NOTE: As this text is somewhat long and rambling, I have cut it into four sections and added headings. The two "de Berg" sections are the main story and can be read independently of the other two sections.
Not long before moving to Palo Alto, I somehow got very interested in Robbe-Grillet again--I don't remember exactly why. But I reread Recollections of the Golden Triangle (1978) on the plane when going there to look for an apartment, and was reminded what a fantastic book it is. This got me interested in trying to learn French again, just in time since I had less than a month of vacation left. I was able to tape most of French in Action from the Cambridge library (very lucky since the San Jose library would also have it, but be much farther away and charge $1.50 a tape) and by incredible good luck catch the last day of the Mark Tansey (who did one painting with R-G as the subject) exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts.
I was getting tired of rereading R-G's novels over and over again, though, and wanted to find someone else. There were still several R-G novels untranslated, which would be motiviation to learn French, but it would be a long time still until I could not only read but also fully appreciate them. There were still several other writers in the "New Novel" group, but what little I'd tried of them I found to pale in comparison to R-G's works. Marguerite Duras was perhaps my second favorite, but it was a very distant second. But the MIT library had a few books by the others, so I decided to give them a try while I still had access to it. They had several books by Robert Pinget--apparently some obscure publisher (Red Dust) was devoting itself to translating and publishing all his works; very commendable. I picked a recent one, The Enemy, figuring Robbe-Grillet had gotten much better as time went on so maybe Pinget did as well. And The Enemy seemed pretty good, cleary an original and interesting work. It lacked, though, what is perhaps the most important quality of R-G's writing--that it is fun to read, not just because of the subject matter, but the language itself. So I had a lot of trouble getting through it, and gave up less than halfway.
I also happened to find another author, Monique Wittig, who I guess wasn't technically a new novelist (or maybe she was, as she appeared in a roundtable discussion with Robbe-Grillet and friends in a book I would later find in the Stanford library titled Three Decades of the French New Novel; I recently found a used copy of the book, which is out of print apparently, at Chimera in Palo Alto) but who stuck out thanks to the easy to recognize covers of Les Editions de Minuit. Again I tried out the most recent novel of hers I could find, which was the 1975 book Virgile, Non, a great title the translator regrettably decided to change to Across the Acheron. The book seemed to be a sort of lesbian feminist retelling of Dante's Divine Comedy, and maybe I would have enjoyed it more had I read that work, but I found it pretty dull. So no luck there.
That was all I had time for in Cambridge, but upon arriving in Palo Alto one of the first things I did was get a library card at the city's excellent public library, and at the main branch happened upon a book that I think I own a copy of, although it's in Indianapolis, by someone named Vivian Mercier (I think) titled The New Novel or something like that. I was paging through it when I happened across a chapter about Claude Mauriac, who seems only tenuously connected to the group (for one thing none of his books were published by Minuit) and perhaps for that reason I'd more or less ignored him before. But by luck this time I happened upon a passage quoted from his first novel, All Women Are Fatal (1957; considered fairly ordinary, according to Mercier, so normally I might have dismissed it), which stuck me right away as beautiful. Here it is, the opening paragraph of the novel:
Two black holes instead of eyes, Mathilde is lying near me. With her heavy breasts, her long slender legs and above all her golden, downy, flawless skin, she'd be one of the loveliest girls I know if she weren't so expressionless. She keeps quiet. I've always liked quiet women. The sand is soft under my almost naked body. It yields under my belly and at the same time resists, embracing me in a supple matrix. Warmth. A thought, a hint of movement would be enough to make this pleasure explicit.
Somewhat similar to Robbe-Grillet's style (and not surprising, perhaps, as the translator is Richard Howard, who also translated all of R-G's novels up to Project for a Revolution in New York (1970)), and like him, very fun just to read. I finally had found another writer I really liked, and of course I had to have everything by him. This proved to be a difficult task, as Mauriac is even more difficult to find than Robbe-Grillet (in fact of all the new novelists only Duras seems to have any popularity these days--even Claude Simon with his Nobel prize is more or less unknown, and Robbe-Grillet is probably second after Duras in availability--a distant second). Only three of Mauriac's novels (the first three) had apparently been translated into English at all (disappointing because they were the first three books of a tetralogy!) and all three (or maybe just the first and third) were out of print. So I headed for the used book stores and was surprised to find All Women Are Fatal along with the second novel The Dinner Party (1959), both old and in hardcover, at Bell's bookstore in downtown Palo Alto, not far from where we live. Bell has one interesting peculiarity which almost misled me: their English-language fiction section consists of only books originally written in English! Something seemed strange to me when I was looking it over, and upon searching for and not finding Proust I knew something was wrong. Looking upstairs, I found the foreign language books translated into English section, and Mauriac's two novels. I was happy, but in a way disappointed it was so easy, and the high price of the books ($9.50 a piece) as well as their less than ideal condition were drawbacks. I was used to the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, with its policy of half off the cover price, which for these books was $5. The Bay Area in general seems much more expensive for used books than I was used to in Boston. I would later find a hardcover copy of R-G's Topology of a Phantom City (1976) in Mountain View, I think, for $20! I had picked up a copy in perfect condition and McIntyre and Moore (the new best used bookstore in Cambridge) just before leaving for $6. So I decided to wait and see if I could find the books for less elsewhere. It seemed unlikely someone else would be buying them in the near future.
That Thursday (8/18), which may have been the next day, I went to San Francisco and looked at the bookstores around there. By good fortune, I suppose, although I found neither of the first two books, I found the third (The Marquise Went Out at Five (1961)) at MacDonalds, about the same quality as the others, but for $6.50. But my lack of success finding the others convinced me not to push my luck, and I bought the other two at Bell's the next morning.
I also learned a little about Mauriac. He was the son of Francois Mauriac, a famous Catholic writer, so it was no surprise that his novels should all be about sex. And being the son of a Nobel prize-winning author he seemed to have no lack of partners. I had forgotten completely that he was the one who said "Alain Robbe-Grillet is the forerunner of a revolution in the novel more radical than Romanticism and Naturalism were in their time", which adorns the cover of Ghosts in the Mirror (the translation of Le Miroir qui revient (1985), the first volume of R-G's imaginary autobiography, the second volume of which will play an important role later in this story) and other R-G works. This phrase is apparently from a book of essays which is the fourth and only other book of his translated into English, as The New Literature (there may be two books in French with similar names, though, so I'll have to check on this). I never did find this one, but then I haven't tried yet.
It seemed Mauriac had written a lot more (I would find he's been writing a sort of diary/autobiography titled Les temps immobile in which he apparently tries to show his life all happened in one instant, and which is at least up to volume 11 I think) that had never and probably would never appear in English, so this was at last additional motivation to learn French.
The same day I bought Mauriac's first two novels, Friday August 19, I visited Stanford's Green Library for the first time in several years. I'd been able to go before with a special pass Hewlett-Packard had, and somehow found out then that ordinary people could visit the libraries something like seven times a year. Inquiring at the desk this time, I found out I was right, even having recalled the number of times exactly. My first time then was that day, and I went to check out the Mauriac selection (which was nil at MIT, but reasonably good there) and also Robbe-Grillet. I had thought MIT had a pretty good R-G selection, but Stanford's was even better, and in general the library made MIT's Humanities library look pretty pathetic. Sure, MIT had the Robbe-Grillet issue of Obliques, which I thought was pretty amazing. Well, the Green library had every issue of Obliques.
They also not only had The Erotic Dream Machine, a recent book of interviews with R-G about his films, but three other recent books in English about R-G! So it seems that he's finally being recognized, at least in Academia. One of them was titled Robbe-Grillet and Modernity and featured a short interview with him which of course I read immediately. Despite its length of just a couple pages, it's perhaps the best interview of him I've read, as for some reason he is more straightforward than in others. And it featured this surprising line:
A.R-Grillet: Have you read my wife's books...? [Written under the pseudonym of Jeanne de Berg]
I knew his wife Catherine was originally an actress, and she's appeared in small roles in most of his films, as well as taken still photographs of various scenes. But I had no idea that she'd also written anything. Of course I had to find these books. And thus began a fascinating journey.
First of course I looked in the Stanford library catalog that day, and was delighted to find they had a book by her titled Ceremonies des femmes (1985), as well as an English translation published by Grove Press under the title Women's Rites. It seemed to be about her experiences in SM clubs in New York, doubtless during the time her husband was teaching at NYU. Unfortunately I couldn't check it out, but I decided to try to find a copy.
The next day, I think, I set out on this task. Finding the book in a bookstore, new or used, faced numerous obstacles. The first was merely what section to look in. I noted that the book had a Library of Congress classification of "Erotic Stories -- French" or maybe that was "Erotic Stories -- Female" or "French Erotic Stories -- Female." In any case it was not clear what section that would be found in. I doubted most stores had erotica sections, so that left fiction as the next most likely candidate, and indeed looking at a book about Library of Congress classifications, the next most broad category was indeed fiction. Not that bookstore owners would figure this out, though. And indeed when I would later find a review of the book, the magazine classified it under nonfiction. Which still left a great deal of doubt as to the actual category. Sexuality? Women's Studies?
That aside, the next problem was determining just where in the ordering of names de Berg fits in. Stanford put it under B, but D was also possible, and indeed I found no consensus at all among bookstores. I even found Balzac under D at one place!
The easiest method, then, was to just order the book from the publisher. Or it would have been easy had the book been in print. A perusal of both the B and D sections of the Author volume, as well as Women's Rites in the Title volume, reassured me that finding this book was going to be every bit the challenge I feared. I knew from looking at the Stanford copy that it was published in 1985 (the US edition came out soon after, maybe 1987), so it must have only had one printing. I noted Grove Press's phone number and planned to call them Monday to see if they had any extra copies lying around.
Seeing as I couldn't check the book out from Stanford, finding it at another library would have been worthwhile, and relatively easy as well, but at least the Palo Alto one didn't have it. I believe I checked at Mountain View as well, but maybe that was only for Mauriac. I then recalled that I in fact did know someone at Stanford who could check out the book for me as a last resort: Yuan Ma, who is there as a postdoc. I talked with him on the phone and mentioned this. He didn't have his ID yet, and didn't think he'd get it for a month or so. This was fine with me, as I figured I'd search around for that long before giving up and just reading the library copy.
I did find a review of the book in Kirkus Reviews (the volume Book Review Digest didn't mention the book at all, but Book Review Index mentioned a sole review in Kirkus, which very luckily the Palo Alto main library happened to have). It was a short review, basically saying the book was bad, just like all the reviews of Robbe-Grillet's novels that I found. It did have some useful information: the publishing date and ISBN number, and now I was more convinced the book actually did at some point exist.
I also searched what new and used bookstores I could find, but with no success. Which I suppose was only to be expected.
This weekend as well I called up my friend David Watson and of course I had to tell him the news. To my great surprise, he not only had heard of de Berg, but she was one of his favorites and he'd been very interested in finding out who she really was! He had a book called The Image by her, as well as a movie adaptation titled The Punishment of Anne. This was something of a surprise, as Stanford didn't have any other volumes and of course I noticed nothing in Books In Print. But then R-G had implied she'd written more than one book, and one more volume out of print was nothing special. The publisher was again Grove, but David seemed convinced it had come out in the 60's, which seemed too early compared to the other volume. Also he said the name of the author of The Image was not Jeanne de Berg, but Jean de Berg! So he had always thought it was a man!
I had been thinking about the name from the beginning. Since I already knew it was Catherine Robbe-Grillet I figured she must have taken the name from her husband's fictional characters: a Robert de Berg appears in Topology of a Phantom City (1976), clearly representing Rauschenberg of course, although interestingly he appears in the Delvaux section of the novel rather than the part Rauschenberg himself collaborated on. And Jeanne could be a reference to the Jean/Djinn confusion in Djinn (1981); in addition Robert de Berg in Topology has a half-sister named Djinn! This new information from David made these quite plausible theories doubtful. If The Image really came out so early, then the names couldn't have come from these sources. And what about the two different first names? Either it was Catherine both times, in which case at some point she decided to switch from a male to a female pseudonym, or else this Jean de Berg was someone else, and Catherine had then taken the name as a play on that.
The mystery was deepening and I now had two books to look for. David would bring his precious hardcover copy of The Image, along with the movie, shortly, but before then I decided to find what I could. Another trip to the library and I located The Image, this time in Book Reviews Digest, and again the reviews were predictably bad. But now I knew that indeed the author was Jean de Berg, and it came out in 1967. So I wondered if it wasn't in fact someone else. As for finding the book itself, I had no luck as usual. And when I called up Grove they said they had no more copies, nor plans to republish.
Meanwhile, my renewed interest in Robbe-Grillet and discovery of Claude Mauriac were enough to get me to try to learn some more French. It seemed a good idea to try a night class, and when I found I didn't need to take a database class this Fall I decided to try out French. I wanted someplace close that I could at least bicycle to, so the Palo Alto Adult School seemed the best; it had the added advantage of being cheap, only $46 for 7 weeks. On the other hand it wasn't clear it was good. The guy teaching it seemed to also be teaching Spanish classes, in fact both at the exact same time (although at least at different locations). So it didn't seem likely he was a native speaker. I had other worries, though, mainly about which level to take. I took three years of high school French in which I learned just about nothing, but that was over 10 years ago and I'd forgotten what little I may have known. I started to take second-semester French at MIT, but quit after only a couple weeks so I could devote more time to finishing my thesis, which wouldn't ultimately be completed until the end of my fourth semester of Japanese.
That was the main problem, perhaps: Doubtless right after that last futile attempt to learn French, I'd given up on European culture and spent the next six years or more learning Japanese, exploring Japanese culture, and living in Japan. At the beginning when I tried to speak Japanese it came out as French. That was what a "foreign language" was to me. Now, in some cruel retribution, when I try to speak French it comes out as Japanese.
So I had no idea what level I should try for. Surely beginning was too easy, as I could still vaguely remember most of the names of days of the week. That left Intermediate and Advanced. Now even Intermediate seemed optimistic, as my speaking ability was nonexistent, and I couldn't recall the gender of all but a handful of nouns. However the description of Advanced said they would be using French in Action, that wonderful video series of which I'd luckily gotten interested in French again in time to copy the tapes available at the Cambridge main library, which was nearly all of them save for about 10 episodes near the beginning. I wanted to use French in Action (and maybe I could get those remaining episodes somehow) and if they were starting at the beginning I figured I could probably catch up with some effort.
I called the Adult School and asked if I could speak to the instructor. They said he was on vacation and wouldn't be back until just before classes started. However it seemed I could try out the classes before paying, and then register as long as they weren't filled up. That seemed the most reasonable course.
Meanwhile I'd started work at Oracle, but not having a computer and bored of reading manuals, I once again went to bother Daniel Sternberg, one of the half dozen EThetans working there. I told him of my plans to learn French again, since I knew he was fluent in French himself, having grown up in Canada. He informed me that it was Toronto, not Montreal, and that he was planning to brush up his conversation at an advanced class in the Stanford continuing studies program. He thought there was an intermediate one as well. This sounded interesting: the price was much higher, but I figured the quality would be as well, and since time was more valuable than money I decided to find out more.
I called up and requested a catalog which arrived in two days. There was indeed an intermediate class, taught by the same person as the advanced class, a woman named Vida Bertrand. The description said she had a PhD, 16 years experience teaching part time at Stanford, and was a native speaker. The class sounded fun, although expensive: $270 for 10 weeks, plus a $25 nonrefundable registration fee. Again, though, I was worried the class was too advanced for me--it said you needed to have three years of high school French, but there seemed implicit in this prerequisite a statute of limitations of some undetermined length.
So I called again and said I wanted to talk to the teacher. They gave me Bertrand's home phone number (which, starting with 493, seemed to be south Palo Alto) and I called there. A young woman answered, no doubt her daughter as she gave the typical "she's busy...", and she said she'd call me. An hour or two later Bertrand called. I explained my situation, and she told me a little about what the class was about (partly in French, which I didn't understand too well) and then tried to get me to talk a bit in French. I told her about my problem with it coming out in Japanese, but she still encouraged me, and with some effort I was able to respond to her simple questions (What do you like to do? Have to been to France? To Japan? Where do you work? etc.) with some effort. The answers would start coming out in Japanese (I really wanted to say "hai") but I'd somehow intercept them in my brain before they got verbalized and force them into some form of French.
She didn't seem very impressed with my ability, but said I at least seemed to understand what she was saying, and with some extra work studying grammar and so forth before class started I should be able to handle it. Mainly she was trying to weed out people with essentially no French background--she'd taught a class before with people from all levels from complete beginners to advanced students, and it had been (predictably, I thought) a disaster.
Anyway, she seemed very nice and encouraging, so I decided to take the class. What clinched it is that as a Continuing Studies student, I could not only visit the Stanford libraries all I wanted, but apparently also borrow books! That alone was nearly worth the price. I called up and registered.
Now sometime in the middle of all this David visited our place on the way home from work, bringing both his copy of The Image and a copy of a dubbed version of the movie based on it. He made me promise to read the book first, because the movie was terrible. I followed his directions and he was exactly right: the novel itself was excellent, but the movie version was horrible.
The book was hardcover, with only the title on the dust jacket (another obstacle to finding a copy). On the inside of the dust jacket, it says the original book was published in 1956 by Les Editions de Minuit! So it was even earlier than I thought, and published by Robbe-Grillet's publisher. Very interesting! It also says no one knows (this in 1967) who the author really is, but "The most persisitent rumor would have it that The Image was the effort of a collaboration between one of France's leading novelists and his wife or mistress...." So perhaps this was referring to Alain and Catherine R-G!
The book itself was very short, and I finished it the next morning after only a couple hours of reading. When I was done, I wasn't sure what to think. Given that Catherine had written Women's Rites in 1985, it seemed difficult to believe she had written this nearly 30 years earlier. I had no idea if there were any books in the interval (perhaps one by Jeann de Berg to maintain continuity). Also although I'd only read a tiny bit of Women's Rites, the style seemed different. Of course someone's style can change a lot in 29 years....
On the other hand the simple and beautiful phrasing that made the book so enjoyable to read seemed actually quite close to Alain Robbe-Grillet's style! Or that is, close to the style of his later books, from La Maison de Rendez-Vous (1965) on, which also incorporate SM themes. On the other hand the style of the books he'd written around 1956--The Voyeur (1955), Jealousy (1957) and In the Labyrinth (1959)--was somewhat different. Yet on the third hand...I'd always felt that the incorporation of the SM themes had opened up his writing, allowed him to be natural and have more fun, which in turn made them more enjoyable to read. So perhaps this book was written by him then, a sort of exercise or preview? But then while the style might be similar to his, certainly it lacked the experimental character of all his other books, being instead a straightforward story. Of course that could be why he was writing under a pseudonym, ashamed to admit he would write something so ordinary....
Anyway I could go on and on with this in my mind, but it proved nothing. And while I actually didn't believe that he did write it, if someone told me with any authority that he had I wouldn't have doubted it a bit.
Another interesting thing about the book is that it had a brief preface by noneother than Pauline Reage, the (pseudonym of the) author of Story of O. And it just so happened that, according to David, the New Yorker had just published an article (I think in the August 15, 1994 issue) [actually August 1, 1994; the article is "The Unmasking of O" by John de St. Jorre (9/3/96)] revealing who Pauline Reage really was. So I had to read that as well.
I'd known about Story of O for a long time, since seeing it in a bookstore perhaps in early college, but had never bothered to read it since I thought it would be dull. But it so happened that some time in graduate school I lent R-G's Project for a Revolution in New York to an officemate at that time, Mona Singh, and in return she lent me Story of O. And I was surprised to find it was really quite good. For some reason I didn't manage to finish it before I had to return it to her, though.
Sometime after reading The Image I went to Stanford to look for the book to be used in the French course I'd be taking, so I could get a head start. Unfortunately they didn't have it in yet. Although classes wouldn't be starting for a while, I thought I'd look for the French section to see what kind of books they'd be using. However following the wall around (it started with the Continuing Studies special section, then started with the normal subjects beginning with A, and so forth) I found it to end abruptly at E, with Electrical Engineering I think, and no hint of where it continued! I looked all over but couldn't find anything after E, nor could I find French hidden in any of the earlier sections. So this seemed very mysterious, and I still haven't figured it out.
I did find a copy of last year's catalog, though, and looked up the French courses there. There were quite a few, and one in particular that seemed really interesting: The title was something like "The French Novel from the Nouveau Roman to the Present". I wish I could take that! And what's this? The teacher is noneother than Bertrand!
But looking at the list of professors I found it was, in fact, not Vida Bertrand but someone named Marc Bertrand. Still, this sounded too much like a coincidence.... I looked in the Palo Alto phonebook and sure enough, there it was: Marc and Vida Bertrand, with the phone number I already knew. No address listed, though. So now I was even happier with my choice of French class.
I went back to San Francisco Saturday, 8/27, and looked for the two books by de Berg, with absolutely no luck. I did find some information from the European bookstore there, though. They had the French equivalent of Books in Print and from it I learned that there were exactly two books by de Berg, the ones I knew of. And apparently the Minuit version of L'Image was available, as well as a cheaper J'ai Lu one. So if I couldn't find them in English I could at least still buy the originals, apparently, although they were expensive. Of course this was additional motiviation to learn French as well.
That night I happened for some reason to be looking through Angélique ou l'enchantement (1988), the second volume of R-G's imaginary autobiography and still untranslated into English; this book had become, once its predecessor was translated, my single main reason for learning French. Since there was little hope of figuring out the main text I was skimming through the sort of "table of contents" or "synopsis" in the back, to see what I could make out of that. And what should I happen upon but a mention of L'Image!
I quickly turn to that passage in the main text, and even with my poor French can basically figure out what he's saying. Suddenly, with one incredible piece of luck, all my questions are answered!
I'm still working on a decent translation of the text, which I'll write up seperately. It should be read at this point if possible. Otherwise, here's a quick summary. Catherine, shortly before their marriage, writes L'Image, influenced partly by their own sexual tastes and partly by Histoire d'O, and she dedicates it to Pauline Reage. Alain, for his part, decides to write a preface, which he signs Pauline Reage (!). Editions de Minuit is to publish it, and the head of that company, Jerome Lindon, happens to bowl with Jean Paulhan every Sunday morning. During one of these meetings, he happens to mention that Reage has written a preface to a book they'll publish...Paulhan is unable to hide his surprise! (Reage of course being his mistress--unknown to Lindon?) He asks to see the manuscript; he'll determine whether or not it's authentic.
He returns his verdict: while the book itself is quite good, the preface is idiotic and could only have been written by a mediocre imposter! Despite this, R-G and Lindon decide to keep the preface, but change the authorship to the more ambiguous "P.R." However, when foreign editions such as the Grove one come out, they ignore this and reconstruct the original name of Pauline Reage. He then goes on to describe the book being censored, and so forth.
So now I knew Catherine had in fact written the book, and Alain the preface!
Sunday I went to the Palo Alto main library and found the article in the New Yorker about the true identity of Pauline Reage. It's quite interesting, and I recommend it, but something struck me as strange about it. It neither mentions when nor why Dominique Aury suddenly revealed that it was she who had written Story of O. This is something that would normally be mentioned, so I was a bit suspicious of its absence. The article did mention that Reage had given two interviews in the mid-70's, the second of which I happend to find at the library that day, published as a book titled Confessions of O. It too is quite interesting.
The next major event occured at about 8:30 p.m. September 1, when I got a call from the office of our apartment building saying I had a package. I knew what it was: The book Robbe Grillet and Modernity : Science, Sexuality, & Subversion which I'd ordered directly from the publisher (University Press of Florida), and which was the book that started this whole journey in the first place. At the same time I'd ordered The Erotic Dream Machine: Interviews with Alain Robbe-Grillet on his Films from its publiser, and it had arrived two nights before.
Now one of my favorite quotes from Recollections of the Golden Triangle (1978; earlier in La Belle Captive, 1975) comes to mind, all too approriate here:
I had completely forgotten about this object which now reappears--as should have been expected--just as everything seemed to be sorted out at last in a satisfactory if not perfect manner.
Indeed, this book, while providing some confirmation and additional enlightenment, for the most part confused things even further. I should have been on my guard from the start upon seeing the cover, which features a Mandelbrot Set, which the back inside cover describes as a "Lorentz attractor". Well, I didn't expect the author to have much to tell me about science. I'm writing this now, the night of the 1st, so I've only read small sections of the book, but already it has left me quite baffled.
For some reason I'd thought the author, named Raylene Ramsay, was a man, but now I found she was in fact a woman, apparently in her 50's, now teaching at Simmons College. The interview with R-G, the most interesting part of the book (mentioned already above), is at the end.
This time I looked up Catherine Robbe-Grillet in the index and found two small sections, on pages 156 and 202-203, which had I bothered to read them earlier would have explained a fair amount of what I found later, but which would have made life much less interesting. However, now that I did know most of what they said and more, they only created confusion. Here's the passage on page 156 and its footnote.
What we have here is no feminist goddess but Robbe-Grillet's goddess Vanade, victorious/vanquished, who "triumphs in her very violation", as P.R. (homage to Pauline Reage) writes in the preface to Catherine Robbe-Grillet's "classic" sado-erotic novel L'Image ([footnote:] Jean de Berg, L'Image. Catherine Robbe-Grillet admits to being the author of this work published under a pseudonym. Although Alain Robbe-Grillet has not openly admitted his collaboration, it seems clear to me that, at the least, he contributed to the preface. P.R. refers to Pauline Reage, alias Dominique Aury, author of Histoire d'O and former mistress of Jean Paulham. Aury continues to be a figure in French intellectual life.)
What's strange here? Well, this book was published in 1992. Angélique came out January, 1988. So why is Ramsay hypothesizing R-G is the author of the preface when he clearly stated so in Angélique? At first I thought the chapter might have been written earlier, as in the preface it says earlier editions of some chapters had been published earlier in other places...but the earlier one of this comes from a symposium apparently held at the Robbe-Grillet film retrospective in New York City in November 1989, which I attended (but wasn't aware of a symposium, at least that I recall). Curiously no reference to Angélique seems to appear in this chapter or the next (which features a similar passage to be quoted momentarily), although references appear in the surrounding chapters. So maybe she didn't bother reading the book until later...but this theory too is overturned by the fact that a chapter primarily about Angélique had been published in Fall 1989.
The other curious thing here (aside from seeming to not be aware that P.R. was expanded back to Pauline Reage in the U.S. edition) is that she states Reage was in fact Dominique Aury, in such a matter-of-fact manner that it must have been common knowledge at the time, no later than 1992. So now the disingenuous aspects of the New Yorker article become more clear, perhaps...or less clear. And in fact this being nearer to the release date of Angélique, one wonders if R-G in fact didn't know the identity of Reage when he wrote that book.
Anyway, before I go on, here's the second passage from Ramsay's book, pp. 202-3:
Similarly, when Catherine Robbe-Grillet published L'Image under the pseudonym of Jean de Berg (a character of Topologie and an allusion to Robbe-Grillet's collaboration with the inspirational figure of Rauschenberg), the work included a preface signed P.R., the presumed pseudonym of the author of Histoire d'O whom Robbe-Grillet had early identified in an interview as Pauline Reage. At the least, the preface of this work, which is an assemblage with little literary merit of the cliches of the sadomasochistic universe, although it has become a classic or exemplary work in its genre, seems to have been written by Robbe-Grillet himself. John Fletcher suggests that "Pauline Reage" may indeed have had a hand in the writing along with a group of Robbe-Grillet's friends, but I can find no stylistic or even thematic evidence for this. On the other hand, Fletcher argues that one section of L'Image contains characteristic Robbe-Grillet stylistic "thumbprints" such as the use of "soi" where the standard syntax would give "lui" (in phrases like "devant soi" [in front of oneself/himself], for example), and it seems probable that the writer helped and encouraged his wife in what they both describe in conversation as a liberating venture. Catherine Robbe-Grillet has since claimed to be the author of both L'Image and of a subsequent work entitled Ceremonies de femmes, on her opposite experiences as a dominatrix, and published under the feminine pseudonym of Jeanne de Berg.
(I should note the bracketed text here, and also in the quote from the interview above, appears in the book, and is not my addition.) Again, she seems completely unaware of the passage in Angélique. Given that she had read the novel before writing this or at least before publishing this, I have no idea what to make of it. Perhaps she thought, for some reason I'd like to know, that R-G wasn't being truthful in that passage. This brings to mind a fragment of an interview that appears in the other book, The Erotic Dream Machine, and which also concerns Angélique:
RS [Roch C. Smith]: You explain in Angélique that the young girl in The Voyeur actually existed and was called Angélique.
AR-G: But, as always, some people refuse to believe that.
Still, I'm surprised she didn't at least mention the passage in this case. On the other hand, she might have missed or forgotten about that passage, but how that could have happened I have no clue! Perhaps not so unlikely, as even in this passage she gets at least one thing wrong (the character in Topologie is Robert de Berg, as I mentioned above), and even I've found several factual errors in recent readings of literary criticism (which doesn't do anything to improve my already low opinion of literary criticism, although one occasionally finds interesting and perhaps accurate information). One interesting thing here is Fletcher's observation that R-G may have had a hand in the text itself. I'll have to look for his book--only one is listed in the bibliography, so presumably his comments are in that. Incidentally it came out in 1983, absolving him of similar criticism concerning Angélique.
Now, there is one more small reference to the preface of L'Image in the last chapter of Ramsay's book, the one mostly about Angélique.
Whether it is an individuated childhood experience or a more obscure collective enchantment that is imprisioned and interrogated in Robbe-Grillet's sacrificial "secret room," flattened in fragmented Sadean tableaux, punished and suppressed, the chaotic Angélique, like the Phoenix, continues to rise from her ashes, object of a psychic pleasure principle but also of a (similarly Freudian) destructive biological compulsion to repeat. In the preface of L'Image, the hero-protagonist sees himself as enslaved to the goddess Vanade, voluptuous or vanquished or vampire, giving herself to be seen and provoking the Other to an encounter that gives her pleasure.
Now, although it's not that clear, it seems she's giving R-G credit for the preface without question. So has she suddenly reread or recalled that passage? Or there is yet another possibility: inspired by Robbe-Grillet, Ramsay is attempting her own imitation of his style, deliberately trying to mislead and confuse the reader. If this is indeed the case, then I must applaud and congratulate her.
Anyway, this is the state I'm at now. Most things seem to be pretty clear: Catherine wrote L'Image and Ceremonies de femmes, and quite possibly Alain helped out on the former, which I wouldn't doubt a bit. As I mentioned above it does seem similar to his style, once he freed it up after deciding to make the SM theme a major part of the book, as he talks about in the interview in Modernity. I still have yet to read Women's Rites, but will get it as soon as the Continuing Studies Fall quarter begins, September 26.
And now it seems clear that rather than the name Jean(ne) de Berg coming from R-G's works, the opposite is true: Robert de Berg and especially his half-sister Djinn (who later has an ambiguous sexual identity in the novel of that name) are doubtless references to Catherine's pseudonym. I don't know when she revealed she'd written L'Image, but no doubt this was a private joke and hint to the reader.