XY: Darling XX, you are positively purring.
XX: It feels slightly guilty, XY, but when we play at my complete submission to you, what could be seen as constraint is in fact completely freeing … something in me at first rebels at the idea of being in thrall to your cock, your orders, but then the pleasure it brings to me is like letting a wave wash over you. On my knees, I suddenly remembered The Story of O, and her journey—from fear and excitement in submission to René and his half-brother Sir Stephen, to finding her complete power within it. And when I looked up at you, I knew I was both helpless and all-powerful.
XY: Did you know the book was first written as a series of explicit love letters, and that Pauline Réage was a pseudonym? I thought you might like that, given our own wonderfully explicit epistolary history.
XX: How tantalising, XY! I know that Pauline’s real name was Anne Desclos—a pseudonym is like a masque de balle, and perhaps a feathered one at that.
XY: You know I can’t resist a nom de plume. But guilty, why—because you shouldn’t enjoy it as much as you do? We all want to be relieved of the burden of agency sometimes, XX. I recall the scene when O is bathed by the two chambermaids at Roissy, where she is trained in this strange new sexual obedience, prohibited from even washing her own sex. Do you remember? She is forced to do what many of us are too shy to do—to be naked in front of strangers, relentlessly observed, waited on without guilt, and then to be had by others without the complication of consent. But that’s shameful, isn’t it? Yet the fantasy endures—of being a beautiful object, a plaything; subjected to the whims of men, yet somehow having your own pleasure remain at the very centre—she is the servant of lust, but her response suggests they serve her as well.
The Story of O captures that fantasy of helplessness: of being, in the words of O, ‘so stripped and exposed’. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of freedom-within-constraint now and then? After all, it is only a fantasy. I could not trust a lover who refused to give up control, who would only be controlling—could you?
XX: Oh, no! My lovers must embrace both the light and dark of desire. after all, part of O’s pleasure was the shock of never knowing if she was to be gently loved or brutally used, realising that those needs are ‘constant and contradictory’. Isn’t that so true? Sometimes the dark is exactly what makes us understand ourselves, if we can embrace it as she does. And you know that I love to feel the lust rising in your muscles as you restrain me or wield the crop, as much as your caresses. My breath catches in my throat when you look at me—my curves and responses part of the hard calculation of your pleasure.
XY: Naughty XX. I admit there is much to resist—we naturally empathise with O’s humiliation. But it’s voyeuristic and I want to know what happens next, being so aroused by what feels like the dangerous unknown. René tells her to ring the doorbell of a strange château, almost naked beneath her coat. She thinks of ‘sweetness mingled with terror’. When you read those words didn’t you want to be led inside—blindfolded, tied, and fucked?
XX: Yes, XY, I wanted to feel my skin shiver, to give myself to that unknown. But what she learns later from Anne-Marie, her final ‘teacher’ before she is formally marked—pierced and branded, imagine!—as Sir Stephen’s, is another kind of power—that of women towards women. They are stronger and wiser than men ever could be, because the men are only playing at pleasure and control. When she is dressed as the owl, taken to the midnight party at the end, she has completed a metamorphosis, resplendent in her new sexual wisdom.
XY: I am only here to learn, XX. The gorgeous Parisian setting—the rain outside, the darkness and the sculpted gardens, the grand entranceways—feels properly luxurious. It makes me want to have you, blindfolded in a room of velvet and wood, your skin stroked by silk and reddened by taut, wet leather.
XX: I would adore that—because I know even as you make me cry out, those cries make you more fiercely mine. But now, darling XY, it is your turn. Will you be as obedient as O, and submit to me?
XY: Whatever you desire, XX.