March 21, 2004

"Belle de Jour" and literary forensics

The Belle de Jour blog is supposedly a "diary of a london call girl", written by an anonymous prostitute. Given that "she"'s landed an award and a book deal, there's been (a PR stunt? interest? a journalistic pack-story?) over her identity. The funniest part is the suggestion that it's Andrew Orlowski (this falls into the class of things which if they aren't true, should be :-)). The original suspect has denied it

After reading and hearing about all this, I did a little digging myself. Now, literary forensics is harder than it looks. It's the practice of determining authorship from quirks, styles, idiosyncrasies, etc. I've played around with it, and been wrong. My speculations, which again, might certainly be wrong:

1) The "Belle de Jour" blog is a fake, written by at least two people, one starting it, then another taking over later.

2) At least the second person, the one who took over, is a journalist.

I'm more certain of #1 than #2.

Here's why - look at the use of the singlequote character. As Don Foster claimed originally, there's a style of singlequote for phrases, doublequote for conversation. But, as I've found, in the first month archive, there are NO - none - zero - singlequote usages at all. Load the archive file into a text editor, and search for the two character sequence singlequote and space. Nothing in the text. Now repeat the search with the third month archive file Many, many, such usages (e.g.: descriptors 'It Girl' and 'double-barrelled' apply).

Now, this is the sort of observation where someone can sneer - "Look, he's talking about a quotemark, how silly!". And it can be wrong, a writer might just have a new computer, or use a new composition procedure, or something similar. But fingerprints themselves are just smudges made by oily skin ridges, and have to be interpreted with care too.

I'm not sure if there's significance that some of the line break HTML has the sequence period-space-br-tag while others just period-br-tag (no space). That's not 100% consistent, very attackable, but also suggestive of two different origins (which could be either people or procedures, note!). Also sometimes the quoting of conversation is only in singlequotes.

But that "second" person's style sure looks journalistic. It's not that a call-girl can't be literate and write well. Rather, look at it this way - between a real prostitute imagining being a journalist, and a real journalist imagining being a prostitute, which sounds more likely? Which profession is better equipped to exploit the other?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on March 21, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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