Cover image for My double life : the memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt
My double life : the memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt
Bernhardt, Sarah, 1844-1923.
Uniform Title:
Ma double vie. English
Publication Information:
Albany : State University of New York Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 345 pages ; 24 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2638.B5 A32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A translation of Ma Double Vie, the autobiography of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was one of the classical theater's all-time greatest stars.

Author Notes

Victoria Tietze Larson is Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and General Humanities at Montclair State University. She is the author of The Role of Description in Senecan Tragedy .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The most tempestuous and possibly the most famous actress of her time, Bernhardt (1844-1923) kept a coffin by her bedroom window in which she lay "to learn my parts." Needless to say, the border between acting and life was tenuous for her. Bernhardt's two-volume memoir was originally published in English in an anonymous translation in 1907; this new translation, gracefully accomplished despite occasional anachronisms ("gofer"), is an abridgment of the first volume. Bernhardt, illegitimate although with some family money on both sides, is presented as both melodramatic and frustratingly discreet. We never learn the identity of her father, nor anything significant about her son Maurice's birth (she doesn't even mention that he was illegitimate). A husband, unnamed, emerges only once from the shadows. Still, Bernhardt writes vividly and with apparent honesty about her "thin and sorrowful visage," her troublesome failures to abide by contracts, and occasions when she "performed very badly." Most memorable is the German siege of Paris in 1870- 1871, when she turned her theater, the Odéon, into a military hospital, scrounged for provisions in the isolated city and burned the seats and props for warmth. Despite her failure to deliver on the teasing promise of her title, Bernhardt can be quite winning. She concludes by remarking, "My life, which I had at first expected to be very short, now seemed likely to be very very long; and it gave me great joy to think of the infernal displeasure that would cause my enemies." (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The "Divine Sarah," the Madonna of her day, combined extraordinary, eccentric acting talent with an even greater talent for promoting her notoriety. Stylistically the last romantic, Bernhardt (1844-1923) was among the first to mass-market herself. These memoirs, covering the years from her humble origins to her first triumphal tour of North America in 1880, were not published until 1907 (in French and in an anonymous, unreliable English translation). The provocative title will disappoint those seeking revelations about Bernhardt's illegitimate son, her love affairs, or even details about her art or her promotional strategies. But it is apt in another sense: the narrative is simultaneously factual (full of details of performances, social events, travels) and fictional (virtually a novel about the life of an actress overcoming everything from ill health to the Comedie Fran,caise and becoming the darling of two continents). Bernhardt tells all this in a breathless, not deathless, prose wonderfully captured in this welcome translation. In addition to the translation, Larson (Montclair State Univ.) provides useful notes that identify the many names necessarily and randomly dropped by Bernhardt along her stormy, starlit way. Everyone will find this a good read about a fabulous woman; theater scholars will welcome this necessarily abridged English edition of the French version (1980). All collections. J. Ellis; formerly, Mount Holyoke College