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Call-Girls and Courtesans: Getting An Education in 2009 and 1570

Posted: 11/18/09 09:04 PM ET

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2009: Bestselling author and call-girl Belle du Jour, whose web diary about the fourteen months she lived as a high class prostitute was collected into popular book and a television show, revealed in this Sunday's Guardian that she is Dr. Brook Magnanti, a researcher in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology, and that she became a call girl primarily to finance her PhD.

"'I couldn't find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn't have my PhD yet. I didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would.'

Unable to pay her rent, Magnanti's mind turned to other things. She told the Sunday Times she wanted to start doing something straightaway, 'that doesn't require a great deal of training or investment to get started, that's cash in hand and that leaves me spare time to do my work...'

'I've felt worse about my writing than I ever have about sex for money,' she said."

c. 1570: In Renaissance Venice there were two classes of courtesan, the cortigiana di lume, a lower class form of hooker, and the cortigiana onesta, the well-bred intellectual prostitute of which Veronica Franco was emblematic. Born a citizen of Venice and the daughter of a cortigiana onesta, Franco made her debut in the family business at the age of twenty when her name and address was listed in the official register of all courtesans in the city. Franco's goal was not just the pursuit of money, and a good living from it, but also intellectual freedom. She wanted to be admired by other writers as not merely as an object of desire, but a writer and artist herself, a witty commenter on Venetian society. From Margaret F. Rosenthal's The Honest Courtesan:

Despite the many attempts to limit a courtesan's foray into Venetian public life, the occasional patriotic compositions Veronica Franco wrote and the poetic anthologies she composed and edited from 1570 to 1580 affirm her entrance into the intellectual life of the Venetian elite. They also set her apart from both the cortigiana di lume and the meretrice who depended solely on selling their bodies for financial support. While her occasional compositions are on the whole highly conventional, Franco also manipulated civic encomiums for strategic purposes. This she did by adapting the language of courtly encomiums to the theme of civic pride and in the process rejecting Venetian male satirists' scorn. Further, she refused the subservient position assigned to her as an object of amorous exchange between male Petrarchan poets. By publicizing her connections with influential political leaders and intellectuals and associating herself in her poems with the honorific image of Venice as sublime protectress, she placed herself, as honest courtesan and citizen poet, at center stage. She became both the subject of her works and the director of her literary career.
 

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