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"85-year-old French Dominatrix and Her Concubine Let Us Into Their Chateau of Cruelty"

on Saturday, 10 October 2015. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Bedford & Bowery

BY NICOLE DISSER

When I first arrived at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) I filed into one of the few empty stadium seats left save for the neck busters at the very front. The place was packed for The Art of Sex & Seduction: Ceremonies of Love & Desire, I realized all eyes were pointed to a tiny, gray-haired woman immediately below and in front of me. She looked more like a gentle octogenarian nun than a famous dominatrix known for her cruelty. But every once in a while there were flashes of unflinching harshness delivered with a toothy, thin-lipped grin–there was a reason why people seemed to either tiptoe or burst into fits of uncomfortable laughter around Catherine Robbe-Grillet all night. She could turn even the most accomplished Tinder Queens amongst us to puddles of prudish mush.

 

 

The event began with a screening, bits of Lina Mannheimer’s short film and documentary (La Contrat and La Cérémonie, respectively) about Catherine and her decades-younger partner, Beverly Charpentier, who translated Catherine’s responses from French to English in the discussion to follow.  The discussion was moderated by Toni Bentley, the journalist behind the Vanity Fair profile of Catherine Robbe-Grillet. Bentley had spent a couple of days getting cozy with the dominatrix at her 400-year old chateau in Normandy.

 

Before she left her seat for the stage, I got a close up look at Catherine. Squeezed between the filmmaker and Beverley, Catherine was childlike (she’s under five feet tall) her silver hair fastened in a tight, flat bun, a white headband holding her hair perfectly in place. She wore a prim black skirt and long-sleeve vest getup coupled with rimless oval glasses that sealed her look as an unusually compact, but severe junior nun. I guess you can’t beat the Catholicism out of the Catholic school girl. “These two ladies are atheists, but Catholicism and the props of Catholicism greatly inform their ceremonies,” Toni explained.

 

Catherine’s stature of course belies her powerful presence. All night, she delivered quippy responses and performed sarcastic, feigned innocence. In many ways, Catherine still has the mannerisms of a little girl down too– she squeals, gasps, and purrs, often widening her eyes in mock surprise. Her infantile movements reminded me of Toni’s piece: for Alain Robbe-Grillet, Catherine’s famous dead husband– the famed French writer, avant-garde artist, and intellectual–“Catherine embodied his lifelong obsession with young girls, resembling a little girl in her height, size, and manner.”

 

In the film, she described her relationship with Alain– a well-known sadist whose writing centered thematically on power structures, control, and lack of agency– as an “unusual” one. For a long time, she was his submissive. It wasn’t until he gave up sexuality altogether to focus more on writing (a detail hashed out in Toni’s article) that Catherine blossomed into a dom. The year was 1973. She’s been joyfully whipping whimpering subs ever since.

 

One audience member wondered if she’s ever wavered: “I was wondering if the Madame […] misses being submissive and wants to be dominated sometimes?”

 

Catherine answered simply, “Non,” and paused. “I relive my submission through Beverly, but I don’t want to relive it myself. I am simultaneously submissive and dominant, but my submission passes through her.” ...

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