The dear old white bear saved me, that time

Liane de Pougy by Paul Nadar

Liane de Pougy was a socialite and diarist who shimmered through early 20th-century Paris with the sort of glamour and intrigue that novels are made of. Born Anne Marie Chassaigne in 1869, she lived many lives: an acclaimed dancer, a celebrated courtesan, and eventually an aristocrat after marrying Prince Georges Ghika in 1910. On the day of the following entry, she had spent time with friend and old flame Natalie ‘Flossie’ Barney, an American author with whom she shared many an anecdote over the years. Today’s concerned an awkward encounter with a suitor whose enthusiasm outweighed his grace.

The Diary Entry

October 29

On Thursday Salomon brought Flossie down, then left. We were alone together by my fireside for a good part of the afternoon. Dear Natalie, so much grace and so much sweetness! So much kindness and charm! Nothing lofty was said, we just gossiped and exchanged opinions, and that was enough for the two of us, so happy at being together.

Georges tried to explain to Natalie Einstein’s theories, which everyone is talking about at the moment. He explains very well. We listened with concentration: Natalie looked like a good and conscientious schoolgirl. As for me, I didn’t understand a thing. I am furious at my mind’s limitations. Natalie got out of it with a smile and one of her pleasantly ambiguous remarks. We talked about my polar-bear rug, now hers. She said to me: ‘He knew all your joys and sorrows.’ I began to laugh: ‘And some pretty comic moments, too.’—’Tell one of the comic moments!’—’Do I dare? All right. Once I was courted assiduously by a young, rich and silly Bonapartist. He heaped me with presents and money. He was always ready to obey my least and most capricious whim. He won over my maid, and one day, urged by her, I did an about turn and decided ‘So much devotion deserves a reward.’ I thought of my bear. Getting into a sumptuous and very transparent negligée, I lay down on it. He came in, I opened my arms to him. Astonished, unprepared, he stammered—he gazed at me, unable to believe his luck—he bent over me… and pop! An enormous, a stupefying detonation rent the air, its origin only too obvious. I burst out laughing at the sight of my deflated lover looking over his own shoulder as though he were trying to see who had done this frightful thing. Then I was seized with anger. ‘Get out of here! Get out at once! Open that door and disappear!’ Oh, the excuses I had to endure, but I was unyielding and cruel. From then on I accepted all his gifts without feeling the least obligation, and as soon as I could I got rid of him. The dear old white bear saved me, that time.’ Flossie laughed with all her heart and enjoyed the story so much that she made me promise to write it down here; which I have done because I can refuse her nothing.

Further Reading

Liane de Pougy’s diaries were first published Plon in 1977, in French, titled Mes cahiers bleus. An English edition, titled My Blue Notebooks and translated by Diana Athill, was published in 1979 by Harper & Row.


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