Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt books and biography


Sarah Bernhardt


Sarah Bernhardt (portrait by Nadar)
Sarah Bernhardt (portrait by Nadar)

Sarah Bernhardt [1] [2] (October 23, 1844 – March 26, 1923) was a French stage actress.


Early life

She was born in Paris as Henriette Rosine Bernard, the eldest surviving illegitimate daughter of Judith van Hard, a Dutch-born Jewish courtesan known as "Youle." Her father was reportedly Edouard Bernard, a French lawyer, and she was educated in French Catholic convents.

To support herself, she combined the career of an actress with that of a courtesan - at the time, the two were considered scandalous to some degree, but courtesans were widely accepted in many social circles, and looked on as equals in cases where they were highly intellectual and when the art of being a courtesan was merely a sideline for another more respectable career. She was sponsored into the Conservatoire de Musique et Déclamation by the Duc de Morny in 1859 for theatrical training.

Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Nadar
Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Nadar

Stage career

Her stage career started in 1862, when she was a student at the Comedie Francaise, a prestigious French academy for acting. She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s, and was soon in demand all over Europe and in the United States in New York. She soon developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title, "The Divine Sarah"; arguably, she may have been the most famous actress of the 19th century. She coached many young women in the art of acting, including actress and courtesan Liane de Pougy.

Visual Arts and Recordings

Although primarily a stage actress, Bernhardt made several cylinders and discs of famous dialogue from various productions. One of the earliest was a reading from Phèdre by Jean Racine, at Thomas Edison's home on a visit to New York City in the 1880s. Multi-talented, she was involved with the visual arts as well as acting, painting and sculpting herself, as well as modelling for Antonio de La Gandara. She was also to publish a series of books and plays throughout her life.

Bernhardt has lingering effects on grand opera into the present. Tosca, Fedora, and La Gioconda, to name only a few, were musical adaptations of plays written for Bernhardt.

Social Life, Marriages, Relationships

Her social life as a courtesan was as continuously active. She had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph-Eugene-Henri, Prince de Ligne, with whom she had her only child, the writer Maurice Bernhardt, in 1864 (he married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska, 1863-1914). Later lovers included several artists, most notably Gustave Doré and Georges Clarin, and actors Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen. Alphonse Mucha based several of his iconic Art Nouveau works on her. She also was alleged to have been involved in a longtime lesbian affair with artist Louise Abbéma, but that was never confirmed beyond a doubt. [3]

She later married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala (aka Jacques Damala) in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala's death in 1889 at age 34, quickly collapsed, largely due to the young actor's dependence on morphine. During the latter years of this marriage she was involved in an affair with Edward VII of the United Kingdom. [4]

Sketch of Sarah Bernhardt
Sketch of Sarah Bernhardt

Silent Film Career

Bernhardt was also one of the pioneer silent movie actresses, debuting as Hamlet in Le Duel d'Hamlet in 1900. (Technically, this was not a silent film, as it had accompanying cylinders with dubbed dialogue.) She went on to star in eight motion pictures and two biographical films in all. The latter included Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (1912), a film about her daily life at home.

Sarah Bernhardt was made a member of France's Legion of Honor in 1914.

Later career

In 1915, ten years after a serious injury, her right leg was amputated, confining her to a wheelchair for several months. Nonetheless, she continued her career, in spite of the need to use a wooden prosthetic limb. She carried out a successful tour of America in 1915, and on returning to France she played in her own productions almost continuously until her death. Her later successes included Daniel (1920), La Gloire (1921), and Regine Armand (1922). Her physical condition confined her practically to immobility on the stage, but the charm of her voice, which had altered little with age, ensured her triumphs. [5] She died in the arms of her son Maurice. She is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

Sarah Bernhardt has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.

The actress La Berma, a fictional character in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, was inspired by Bernhardt.


  • Dans les Nuages, Impressions d'une Chaise Charpentier (1878)
  • L'Aveu, drame en un acte en prose (1888)
  • Adrienne Lecouvreur, drame en six actes (1907)
  • Ma Double Vie (1907; as My Double Life, 1908)
  • Un Coeur d'Homme, pièce en quatre actes (1911)
  • Petite Idole (1920; as The Idol of Paris, 1921)
  • L'Art du Théâtre: la voix, le geste, la prononciation, etc. (1923; as The art of the Theatre, 1924)

Selected roles

  • 1862: Racine's Iphigénie in the title rôle, her debut.
  • 1862: Eugène Scribe's Valérie
  • 1862: Molière's Les Femmes Savantes
  • 1864: Labiche & Deslandes, Un Mari qui Lance sa Femme
  • 1866: T & H Cognard's La Biche aux Bois
  • 1866: Racine's Phèdre (as Aricie)
  • 1866: Pierre de Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard (as Silvia)
  • 1867: Molière's Les Femmes Savantes (as Armande)
  • 1867: George Sand's Le Marquis de Villemer
  • 1867: Georges Sand's "François le Champi" (as Mariette)
  • 1868: Dumas père Kean (as Anna Damby)
  • 1869: Coppée's La Passant, as a male troubador (Zanetto); her first major stage success
  • 1870: George Sand's L'Autre
  • 1871: Theuriet's Jeanne-Marie
  • 1871: Coppée's Fais ce que Dois
  • 1871: Foussier and Edmond La Baronne
  • 1872: Bouilhet's Mademoiselle Aïssé
  • 1872: Hugo's Ruy Blas (as Doña Maira de Neubourg, Queen of Spain)
  • 1872: Dumas père Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle (as Gabrielle)
  • 1872: Racine's Britannicus (as Junie)
  • 1872: Beaumarchais's Le Mariage de Figaro
  • 1872: Sandeau's Mademoiselle de la Seiglière
  • 1873: Feuillet's Dalila (as Princess Falconieri)
  • 1873: Ferrier's Chez l'Avocat
  • 1873: Racine's Andromaque
  • 1873: Racine's Phèdre (as Aricie)
  • 1873: Feuillet's Le Sphinx
  • 1874: Voltaire's Zaire
  • 1874: Racine's Phèdre (as Phèdre)
  • 1875: Bornier's La Fille de Roland
    • Dumas fils' L'Étrangère (as Mrs. Clarkson)
    • Parodi's Rome Vaincue
  • 1877: Hugo's Hernani (as Doña Sol)
  • 1879: Racine's Phèdre (as Phèdre)
  • 1880: Émile Augier's L'Aventurière
  • 1880: Legouvé & Scribe's Adrienne Lecouvreur
  • 1880: Meilhac & Halévy's Froufrou
  • 1880: Dumas fils' La Dame aux Camélias (as Maguerite)
  • 1882: Sardou's Fédora
    • Sardou's Théodora (as Theodora, Empress of Byzantium)
  • 1887 :



    Sarah Bernhardt in June, 1877, during a visit to Boston, Massachusetts
    Sarah Bernhardt in June, 1877, during a visit to Boston, Massachusetts
    • 1900: Le Duel d'Hamlet (Hamlet, as Hamlet)
    • 1908: La Tosca (Tosca, as Tosca)
    • 1911: La Dame aux Camélias (Camille, as Camille)
    • 1912: Adrienne Lecouvreur (An Actress's Romance; as Adrienne Lecouvreur)
    • 1912: Elisabeth Reine d'Angleterre (Queen Elizabeth; a major success)
    • 1912: Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (Sarah Bernhardt at Home, as herself)
    • 1915: Mères Françaises (Mothers of France, as a Red Cross nurse)
    • 1915: Ceux de Chez Nous (biographical, home movies)
    • 1916: Jeanne Doré (as Jeanne Doré)
    • 1921: Daniel (5-minute death scene from the play of the same name.)
    • 1923: La Voyante (The Fortuneteller, completed with a stand-in performing Bernhardt's character.)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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