The Crazy Lady & Ernest Hebert’s Pasqua Maria
Anna Maria Helena, comtesse de Noailles was an English noblewoman. At the Paris Salon of 1863 she saw a portrait of a young girl by Ernest Hébert, which she wished to buy. However, it had already been purchased. Not one to be deterred, de Noailles decided to adopt the model, Maria Pasqua.
Like you do.
Maria’s father brought her to be adopted for the price of two bags of gold. De Noailles agreed to [his] conditions that Maria be brought up a Catholic and be treat as an equal. De Noailles kept her word but Maria’s childhood was to be an extraordinary one.
Curious rules and regulations were imposed on her, such as only being allowed to wear loose clothing. At boarding school she was excused from wearing a uniform for this reason. She was also given her own supply of fresh milk from de Noailles’s personal dairy herd (de Noailles believed that children brought up on milk were less likely to become drunkards) and de Noailles encouraged her cows to graze near open windows believing the methane they produced was good for her health.
De Noailles left England every winter for fear of catching flu. She believed the climate to be unhealthy when leaves fell, especially from oak trees, which she thought England had too many of. Later, de Noailles would only eat food served on plates behind a two-foot-high silk screen, for reasons she never revealed.
Other habits included sleeping with a loaded pistol beside her bed; having a string of fresh onions hung on her bedroom door to protect her from infections; wrapping silk stockings stuffed with squirrel fur around her forehead to prevent wrinkles; eating large amounts of fresh herring roe to prevent bronchitis. She also believed that port wine should be drunk at sunset, mixed with a little sugar and diluted with soft rainwater collected from the roof of their house by her servants.
Maria recorded that de Noailles once shrieked in terror because a piece of blue silk covering her brass bedroom door handle had fallen off and she feared that the glaring light shining off it was damaging her eyes.
In her will de Noailles endowed an orphanage for the daughter of clergymen, where inmates were made to follow several of her ‘rules’. Each was examined by phrenologists to ensure that they were “firm spirited and conscientious”. None of the girls were to be vaccinated and no girl under ten was to be taught any mathematics except for multiplication tables.