A Life of Sarah Bernhardt
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 In their second biography of an alluring Parisian woman (Misia, 1980, was the first), Fizdale and the late Gold, both concert pianists, show their understanding of the heady artistic world of Paris from 1860 to 1923 and of the special character and needs of performing artists such as Sarah Bernhardt and her theatrical friends. A mercurial creature, living an assortment of roles, Bernhardt is largely known through her own untrustworthy memoirs, her passionate love letters--in which she admits she ``lives for love with fantasy as my guide''--and the opinions of her many distinguished critics and friends, including Hugo, Dumas, Cocteau, Twain, Shaw, Wilde, Freud, Zola, Proust, Henry James, Chekhov, and a whole array of supporting actresses, enemies, and admirers. Born an unwanted and illegitimate child, raised in a convent, initiated at age 16 into the world of the theater and the lucrative role of courtesan by her mother, she died in 1923 at age 78, the first international film star, a rich and charismatic figure acclaimed for her acting every major female role as well as Hamlet. A thin, small lady who suffered stage fright, she had a demonic temper and insatiable appetites for love, power (she came to manage and direct her own theater), companionship (traveling with a legendary entourage), adventure (flying over Paris in a balloon), and collecting everything from animals (she wore live chameleons pinned to her dress) to a skeleton she kept in her bedroom along with the silk-lined coffin in which she liked to learn her lines. Imperious, egotistical, Bernhardt was often selfless: She turned a theater into a hospital, encouraged Zola to champion Dreyfus, devoted herself to her son and his children, and married a Greek actor who became addicted to morphine. Profusely illustrated (50 b&w and eight color pages), full of the wit, gossip, and anecdote Bernhardt loved, this enjoyable book captures her style more than her essence. The newly published love letters alone are a treasure.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1991
ISBN: 0-394-52879-4
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991