I am continuing my posts about nineteenth-century courtesans from Susan Griffin’s The Book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of their Virtues (2001). The following story is about Genevieve Lantelme (or Lanthelme), who was a French actress, socialite, and courtesan.
In 1906, Genevieve Lanthelme was the mistress of a man named Alfred, who had recently put Lanthelme in a fashionable apartment and furnished it expensively.
Lanthelme was probably very surprised to receive a visitor one day: Misia Sert, Alfred’s wife. Misia entered the house and was searched for weapons by Lanthelme’s maid (presumably introducing herself as Alfred’s wife had given the maid some indication that she should expect an ugly confrontation).
“Misia, a theatrical producer and powerful presence herself, studied Alfred’s lover closely. Copying her style of dress, she had rehearsed a dramatic appeal. ‘You have a woman’s heart,’ she had planned to say, before she demanded, ‘Give him back!’ But she was never able to deliver her lines” (87).
Lanthelme greeted Misia warmly, showered her with compliments, discussed Misia’s upcoming theatre projects, and asked Misia if she could help her in any way. “Flustered, Misia simply said she had come to speak about her husband.
“‘There is nothing at all to worry about,’ Lanthelme began; ‘he hardly interests me.’
“But then she changed her approach.
“‘My dear, you can really have him – on three conditions: I want the pearl necklace you’re wearing, one million francs – and you.’
“Shocked, Misia removed her necklace immediately and, ignoring the last request, promised that Lanthelme would receive a million francs from her in a few days. But moments after she returned to her hotel, she received a package containing the necklace. Inside was a note written on cyclamen-colored paper, in which Lanthelme proposed, ‘I have decided to forget the money and return the necklace. I am holding you only to the third condition‘ (88)”.
I have no idea if a liaison between the two women ever happened, but Wikipedia tells me that a few years later, Alfred (presumably) divorced Misia and married Lanthelme in 1909.
However, their marriage was not to last long: Lanthelme died in very mysterious circumstances in 1911 when she fell from her husband’s yacht and drowned. Her death was ruled accidental, but many people speculated that her husband murdered her.