‘Belle de Jour’ Identified as Male London Novelist, Stewart Home, 42

Rather than being a 29-year-old lady of the night, ‘Belle de Jour’ is in fact the male writer Stewart Home, 42, known under his own name for the novels in which he interweaves lurid pornographic descriptions with high brow literary and cultural criticism [1] 

1) Stewart Who?

Theorist of multiple name use [2], radical cultural provocateur [3], ‘art terrorist’ [4], self confessed strategic ‘liar’ [5], veteran of numerous literary feuds [6], skilled self publicist, and above all an arch wind-up merchant [7], Home has previously written both under his own name and under the invented female moniker Karen Eliot [8]. Whereas his non-fiction concerns have remained in the world of culture theory, his fictional themes over the past 20 years have moved from political extremism to occultism to, in his most recent two novels, prostitution considered from the point of view of the female prostitute.

His referencing, often unmarked, of previous cultural works [9] — mainly avant-gardist but also popular — began at the start of his career in the early 1980s, and continues in his latest effort, supposedly the ‘authentic’ diaries of a prostitute writing under the name ‘Belle de Jour’. This was the working name of the prostitute protagonist of the 1968 film made by Spanish director Luis Buñuel, a leading Surrealist [10].

Few would deny Home’s skill at getting into character. His back-list includes works of skinhead, gay, and occult fiction. For a time, he has had cult followings among those who have taken his attitudes at face value in each of these areas. In actual fact, he has never been a skinhead, and he has never been either gay or an occultist — any more than he is a Jewish call-girl with traces of a Yorkshire accent. The Belle de Jour diaries are the latest, greatest success in a career that began more than 20 years ago.

All of his novels have contained copious quantities of pornography, usually sadomasochistic, interspersed with cultural theory and criticism, usually arcane. Titles include Blow Job, No Pity, 69 Things to Do With a Dead Princess, and Cunt. He also distributes Necro Cards, for those who want to allow the use of their bodies for sexual gratification after death. Fifty thousand were handed out in Soho in 1999.

Not known for personal modesty, he publishes a website in the name of the Stewart Home Society [11]. This august-sounding body is his own creation. So were Praxis, Neoism and the Art Strike, three art movements in which he was the sole participant.

2) The Road to the Belle Diaries

As all his friends know, Home was adopted as a child and brought up in suburban Woking, a town best known to the middle classes for its railway station. Many, however, were surprised to read his claim that his real, biological mother was 1960s hipster Julia Callan-Thompson [12], who he says worked for a time as a ‘hostess’ at Murray’s club in Soho [13]. Two of the more famous ‘hostesses’ at this notorious topless establishment were Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.

In his most recent two novels, Home mixes literary discussion with descriptions of (usually bizarre) sex — the combination that has long been characteristic of his fiction. But for the first time, he writes from the viewpoint of a narrator who is both first-person and female. As we shall see, this is something that he gets further and further into.

The first of these two novels was 69 Things to do with a Dead Princess (2002). In an interview, Home describes how he formed the view that “if I wrote in the first person female this would be interesting and hopefully people won’t think that it’s autobiographical”. Before adding: “Maybe what I want is a big literary hit so that I can afford the sex change I’ve always wanted.” [14] Needless to say, this second bit was tongue in cheek. The big literary hit did come, and was real, but the sex change came first and was only pretend.

In this work, Home has a character say that a writer’s production of “unreliable first-person narration” constitutes “conclusive proof” that the writer is a “proletarian post-modernist” [15], an epithet that elsewhere he proudly applies to himself [16]. One-time Situationist Alexander Trocchi’s faked autobiography ‘by’ Frank Harris is later praised as “good enough to fool all the literary experts who’d gone over the book in the five years before the hoax was revealed” [17].

In the same novel, a character bemoans the fact that while contemporary novelists who “deliberately set out to change their prose style with every book they wrote”, have managed to achieve “cult status among their fellow novelists”, they have unfortunately found that a “broad readership” proves “elusive” [18]. In writing the Belle diaries, Home consciously sought to overturn this state of affairs; and to do so without ‘selling out’.

The road towards Belle de Jour continued with his next novel, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, completed in 2002 [19] [20] and published in 2004. The narrator is again first-person, and she is again female, but this time she is a prostitute called Eve and prostitution is the book’s major theme. She spends a lot of time debating artistic, literary, and political theory with her clients as she services them. Is this getting familiar?

Reveling in self-imposed literary restrictions, Home made every paragraph exactly 100 words long. As always, he did his research extremely well. The book is replete with images of prostitution culled from classical literary sources. These include from the supposedly autobiographical Fanny Hill (1749), which, like Belle de Jour’s diary, was also written by a man. The skill with which he wrote Down and Out won him an Arts Council Writer’s Award. There are numerous previous literary examples of men writing as female prostitutes. Home studied them in depth and his research fed more than just a novel.

3) Belle is Born

Soon after, Home started work on a weblog. As a character said in Down and Out, this project “needed time to develop before being bathed in the raw light of media exposure” [21]. Late in 2003, he started publishing it at Blogspot.com, under the name ‘Belle de Jour’. The restrictions of the form were grist to his mill, and he easily walked off with the Guardian’s Best Written Weblog award at the end of 2003 [22], only a few months after he started.

Or rather, the fictional persona did.

Which is kind of ironic, given that several years before, he had once nominated his own work for the Literary Review Bad Sex Prize. To his annoyance, the organisers sent him packing with the explanation that self nomination wasn’t acceptable [23].

With the Belle weblog, Home was very, very much in his element. For 20 years, his writings have not just included books and journal articles published in the usual way, by mainstream or independent publishers. Alongside these, he has also written and published a large number of ‘samizdat’ texts, and distributed them in various ways including leaving them in radical bookshops, sending them out to people, circulating them through friends, and sticking them up on walls. Most of these have been calculated to whip up storms in certain cultural and political tea cups. Tea cups that have ranged from eco anarchism to post Situationism, from Druidism to circles alchemical. Many have been written under his own name, and a quick Google — or browse around his website — will be sufficient to illustrate both the range of his operations and the level of his commitment [24].

Others, however, have been pseudonymous; and others still have been anonymous. One can mention for example, Home’s pamphlet Crown against Concubine, designed to stir up trouble in ‘conspiracy theory’ circles of both left and right. Or material supposedly written by eco anarcho fascists, written to provoke both green anarchists and neo fascists. Or the Wombat 92 document, mailed anonymously to various left-wing individuals with different conceptions of anti fascism, and which lavished praise on one of the individuals with whom Home has had a long-running feud. Or stickers in a graphical style copied from the neo-Nazi BNP, supposedly printed by simultaneous admirers of Satan, Christ, and Marx [25].

(Some of this faking approaches the ‘disinformational’, and points up the ugly side of his intellectual arrogance. At times this has led him to view everyone with whom he disagrees — from the despicable to the honest but naive — as equally deserving to be slagged off or wound-up. There is also his sexism, which is apparent in the Belle diaries in, for example, his imagining a prostitute to have masochistic fantasies. A number of reviewers, realising that such depictions are unrealistic, have correctly guessed that the author of the diaries is male. Cynthia Payne and others might also be interested to know that in 1998 Home received National Lottery funding for a project in which he telephoned prostitutes, wound them up by making absurd requests, and taped the calls [26]).

Whatever view one takes, it’s clear that Home has been able to act with extreme tenacity in presenting personalities and views which are not his own, and without identifying who he is. With the Belle diary, while the forensics suggest even to the most sceptical observer that he has, at the very least, an extremely strong case to answer, the nearest I’ve heard of his making an admission is a touch on the side of the nose, given furtively to a mutual friend who was about to raise suspicions a little too high at a party.

Whilst the requirements of printing and distribution have often forced him to let a few friends into the know, he has always tended to ensure that these are different friends each time, and my guess would be that the number of people who know him to be Belle’s creator is very small. His modus operandi has always been to reduce to an absolute minimum those who are aware of what he’s up to, in order to maximise the confusion which, as he has so often proclaimed, is his real aim [27].

Commentators have named Belle de Jour as various other writers, but so far no-one has hit the nail on the head. The occasional expert has waffled on about something like the way the author uses italics, and then identified a journalist, a computer specialist, or even a former government propagandist. Well, er no, actually. It isn’t Toby Young and it isn’t Alastair Campbell. But one has got to say, it’s a pity the ‘italics’ specialist hadn’t read Home’s Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War (1988), in which he first flexed the humorous use of italics as one of his working tools.

There are, though, several clues in the Belle diaries. I’ve detailed 11 of these in the document entitled ‘Clues‘, together with some giveaway references in previous works by Belle’s ‘ventriloquist’, author Stewart Home.



[1] In every single one of his novels, Home has mixed pornography with literary criticism. The full list runs:

[2] A Google search for “multiple name” AND “Stewart Home” brought up 401 references.

[3] A Google search for “provocateur” AND “Stewart Home” brought up 235 references.

[4] ‘Art terrorist’ is a label attributed to Home by, for example, Serpent’s Tail, who published four of his novels. (They lost him as an author when they rejected the title for his next novel, namely Cunt, but this didn’t stop them bidding for his Belle de Jour diaries a few years later). He has been given the same label by the New Musical Express, as quoted in promotional material by Codex, publisher of his book on hoaxing entitled Confusion Incorporated: A Collection of Lies, Hoaxes, and Hidden Truths (1999). The Modern Review have gone so far as to call him “the art terrorist’s art terrorist”, a quote used by Book Counter, distributor of some of his titles in the US.

‘Art terrorist’ references:

[5] The Guardian review of Home’s most recent novel, Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, in which the first-person narrator is a female prostitute, is entitled “The liar” (6 April 2004). 

Extract: “[Interviewer] Question eight: why do you lie? [Home] One lies to gain. [I] But why do you, Stewart Home, lie? [H] ‘We arrive at truth through error,’ to quote Kant, and I love paradox and I hate all that reaching for authenticity thing. I asked him this question because so much of his work seems to be about trying to undermine supposed bourgeois culture by spreading lies. [I] That is my problem, Stewart. I’m always reaching for authenticity. One of the fundamental differences between us is that you like to make the world a better place by spreading lies while I like to try and do it by spreading truths. [H] You should try lying more, Bill. It works better.” 

[6] For his side of various feuds, see: http://www.stewarthome society.org/feud.htm 

[7] A Google search for “wind-up” AND “Stewart Home” brought up 931 references. To give an example: in 1996 he wrote a story for The Big Issue about being shown an arms dump by Jimmy Cauty, which led to a massive police operation and Cauty’s arrest. The arms dump had never existed. 

[8] Home started using the name Karen Eliot in 1985, under which name he exhibited artworks between 1987 and 1996. See: http://www.arttm .org.uk/gallery/eliot/lifes.html. He also inspired the use of the name ‘Luther Blissett’, adopted by the authors of Q, the international bestseller first published in Italian in 1999.

[9] Home on ‘plagiarism’: “The complexity in my stuff comes from its referentiality, what in modern literary studies is called intertextuality, although I prefer to describe what I do as plagiarism because this helps to confuse the issue. […] I don’t want readers coming away from my writing thinking Stewart Home believes X, Y and Z. In any case, why would anyone be interested in that? I don’t think you can pin down where the parody ends and belief begins in my work because I very deliberately aim at achieving an ecstasy of semantic confusion. There’s a slogan which states that “BELIEF IS THE ENEMY”, and this is very much a factor that I take into account as I construct my books” (“Sex, Violence and Anarcho Sadism”, interview with Jussi Ahokas, http://www.stewarthome society.org/finn.htm).

In 1988, Home organised a ‘Festival of Plagiarism’ (see: http://ww w.spunk.org/library/writers/shome/sp000458.htm), and would later write the book Neoism, Plagiarism, and Praxis (1995) (AK Press).

As far back as the early 1980s, in his one-man magazine called Smile, Home was declaring that he enoyed putting forward views that he didn’t agree with, so as to watch people’s reactions.

In summary: Home not only accepts the labels liar, hoaxer, art terrorist, and plagiarist, but uses them in self-commentary and self-promotion.

[10] In the Belle diaries, amid the occasional it-girl-ish references to Fendi bags and Jimmy Choos, Home gives a nod to the beat/freak poet Allen Ginsberg: “the best minds of my generation…” (p. 186).

[11] Stewart Home Society: http://www.stewarthomesociety.o rg

[12] An article by Home about his mother , “Stewart Home’s Hippy Momma”, is at: http://www.stewarthomesoci ety.org/rhhm. He also staged a recent exhibition in London at T1+2 Artspace, entitled ‘(m)other’, which ran from 10 December 2004 to 20 January 2005. See http://www.t12artspac e.com/dorley-brown.htm and http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/gallery/julia.

Julia Callan-Thompson was apparently a friend of many of the avant-garde figures of the 1960s, such as William Burroughs, RD Laing, and Timothy Leary. In the early 1980s Home told friends that he had tracked down and met his biological mother. But in a recent interview he said that he never met either of his biological parents (“Natural Born Rebel”, interview with Justin Gowers: http://www.stewartho mesociety.org/redpep.htm).

[13] On Murray’s cabaret bar, see: http ://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-1411599,00.html 

[14] “A Cunning Linguist — 69 Things to do with Stewart Home”, intervew with Richard Marshall,

[15] Stewart Home, 69 Things to do with a Dead Princess, op.cit., p.65.

[16] Home’s self-description as a ‘proletarian post-modernist‘: http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/krim.htm.

[17] 69 Things, p.107

[18] Those who do not know Home’s work need only read Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton for an example of his skill at switching prose styles – in this instance, within a single novel.

[19] The novel was the subject of an interview published in 3am magazine in 2002: http://www.3ammagazine.com/litarchives/2002_jan/interview_st ewart_home.html.

[20] See: http://www.3ammagazine.com/litarchives/2002_jan/interview_ste wart_home.html

[21] Down and Out, p.25.

[22] “The best of British blogging”, Guardian, 18 December 2003.

[23] Personal communication, late 1990s. I do not know which year’s competition this was for.

[24] See footnote 6.

[25] Personal communications from Home at the time. On the same ‘Marx, Christ, and Satan’ kick, see: http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/callan.htm

[26] This was under the rubric of Tork Radio. Meanwhile, in Down and Out, prostitute characters are angry at their “exploitation at the hands of literary blades” (p.94). A case of having his cake and eating it?

[27] See footnote 5.