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Callgirl Printed Reading Group Guide
Subtitle: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure
Author: Jeannette Angell
“[An] engrossing, no-holds-barred story of a college lecturer by day and a callgirl by night… A revelatory view of a life few women know much about.” — Kirkus Reviews, trade paperback 0-06-073605-4
About the Author
Born in France, Jeannette Angell came to the United States when she was twenty-one. She has earned a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Having taught classes in sociology, history, religion, and anthropology at prestigious universities such as Harvard, M.I.T., and the London School of Economics, Jeannette is the author of four novels—Légende, Wings, Flight, and The Illusionist. She lives in Boston with her husband and is currently working on a mystery series.
Why is having casual sex with a man you pick up in a singles bar considered acceptable, but having sex as a business proposition is not?
Part debate argument, part Penthouse forum, Callgirl is Jeannette Angell’s first-hand account of living in the world of mid-level prostitution.
Working as a college lecturer on a semester-by-semester basis, Jeannette’s income is low and gets even lower when her boyfriend vanishes, taking all of her money with him. Depressed and desperate, she looks for a second job at all the usual places—coffee shops and bookstores—until she finds an ad that reads: “Part-time work available to complement your real life; some college required.”
Once Jeannette walks through this door, her life changes. By day she teaches the sociology classes Death and Dying and Life in the Asylum; at night she receives a phone call from her madam, Peach, who tells her where to go, what to wear, and Jeannette’s persona for the evening. Living between these two worlds gives the author a thrill: “I liked my professional competence, the fact that I was teaching something important and teaching it well. And I also liked the secret knowledge that the night before I had been paid to be sexy, beautiful, and desirable. I liked both sides of myself.”
At one point, she combines the two aspects of her life by creating a new class—The History and Sociology of Prostitution. Ironically, this class becomes so popular that she is given more teaching opportunities. Her lucrative night job is now fueling her day job.
But this harmony won’t last. Over the course of three years, Jeannette will encounter unthinkable risks—risks of addiction, getting arrested, losing her teaching career, and even falling in love.
Questions for Discussion
“A callgirl is a consultant, using her expertise and experience in seduction and giving pleasure to fulfill a verbal contract with a client who is paying her by the hour to complete an agreed-upon project” (page 8). Do you agree with the author’s assessment here? Why or why not?
“Maybe if he can play out his sick little fantasy with one of us from time to time, with someone who can handle it, you know, then he won’t walk down Beacon Street one night and follow some innocent woman home. Maybe he won’t hurt her” (page 43). What do you think of this line of logic—that prostitutes contribute to lowering violent crime? Make an argument for it, and one against it.
The author strives to make the reader understand that prostitutes could be anyone, not just the stereotypes from film and television. Did this book change your mind about the women who are prostitutes? If so, how?
“I kept thinking about the image of the traveler as a conceptual frame for prostitution, and was more and more intrigued by it. It worked both ways: the clients gets a taste of exotica, of something out of the ordinary, expensive and beautiful and not at all what the guy who sits in the next cubicle is doing that night…. And the girl travels, too, but she’s doing it on a shoestring budget, she doesn’t know what to expect and has to be prepared for anything” (page 68). Discuss this concept of escapism in regard to prostitution—do you really think it can benefit both parties?
“I hold many memories of that time in my life; but it is only Sophie who haunts my dreams…” (page 129).” What do you make of the author’s relationship with Sophie? Is it a friendship that she mourns the loss of? Or does Sophie represent someone whom the author had taught so many classes about—the victim?
“Talking about sex is no longer the taboo that is used to be. But talking about prostitution, on the other hand, is still considered a taboo, that is, unless it’s in the context of a lewd remark or a dirty joke” (page 131). Do you find this to be true? Think of other books, film or television shows that highlight prostitution—are they mild compared to Angell’s representation?
In this memoir, the author’s style of storytelling is intelligent and thoughtprovoking. How do you think this style worked with the book’s content of sex? Does it help keep the author’s message on track?
“I was actually starting to see my night job as a pleasant escape” (page 140). “The class on prostitution, I realized, was what had really saved me” (page 183). Discuss what, if any, balance the author had as she moved between these two worlds. How does her two jobs complement each other? How do they work against each other?
“I don’t know, in the end, exactly why I left” (page 234). Why do you think Angell stopped working as a callgirl? Do you think it was because she got all that she wanted out of it? Or do you think the risk of getting caught became too great?
“The only way to stop this trafficking in and profiting from the use of women’s bodies is for prostitution to be legalized. Legalization will open it up to regulation; and regulation means safety” (page 238). Does this statement at the end of the book surprise you? Or do you feel that the book was building the foundation to support this point all along? What was your opinion—before you read the book—on legalizing prostitution? And what is your feeling on the subject now?
“Cambridge author Jeannette Angell pulls down the covers on Boston’s invisible, nocturnal culture.”— Boston Herald
Reading Group Guide ISBN: 0-06-079310-4