Liane de Pougy lived countless lives. She was a charming courtesan named Liane and a royal named Princess Ghika—but the end of her life boasted the most shocking twist of all.
1. She Grew Up In A Nunnery
On a warm summer day in 1869, Anne-Marie Chassaigne came into the world in La Flèche, France. She had an incredibly unique upbringing—but this was only the start of her very unique life. She lived in a nunnery surrounded by celibate women and religious rituals. Chassaigne, however, envisioned a different future for herself.
2. She Broke The Rules
Chassaigne was only 16 years old when she succumbed to one of the seven sins: lust. She fell in love with a naval officer named Joseph Armand Henri Pourpe. Having grown up in such a pious environment, her actions were downright unthinkable. She ended up pregnant.
After discovering this shocking news, the couple decided to marry—but first, they needed to get away.
3. She Ran Away
At the time, Chassaigne lived in a nunnery in a provincial French town.
She knew that a pregnant young lady would not be welcomed there, so she and her lover devised a plan to run away. This was the first step of their plan. But it only led to heartache. After tying the knot, Chassaigne experienced the rudest awakening of her life.
4. Her Wedding Night Was A Disaster
This may have seemed like an exciting love story—but it was about to turn into a nightmare for one of them. On their wedding night, Chassaigne realized that she had made an enormous mistake. According to her memoirs, her new groom brutalized her, which traumatized her for the rest of her life.
But that wasn't all.
5. She Became A Teenage Mom
On top of her horrific experiences at the hands of her new husband, Chassaigne suffered another one when she became a very young mother. She was reckless and impulsive, so she knew that she wasn't ready to look after another human being. She confessed this by saying, “My son was like a living doll given to a little girl".
Plus, her new baby wasn’t what she expected.
6. She Wanted A Girl
We don’t know how much of a difference it would have made, but Chassaigne confessed that she would have preferred a baby girl instead of a baby boy—who was named Marc Pourpe. She noted that she could be a better mother to a girl “because of the dresses and the curly hair”.
That being said, now she had two men she didn’t get along with in her life.
7. She Had Flagrant Scars
At least one of the men in the household didn’t physically hurt her, because the other one did it with the power of two men combined. Reportedly, Chassaigne’s husband caused serious damage—and tragically, she woke up with injuries after most nights. Indeed, she had a scar on her chest from the beatings for the rest of her life.
At the end of her rope, Chassaigne knew she had to do something—and eventually, the perfect opportunity presented itself.
8. Her Husband Went Away
Soon enough, Chassaigne’s husband—Pourpe—had to go on duty. His success in his naval career brought him to a billet in Marseille, which translated into some “free time” for Chassaigne. She was delighted and ready to make the best out of his absence.
Of course, she did this in her own “party girl” way.
9. She Was Unfaithful
While Chassaigne’s husband was in Marseille, she found someone else to keep her bed warm. She always had a soft spot for the “high life” and the aristocracy, so she acquired a royal lover—Charles-Marie de Mac-Mahon, 5th Marquis of Éguilly. For a while, she enjoyed her time with him…until someone familiar knocked on the door.
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10. Her Husband Busted Her
Maybe Chassaigne was tipsy with enjoyment—maybe something else—but she made a mistake and didn’t see her husband coming. Her husband walked into the bedroom only to find his wife with another man in bed. First, he was shocked.
Then, jealous like the green-eyed monster and more furious than ever, he did something so chilling—it was unforgettable.
11. She Took A Bullet, But For Who?
Now, we know that Chassaigne’s husband was a naval officer, so it should not come as a surprise that he carried a revolver. The hauntingly surprising thing was that he took it out and used it—twice. He shot at both his beloved wife and her high-ranked lover.
Luckily, Chassaigne survived the terrifying ordeal with just a scar on her wrist.
However, this was the final straw.
12. She Planned To Leave Everything Behind
Chassaigne was so over with this marriage. She was bold enough to leave everything behind, and controversial enough to file for a divorce—which was scandalous at the time. She was one of the worst combinations for a woman in those ages—broke and determined—so she decided to get some money in her pockets to leave the town for good.
13. She Made Sacrifices
Chassaigne had nothing under her name, except a rosewood piano which she loved very much.
But she was willing to let go of the piano if the money would enable her escape. And so, she sold the instrument to a young man and pocketed 400 francs. After that, she never looked back.
Chassaigne was ready to start a brand new life. The next stop was Paris—but she didn’t have much baggage allowance.
14. She Abandoned Her Son
The rosewood piano was just the beginning of a long list of sacrifices.
To go to Paris, Chassaigne needed to leave everything behind—and I mean everything. This meant abandoning her infant son, Marc. Her belief in being a terrible mother became a self-fulfilling prophecy as she left him in the dust.
Desperate and bitter, she fled town. Little did she know, her troubles were only just beginning.
15. She Snorted Away Her Pain
Chassaigne’s first couple of months in Paris were a disaster. She was lonely and depressed, and she resorted to some sketchy jobs to make some money. Of course, this lifestyle came hand in hand with using certain substances. Allegedly, it didn’t take her long to become a heavy user of a certain white powder.
Chassaigne trod a dangerous path through Paris—and it led her to a shocking line of work.
16. She Had A Mentor
After a while, she got out of this gruesome lifestyle and began her career as a courtesan.
Finally, this could be her step into the razzle-dazzled life of the aristocracy. She was lucky enough to learn the profession from the best out there—Valtesse de La Bigne—a famous countess who rose through social ranks, just the way Chassaigne aspired to do.
De La Bigne’s first lesson was the most life-changing one.
17. She Changed Her Name
The first task on the agenda was Chassaigne’s name. De La Bigne had changed her name from Émilie to “Valtesse” because it was a better stage name, as it sounded like Votre Altesse—meaning “your highness”. So she advised Chassaigne to take a pseudonym.
And so, she chose the name "Liane de Pougy," which became the name she was famous for.
Not only did Liane have a new name, but she also had a new life.
18. She Found Her Passion
Now using her new name, Liane referred to herself as a courtesan and a performer.
She started to have minor appearances in the chorus of Folies Bergère in Paris. Liane also went to Italy to perform in cabaret clubs and traveled all over Europe thanks to her new job.
She loved the hedonistic lifestyle and joined an elite group of women called the demimonde. This changed her life forever.
19. She Lived The “Demimonde Life”
Demimonde was the name given to women who loved an extravagant lifestyle and enjoyed fine dining and high-end clothing—basically, becoming a demimonde was everything Liane wished for. She made a small fortune out of gifts and cash from her lovers and enjoyed glamorous banquets and parties.
She thought she was unstoppable, but not everyone agreed.
20. She Got Acting Lessons
Jumping from one profession to another, Liane de Pougy wanted to give acting a shot. She already knew how to dance, she had a stunning appearance, and she had incredible charisma. She reached out to Sarah Bernhardt—a respected actress of the 19th and early 20th centuries to get acting lessons.
However, Liane was mistaken to believe that all these components would make her a decent actress.
21. She Was Not An Acting Powerhouse
Unfortunately, Liane de Pougy had no talent when it came to the art of acting—and this drove Bernhardt crazy. Bernhardt had one piece of advice for her, which was, as she put it, “to keep her pretty mouth shut”. Liane was probably a little disappointed, but she still took this advice to heart.
So, that’s what she did, she showcased her beauty—and only her beauty. Still, she managed to climb very high indeed.
22. People Began To Notice Her
Liane de Pougy knew how to charm people, she also knew how to do her own “marketing”. For instance, she quickly became the talk of the town during the Grand Prix.
She attracted lots of attention through the appearance she made in her new lover’s fancy carriage. This was spot-on self-advertisement because, in the blink of an eye, the Folies Bergèr hired her as a headliner…jackpot.
23. She Established Herself As A Performer
During her time at the Folies Bergèr, Liane basked in the glory of the spotlight—but she leveled up in Parisian society when she made a daring move. She boldly asked the Prince of Wales to attend the club to see her perform—and he happily accepted. She was a superstar, and she soaked up the atmosphere better than anyone.
24. She Had The “X-Factor”
Being one of the most beloved performers and prettiest courtesans in Paris, Liane had irresistible charm—and she knew it. She rejoiced in the fact that men poured jewels on her, while women bowed down to her. To keep her company, she could pick any suitor she desired—but in the end, she landed on the most passionate and dangerous one.
25. She Met Someone Special
One night in 1899, at a dance hall in Paris, Liane caught someone's eye.
Her name was Natalie Clifford Barney, a scandalous American writer—and later, she showed up at Liane's door. She boldly claimed that Sappho had sent her as a "page of love". It was a bizarre pick-up line—but Liane's reaction was completely unforeseen.
26. She Had Dangerous Feelings
Somehow, Natalie's flattering audacity charmed Liane.
She had a catalog of men who wanted her—wealthy and titled men—but the heart wants what it wants. Liane began to see Natalie often, and later, it was confirmed that they were having a torrid affair.
The word “affair” has some negative connotations, so I think it fits this situation perfectly.
27. She Was A Very Unorthodox Mistress
These two women were lovers, yet Liane de Pougy was still in a position where she felt like a mistress.
This was because Natalie had another lover, a man named Robert Cassat. It was a messy situation because Natalie and Cassat were engaged. Though Natalie didn’t lie to her fiancé about her relationship with Liane, this didn’t change her status as “the other woman”.
What’s worse? This wasn’t even their biggest issue.
28. They Had Complex Issues
Believe it or not, Natalie Clifford Barney’s polygamous lifestyle wasn’t the major deal-breaker for the couple. Liane and Natalie frequently quarreled over something else Natalie did: The writer acted as if she disapproved of Liane's lifestyle.
She constantly spoke about her desire to “rescue” the courtesan, and Liane got sick of it.
29. They Were On-Again Off-Again
Soon enough, the two decided to end their relationship. Even though the topics of their fights were pretty extraordinary, the way they couldn't get over their breakup was just like your typical problematic couple.
For a long time, Liane and Natalie crossed paths, entertained brief flings, and then inevitably broke it off...over and over again.
30. They Became Strangers
Liane and Natalie's tumultuous relationship eventually came to a bitter end—they grew distant and their love faded away. However, Liane truly loved Natalie, so their affair became a subject in most of her writings.
She wrote about their last encounter in one of her memoirs—and it was unbelievably heartbreaking.
The two of them ran into each other, but acted like complete strangers. They didn’t talk that day, and never talked after. Luckily, Liane de Pougy left us all the drama in writing.
31. She Documented Everything
In 1901, Liane did all the history buffs and romantics a huge favor and published her novel Idylle Saphique, which elaborated on her passionate relationship with Natalie Clifford Barney, among other things. As she put it, “We were passionate, rebels against a woman's lot, voluptuous and cerebral little apostles, rather poetical, full of illusions and dreams”.
32. She Had A Nemesis
In the wild goings-on of Tout Paris, there was another woman—a diva who had the ability to charm whoever she wanted. Her name was Caroline Otero—also known as La Belle Otero. Otero and Liane had similar socioeconomic roots, and became popular around the same time, doing the same profession.
Understandably, they had a savage feud.
33. They Had A Showdown
When it came to beauty, elegance, and likeability, Liane and Otero always tried to outshine each other. One day, at a certain social event, Otero initiated a fashion showdown: She made a very striking appearance, wearing a plunging dress and covering herself in jewels.
This was about showing off—but of course, the other side made a move too.
34. She Knew Her Enemy's Plan
Thanks to her connections, Liane knew Otero’s plan beforehand. Therefore, she prepared a show that would send a message to Otero and amaze the crowd. Liane's motives were unclear at first because, in terms of fashion, she went in the opposite direction.
She wore a plain but elegant white gown, and she decorated the look with a single diamond necklace.
Of course, she had a shocking twist hidden up her sleeve.
35. She Had A High-Brow Countermove
While Liane de Pougy made her grand entrance, there was another person right behind her. This was Liane's maid, who trailed her, carrying a velvet cushion.
But it was sat on top of the cushion that made everyone's jaw drop. The maid carried Liane's entire jewelry collection—a spectacle that completely topped Otero's flashy look.
36. She Met A Prince
Liane spent a good chunk of her time dealing with women—as lovers and as enemies—but she had never given her attention to a single man for a long time. This changed in 1910 when a “prince charming” came and swept her off her feet. Every man in town wanted Liane, but it was clear that she was in love with this prince—and yes, he was an actual prince.
37. They Tied The Knot
Being a woman of fast-paced love affairs and hasty marriages, Liane rushed into a serious commitment with Prince Georges Ghika of Romania.
She not only fell in love, but she married the prince and promptly became Princess Ghika herself. But if Liane thought that she'd finally found her fairytale ending, she was so wrong.
38. She Suffered The Loss Of Her Son
Liane faced some harsh realities after a long period of grooving through life and enjoying herself.
In 1914, she received some devastating news. Her son, who she'd abandoned years ago, was gone forever. He'd become an airman and served in WWI—but he didn't survive the conflict. She was dumbstruck—but there was more heartache to come.
39. Her Husband's Family Rejected Her
Liane's royal marriage took something else away from her—her beloved profession and hedonistic lifestyle. Her in-laws, after hearing that their son had married a courtesan, cut him off entirely.
Though she wasn't as rich as she'd imagined, she lived a happy life on a country estate. Well, it was mostly happy.
You see, this love story had one terribly scandalous chapter.
40. Her Husband Betrayed Her
Eighteen years, many family dramas, personal losses, and many more scandals into the marriage of the prince and the princess, the prince still managed to traumatize our long-suffering princess—Liane de Pougy. People used to leave their wives for her, but this time, her husband left her for another woman.
Sorry Liane, but you know what karma is.
41. She Wrote It All Down
During those years of intrigue and disappointment, Liane de Pougy sought shelter in journaling. She kept diaries—which became My Blue Notebooks—where she wrote down everything. She confided all the secrets from her time as a diva to all the hidden stories of the Parisien elite.
Luckily, all she wanted to do was reminisce because she was ready to end that phase of her life forever.
42. She Forgave The Prince
A year after the infamous betrayal, the prince came crawling back to Liane. Although she had an ego—a big one—she was more mature and forgiving than before, so she let him back in her life. They were the prince and princess again, but they didn’t want to go back to their old palace.
43. They Got A Fresh Start
Liane and her husband wanted to start over and leave all the intrigue and chaos behind.
Moving away from the fast-paced, dizzying life of Paris, the two traveled to Switzerland—the most peaceful country in the world. The silence and the calm guided Liane to something completely unexpected.
44. She Had An Eye-Opening Experience
In 1928, while the prince and the princess were driving through Savoy, a region in Switzerland, they came across an institution—the Asylum of Saint Agnes—which was an institution run by nuns devoted to helping children with birth defects. The two visited the institution and learned more about how to get involved.
45. Her New Project Was Unlike Her Old Ones
Liane was heartbroken to witness the suffering of helpless children. Maybe because of the poignancy of losing her son, or maybe because of her new religious disposition, she decided to get involved in this project as much as she could. She seemed to find her new passion—but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
46. She Turned To God
Liane de Pougy’s interest in religion and giving back became reflected in her writing. Her late memoirs illustrated her love of Jesus Christ—a subject matter so unforeseen for her readers. The writings were so intimate and full of affection—it was clear that she had found a new “love of her life," her Lord.
She could never juggle multiple lovers, but her religious devotion sparked a change in the once-scandalous courtesan.
47. She Became A Widow
By 1945, Liane de Pougy had lots of labels—a runaway, a courtesan, a princess—and as of that year, a widow. After 35 years, her marriage with the prince came to an end, and she was alone again. That was when she had her “full circle” moment. She decided to spend her final years the same way she'd spent her first ones.
48. She Changed Her Name, Again
In her widowhood, Liane used neither her stage name nor her married name. She went way back, back to the starting line, and decided to use her real name: Anne-Marie. This happened right after she reconnected with a Dominican priest “who she hoped to get help for the advancement of her religious and spiritual life”.
Then, everybody in her circle called her “Sister Anne-Mary”—and I think you can guess why.
49. She Returned To Her Roots
Yes, Liane rejoined the sisterhood.
She became a part of the Dominican order—her old name came with her old lifestyle. And yet, despite the haunting similarity, this was a brand new journey. With her devotion to religion, Sister Anne-Mary officially left her riotous life behind her, tending to children in need.
50. She Said Goodbye
In 1950, Sister Anne-Mary’s soul left this world to—hopefully—unite with her Lord. Luckily, she left pages and pages of writing in which she documented everything in her life. Ultimately, these memoirs revealed her final wishes for her work. Her self-reflection was eerily beautiful.
51. Her Memoirs Became Her Legacy
Liane noted, “If anyone thinks that [my diaries] ought to be destroyed, I approve....if their publication.
..in all their horror might benefit some straying soul, I approve". It was the right choice to publish them because her memoirs—Mes Cahiers Bleus—became not only her legacy but the legacy of the Parisian elite of the 19th and 20th centuries.