It has occurred to me over this amazing week, that many of you may never have actually read anything written by the fabulous Belle de Jour. ’Tis shameful, so this post will remedy that.
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 a London call girl for two years.
On Sunday in a voluntary interview with the London Sunday Times, Belle revealed that her true identity is respected research scientist Dr. Brooke Magnanti. Her self-disclosure ended literally years of wild speculation by the literary pundits in the UK, as well as relentless and expensive attempts to uncover her secret by the media.
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.
Brooke told the newspaper that there was no chance of finding her on duty in hospital or working as a GP, as her area is in medical science, not clinical practice. “I decided against being a medic years ago because, ironically enough, my bedside manner is terrible,” she quipped, her trademark humor firmly in place.
From 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — a name she selected 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 (about $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 newspaper.
Happily, Brooke has been supported since her self-revelation by her “mum,” we fans, co-workers, her employer, and her publisher. Bravo to all for that!
Since there has been unceasing interest in Brooke’s story, I thought it high time that you all have a bit of a chance to read some of her amazing writing directly, not just the snip-its that have been scattered across the media.
Last month, Belle/Brooke published her fourth book, and it’s wonderful! Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, published by Orion Books, hit store shelves in the United Kingdom on Oct. 1. Not yet available in the US, it is widely available across the pond at UK bookstores, or via Amazon’s UK division.
I first found Brooke (I feel I can talk about her like a dear friend because I read her blog daily) after she began her blog in 2003. Her blog was, and is, incredible.
What sets her writing apart is not merely the topics she chooses, and her point of view, but the way she writes. She has a unique style, an unforgettable voice. Equal parts humor, wit, wisdom and shining, literary brilliance, there is unflinching truth within her writing. All the while, she somehow manages to be 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.
Brooke continues to break every mold, and challenge tired and offensive stereotypes, while having a wonderfully sex-filled time of it all. That unique mixture continues to propel her into the international spotlight – long before she “came out” as Brooke.
Belle de Jour's Guide to Men will be followed in 12 months by Belle de Jour’s Guide to Women. Woohoo, more Brooke to look forward to! (Note: Orion Books has kindly released book descriptions, and excerpts, which I have utilized in this post.)
“Belle de Jour is a woman who’s met men of every conceivable type. She knows what they want, and how to give it to them. And outside the one-hour appointments, she's also had her heart broken, picked herself back up, put on another stunning pair of shoes and carried on – so she knows a thing or two about love as well as sex. So sit back, relax and listen to what your friends are too polite to tell you. About when you need or want a man, and when you damn well don't. Whether you want to find men, lure them, ditch them, hitch them – here’s the lowdown. Funny, surprising and always entertaining, Belle de Jour's Guide to Men is must-have reading for every woman out there,” raves Orion Books.
In a March 14, 2004, feature in the London Times, columnists Richard Woods and Nicholas Hellen, wrote this about Belle, who was new then to the national scene and still anonymous:
“(Belle) is a male fantasy who has always seemed too good to be true: a stiletto-heeled sex bomb with the erudition of a college professor. She is Belle de Jour, a London call girl who has whipped up a storm in literary circles with a diary of her extraordinary life...
“By her own account Belle is the sort of woman who will pleasure a man to exhaustion and later discuss the finer points of French cinema. She will perform the contortions of a gymnast and still do the washing up.
“Her memoir of life as a high-class hooker began on the internet as a ‘web-log,’ or ‘blog,’ a diary accessible by anyone through their computer. As readers admired its style and wit, mainstream publishers took an interest,” and signed her to a multi-book deal.
Belle life of “vice” began this way, “Belle de Jour, diary of a London call girl, Vendredi 24 Octobre. Located what sounded like an excellent small, discreet agency (word of mouth, as they say). After e-mail contact and sending my photos, I finally arranged to meet the manager...”
From the start, her blog had cultural complexities: the name “Belle de Jour” comes from an acclaimed 1967 film, starring Catherine Deneuve, about a French housewife who is a part-time prostitute. (Brooke has said how much she loves this movie.)
The earliest blog posts described how Belle joined the escort agency and began to juggle clients, her on-off boyfriend, along with other characters in a whirl of hotels, nightclubs and taxi rides around nocturnal London.
“What lifted it above the sordid morass of web sex was its cleverness and humor. In jaunty style, Belle skips from intimate body parts to the social anatomy of Britain. At university she had ‘studied a wholly academic humanities subject useless to the world at large.’ Her flat is ‘furnished in the slightly naff flowery vein favoured by landlords of the aspirant class.’ And she has taken care not to spread disease — by having a flu jab,'” Woods and Hellen wrote in the 2004 feature.
Word of mouth worked. Soon Belle’s blog was being mentioned by others on the web, and it came to the attention of the print media. In December, 2003 a newspaper awarded Belle the first prize in its annual competition for the best-written blog, Woods and Hellen noted.
Belle moved onto an even franker and personal discussion of life as an escort and sex, as her entry for Vendredi 23 Janvier records: “Regarding orgasms at work. I don’t. I don’t equate the number of orgasms with the level of enjoyment of sex...Let’s be honest, this is a customer service position, not a self- fulfilment odyssey..”
Her blog came to the attention of The Erotic Review, a highly regarded magazine of erotica and sex. Its editor Rowan Pelling, began publishing extracts from Belle’s blog. At the same time Patrick Walsh, a literary agent who includes the Booker prize winner DBC Pierre among his clients, was talking to at least two publishers about Belle. One was Serpent’s Tail; another was Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Walsh has said that he had only worked with people he could trust with Brooke’s information: “We did various things with bank accounts and so on to make sure that (Brooke couldn’t) be tracked down.”
The rest, as they say, is blog and literature history. Today, Brooke as Belle has earned fame well-beyond all but the most elite bloggers, and has also earned high praise and even respect from the mainstream publishing world. So, here’s to Belle and Brooke – long may she write!
But wait – what about Brooke’s own love life, you ask? It’s a very happy story! She lives in Bristol, England with T, her great long-term boyfriend/partner, of whom she has blogged about a bit. “T thinks I’ll be much happier once I’ve got this (secret) off my chest,” she said in Sunday’s interview. “He knew I was Belle before we started dating properly. He told me something that showed he trusted me, and I felt I could trust him back by telling him. It was the acid test. At that point I’d become convinced that nobody who knew I was Belle would want me.”
OK, so here are direct excerpts from “Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men,” which have been kindly released by Orion Publishing, complete with British spellings:
“You might be wondering what, exactly, a prostitute might have to say to you about men and relationships. Let’s put it this way: I have met men. Loads of men. In my work as a call girl, I have seen them at their most cocksure and at their most vulnerable. If you are after what to do (and, more important, what not to do) in the company of men, then read on.
1. Get un-messed-up already
Seriously, if you are more riddled with self-doubt than the aristocracy are with pubic lice, then attraction is going to be a giant stumbling block for you. Men can smell the horror of an emotional mess a mile away — and, unlike women, they probably will not steer well clear, at least until they’ve got sex out of her first. Then they will vacate the premises at speed and with nary a fare-thee-well. There is a saying, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that people are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be. It is the truth. If there is a chemical, physiological reason why you are unhappy, then huzzah, we live in an age where these things can, and should, be sorted out, thank you very much, NHS. And, once you have done that, you can just choose to leave the rest behind. Or, to attach some religious gravitas to the concept, do the Buddhist thing and let it go.
2. Be interested
What turns men off? When they get the distinct feeling that they’re being auditioned for a role and not appreciated as individuals. So, how to let a fellow know you’re considering his particular merits, not just whether he could squeeze into a DJ and manage not to trip up on his way to the altar? By being genuinely curious about his life, his thoughts, his interests.
3. Men want only one thing... unconditional acceptance
Some say they’re breast men; others claim to prefer a long leg or a pleasing backside. These, I hope you’ve realised, are details. What a man really and truly craves is someone who loves him for who he is, and who is not on a mission to change that. “But! But!” I can all but hear you say. “You haven’t seen this one! His clothes/boutique facial hair/irritating best mate/poor taste in lager! If only I could make that one thing different, he would be perfect.” Turn the situation on its head. Let us imagine that, four dates in, Mr Perfect tells you that you are every inch the woman for him, apart from the fact that you are blonde, not brunette. What does the sensible woman do? Laugh and tell him if he doesn’t like it, too bad. That is exactly the response he should get to such a ludicrous request. However, so unaccustomed are modern men to laughing in our faces, the female equivalent is rarely met with the public disdain it deserves. Instead, he either chooses to ignore your request — thus leading to insanely bottomless levels of resentment on your side — or tries to conform, which serves only to reinforce the lesson that your nagging will give the desired result, which leads to, well, more nagging.
In my previous relationships, I was the Queen of Nag. Someone cooked an egg the wrong way? Disaster! It was many years (and many failed relationships) before I learnt the golden rule of dating, in fact the golden rule of getting by with people in general: you’re as annoying as everyone else in the world. Wait, what? Yes, it is true that nobody is perfect, and all the time you’ve been wondering why everyone else in the world is such an idiot, everyone else has been wondering the exact same about you, because you’ve been doing annoying things right back, without even realising it.
So, how to live with the lovable quirks and foibles that so quickly will become the grit in the Vaseline of your relationship? Ask yourself whether, with a little bit of friendly patience, you can live with this particular habit/facial-hair arrangement/religious cult, unchanged, for ever? If the answer is yes, then get over it and don’t make a production out of it. No? Get out of the relationship and don’t make a production out of it.
4. OMG! Not AGAIN! or, how not to date the same guy over. And over. And over
So I’m going to say some things that may be hard to read, but are undoubtedly the truth. And I only know this because, sister, I have been there. I had to learn some very important lessons, not only about relationships, but about myself.
Lesson 1: You don’t keep dating the same guy... they keep dating the same girl
I’ll put it another way. If you don’t want to date guys who borrow money and stand you up, don’t be the kind of woman who puts up with those things. Stop giving men the impression that it’s okay for them to stand you up. You do this by leaving them when they do it, not by asking when your next dinner date is. Whether you admit it or not, you are choosing men based on similar traits. Everyone has deal-makers and deal-breakers, and you should stick to whatever yours are, without exception. Let’s say your ideal list is something like this:
- You want a real boyfriend, not one who will only call you his “friend” in public.
- You want someone who respects your time and doesn’t stand you up.
- You want someone who won’t take you for granted over time.
It’s entirely fair to ask to be treated well. The type of men you’re picking can’t do it. Look for men who can.
Lesson 2: Don’t date inside your friend group
Sometimes relationships that “just happen” are really about someone taking advantage of someone who seems easy to become intimate with, since you already know each other. Contrary to what romantic comedies would have us believe, the gradual evolution into relationship scenario isn’t actually a great start to a relationship. It’s more of a default in which nobody has to take responsibility for putting themselves out there as potential dating material. The bar is set too low. In other words, it might be that you could do a lot better than these guys — but maybe you aren’t secure enough to reach out to the wider world of potential partners. Instead, you end up settling for men who are just around a lot. And those tend to be the ones who have less to offer — because if they did, well, they too would be out working on dating somebody fabulous.
Lesson 3: Choose differently (but not too different)
You like nerdy intellectuals? Date a firefighter. Don’t discount anyone based on his CV alone, or because you don’t usually date single dads/Brummies/gingers/ whatever. Variety really is the spice of life.
Lesson 4: Take no crap
Long ago and far away back in uni, I was part of a social group where the women strove to be “low maintenance,” because men talked about what a pain high-maintenance girls were. In an effort to not be too much, we were often spineless and took a lot of rubbish. The high-maintenance girls got all the respect. We couldn’t figure it out. Being too demanding and drama-filled is rubbish, but the lesson from that era of my life stands.
These days, if I got the needy line for calling after two days, I would answer with, “This is not needy, this is what boyfriends and girlfriends do. If you think this is needy, you have some things to figure out. Call me when you get through with that.” If you don’t draw the line, people will push it further and further.
Lesson 5: The secret to great sex is ... enthusiasm
No window-dressing in the world could possibly make up for the fact that when you are in bed with a man, the thing he wants most is to imagine he’s rocking your world to its very foundation, and you don’t do that with red lacy briefs and porn acting. You do that by genuinely forgetting about the rest of the world for a bit and living in the moment.
Hot sex consists of going to bed with someone you respect and admire, and forgetting, at least for a short time, about the respect and admiration part. Because getting into the moment is hot; moment-by-moment paranoia about whether he will still regard you intellectually once he’s seen you in every compromising position and a few you didn’t even know you were flexible enough for, a bit less so.”
Once again, Brooke has more than demonstrated that she has the literary chops to land her squarely on the bestseller list!
When you’re looking for Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, be sure and check out Belle/Brooke’s other books: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, September 2005; The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, May 2007; and Playing the Game, June 2009. Not a ringer in the bunch – trust me!