Sarah The Life of Sarah Bernhardt Robert Gottlieb

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
21 Sep 2010
Yale University Press
256 pages: 210 x 146 x 24mm
94 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, a riveting portrait of the great Sarah Bernhardt from acclaimed writer Robert Gottlieb

Everything about Sarah Bernhardt is fascinating, from her obscure birth to her glorious career—redefining the very nature of her art—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 quarrel—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, Gottlieb’s Sarah is the first English-language biography to appear in decades. Brilliantly, it tracks the trajectory through which an illegitimate—and scandalous—daughter of a courtesan transformed herself into the most famous actress who ever lived, and into a national icon, a symbol of France.

About Jewish Lives: 

Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.

In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.

More praise for Jewish Lives:

"Excellent." –New York Times

"Exemplary." –Wall Street Journal

"Distinguished." –New Yorker

"Superb." –The Guardian

Robert Gottlieb is the author of Lives and Letters, George Balanchine, and Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens. His career in publishing—as editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker—is legendary.

‘A book that is wise, funny, affectionate and enjoyable as well as blessedly compact.’
-John Carey, Sunday Times

‘A fabulous story and Gottlieb has produced a brilliant short biography, telling you everything you want to know in 200 pages. He’s especially good at analysing what Sarah’s magic was but there was so much of it you’ll have to read the book to find out.’
-Duncan Fallowell, Daily Express

‘Robert Gottlieb is a firmly even-handed biographer and his engagingly zippy account focuses particularly on exposing the cracks in the contradictory stories that Bernhardt and her hagiographers assembled about her life… This is a sterling biography, equal to its subject.’
-Olivia Laing, The Observer

‘Although Bernhardt’s fame is universal and the literature about her immense, the major postwar English language biographies have long been out of print… Gottlieb’s succinct survey is timely’
-Rupert Christiansen, Literary Review

‘Suave, intelligent, always slyly entertaining.’
-Terry Castle, London Review Of Books

'A riveting account of a life lived in the spotlight’
-Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

‘Short, witty and tender…This book is one that your friends and family will actually want to read: a better stocking-topper for the literary-minded is hard to imagine.’
-Miranda Seymour, The Lady