Griselidis Real

Virtuoso writer and 'revolutionary whore'

It sounds like a pseudonym. But Grisélidis Réal was the real name of a unique woman who was a highly talented writer and also a revolutionary prostitute. Ironically, her first name is that of Boccaccio's long- suffering victim of a brutal husband, the "Patient Griselda" of his last story in The Decameron. She became a universal symbol for marital fidelity, which was certainly not the outstanding virtue in Grisélidis Réal's agitated existence.

Grisélidis Réal, writer, courtesan and social worker: born Lausanne, Switzerland 11 August 1929; married (children); died Geneva 31 May 2005.

It sounds like a pseudonym. But Grisélidis Réal was the real name of a unique woman who was a highly talented writer and also a revolutionary prostitute. Ironically, her first name is that of Boccaccio's long- suffering victim of a brutal husband, the "Patient Griselda" of his last story in The Decameron. She became a universal symbol for marital fidelity, which was certainly not the outstanding virtue in Grisélidis Réal's agitated existence.

Réal came from a highly respectable Swiss family in Lausanne. Both her father and mother were teachers and, during her childhood, she lived with them in various foreign postings. In 1939, on their return to the neutral safety of Switzerland, she began studying at the School of Decorative Arts in Zurich. She also studied classical piano - only to medium ability but with her own special touch, and in later life this musical gift, coupled with a strenuous S&M training, allowed her to declare: "I can pound a piano or a pervert - it's all the same to me, all in a good night's work."

After graduating, Réal worked as an artist's model, married one of the artists and gave birth to two sons before separating from him by mutual consent. In 1960, she moved to Germany, and one day, when she was rambling in the countryside, a motorist stopped and made her a proposition of money for sex in the back of his car. That was her first professional job as a "street walker" - what Kipling in Soldiers Three refers to as "the most ancient profession in the world".

Germany at that time was full of occupation troops of various nationalities. With her linguistic abilities, Réal won over many of the victors: she was especially fond of the British ("real gentlemen") and the Americans, with a decided preference for black men, one of whom she nearly married. She started living with a new lover, by whom she had two more children.

These adventures became the subject of her first book, Le Noir est une couleur ("Black is a Colour") in 1974, which had a certain success: it was reissued by popular demand in March this year. Réal proved herself to be a virtuoso stylist in this realistic account of her life on the streets, viewed with a clear, cold eye not lacking in a certain poetry. With touches of acid humour, she comes across as a highly intelligent and sympathetic woman who is both onlooker and fellow worker in what is often a very grim business.

The better to sympathise with the needs of a certain class of client, she began taking practical courses with a great master of S&M techniques. Although bondage was "not my thing", she said, she insisted on learning about the myriad forms of sexual subjugation - because, as she explains in her book, "you have to be able to put yourself in the skin of any kind of sado-masochist if you really want to give him (or her) the satisfaction they crave".

There was one bleak period in which Réal spent seven months in prison for drug trafficking. She converted several of her fellow female prisoners to her own advanced views of the redemptive nature of "the Profession". As soon as she got out of jail, she undertook a course of analytical psychiatry that enabled her to experience her first orgasm. After that, there was no stopping her: she had 11 pregnancies and seven abortions.

Réal started keeping a diary in which she jotted down her experiences with every type of client: "Roger, bald old goat, keeps his underpants on as long as possible, playful, groper, premature, 80 francs." There are very full descriptions of an almost clinical directness, a sort of "hands-on" investigative sociological analysis from sapphism to sadism and various forms of erotomania. She claimed that her erotic art was founded in compassion, in which nothing human was ever foreign to her. She called the resulting book Carnet de bal d'une courtisane ("A Courtesan's Dance Card", 1984).

She had never wanted to be the prisoner of an office job, but she decided to become a sort of volunteer social worker with a special concern for the rights of prostitutes, both male and female. It was through such acts of charity that she met the journalist and author Jean-Luc Hennig. He became her constant supporter and in 1992 Réal published La Passe imaginaire ("la passe" is French slang for the short time spent with a prostitute), a collection of letters to him.

It was her native intelligence, coupled with a deep knowledge of human nature, that began to make Réal militate in various causes in support of her sisters of the streets. It was their protest and occupation of the Chapelle Saint-Bernard in Montparnasse in 1973 that first involved her in defence of their human rights against the brutal controls of pimps, panders and the police. She became known as the "catin révolutionnaire" ("revolutionary whore") when she helped to found Aspasie, the first association to come to the aid of ill-treated prostitutes. She also set up an International Centre of Documentation about Prostitution in Geneva, a reference source now much used by researchers and sociologists.

In a preface to a reprint of Carnet de bal earlier this year, Réal calls prostitution "an art, and a humanist science". She says:

The only authentic prostitution is that mastered by great technical artists and perfectionists who practise this particular form of native craft with intelligence, respect, imagination, heart, experience and willing ministry as a kind of innate vocation.

When in old age this great innovator was struck down by cancer, she wrote poems about her affliction that curiously moved audiences to laughter. Her courage, humour, passion and selfless devotion to a cause can never be forgotten. Above all, she was a great human being.

James Kirkup

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower