Letters to the Happy Hooker

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Xaviera Hollander: Is the Happy Hooker still happy after all these years?

Deborah Ross went in search of author Xaviera Hollander, whose erotic memoir, The Happy Hooker, shocked and informed decades before Fifty Shades fever. What she heard – in an Amsterdam B&B – was more racy than anything in either book...


I hadn't thought of Xaviera Hollander for years – who has? – until a friend mentioned she was alarmed to have discovered her 14-year-old daughter (yes, you, Hannah!) had read all the Shades of Grey books. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," I says in my breezy way, as I am as delightfully breezy with friendships as I am with life, "when I was her age we were all reading The Happy Hooker and it didn't do us any harm." Thinking about it now, it may even have been my entire sex education.

First published in 1971, Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker was a sensation, and was, definitely, my entire sex education, unless you count my older brother performing his 'willie dance', which I don't. (He charged me and my two sisters a shilling each to witness this particular event, yet wearned much.) At school, our friend Josephine had the one copy, which she generously lent out for us to read under our covers, according to a strictly governed list and, as I remember it, she was firm but fair. The book was an account of Xaviera's journey from her first sexual experiences – "By 15, I had sucked my boyfriend's cock"; WOW! – to becoming one of New York's highest-paid prostitutes and then madam of New York's best-connected brothel until she was deported on the grounds of 'moral turpitude.' It was filled with stories of lesbianism (WOW!), bondage (WOW!), swinging (WOW!), fetishism (WOW!), orgies (WOW!, WOW!, WOW!), and sold 15 million copies although not at my secondary comprehensive where, I think, it was just the one copy thumbed and pored over 15 million times. (VILE! VILE! VILE!) I decide to track Xaviera down and after an exhausting few seconds on Google – this is the kind of research you learn at journalism school; don't try it for yourselves at home – I discover she is now running a B&B in Amsterdam, so off I toddle...