These reprehensible ladies were famed for their charms, wit and survival instincts. The mistresses and courtesans of the rich and highly-placed, they made their careers by being ‘kept women’.
Liane de Pougy, one of the best-known of these ladies, stuck in my memory because she( I think, because it might well have been another of these stately ‘ladies’) apparently kept her fine looks by dint of rising early, going horse-riding for an hour and then returning to bed for the rest of the morning. Brought up in a convent, she became pregnant at sixteen and eloped with the father of her child. He was a brute who abused her and she repaid this abuse with infidelity. She left the marriage after two years. She became addicted to opium and cocaine and found her way through acting and prostitution to the life of a courtesan. Openly bisexual, she had a lesbian affair with Nathalie Barney, with whom she remained close friends for many years, and became Princess Ghika after marrying Prince Georges Ghika of Romania, fifteen years her junior, who left her after sixteen years of marriage for a younger woman. She wrote several novels during her life, one of them, a veiled description of her love-affair with Barney, being described as having a ‘une reputation sulfureuse‘ – but was very popular.
Upon the death of her beloved son in World War One, she became a tertiary of the Order of Saint Dominic and took the name Sister Anne-Marie. Lord hear us.
“Elle est morte à quatre-vingt-deux ans, gardant sur son visage et dans son regard admirable les signes encore visibles de sa beauté passée. Elle avait souhaité de mourir un soir de Noël ; la divine Providence a exaucé ce vœu. Elle avait désiré que nul ne suivît le cercueil de celle qui n’entendait plus être que Anne-Marie-Madeleine de la Pénitence. Cette dépouille terrestre tant vantée, tant aimée, s’en alla solitaire. Liane de Pougy était bien morte.” André de Fouquières, Mon Paris et ses Parisiens : Le quartier Monceau, vol. 2, Paris, Horay, 1954