Liane de Pougy was one of Paris’s most famous courtesans. She was famous and rich. Men were putting at her feet millions of francs worth of jewelry, on a whim. She married Romanian Prince George Ghica when she was fourty-one, and she never looked back.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started to read the notebooks. Superficiality and vanity? There is plenty of that. Liane is preoccupied at large extend with her clothes (she mentions over and over again the large sums of money spent on different outfits and fabrics and she describes some of them in detail). She is also caught up in the pride derived from her beauty and grace, which she is certain she still possesses until the end, although it is true that she mostly just mentions it as a simple matter of fact.
She reads a lot and keeps company with literary figures of the time, like Colette, Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob. She loves her husband which doesn’t put an end to her affection for Natalie Barney as well as a few other women. And all this time she looks for forgiveness, she repents, she wants to wash out her previous life, which never ceases to follow her. She turns to religion, in which she finds consolation and answers, a promise of forgiveness, of real change.
She is fifty when she begins writing her notebooks, so the Liane that comes to life in these pages is obviously transformed by age and largely different in thinking from what she might have been in her early years as one of the most precious beauties of Paris.
The notebooks and her own path become really interesting when she finds an institution for children with disabilities that shakes her to the core. From that moment on she decides that she has a purpose, a mission in life: to help these children have a better life. She considers that “her work” and she dedicates her energy and passion to it.
She is a victim of her time, her beauty, fashion and society, but she is also a product of her own thinking. Although most of the time Liane de Pougy seems lost in the small pleasures of life (physical love, food, beauty) and self-infatuated, she is a genuine searcher for the truth and that transpires clearly in these journals. That’s what kept me reading.