My Double Life

The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt

By Sarah Bernhardt
Translated by Victoria Tietze Larson

Subjects: French Studies
Series: SUNY series, Women Writers in Translation
Paperback : 9780791440544, 345 pages, January 1999
Hardcover : 9780791440537, 345 pages, February 1999

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My Double Life




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.


My Double Life is the autobiography of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was internationally famed during her lifetime and afterwards as one of the classical theater's all-time greatest stars. Bernhardt's memoirs are composed with a novelist's (or actress's) sense of artistry and suspense that leaves no doubt of the charisma for which she was famed in her "double life," both on- and off-stage. Yet at the same time as this book very consciously contributes to the crafting of her image, it also illuminates a whole era: not only the world of theater, but also the worlds of women, politics, society, Europe and America, and, indeed, of history making itself.

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.


"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. ...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." — Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1999

"Bernhardt was one of the leading international actresses of her day. This memoir is particularly interesting not only because of the light it sheds on theater, but also because of what it tells us about the role of an artist in a particularly troubled period of French history.

"Larson's translation is very good and extremely readable. The only other version in English was published in the first decade of this century and is hopelessly out of date. Larson has taken pains to ensure that the language is contemporary but jargon-free, and the book is very well written. The translator's notes are an asset to readers who have no background knowledge of the period." — Susan Bassnett, University of Warwick

"This is one of the most interesting works I've read in the last few years. I found it a compelling read from the very first page to the last. I wish there were another volume to follow!" — Anna St. Leger Lucas, McMaster University