Régine Marie Deforges: Erotic writer who fell foul of the authorities and became the first woman to own a publishing house in France

More than four decades before Fifty Shades Of Grey made EL James a household name and turned “mummy porn” into a phenomenon, Régine Deforges was dubbed the “High Priestess of French erotic literature”, as much for the risqué novels she wrote as for the ones she published on her own imprint, L’Or Du Temps, launched in 1967.

The first woman to operate a publishing house in France, she repeatedly fell foul of the authorities and was prosecuted and heavily fined for daring to reprint Irène – originally titled Le Con D’Irène and written by Louis Aragon under a pseudonym – and Les Exploits D’un Jeune Don Juan by Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as the works of Rétif de la Bretonne, Théophile Gautier, André Pieyre de Mandiargues and Michel Bernard.

In 1980, she co-directed a film adaptation of her first collection of erotic stories, Les Contes Pervers – known in the UK as Erotic Tales – which she also self-published in comic book form. In 1995, she compiled O M’A Dit – O Told Me – a book based on a series of conversations with Anne Desclos, who wrote under the pseudonym of Pauline Réage and was the author of the infamous dominance-and submission-novel Story Of O.

However, Deforges enjoyed her biggest success in the 1980s with a 10-volume saga spanning not only the Second World War and its aftermath but also subsequent conflicts around the world, ending in the mid-’60s. Entitled La Bicyclette Bleue – The Blue Bicycle – the original trilogy concentrated on the war years and sold seven million copies.

It was also made into a television series starring the model Laetitia Casta as Léa Delmas, the heroine whose troubled destiny recalled Scarlett O’Hara’s in Gone With The Wind. Indeed, the estate of Margaret Mitchell, coincidentally another novelist with a penchant for erotica, sued Deforges for plagiarism, resulting in a court case that lasted five years. Deforges was eventually cleared in 1993, even if she admitted that Jean-Pierre Ramsey, the publisher of La Bicyclette Bleue, had suggested she use a similar historical framework.

Born in 1935 at Montmorillon, in the Poitou-Charentes region of central France that became the setting for several autobiographical novels, she avidly read the books of the Countess of Ségur, a writer she would later be compared to, along with, rather inevitably, the Marquis de Sade. At 15 she was expelled from her local school after her diary containing the depiction of a lesbian relationship with a fellow pupil was stolen and handed to the nuns running the establishment, who forced her to destroy it.

“I felt ‘branded’,” she recalled about the incident which inspired her 1978 novel Le Cahier Volé – The Stolen Diary. “It influenced my intellectual and social development, as well as my love life. It reinforced the wild, rebellious side of my character.”

A free spirit rather than a libertine, with a striking shock of red hair and a sulphurous aura, Deforges turned heads wherever she went and became a star turn on television chat shows in the 1980s. By then, the books she had previously been censored for publishing were all with major imprints. “I had pushed back the limits of censorship,” said Deforges, whose only regret, she said, was “not having had more lovers.”

PIERRE PERRONE 

Régine Marie Deforges, author and publisher: born Montmorillon, France 15 August 1935; married 1955 Pierre Spengler (marriage dissolved; one son); one daughter with Jean-Jacques Pauvert; married 1984 Pierre Wiazemsky (one daughter); died Paris 3 April 2014.

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