Monday, November 16, 2009

Belle de Jour: The Aftermath

Well-regarded British research scientist Dr. Brooke Magnanti is coping with the media onslaught accompanying her revelation yesterday that she is also Belle de Jour, with the same aplomb and style that we fans have come to expect and love from the award-winning blogger!

Brooke and her literary altar ego, Belle de Jour, can both rest easy: her mum doesn’t mind that she worked as a call girl whose online diary became a literary phenomenon.

Brooke, 34, released this statement today after telling her mother, who now lives in the US: “My mother is being fully supportive and says she’s ’not one to judge’,” she said. “I, for one, am happy and relieved.”

Elsewhere on the web, Brooke added, “Yes, mum has been especially good & supportive. Wish I'd told them sooner, now.” Brooke has said she does not have any contact with her father.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Belle de Jour had been the nom de plume of a celebrated erotic author, and award-winning blogger, who was also that London call girl for two years.

Yesterday, Belle revealed her true identity. Brooke’s specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health.

She is currently part of a team researching the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals and said her colleagues, all female, had been "amazingly kind and supportive" when she revealed her past.

More specifically, Brooke is based at St. Michael’s Hospital in Bristol, and is employed by the University of Bristol.

I am very, very happy to report that the university is also supportive of Brooke. Late yesterday, Barry Taylor, a university spokesman, told the London Sunday Times that, “This aspect of her past bears no relevance to her current role at the university.”

The spokesman added that Brooke's revelations would not affect her chances of future employment with the university.

Happily also, Orion Books, which is Brooke’s publisher is also steadfastly in the talented woman’s corner. Orion posted the below statement on its website:

“Publisher’s Statement re: Belle de Jour news story: It’s a courageous decision for Belle de Jour to come forward with her true identity and we support her decision to do so. We have published her since 2005 and we are looking forward to continuing that relationship.

Belle will not be giving any further interviews.”

Brooke was characteristically direct in her lastest blog post today:

“lundi, novembre 16

Please note all media requests should be sent to either my publisher or agent. Anything received via my workplace or my personal and work emails, &c. will be ignored as I would only have to forward it to them anyway. Please do not come to my workplace as this compromises the security of patients and staff. Thank you for understanding.

Also, so much curiosity about my tax situation! Yes, I did pay taxes on sex work earnings.

Posted by belle at 9:57 AM”

From 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — after the Buñuel film starring Catherine Deneuve as a well-to-do housewife who has sex for money because she’s bored — shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down.

She charged £300 (around $530) an hour for her services, of which she got £200. The average appointment lasted two hours; she saw clients two or three times a week, “sometimes less, sometimes a great deal more,” she told the London Sunday Times.

Asked why she decided to reveal herself now, Brooke replied, And now here we are, Dr. Magnanti. “It was time. I’ve felt so much guardedness and paranoia about remaining anonymous recently. It’s really been playing with my emotions. Now I just really want to be on the other side of this. I don’t mind what happens about coming out; I don’t want this massive secret over me any more. It’s changing the way I behave around people, the way I conduct my life.”

As usual, Brooke explained it best in writing yesterday on her awarding blog:

“What it took me years to realise is that while I've changed a lot since writing these diaries – my life has moved on so much, in part thanks to the things that happened then – Belle will always be a part of me. She doesn't belong in a little box, but as a fully acknowledged side of a real person. The non-Belle part of my life isn't the only ‘real’ bit, it’s ALL real.

Belle and the person who wrote her had been apart too long. I had to bring them back together.

So a perfect storm of feelings and circumstances drew me out of hiding. And do you know what? It feels so much better on this side. Not to have to tell lies, hide things from the people I care about. To be able to defend what my experience of sex work is like to all the sceptics and doubters.

Anonymity had a purpose then – it will always have a reason to exist, for writers whose work is too damaging or too controversial to put their names on. But for me, it became important to acknowledge that aspect of my life and my personality to the world at large.

I am a woman. I lived in London. I was a call girl.

The people, the places, the actions and feelings are as true now as they were then, and I stand behind every word with pride. Thank you for reading and following my adventures.

Love, Belle”

I have been an enormous fan of Belle/Brooke since her blog first appeared in 2003. Even though I never knew her name until now, I know her. She has become a dear friend through her writing. She has written about her sexual adventures and misadventures while having worked in the sex industry, but so very much more. In truth, Belle/Brooke has always written about life.

What sets her writing apart is not merely the topics, and the point of view, but the way she writes. She has a unique style, an unforgettable voice. Equal parts humor, wit, wisdom and shining, literate brilliance, there is unflinching truth within her writing that’s also incredibly entertaining.

In addition, she is a sex-positive woman who likes men! I don’t mean just in bed, but as a species. Can you imagine? In this day and age of constant man bashing by so-called feminists, it’s refreshing to read a different approach. Belle/Brooke breaks every mold, and challenges tired and offensive stereotypes, while having a wonderfully sex-filled time of it all.

I had worried, needlessly, that the maelstrom of attention of the disclosure would have had a negative impact on Brooke. I underestimated her: She is stable, tired but happy the day after. She is amazing.

FYI: There’s no chance of finding Dr. Magnanti on duty in hospital or as a GP: this is medical science, not clinical practice. Brooke told the London Sunday Times, “I decided against being a medic years ago because, ironically enough, my bedside manner is terrible.” Her trademark humor firmly in place.

And the blog that kickstarted all this? “The blog will continue for the time being, even though it doesn’t feel authentic to keep on being Belle. But I’ll keep on for a bit. I’d like her to have a happy ending.”

It is my continued wish that Belle has that happy ending and much more, and that Brooke has the happiest of beginnings ever! I promise to be first in line at the bookstore for anything and everything that Brooke writes.

I have read as much about the reaction to Belle’s disclosure as I could. Below, is the best column that I have found thus far, so I am including it here, along with a direct link.

Robert Crum, Columnist, the Guardian, UK, wrote:

Dr. Brooke Magnanti Has Set a Fine Example for Digital-Age Writers

“The story of Belle de Jour, the anonymous sex blogger whose elusive mystery has tantalised investigative journalists, literary detectives, and blog-busters for years is headline news, of course. Sex sells. And the woman who was not Isabel Wolff, or Rowan Pelling, or Tony Young, or some grand literati on a pornographic spree, but actually a medical researcher named Dr Brooke Magnanti, was not only an artful and seductive writer, but also a clever manipulator of a voyeuristic audience for whom the idea of prostitute as Everywoman is a powerful fantasy.

"In the shadows of anonymity, Dr Magnanti certainly had a career that many more recognised writers might have envied: huge sales, bestseller status and television spin-offs. Take away the contemporary spin, and not much here is new. Literary history, especially in the 18th century, is littered with writers who chose to write anonymously. At the low end they are all forgotten; at the high end they range from Jonathan Swift and Walter Scott to Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. As so often in the past, something, in the end, persuaded Dr Magnanti to come clean.

"The newspaper reports of her self-revelation suggest that she decided to break cover to forestall an ex-boyfriend kissing and telling, but I think her disclosure is both simpler, and more complicated, than that, and it has to do with the nature of authorship.

"There are many reasons to write. Freud famously boiled it down to "money, fame and the love of women". Beyond that, of course, there is the urge to express a burning idea, opinion or sentiment – "having something to say", as the expression goes. Such a motivation has animated countless blogs, books and newspaper articles. In the end, most such literary endeavours can be filed under "self-expression."

"And that's the clue to Dr Magnanti's move: she wanted to take ownership of her "self". Belatedly, but nonetheless frankly, she did what all writers must do when they publish: admit to authorship. The origins of "author" are telling: the word derives from the Latin auctor, meaning promoter, agent or originator. In other words, by breaking cover, Magnanti decided to seek some kind of originality and hence establish a measure of personal authenticity. As she wrote in her blog yesterday, "The non Belle part of my life isn't the only 'real' bit, it's all real. Belle and the person who wrote her have been apart too long. I had to bring them back together."

"What, I wonder, does this say about blogging? For many writers, exploring the genre for the first time, it's the anonymity of the blogosphere that's both thrilling and unnerving. Free content and anonymous self-expression is liberating but intrinsically irresponsible. Writers who grew up in the more constrained world of print can find the adaptation difficult, even antipathetic to the nature of their art.

"I imagine that Dr Magnanti who, at 34, is a child of the internet in its early years, had that experience. First there was exhilaration, eventually there was an awareness of responsibility, as much to herself as to her audience. Finally, she was proud of what she had expressed in Diary of a London Call Girl, and wanted to expose it to the rough-and-ready give and take of the literary marketplace. Implicitly, she seems to be conceding that there is something shameful, even dishonest, about opinions that are expressed from behind a mask.

"This may be a bourgeois view, but to me the ownership of the written word is fundamental to the western literary tradition. So I welcome Dr. Magnanti's decision to come clean as striking a blow for the very best traditions of self-expression.”

I am proud to be a fan of Belle/Brooke, and am equally proud of all of those who have given her public support.

--- The Curator


  1. I do support Brooke publicly anytime! She's incredibly brave and very honest. I'm glad that she had the courage to share all those experiences.
    I do hope it will put an end to the prejudice which stigmatise "immoral" women and it will give another sight of double morals.

    With all my support and love,
    Mina Jade

  2. I agree, 100 percent. Thanks for lending your voice!