As the author once revealed, the character O actually began as Odile, the name of a close friend who’d once been deeply in love with Albert Camus. “She knew all about the name and was enchanted,” Aury said. “But after a few pages I decided that I couldn’t do all those things to poor Odile, so I just kept the first letter.” Contrary to speculation over the years by feminists, academics, psychoanalysts, and general readers obsessed with the book, the name O, she said, “has nothing to do with erotic symbolism or the shape of the female sex.”
However depraved her novel seemed, Aury had set out to create a profoundly personal work of art, not cheap porn. (“That Pauline Réage is a more dangerous writer than the Marquis de Sade follows from the fact that art is more persuasive than propaganda,” declared an essayist in the New York Times Book Review.) Aury was making something new, working with conventions as no one had attempted in quite the same way. “Debauchery conceived of as a kind of ascetic experience is not new, either for men or for women,” she explained, “but until Story of O no woman to my knowledge had said it.”
Is there anything new to say about the book at this point? It defies categorization: too arty for porn, too sexual for literature, too brutal for feminism, too delicate for misogyny. A religious novel written by an atheist, indulgent in its asceticism. An erotic novel written by and for cerebral intellectuals. An anti-romance, in which the steelhard man softens, but is then abandoned for another, harder man, and so on. You generally talk about The Story of O as something unique, not part of any particular genre.