Belle de jour (1928 novel)

Belle de Jour is a novel by French author Joseph Kessel, published in 1928 by Gallimard.

The novel opens with an event from Séverine Sérizy’s childhood, in which a mechanic touches the eight-year-old on her way from her bedroom to her mother’s. The story then follows Séverine as a young, beautiful housewife. It is difficult for her to fulfill her sexual affinity for masochistic desires with her husband, Pierre Sérizy. Although they love each other, physical intimacy is a problem, which frustrates them both. Hearing Monsieur Husson mention a brothel gives Séverine the idea to seek satisfaction as a prostitute with the pseudonym “Belle de Jour” (Beauty of Day), as she works from two to five o’clock each day, returning to her unaware husband in the evening. Séverine becomes entangled with one of her punters, Marcel, a young gangster. He provides her with the thrills and excitement contained in her fantasies. The situation becomes more complicated when Séverine decides to leave the brothel, with her madam’s (Madame Anaïs) agreement, after finding Marcel has become too demanding and jealous of her husband. Husson has also discovered her secret as a potential, though unwilling, client. One of the gangster’s associates tracks Séverine to her home address. Marcel visits her and threatens to reveal her hidden identity, but Séverine persuades him to leave. Husson visits Severine and assures her of his discretion, but she cannot believe him. She discovers that Husson has arranged to meet Pierre in the square outside Notre Dame cathedral; she hastily visits Marcel and asks him to kill Husson, which he agrees to out of love for her. Marcel and Severine drive to the rendez-vous point in a car driven by Marcel’s friend. Marcel attempts to stab Husson but the job is botched: Pierre intervenes and is stabbed instead in the head. Pierre survives but is left in a coma, from which he eventually awakes. Marcel is arrested, but will refuse to talk, thereby saving Severine’s reputation. The police are unable to find a motive for the attempted murder, but after Pierre leaves hospital, paralyzed and sitting in a wheelchair, Husson visits him and possibly tells him the truth.