Of a remarkable book and two very remarkable women

Angie David “Dominique Aury, The Secret Life of the Author of Histoire d’O” is a remarkable book, as far as I know as yet untranslated in English. Its author, Angie David, is the young redaction secretary of La Revue Littéraire. The book was awarded the 2006 Bourse Goncourt prize for biography. For a first book it would be a rare achievement, but this is also a special biography. Dominique Aury, better known as Pauline Réage in the non academic English speaking world, the pseudonym she wrote Histoire d’O under, was indeed a remarkable woman whose long life would present a tough challenge for any experienced biographer. Miss Aury, as she said herself, had a vocation for clandestinity.

For a start Dominique Aury is also a pseudonym. Born Anne Desclos in 1907, Dominique,  who died in 1998, wrote only one novel (“Retour à Roissy” is an extension to “Histoire d’O”) but several anthologies and a plethora of articles ranging over a stupefying spectrum of authors, poets and artists. For many years, from the early 40’s to her old age, she was at the centre of literary life and reviews in Paris. A quiet hero of the intellectual résistance during the Nazi occupation of France, she was the lover of two of the towering figures of the French literary world of the first half of the 20th century: Thierry Maulnier and Jean Paulhan, and as a liberated and bisexual intellectual the dominant partner in a number of female amitiés particulières, notably with Edith Thomas and Jeanine Aeply, wife of the painter Jean Fautrier.

Miss David’s book is remarkable in its research, its empathy with the subject, its style and also its form. Rather than espousing the linear progression common to most life stories, Angie David deconstructs Dominique’s long career, as woman, writer and – like herself – redaction secretary of a prestigious review, the NRF, under the three names Dominique adopted: starting with Pauline Réage (Histoire d’O, Post-War, Jean Paulhan and Public Life), moving to Anne Desclos (Childhood and young adulthood, Thierry Maulnier, the War, her friendship with Maurice Blanchot) and Dominique (Édith Thomas, Janine Aeply, the end). This is poignant: as the reader follows Dominique’s friendships and loves, her struggle for her son, her parents, her unassuming heroism, the way she avoided commiments and yet remained loyal to friends and lovers – unless they abandoned her – one has a deep longing for a woman far ahead of her time, but also anchored in the culture of the past.

I am currently posting a translation of Dominique’s dialogue with Régine Deforges (“O m’a dit, entretiens avec Pauline Réage”) on Of Glass & Paper. I have written to Miss David offering to do the same with her book, leaving the ownership entirely with her publisher, Léo Scheer. I haven’t heard from any of them but I will probably proceed with the project, and post in these pages, time permitting. For francophone/phile readers: a must read!

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