take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

La Belle époque 

It can't have escaped the notice of many "old school" bloggers that Belle de jour has finally been unmasked.

I remember when I first became aware of Belle. I remember, because I blogged about it in the days when I was still finding my own blogging voice, when my posts were distinctly more superficial, impulsive and snippety. I remember the controversy, particularly when she won a blogging award after only a couple of months. I remember the various theories - most notably, that "she" was a man. Furthermore, a journalist. No female, amateur writer could write about sex like that, apparently.

What was different about Belle from my perspective was that she had no comment thread. I had come to blogging at a time (known by some as "the second wave") when comments had become the norm. It seemed unthinkable that a new blog wouldn't have them. What we now know is that Belle had been an early adopter of blogging under a couple of different pseudonyms, therefore not having comments on her latest offering was probably normal for her. But not for the bloggers who saw themselves as her "contemporaries". Me being one of them. It all seemed incredibly aloof. "This is what I have to say. You may not respond, you must simply read and admire" is how I interpreted it. And they did, in droves.

Another feature which set her apart was the "monomania". The blog was about her experiences as a call girl, but not about her as a (as it turned out) PhD student, who had chosen prostitution as a means to pay for her studies. As a woman in a serious relationship. As a woman with American heritage. We never got to "know" her as a whole person, she was an enigma. Whereas I and many other bloggers at the time were open books, blurting out our feelings and failings to anyone who would listen.

She seemed supremely confident in her looks, her abilities, her intelligence, her writing. With good reason, as it turned out. Although this meant that I could never relate to her as I related to so many of the other blogs I was reading at the time. I relate best to humility, honesty, inadequacy.

Hers was probably the first blog that made me feel utterly inadequate about my life, my writing, my everything, but this did not stop me from returning to that url, week after week. When I think about how my own writing has evolved, from the early, chatty posts I used to publish, to the more thought-out, philosophical offerings of more recent times, I suppose I can't deny that I have been influenced, almost despite myself. I was a secret, reluctant admirer, inspired and intimidated in equal measure.

I once sent an email to Belle. She used French date stamps on her posts, and I noticed that the day and month names began with capital letters. If she wanted to be authentic, I pointed out, these should begin with lowercase letters. I have no idea if she read my message, but when I saw her first book in Waterstones, I noticed that lowercase was being used and smiled.

She was the first "blog to book" that I was aware of, and probably heralded the way for many others. I believe that blogging became more competitive and corporate after this - people clamoured for awards and book deals. Not Belle's fault, clearly, but a change was apparent to those of us who'd been blogging "before Belle". Many of my blogging strops have been reactions to these changes, but my instinct to write stuff (however crap) has usually tipped the balance.

So Belle (Brooke) is indeed a woman. A respected scientist. I am not surprised. Her writing betrayed her as a supremely intelligent person, whose intellect extended well beyond the somewhat limited (however specialised) demands of the escort work she wrote about in such detail.

Go well, Brooke.

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