos kept her identity a secret for about four decades; finally, before her death in 1998, she revealed that she had written The Story of O and why she had written it. While she was working for the French publisher Jean Paulham, who was also her boyfriend, he revealed that he was a fan of the Marquis de Sade. When he also told her that no woman could write like the eighteenth-century French nobleman, Desclos took the statement as a challenge, writing The Story of O as a love letter to Paulham.
The Story of O was a huge commercial success, winning the coveted Prix des Deux Magots literature prize in France in February 1955. The French courts brought obscenity charges against the author and the publisher. The charges were eventually thrown out, but the courts won the right to prevent the publisher and the unknown author from publicizing the book for many years. Many Feminists have heavily criticized the novel for its objectification and violence against women. A group of French feminists, Mouvement de liberation des femmes, publicly protested when a film based on the book was released, claiming that the book and the movie were offensive.