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Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt (Jewish Lives)by Robert Gottlieb
Synopses & Reviews
The librarian walks the streets of her beloved Paris. An old lady with a limp and an accent, she is invisible to most. Certainly no one recognizes her as the warrior and revolutionary she was, when again and again she slipped into the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Vilnius to carry food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents to its prisoners. Often she left with letters to deliver, manuscripts to hide, and even sedated children swathed in sacks. In 1944 she was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for twelve days, and deported to Dachau.
Through Epistolophilia, Julija and#352;ukys follows the letters and journalsand#8212;the and#8220;life-writingand#8221;and#8212;of this woman, Ona and#352;imaitand#279; (1894and#8211;1970). A treasurer of words, and#352;imaitand#279; carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her life, including thousands of letters, scores of diaries, articles, and press clippings. Journeying through these words, and#352;ukys negotiates with the ghost of and#352;imaitand#279;, beckoning back to life this quiet and worldly heroineand#8212;a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashemand#8217;s honored and#8220;Righteous Among the Nationsand#8221;) and yet so little known. The result is at once a mediated self-portrait and a measured perspective on a remarkable life. It reveals the meaning of life-writing, how women write their lives publicly and privately, and how their words attach themand#8212;and usand#8212;to life.
Though the Bernhardt literature is vast, Gottlieband#8217;s Sarah is the first English-language biography to appear in decades. Brilliantly, it tracks the trajectory through which an illegitimateand#8212;and scandalousand#8212;daughter of a courtesan transformed herself into the most famous actress who ever lived, and into a national icon, a symbol of France.
A riveting portrait of the great Sarah Bernhardtand#160;fromand#160;acclaimed writer Robert Gottlieb
Gisand#232;le dand#8217;Estoc was the pseudonym of a nineteenth-century French woman writer and, it turns out, artist who, among other things, was accused of being a bomb-planting anarchist, the cross-dressing lover of writer Guy de Maupassant, and the fighter of at least one duel with another woman, inspiring Bayardand#8217;s famous painting on the subject. The true identity of this enigmatic woman remained unknown and was even considered fictional until recently, when Melanie C. Hawthorne resurrected dand#8217;Estocand#8217;s discarded story from the annals of forgotten history.
Finding the Woman Who Didnand#8217;t Exist begins with the claim by expert literary historians of France on the eve of World War II that the woman then known only as Gisand#232;le dand#8217;Estoc was merely a hoax. More than fifty years later, Hawthorne not only proves that she did exist but also uncovers details about her fascinating life and career, along the way adding to our understanding of nineteenth-century France, literary culture, and gender identity. Hawthorne explores the intriguing life of the real dand#8217;Estoc, explaining why others came to doubt the and#8220;expertsand#8221; and following the threads of evidence that the latter overlooked. In focusing on how narratives are shaped for particular audiences at particular times, Hawthorne also tells and#8220;the story of the story,and#8221; which reveals how the habits of thought fostered by the humanities continue to matter beyond the halls of academe.
Everything about Sarah Bernhardt is fascinating, from her obscure birth to her glorious careerand#8212;redefining the very nature of her artand#8212;to her amazing (and highly public) romantic life to her indomitable spirit. Well into her seventies, after the amputation of her leg, she was performing under bombardment for soldiers during World War I, as well as crisscrossing America on her ninth American tour.
Her family was also a source of curiosity: the mother she adored and who scorned her; her two half-sisters, who died young after lives of dissipation; and most of all, her son, Maurice, whom she worshiped and raised as an aristocrat, in the style appropriate to his presumed father, the Belgian Prince de Ligne. Only once did they quarreland#8212;over the Dreyfus Affair. Maurice was a right-wing snob; Sarah, always proud of her Jewish heritage, was a passionate Dreyfusard and Zolaist.
Though the Bernhardt literature is vast, Gottlieband#8217;s Sarahand#160;is the first English-language biography to appear in decades.and#160;Brilliantly, itand#160;tracks the trajectory through which an illegitimateand#8212;and scandalousand#8212;daughter of a courtesan transformed herself into the most famous actress who ever lived, and into a national icon, a symbol of France.
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