Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt by Robert Gottlieb

By Robert Gottlieb

Every little thing approximately Sarah Bernhardt is attention-grabbing, from her vague beginning to her excellent career—redefining the very nature of her art—to her impressive (and hugely public) romantic lifestyles to her indomitable spirit. good into her seventies, after the amputation of her leg, she used to be acting below bombardment for infantrymen in the course of international battle I, in addition to crisscrossing the United States on her 9th American tour.

Her kinfolk used to be additionally a resource of interest: the mummy she cherished and who scorned her; her half-sisters, who died younger after lives of dissipation; and such a lot of all, her son, Maurice, whom she worshiped and raised as an aristocrat, within the type applicable to his presumed father, the Belgian Prince de Ligne. just once did they quarrel—over the Dreyfus Affair. Maurice was once a right-wing snob; Sarah, consistently pleased with her Jewish historical past, used to be a passionate Dreyfusard and Zolaist.

Though the Bernhardt literature is gigantic, Gottlieb’s Sarah is the 1st English-language biography to seem in many years. Brilliantly, it tracks the trajectory by which an illegitimate—and scandalous—daughter of a courtesan remodeled herself into the main recognized actress who ever lived, and right into a nationwide icon, an emblem of France.

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So far she had made no impression at all as an actress. What was she doing, and what was she living on? At first, according to Thérèse Berton, she “was a member of one of the fastest sets of a fast city. . ” Only a miracle, says Berton, could have saved her from the fate of countless pretty, improvident, and immoral young women. “But the needful miracle happened”: motherhood, although not until she had (barely) survived a difficult accouchement. Her love for Maurice fired in her a determination to work and succeed that she had previously lacked.

As Verneuil explains, during the audition “Auber quickly scribbled some words on a sheet of paper” and circulated it among his colleagues. “When they read the name of the duc de Morny, who was not only all-powerful but extremely well liked at the Français, they immediately became attentive and well disposed. . ” Not only was she a protégée of Morny’s—in fact, the daughter of his mistress—but the great man had condescended to call on his friend Auber in his office and explain what was what. No one in France would have considered offending the emperor’s brother by ignoring such a recommendation.

She goes on to say, however, “I have always doubted whether she gave to Pierre that full and sincere depth of passion he brought to her. ” But then Thérèse Berton is inevitably unreliable, given her double mission: undercutting Sarah’s reputation while exalting her late husband’s importance. The revival of Kean took place in February 1868. It was 48 THE LIFE OF SARAH BERNHARDT almost a year later, after succeeding in several other roles (including an affecting Cordelia) that she found the play and the part that were to bring her stardom.

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