Belle Epoque To Belle De Jour – Biographies Of Sex Workers

Good morning my little mobile phones that won’t charge properly until a new battery is fitted, how is everyone?

As you may know, recently I read My Blue Notebook by the Belle Epoque courtesan Liane De Pougy (and Mineko Iwasaki’s book, though she insists Geisha did not do that) and it led me on a trail of other fascinating women of the demi-monde, as they were known.

One thing I have learnt from reading these and other books is that, from the very beginning, there have been two distinct approaches to sex work. In Roman times slaves were captured and kept in ramshackle huts to be worked to death, while women choosing to enter sex work filled in the appropriate form, got a licence and became her own mistress, sometimes living in luxury. The first kind, which still happens today in various forms, is a terrible thing and we must do what we can to help, but the second does not affect the first.

Choosing sex work doesn’t somehow insult the lives of those who didn’t. Belle De Jour received criticism during her book tour by those claiming “she shouldn’t have entered sex work because she didn’t have to,” but who are we to judge? She did it, sometimes she enjoyed it, sometimes she didn’t, just like any other job. We are all different with different experiences; just because something terrible happened to one doesn’t make it impossible or wrong for another to have good experiences. Life is a mysterious pathway with many twists and turns and, if someone isn’t hurting another, let’s just keep our eyes on our own feet.

OK, with that out the way, let’s hop in!

City of Sin: London And It’s Vices by Catherine Arnold

The author has written for fascinating website Whores of Yore (it’s creator Kate Lister explains it’s use of the term whore here).

 Beginning with the aforementioned Roman slaves and brothel workers, we move through history discovering which parts of London attracted which type of strumpet (Gropecunt Lane was as downmarket as it sounds) and who the infamous of the day were. As well as this we glimpse the sexual morays of the era, such as this great Tudor example of how things never change: “Another visitor, the Swiss physician Thomas Platter, was impressed with the joie de vivre of English women and their habit of frequenting London’s many taverns in an Elizabethan equivalent of a girl’s night out: ‘they count it a great honour to be taken there and given wine with sugar to drink; and if one woman is invited, then she will bring three or four other women along, And they gaily toast each other.'”
Rival to Belle Epoque courtesan Liane de Pougy, Carolina Otero was a Spanish dancer noticed by men from a young age (12, euw) after running away from a boarding school which essentially treated her like Cinderella. From there she became a sensation, performing on the stage in New York, Russia, Germany and the famous Folies Bèrgere in Paris.
Her life reads like fiction: she broke up a gambling cheating ring (and had a terrible habit herself), was patronised by kings, always picked the wrong man and had no qualms about slapping anyone who bad mouthed her, in front of a full restaurant or not. In short, she was fabulously entertaining.
Dancing at the Folies Bèrgere 1898:

No, it’s nothing like the TV series. The ‘real’ Belle de Jour (so to speak) reads books in the original French, named herself after surrealist Luis Bunuel’s film and mixes high culture with low filth. For example: “At one point, discussing the paintings of the Italian renaissance and the Low Countries, the conversation segued elegantly to the revelation that there is an exhibition at the Royal Academy of pictures of women with come on them. If true, I am so there.”

She’s a noir heroine, a modern woman of the demi-monde, the educated courtesan, a continuation of a tradition as old as humankind. Her exploits are addictive enough to pull us into her life, including her heartache over a man who went on to sue her after she was ‘outed,’ and to leave us curious for more.
Brooke Magnanti giving a talk at Oxford Union Debate Society
 So there we are. Let me know of any you’ve enjoyed that haven’t been mentioned here!

7 Creepy Or Weird True Story, Factual Podcasts

Hello my little bar stools!

Afraid I can’t write too much because I am suffering some serious lady time issues. I’ve shared fiction podcasts and writing advice podcasts, now allow me to share some true story, factual and informative podcasts that stray on the creepy, weird and dark side.

  1. Historical Blindness: The Odd Past Podcast

Here is the latest episode of the podcast that focuses on weird episodes of history, The Dancing Plague. Mass Hysteria is a particular fascination of mine, and podcast creator Nathaniel Lloyd seeks to question “Can we trust history as we have received it?”

2. Criminal

This is a fantastic and informative true crime podcast, focusing on different and often unusual stories each episode. In Eight Years we discover being a Harry Potter fan isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

3. Monster Talk

Presented by Skeptic Magazine, this podcast presents the cultural and scientific story of cryptozoology.

Direct Audio Link

4. Sawbones

Hilarious husband and wife team (she’s a doctor) take a humorous look at medical mishaps and odd cures of the past. In this episode they explore the man who couldn’t stop eating, including a cat, a puppy, a snake, an eel, offal and poultices:

Direct Audio Link

5. Thinking Sideways

Three friends discuss crime and mystery theories, often with a focus on the weird. Being a writery type I chose the temporary disappearance of Agatha Christie, but there’s a lot to choose from:

Direct Audio Link

6. Faculty of Horror

Genuinely informative and in-depth horror podcast for film buffs and nerds, this goes beyond the usual horror fan chit chat and discusses film making and horror as an art. This episode is about beautiful black and white flicks Night of the Hunter and The Innocents:

Direct Audio Link

7. The Odditorium

Hosted by writer/performer/general weirdos Dr Bramwell and David Mounfield, each episode features different speakers offering “a portal into the fringes of culture; its mavericks and pranksters, adventurers and occultists, artists, comics, eroticists and even the odd chef,” all before a live studio audience. Of course I picked the Sherlock Holmes episode.

Geishas, Courtesans, Artists And Muses: Biographies of Fascinating Women

Good day my little ships that no-one remembers putting in a bottle, you were just there one day, watching from the mantelpiece. I’ve been reading about fascinating women and long to share them with you. I don’t know why I’ve focused so much on women, it was purely accidental.

Wishing on the Moon: The Life And Times of Billie Holiday by Donald Clarke

Billie is one of those people that so many stories have been told about, nobody really knows what’s true. The fact that she enjoyed a good yarn didn’t help matters, much of her autobiography is fiction. How she must have chuckled. Anyway, this intensive biography is filled with first hand interviews and great research, and delves right into the Billie in the soft squishy centre. True, terrible things happened to her and she lived in a time even more racist than now, but she was a tough lady and certainly not a victim.

Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, a disturbing nightmare of a song about lynching:

My Blue Notebooks by Liane de Pougy

Belle Epoque courtesan Liane de Pougy kept a diary from 1919 to 1941. It’s an enjoyable insight into one woman’s thoughts, but unfortunately it’s no unexpurgated Anais Nin. She began writing after she was already married to a Romanian Prince and her naughtiness was mostly behind her, but stick with it as she often drifts into reminiscence.

Not that her life is completely uninteresting at the time of writing. She was good friends with poet Max Jacobs, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and writer Marcel Proust among others, and had unfinished business with more than one woman. But, if it’s juicy stuff you’re after, I recommend Anais Nin.

Postcard print, 1900s
Postcard print, 1900s

Zelda by Nancy Milford

Look at this communication from mamma, all on account of a wine stained dress. Sometimes I get so bored and sick for you…it helps then…and afterwards I’m just more bored and sicker for you – and ashamed.

This biography tries to capture Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F Scott, in all her volatile, complicated glory. She at once wanted independence and to be looked after, to make art but was afraid to try for real, to live wildly and to have Scott to herself. She was a fascinating, complicated woman and one many confused but passionate people can relate to now. She encapsulated something about the twenties, the new speed with which the young travelled, but also the lows that followed when some deeper need inside yourself is left unfulfilled.

Film and Photos of the Fitzgeralds:

The Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

After the disappointment of Memoirs of a Geisha I wanted to read a true account of one of Japan’s living art dolls. until recently it was a world shrouded in secrecy, ramping up the curiosity of outsiders and leading to gossip. I’m sure sex work was a part of life for some Geisha, but I don’t think it was the rule. Perhaps it depended on the individual and circumstance.

I loved this book, it felt as though she’d popped round for tea and a chat. The characters are vivid as are descriptions of Japan undergoing a dramatic change from the old feudal system to the modern country it is now, and the details of gruelling practice and homesickness capture what a crazily disciplined life this was.

Mineko pops up in an interview during this TV spot:

Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley

I turned the pages like a mad woman during this book. Perhaps it was my former career as an artist’s model, or maybe her vulnerability that made me want to protect her, but the model who posed as Ophelia among others seemed very real and somehow modern.

Trapped by her love of artist Rossetti despite his commitment to free love, addicted to morphine and possibly anorexic, she was as much a doomed tragic heroine as Ophelia. Lucinda’s writing is objective and looks at scenarios from all points of view. She doesn’t make excuses for Lizzie’s sometimes unreasonable behaviour but doesn’t condemn her either, thus we can appreciate her as a well-rounded, exasperating but lovely human being.

lizzie-siddal

Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein

Despite radiating the sixties from her very pores, there was also something fabulously twenties about Edie Sedgwick. The way she held her cigarette, her Holly Golightly mannerisms, her ability to dive into the dark side with an innocent mischief.

This is probably the perfect book about Edie because it’s filled with people who were actually there. Everyone has their own perspective and, rather than chop and change to fit an easy narrative, it’s all there. This brings us Edie the person, not the angel other books project. Yes, she was magnetic, but she also stole from friends and had a wildly selfish side. Far from putting us off, it allows us to enjoy and learn about her as a whole instead of a flickering, unobtainable image on a screen.

A collage of pictures and footage over tapes she made in the psychiatric unit for her last film Ciao Manhattan:

Absurdist Bizarro Short Story Video With Pictures

Good morrow ladies and gentlemen. I’m at a writer’s retreat (aka my mate Steve’s):

img_20170109_123702591 img_20170109_124926485Note the blobfish slippers. Anyway, I’ll have to keep this brief so here’s a short absurdist bizarro story of mine illustrated by my love puffin Bill Purnell. Enjoy!

Surrealists, Flappers and Gothic Horror: My Favourite Story Readings

Merry holidays one and all! I’m going to take two weeks off after today but, never fear, I shall leave you with the wonderful words of some of my favourite writers.

Lately I’ve been doing a series of story readings called The Onesie Tales in which I read whilst wearing full length pajamas and no make up. There’s no massive reasoning behind this other than my pajamas are very comfortable and I’m quite lazy. I’ll be continuing this in the New Year so if you’d like to join me subscribe to my youtube channel to be notified of the next one.

In the meantime here are readings of surrealists Leonora Carrington, Haruki Murakami, Algonquin Round Table wit Dorothy Parker and Gothic weird lady Daphne du Maurier. Enjoy!

P.S. The ending of the first video is very embarrassing. I didn’t realise I was still recording and I talk in a silly voice to my boyfriend Bill and look for my glasses like a drunk aunt at Christmas.

Book Review: Surrealist Women, An International Anthology

Hello my little dustpan brushes sprinkled with attractive gems. Recently I read Surrealist Women: An International Anthology. The kindle version is slightly cheaper than the hardsurrealist-women-cover copies but still costs a whopping thirty pounds. I do think it’s worth saving up for, however, as it is an almost exhaustive encyclopedia of all females involved in the art movement from the twenties to sixties counter-culture to now, including examples of their work.

The essays at the beginning of each new era, separated into chapters, refutes the idea that women were not as involved as men. While they were not seen as full members during the twenties they were just as passionate, and only a decade later their participation exploded. It only seems to be outside critics and scholars who have omitted them since.

This passage offers an explanation for the reticence at the start (Andre Breton’s wife, Simone Kahn, wrote several letters to her cousin Denise Levy in the early years): “Although masculine egotism surely existed in the Surrealist Group, what is known of Kahn’s correspondence refutes the temptingly simple but shallow argument that the relatively small production of the first women surrealists can be blamed on male chauvinism alone. What held these women back, more than likely, was a complex of inhibitions and fears inherited from centuries of French and European patriarchal, capitalist, Christian culture; notions of “feminine reserve,” “woman’s place,” and “biological destiny” that they had internalized more or less unconsciously as children and which continued to wreak havoc in their psyches in later years, despite themselves.”
Meret Oppenheim's 'furry cup'
Meret Oppenheim’s ‘furry cup’
The author mentions other biographies of individuals but Surrealist Women is packed with primary research and any omissions of a particular writer/artist’s contribution to surrealism is addressed. She also looks at surprising aspects of surrealism, such as it’s affinities with Trotsky and other leftist leaders as well as feminism. In the early thirties the wall street crash brought a tide of woman-hating against those who ‘stole the jobs of men.’ Two high profile murder cases took place in France during that time, the Papin sisters – maids who killed their bosses – and Violette Noizierre. Both were reported vitriolically by the press as examples of women running amok, but apparently the Surrealists were one of only a few groups to point out that all women involved were being abused and possibly acted in self-defense.
I discovered several writers and artists I had never heard of as well as learning more about others. As a huge fan of Anais Nin I was excited to discover Nelly Kaplan who, under the name Belen, wrote “erotic tales of black humor.” She is also a filmmaker, one of her best known being A Very Curious Girl (1967).
There was also Suzanne Cesaire, born in Martinique. Though her husband, Aime, often overshadowed her, she was very active and started the magazine ‘Tropiques’ with him. There’s Joyce Mansour, the best known Surrealist female poet once told by Breton himself “Your gift is that of a genius,” and Rikki Ducornet, artist as well as author, who has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges among others.
I enjoyed it and learned a lot, and now have plenty of further reading and art to explore, as will you.
Below is a short documentary about Leonora Carrington, also featured in the book. Incidentally one of her stories is in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, another I highly recommend.

#Horror Comedy Flash Fiction Possession Anonymous For #OctoberFrights

Hello all! This is the last day of the October Frights blog hop, though the other authors will be adding content tomorrow so be sure to click the button below.

Here’s a little story about a support group with a difference. Ta ta!

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