cover image The Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt

The Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt

Arthur Gold. Knopf Publishing Group, $30 (351pp) ISBN 978-0-394-52879-3

A troublemaker in convent school, Sarah Berhardt (1844-1923) from an early age exhibited an insatiable hunger for attention, reckless gaiety and near-hysterical rages. Channeling her energies into the stage, the tempestuous beauty, daughter of a Jewish Parisian courtesan from Amsterdam and an unknown father, became a living legend and, as actress/manager, formed a theater in her own image. Written with great verve and style, this buoyant, affecting biography by the coauthors of Misia: The Life of Misia Sert sparkles with intimate details of Bernhardt's triumphs and tragedies, her political passions (she supported Dreyfus and America's entry into WW I), her countless love affairs and frustrating quest for sexual fulfillment, her paradoxical neglect of the illegitimate son she adored. A marvelous portrait enlivened by excerpts from letters, journals and comments by her contemporaries, this biography never quite pins down the elusive chameleon, yet Gold (who died in 1990) and Fizdale succeed better than anyone before in bringing this larger-than-life figure down to earth. Photos. (Sept.)