Cazotte: The Fantastique Writer Who Saw Death

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) note: some sources put his birth at 1720

” A brief but sparkling bon-bon from the French writer Jacques Cazotte, who was guillotined in 1792. A young captain, stationed in Naples, is tempted into summoning up Beelzebub, who appears first in the guise of a hideous camel, then as a cute spaniel, and lastly – and most dangerously – as a gorgeous, pouting nymphette who declares herself enamoured of the young man and follows him everywhere. This is an amusing study of temptation, with sinister undertones.” Anne Billson in Time Out “In Biondetta there remains no trace of the monstrous apparition conjured up by Alvaro in the ruins of Portico. The satanic seductress is hidden behind the face of the tormented and plaintive beauty until the end of the fable.” Jorges Luis Borges “The Devil in Love is famous on various counts: for its charm and the perfection of its scenes, but above all for the originality of its conception. ” Gerard de Nerval- from the blurb for the Dedalus European Classics edition of The Devil in Love.
 
Written in 1772, (original French title: Le Diable Amoureux), The Devil in Love was Jacques Cazotte’s crowning achievement  of the fantastique which paralleled the English Gothics of the day.
 
Educated by Jesuits, Jacques worked for public office in Martinique, and returned to Paris with the rank of commissioner-general.   In his forties, he began his foray into writing.  Having little interest in the rationalism of the day, he penned a series of fantastical stories as well as translating several Arabian tales into French.
 
Cazotte’s belief in his ability as a seer led him to the Martinist mysticism of Martinez de Pasqually.  The esoteric form of Christianity concerned itself with the fall of man, and his return to the divine source.
 
Declaring himself a “mystical monarchist”, Cazotte warned several men and women at a dinner party in 1788 that they would all soon die by guillotine or noose.  To the theater critic Sebastian Chamfort,  he declared, “You will slash your own wrists 22 times before dying a long and miserable death.” 
 
When the French Revolution began, Chamfort supported it for humanistic reasons.  However, as it became more and more bloody, he condemned the murders and was imprisoned.  Wishing to escape a public execution, he slashed his wrists twenty-two times with a dull razor before dying.
 
Cazotte’s prediction to  The Marquis de Condorcet that he would one day take poison to escape the guillotine came true in 1794.
 
Jacques Cazotte could not escape his own fate, either.  On September 25, 1792 he was beheaded for treason.
 
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Pre-Raphaelite Artist: Marie Spartali Stillman

Marie Sparteli (later Stillman) was born on March 4,  1844 to Greek immigrants living in London.   While females are mostly known as the famous muses/models of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (and Marie, herself, did pose for Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti),  Marie became a renowned artist in her own right.

  Kelmscott Manor

Her father enjoyed throwing garden parties in which he was noted for inviting up and coming artists.  It was during one of these gatherings that Marie met the famous writer and critic, Swinburne.  It may have been through this meeting that she was later introduced to the wider Pre-Raphelite circle.

  Love’s Messenger

She began studying art under the tutelage of Madox Brown in 1864.   Like the other Pre-Raphaelites, Marie  was enamored with Shakespeare, Dante, and Boccaccio, amongst others.

  Dante and Beatrice

At the age of twenty- seven, she wed the American painter and journalist, William Stillman.  Together, they split their time between London, Rome, and Florence.   

Marie and William had three children.  Unfortunately, the youngest son died as an infant.  However, her eldest, Michael, moved to the United States as and adult where he became a successful architecht.  Her daughter, Sonia Zuckerman, is still alive, and is known for her philanthropical works.

Marie died on March 6, 1927.  After being cremated, her ashes were interred in her father’s tomb.

  A Rose from Armida’s Garden

  Madonna Pietra degli Scrovigni

From the Diary of Caroline Dall: On Writing

After my last post in which I included snippets from Caroline Healey Dall’s diary, I thought I would post a few of her diary entries in their entirety.

The first, posted here, is from near the beginning of her diary.  She was fifteen-years-old and living on Beacon Hill in Boston, MA.

excerpt is from “Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth-century Woman”  edited by Helen R. Reese

Sept. 2nd 1838-

“I have been wondering what it is that raises my spirits, and encourages me in the task which I have undertaken?  Certainly neither father nor mother, brother nor sister, have ever expressed any interest in what I have  written, or ever desired to read anything I have published, – It is strange, I think I should take pride & pleasure in the virtuous endeavors of a child of mine- and this apathy , this indifference breeds coldness- on my side, and there is no sympathy between me and my parents. 

My mother oftentimes expresses harsh, disapproval of my love of study, and her daily life seems to express but one wish- that I were as fond of housewifery as my sister Ellen.  She knows  not the depth of wound she probes, and the unbidden tears, which often spring to my eyes, are imputed childish weakness- Why then should I persevere, if those whom I wish to honor, seem insensible to my truly filial feelings?  Because, in my father’s anxiety to procure me every literary advantage, in his kind smile, and gentle voice, I find at least one assurrance that he will joy in his child’s success, and grieve for her disappointment. 

People talk of literary struggles, and of the trials which a man who chooses this department of life, has to endure.  These do not spring from the nature of literature, but from the interference of friends, the obstacles raised by the envious, and the discouragements, the cold indifference, with which his labors are regarded by the very ones who should be the first to support and aid him. 

Nothing is easier, than this, if he be a man of talent, he forgets in the inspiration of his genius, the disagreeable manual labor, to which his inclination subjects him.  This is a pleasure & not a task.”

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm  Comments (17)  
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Ada Lovelace: The Enchantress of Numbers

 

Ada_Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Millbanke, was born on December 10, 1815.  After her parents separation,  she was raised alone by her mother.  Annabella was determined that her daughter would not fall victim to the ways of her, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”- father.   Annabella further believed that the way to avoid such madness was to strengthen one’s mind.  Therefore, despite a very sickly childhood which often kept her bedridden, Ada was given an intense education focusing on science and math.

During this time, Ada was tutored by such notables as  the social reformer, William Frend;  the polymath, Mary Somerville; and the British mathmatician, Augustus De Morgan.

On June 5, 1833, Mary Somerville introduced Ada to Charles Babbage, the English mechanical engineer and inventor.  They corresponded often regarding Babbage’s plans for building a Difference Engine, and later, an Analytical Engine.   Impressed by Ada’s scientific mind and passion for mathematics, Babbage nicknamed her, “The Enchantress of Numbers”.

In 1843, Ada translated an Italian article on Babbage’s plans for his Analytical Engine.  In her notes,  she advanced a process for calculating an order of Bernoulli numbers.  Unfortunately, the Analytical Engine was never built in their lifetime due to lack of funds.  However, it has been discovered that her sequence of numbers would have run perfectly.  Thus, Ada is considered to be the very first computer progammer in the world.

Ada Lovelace died of uterine cancer on November 27, 1852.  She was thirty-seven.

The United States Department of Defense named the computer language, Ada, in her honor.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Quintessential American Philosopher

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson- (May 25, 1803- April 27, 1882)

When Ralph Waldo Emerson died over one hundred and twenty years ago from this day,  the leader of the Transcendentalist Movement left behind a philosophy that continues to influence people around the world.

The poet, essayist, and philosopher was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Ruth Haskins and the Unitarian minister, Rev. William Emerson.  Although Emerson first  followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming ordained  on March 11, 1829, he became disillusioned by the church after the death of his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in 1831.  His diary note, dated June 1832: “I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession  is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers”. 

Emerson’s quest for new spiritual enlightenment led him to tour Europe that same year,  where he met distinguished men such as: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle.  Upon returning to the United States in 1833, he married Lydia Jackson, and settled in Concord, MA, where he became one of the most prominant citizens.

On September 8, 1836, Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge, George Ripley, and George Putnam met in Cambridge to discuss forming a new club.  The first official meeting was held eleven days later at Ripley’s home in Boston.  Members included: Bronson Alcott,  William Henry Channing, Margaret Fuller,  Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Peabody, Sophia Ripley, among others. 

The Transcendentalist Club was born.

Members commenced to discuss their frustrations on American culture and the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and in the Unitarian Church.   They published, The Dial, run by Elizabeth Peabody, until its demise in 1844.   Their core belief was  in an ideal spiritual state that transcended the physical, and could only be realized through an individual’s intuition, rather than through established doctrines.

Emerson’s essay, Nature, ignited Transcendentalism into a major cultural movement in 1836.  In this tract, he  defined nature as  a divine entity known to humans in their innocence, rather than a component of a world ruled by a separate being.

On August 31, 1837, Emerson delivered his famous speech, “The American Scholar”,  before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge.   He urged Americans to create their own writing style, free from the influence of Europe. 

Many essays and speeches followed, but it  was 1842’s, Essays, which included,  “Self Reliance”, that cemented Emerson’s international renown.   Emerson said,  “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. ”   He further declared,  “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude”

Emerson’s belief that all things were divine, and thus, connected to God, along with his ardent support of abolitionism, made him a controversial figure in his own time.   He is now remembered as a champion of individualism and free thought, influencing Henry Thoreau’s,”Walden; Or, Life in the Woods”, which many believe to be the most famous non-fiction American book ever written.

Emerson’s body long turned to dust- his words live on:

-“Be not the slave of your own past.  Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

-“Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.”

-“Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.”

-“ God enters by a private door into every individual.”
-“Insist on yourself, never imitate…Every great man is unique.”

Laura Bridgman: The First Blind and Deaf Person to Learn Language

Laura Bridgman c. 1845

Laura Bridgman was born on December 21, 1829 to a family of farmers in Hanover, New Hampshire.    At two years- old she was struck with scarlet fever and lost her sense of sight, hearing, smell, and even most of taste.   Only the sense of touch remained.   Pushing meant, “Go”.  Pulling meant, “Come”.   Soft patting was approval while heavier smacks indicated disapproval.   Frustrated by her lack of being able to communicate her desires, or understand others, it is little wonder she threw fierce tantrums which only her father could somewhat control.

Laura’s plight caught the attention of Dr. Samuel Howe, the first director of the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.   Founded in 1829, it was the first of its kind in the United States. Howe was a social reformer who challenged John Locke’s theory that people only gather information through their senses.  Instead, he followed the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy which stated God instilled  people  with innate skills.

In the early 1800s, blind-deaf persons were considered virtually impossible to reach.  Howe was anxious to become Laura’s teacher.  If he could educate a child who’d lived in her own world almost since birth, he’d once and for all disprove John Locke.  Through Laura, he could prove humans were not born with blank minds.

No one had ever before been able to teach language to a blind-deaf person.

Howe traveled to Hanover and convinced Laura’s harried parents to allow him to try educating her.  In 1837, Laura entered the school.

At eight years-old, she did not know her own name.

Howe first taught her words before individual letters.  He pasted papers printed in raised letters upon common items such as keys and silverware.    Once she comprehended that these “bumps” signified the object, he taught her the alphabet and how to combine letters to form words.   From there, Howe taught her how to communicate with others through the manual alphabet.  Two years after entering the school,  Laura was able to write her own name.    Once adept in language, she followed the general curriculum of other students:  reading, writing,  math, history, geography, geometry, and philosophy.

drawing of Howe teaching Laura c. 1838

Laura’s success attracted people from all over the world.  Charles Dickens visited her in 1842, and with his usual over-sentimentality described her as, “pure and spotless as the petals of a rose”.  In reality, Laura, though amiable, was quick-tempered and moody.

Fame had its price.  Victorians were fascinated by “freaks”, and unfortunately, Laura became a sideshow.  Hundreds of tourists came weekly to watch the girl “perform” by finding places on a relief map or signing her name.   Little girls poked the eyes out of their dolls and named them, “Laura”.

Howe, himself, played a part in some of the pageantry.   He brought his most talented pupils on tour, including Laura.  On stage, they performed plays and recited poetry.   While Howe wished to change the public’s general perception of those with disabilities, it is also evident that he was soliciting donations.

In 1843, Samuel Howe married Julia Ward and left for a honeymoon in Europe.   During his absence, Laura  began to read religious tracts that differed from Howe’s own Unitarian beliefs.  She found his God to be too abstract and wished to feel a more personal Savior.   After several months of intense reflection, she became a devout Baptist like her parents.    Howe returned,  incensed that his greatest pupil who he considered a daughter, had rebelled against him.  In truth, Laura had entered puberty and was becoming a woman with her own mind.

While Laura remained her entire life at Perkins, her relationship with Howe was never the same.   She never got over the hurt of his rebuff of her.  After his death, she wrote to a friend, “I think much of Dr. H. day & night, with sorrow, & gratitude, & love, & sincerity.”

Laura taught needlework at the school and sold some of her own handmade crafts.  Two of her greatest loves were reading and writing letters to friends and family.  At the age of 59, she became ill and died on May 24, 1889.

Laura Bridgman’s sufferings and triumphs were not in vain.  In 1886,  Arthur and Kate Keller had read Dicken’s account of her.  Their own daughter, Helen, had also been struck with scarlet fever at the age of two and had become blind and deaf due to its horrible effects.    They hired Annie Sullivan, a graduate of Perkins, to teach their six year-old feral daughter.

Using the methods Samuel Howe had used on Laura Bridgman,  Annie Sullivan would become known as, “The Miracle Worker”.   Her pupil, Helen Keller,  learned to speak, read Braille in English, French, German, Greek, and Latin.   After graduating from Radcliffe College with honors,  Helen became a world-famous speaker and author.   A human rights advocate, she spoke out for the suffrage movement and the abolition of slavery.

It must be remembered, that born a half-century earlier, Laura did not have the same access to braille books as Helen.  Helen once stated that if Annie Sullivan had been Laura’s teacher, “she would have outshone me”.

Thanks to Samuel Howe’s innovative teaching and a little farm girl who refused to live in darkness, a new world was opened for Helen Keller and all those who followed.

Laura Bridgman reading in South Boston. c 1888

Madame Sarah: A Career Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt

 

Beginnings

The woman many claim to be the greatest stage actress in history, was born  on October 23, 1844. From humble origins- the illegitimate daugher of Judith Van Hard (a Jewish milliner-turned Parisian courtesan)- Sarah Bernhardt would become known as,  “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Horribly neglected, Sarah nearly died of tuberculosis at the age of four.   Her mother had run off with her latest fling.  Sarah was left  with a nurse who lived with her new husband in an unheated, damp single-room with no ventillation.   After three months of existing in such deplorable circumstances, her aunt Rosine discovered the near-death girl sitting on a street curb playing with a dead leaf.

Sarah stayed with her aunt for a short time until her mother finally returned.  Judith had no maternal instincts and took little interest in her daughter.   At the age of eight, Sarah still could not read or write.

Doctors  predicted the extremely frail girl would not live into adulthood.   Sarah begged her mother for a pretty coffin to prepare herself for the final resting place.   Judith relented and bought a rosewood coffin lined with white satin.   As an adult (long after outliving the dire prediction) Sarah continued sleeping in the coffin, even taking it with her during travels.

Sarah posed in her coffin

Believing her earthly time short,  Sarah was determined to live life to the fullest.

Artist W. Graham Robertson wrote, “The two most vital people I have ever known were Whistler and Sarah Bernhadt.  Life was to them an art and a cult.  They lived each moment consciously and passionately…”

Although Sarah’s physical constitution was quite frail she possessed a fierce vitality.  She often said, ” Life engenders life.  Energy creates energy.  It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Decisive Words

Her mother, wishing to get the girl out of her way, sent little Sarah to Madame Fressard’s pension for young ladies, in Auteuil.    Two years later, Sarah entered the convent of Grandchamps at Versailles.   The other schoolgirls teased her mercilessly over her exotic appearance.  She responded by flying into rages so terrible that she’d fall to the ground in convulsions.   However, the nuns were kind and the Catholic rituals appealed to the highly dramatic girl.  After receiving First Communion in 1856, she became a religious fanatic.  She later claimed,  “The Son of God became my cult and the Mother of the Seven Sorrows my ideal.”  Yet, she never forgot her Jewish origins.  When asked by a reporter if she was Christian, she replied: “No, I’m a Roman Catholic, and a member of the great Jewish race.”  She never allowed any anti-Semitic talk within her company and was openly pro-Dreyfus during that case’s hysteria.

Some years later, Sarah’s mother summoned the girl  to her salon to discuss the future.  When Sarah declared she was to be a nun, everyone in the room broke into laughter.   The always temperamental girl put on the fiercest tantrum yet in her life.  After attacking the notary, banging at his chest, scratching his face, and pulling out large chumps of his hair- the Duc de Mornay who’d watched this outbreak, calmly announced, “The girl’s a born actress.  She ought to be sent for training at the Conservatoire.”

Sarah was horrified at the idea.   The only actress she’d ever seen was Rachel.  Rachel had been France’s greatest tragedienne, but was dying of tuberculosis when nuns had pointed her out to Sarah.  The nuns told Sarah that the hollow-eyed hag-like creature had brought on her illness by her sinful profession.

Sarah fled from the room, screaming she would never be an actress.

However, that same evening she was taken to the Comedie Francaise with her mother, the Duc de Morny, Alexandre Dumas, and Regis Lavolie.   Included in the grand audience were such notables as the Empress Eugenie, Princess Mathilde,  and George Sand.

Sarah sat spellbound as the red curtain rose.  She wrote in her memoir, “It was the curtain of my life which was rising.”  The play was Racine’s Britannicus. Sarah fell into a rapture, feeling every character’s emotions as though her own.  Dumas put his arm around her while she sobbed.  He later told the Duc de Morny that he’d been correct.  The girl was destined for the stage.

Training

The duc de Morny succeeded in getting Sarah an audition for the “National Conservatory of Music and Declamation.”  The jury would consist of leading members of the famed Comedie Francaise.   Sarah now determined to be an actress, attacked the audition with, “that vivid exaggeration which I embrace any new enterprice.”  She spent a month perfecting her voice under the guide of Monsieur Meydieu.

The audition was held a month later.  Sarah waited in paralyzing fear for her turn.  When she was finally called up, she announced her plans to recite Phedre, act 2, scene 2. Unfortunately, Sarah hadn’t brought someone to read her cues or even a copy of the play.  About to be kicked off the stage, Sarah quickly declared she’d enact the fable, The Two Pigeons. The jury couldn’t hide their snortling.  Sarah began reciting in a quivering voice.  This was the first instance of the horrible stage fright that would often haunt her.  But then,  an inner strength came forth.   Sarah began again and recited the story with such emotion that she was admitted into the school.

Sarah proclaimed she was going to be the greatest actress who ever lived.  This was not mere arrogance.   She studied acting with feverish devotion; practicing diction and memorizing countless roles.  This fierce dedication continued throughout her entire life.

For the commencement competition during graduating class- her teacher selected a scene from the comedy, l’Ecole des Vieillards, and an excerpt from the tragedy, La Fille du Cid. Once again, Sarah was struck with horrifying stage fright.  She trembled so violently throughout La Fille du Cid that she could barely utter the words.  The panel was clearly bored.  Then,  once again, reaching inwards for that indomitable spirit, she launched into the comedic piece.  She won second prize.  Her teacher, Monsieur Samson, declared, “that young person is going to be either sublime or execrable!”

Career

Sarah’s professional debut was Iphigenie by Racine.  Again, seized by almost paralyzing stage fright- she gave a cold, stilted performance.   Audience members amused themselves by uttering catcalls regarding her extreme thinness.  Afterwards, former teacher Provost said,  “I can forgive you.  And you’ll eventually forgive yourself.  But Racine in his grave never will.”

Sarah performed in more plays and garnered mixed reviews.  After a few off-stage melodramas, she was released from the company.

Sarah quickly landed a position at the Odeon.  Located on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg, it was considered the Second Comedie Francaise.   Her big break came with the 1868 revival of Dumas’, Kean. Cast in the leading female role of Anna Damby, Sarah performed in an almost dreamlike state.  She received her first solo curtain call.

After a series of critically acclaimed performances, Sarah was invited back to the Comedie Francaise.  Upn her return, poet-critic, Theodore Banville wrote, ” Make no mistake; the engagement of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt at the Comedie Francaise is a serious and revolutionary fact.  Poetry has entered into the house of dramatic art; or in other words, the wolf is in the sheep-fold.”

Sarah missed the exuberance of the Odeon, finding the players at the Comedie rigid and solemn.  Unhappy, her first performance of Almanach de Gotha garnered unfavorable reviews.   She redeemed herself a few nights later as Junie in Racine’s Britannicus. Soon afterwards, Sarah returned to the ranks of stardom.

Sarah’s love for animals was well-known.   As a child, she collected spiders, lizards, and crickets.    When Sarah played Cleopatra, she insisted on using a real snake for the death scene.  Her home was a zoo of domestic and wild animals.   When Alexandre Dumas visited her house the first time, a puma ate his hat.  Only a few minutes later, a gray parrot flew in the room, landed on his shoulder and began biting off the buttons of his waistcoat.

This was the beginning of their great friendship.  Sarah would later go on to perform Dumas’, The Lady of the Camellias, over a thousand times.  Ellen Terry, said of her friend’s performance of Marguerite Gauthier, “She is always a miracle…It is this extraordinary decorative and symbolic quality of Sarah’s which makes her transcend all personal and individual feelings on the stage.  No one plays a love-scene better…”

Sarah in La Dame aux Camelias

Despite great success, Sarah tired of the Comedies’ rigid conformities and set her sights upon England.

Sarah, now a societaire of the Comedie Francaise, arrived in London in June 1879.  Her arrival was greatly anticipated.  Her extraordinary art was already near legendary.   However, London was unprepared for Sarah’s acting style.  Her fiery boldness was in sharp contrast to England’s darling Ellen Terry’s poetic sincerity.  The two actresses greatly admired each other and became lifelong friends.

In 1874, Sarah faced her greatest challenge to date.  For over two centuries, Racine’s Phedre had been considered the greatest challenge for any French actress.   Sarah was petrified.  Before making her first entrance, she whispered, “quand meme!”. It turned out to be a magical performance.  She acted with her entire body and soul.  Sir George Arthur said, “her grief and horror of herself were so poignant as to turn, for those of us who heard the agonized tones, horror for the sin into something like pity for the sinner.”.  The ovation was thunderous.  After the last curtain call, Sarah fainted.

Provost’s criticism proved wrong.  Racine could forgive Sarah.   His Phedre would become Sarah’s masterpiece.

Francisque Sarcey noted, “This is nature itself served by a marvellous intelligence, by a soul of fire, by the most melodious voice that ever enchanted human ears.  This woman plays with her heart, with her entrails.”

Sarah as Racine’s, Phedre

After conquering England, Sarah set her sights on America.   She landed in New York on October 27, 1880.  Her American premiere was at Booth’s, “Temple of Dramatic Art” on November 8th.  She performed the starring role in Adrienne Lecouvreur. The house was packed with New York’s elite.  When Sarah made her first entrance in the second act, the audience fell spellbound at her incandescent light and grace.

Sarah became an overnight sensation.   Newspapers reported her every move.  Fashion pages published daily accounts of her dresses and jewels.  Merchants sold everything from Bernhardt perfume, candy, cigars to eyeglasses.

Sarah’s final performance in New York was a matinee of La Dame aux Camelias. This was one of her most popular roles.  Unlike past actresses who over-emoted- Sarah apporached the part of Marguerite Gauthier with graceful, heartbreaking frailty.  There were twenty-nine curtain calls after the finish.

Sarah’s next stop was Boston.  Surprisingly, this city known for its Puritanism, received the scandalous actress with open arms.  Every evening the Globe Theater was filled with patrons.   A critic wrote,  “Before such perfection, analysis is impossible.”

After Boston, Sarah continued to conquer cities around the world.  From Philadelphia to Montreal to Chicago.

When Sarah finally returned to France she was met with an indifferent, quiet hostility.  The French believed she’d insulted the names of Racine and Moliere by performing to vulgar Yankees and cowboys.  Undeterred, Sarah made a surprise appearance at the Opera House.  The curtain rose and the audience gasped at the sight of her.   Sarah burst into Aux armes, citoyens! At the end, the audience went mad.   Even President Grevy threw large bouquets of roses at her feet.

“La Divine” had made her triumphant comeback.

In 1887,  Victorien Sardou wrote Fedora especially for Sarah.  Although the “problem plays” of Ibsen and Chekhov were coming into vogue, Sardou aimed for good drama.  He wished, “to interest, amuse, move, excite and thrill the large public that went to his plays.” It premiered on December 12, 1882.  Maurice Baring declared Sarah performed, ” with such tigerish passion and feline seduction which, whether it be good or bad art, nobody has been able to match since.”

In 1887, Sarah portrayed Floria in Sardou’s, La Tosca. British critic Clement Scott wrote, “Sarah Bernhardt, knife in hand over the  dying Scarpia, is the nearest thing to great tragedy that has ever been seen in modern times.”

Sarah’s career lasted until 1922.  Her last performance was in Verneuil’s, Regine Arnaud.

That same autumn she began rehearsing Sascha Guitry’s play, Un Sujet de Roman. She collapsed the night of the dress rehearsal.  Although her first words upon awakening were, “When do I go on?”- Sarah Bernhardt never performed again.  She spent her last month in bed.

Devoted fans held vigil outside her house.

On March 26, 1923 her doctor stepped out onto the balcony and announced, “Messieurs, Madame Sarah Bernhardt is dead.”

A clubman was overheard to say to another, “Bernhardt is gone.  How dark it seems all of a sudden.”

Legacy

Sarah’s career spanned over sixty years.  She played diverse roles from  King Lear’s Cordelia,  Cleopatra, Othello’s Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Jeanne d’Arc, Gismonda,  Lysiane, Medea, the title role in Hamlet, Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac,  Anddromache’s Hermione, to Portia in Merchant of Venice.

Sarah as Hamlet

It has been noted that her publicity  was so vast, that if all the reviews and articles written about her were pasted end to end it would reach around the earth.  And a pile of her photos would be as tall as the Eiffel Tower.  This is even more impressive when considered she acted in a time before television or the internet.

The poet, Theodore de Banville stated, ” She is the Muse of Poetry herself.  Neither intelligence nor artistry have anything to do with it.  She is guided by a secret instinct.  She recites as the nightingale sings, as the wind sighs, as water murmurs, as Lamartine once wrote.”

Alphonse Mucha’s poster of Sarah in the biblical period piece, Gismonda

 

Mucha’s poster of Sarah in La Dame aux Camelias