During the summer Natalie wrote me a line saying that she was in love, madly in love with a woman, and that this love outstripped all her other loves by a long way. Rather vexed, I answered: "The best in your life was me! Me! Me!"
-- Liane de Pougy
In France, where they know a thing or two about courtesans, Liane de Pougy was considered one of the most desirable. Eventually she became a Princess, and lived an elegant life of which most women could only dream.
Liane was born Anne-Marie Chassaigne, to solid, middle-class parents. Like most parents in those days, they hoped to secure their daughter's future by finding her a suitable husband. When Anne-Marie was sixteen, they succeeded. The groom was a brute and abused her – she wore the scar of his beatings on her breast for the rest of her life. After two years of this, she ran off.
Upon her arrival in Paris, the beautiful eighteen year old changed her name to Liane, established a clientele of lovers, and never looked back. Liane had very catholic tastes, in the old sense of the word. She was openly and proudly bisexual, which of course doubled her potential client base. All Paris adored her. She published a couple of light tales (L'Insaisissable and La Mauvaise part-Myrrhille). Her lovers showered her with jewels, carriages, and the occasional summer home in the country.
In 1899, Liane met the first great love of her life, Natalie Barney. Barney was a wealthy American heiress who was gaining a reputation as a writer. The two women flouted their affair in the face of French society. It was quite a delicious scandal. Sadly, Liane was not destined to be the great love of Natalie's life. Natalie loved variety and soon found other lovers. The betrayed Liane did what any woman in her position would – she wrote a tell all book about their affair. Idylle Sapphique was ostensibly a "novel," but everyone knew better. The book was a great success, both financially and as a thumb to the nose.
At the height of her career, Liane met her second great love, a Roumanian Prince named Georges Ghika. He was quite a few years her junior. They married. Liane changed her name back to Anne-Marie Ghika (that's Princess Ghika, to you). The fairy tale lasted for sixteen years. Then Georges met a much younger woman and ran off with her. Liane, who in her earlier diaries had written of Georges as though he were a demi-god, now decided he was a degenerate. They did not divorce. Liane took a series of lesbian lovers, as "consolation." He eventually came back, but the rest of their relationship was stormy and punctuated with infidelities. It was after the death of her husband, around 1945, that Liane finally found a lover who never let her down – Jesus. She joined the Order of Saint Dominic as a lay sister, and worked at the Asylum of Saint Agnes in Savoy, a haven for disabled and mentally challenged children who had been abandoned. She repented her notorious life and specifically rejected her lesbian past. Not a few writers have dubbed her a "saint" for this devotion. However, the reader of her diary, published in English as My Blue Notebooks, might detect a last minute push to get into her new love's good graces.
Natalie Barney tribute web site. (Jealous? Liane? Hah!)
What some French Rhetorical Scholars are up to. In French.
Would you like to visit Ninon?
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