The novel Story of O by Pauline Reage was controversial when released in 1954 and still retains its (in)famous reputation -- but what of its history? Who was the woman behind the pseudonym Pauline Reage? What happened when the book was released? And was Story of O more fantasy or reality? Director Pola Rapaport explores the fact behind the fiction in the documentary Writer of O.

Dominique Aury was a French writer, an intellectual (traveling in the same circles as Albert Camus), a member of the French Resistance during World Wat 2 -- and the lover of married publisher Jean Paulhan. She expressed her love to him by writing Story of O, and she remained hidden behind her pseudonym Pauline Reage until "coming out" 40 years later in an article in The New Yorker by John de St. Jarre. Writer of O explores Aury's life, and her famous work, through: interviews with Aury and authors, publishers, critics, and journalists; news footage of both Aury and the sensation Story of O caused in the 1950s; and actors re-creating both excerpts from the novel and interviews and discussions of people involved with its publication.

Writer of O shows us what a remarkable woman Dominique Aury was. (She passed away in 1998.) In her youth, even while keeping her authorship secret she was a passionate advocate of the power of literature and the imagination. As a woman in her 80s she retained both her sharp mind and dignity, effortlessly defending her work ("women are as immoral as men") while noting that she kept her secret for 40 years because when she finally revealed her authorship, people were less likely to attack an old woman.

As for the rest of the world of Story of O, the documentary is a little one-sided. Everyone interviewed is a fan of both Aury and her novel; many are far from objective, such as the French and American publishers who first released the book, or friends of Aury and Pauhan. And while dramatic snippets from the novel illustrate Story of O's appeal and controversial nature, Writer of O blurs its non-fiction perspective by also having actors portraying the same people already interviewed or shown in news footage. Still, there are good analyses of what happened when Story of O was released, both from critics today and some people who were there when it exploded on the literary world.

Despite these flaws, Writer of O is a good look at not just at the woman behind Pauline Reage and some of the history surrounding the novel. (The dvd also has mini-interviews on several topics, from where the name "O" came from to the original translations.)

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch

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