Several months ago, as we were moving from house to condo and clearing accumulated junk was the order of the day, I came across a book that has graced my shelves for a long, long time. A book I had never read – The Divine Sarah by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale.
The cover features a picture of Sarah Bernhardt lounging seductively on a red divan, feathered fan in one hand, a dog curled at her feet. My hand hovered. Should this biography be placed in the donation pile or should I continue to keep it in the hope of one day reading about this woman who captivated theatre goers around the world?
A sudden thought. Perhaps, this could be the subject of my next novel. Decision made, I kept the book and finally began reading The Divine Sarah three weeks ago. Notepad and pen in hand, possibilities beckoned.
Born October 23, 1844 to Julie Bernard, a courtesan who spent most of her time and effort on the men in her life, Sarah was sent to Brittany as a little girl to be raised by a peasant nurse and later to boarding school and finally a convent school. Convinced of her destiny as a nun, Sarah rejects her mother’s attempts to find a suitable husband, however, one of Julie’s lovers suggests an acting career and after seeing a production at the Comedie Francaise, Sarah is hooked.
Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale do an admirable job of documenting Sarah’s life, weaving narrative with letters, diaries and written accounts of others close to the actress, but in the end Sarah Bernhardt emerges as a woman with countless lovers, an insatiable thirst for the stage and an endless series of acting roles and lavish productions. And 330 pages later, I am left with a feeling of ‘ho hum’. Not that Bernhardt wasn’t a woman of grit with an indomitable spirit and a fierce commitment to her art, but I wasn’t as captivated as I had expected to be and certainly not enough to spend at least two years creating a novel around her life.
Ah well, c’est la vie.