Listen to Genius: free audiobook downoads
Home/Authors  |  Titles  |  Categories  |  Fables & Tales  |  Baseball Lessons  |  Narrators
university press audiobooks

Sarah Bernhardt

French Actress


A selection from

Narrated by Vanessa Hart

Download mp3 file: My Double Life: The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt

This file is 2.3 MB; running time is 10 minutes
alternate download link


Finally the ship arrived on October 27, at half-past six in the morning. I was asleep, worn out by three days and nights of wild storms. My maid had some difficulty in rousing me. I could not believe that we had arrived, and I wanted to go on sleeping until the last minute. I had to give in to the evidence, however, as the screw had stopped, and I heard a sound of dull thuds echoing in the distance. I put my head out of my port-hole, and saw some men endeavouring to make a passage for us through the river. The Hudson was frozen hard, and the heavy vessel could only advance with the aid of pick-axes cutting away the blocks of ice.

This sudden arrival delighted me, and everything seemed to be transformed in a minute. I forgot all my discomforts and the weariness of the twelve days' crossing. The sun was rising, pale but rose-tinted, dispersing the mists and shining over the ice, which, thanks to the efforts of our pioneers, was splintered into a thousand luminous pieces. I had entered the New World in the midst of a display of ice-fireworks. It was fairy-like and somewhat crazy, but it seemed to me that it must be a good omen.

I took two days' rest before going to the theatre, for I could feel the movement of the ship all the time: my head was dizzy, and it seemed to me as though the ceiling moved up and down. The twelve days on the sea had quite upset my health. I sent a line to the stage manager, telling him that we would rehearse on Wednesday, and on that day, as soon as luncheon was over, I went to Booth's Theatre, where our performances were to take place. At the stage-door I saw a compact, swaying crowd, very much animated and gesticulating. These strange-looking individuals did not belong to the world of actors. They were not reporters either, for I knew them too well, alas! to be mistaken in them. They were not there out of curiosity either, these people, for they seemed too much occupied, and then, too, there were only men. When my carriage drew up, one of them rushed forward to the door of it and then returned to the swaying crowd. "Here she is! Here she is!" I heard, and then all these common men, with their white neckties and questionable-looking hands, with their coats flying open, and trousers the knees of which were worn and dirty-looking, crowded behind me into the narrow passage leading to the staircase. I did not feel very easy in my mind, and I mounted the stairs rapidly.

On Monday, November 8, at 8.30, the curtain rose for the first performance of Adrienne Lecouvreur. The house was crowded, and the seats, which had been sold to the highest bidders and then sold by them again, had fetched exorbitant prices. I was awaited with impatience and curiosity, but not with any sympathy. There were no young girls present, as the piece was too immoral. Poor Adrienne Lecouvreur!

The audience was very polite to the artistes of my company, but rather impatient to see the strange person who had been described to them.

In the play the curtain falls at the end of the first act without Adrienne having appeared. A person in the house, very much annoyed, asked to see Mr. Henry Abbey. "I want my money back," he said, "as la Bernhardt is not in every act." Abbey refused to return the money to the extraordinary individual, and as the curtain was going up he hurried back to take possession of his seat again. My appearance was greeted by several rounds of applause, which I believe had been paid for in advance by Abbey and Jarrett. I commenced, and the sweetness of my voice in the fable of the "Two Pigeons" worked the miracle. The whole house this time burst out into hurrahs. A current of sympathy was established between the public and myself. Instead of the hysterical skeleton that had been announced to them, they had before them a very frail-looking creature with a sweet voice. The fourth act was applauded, and Adrienne's rebellion against the Princesse de Bouillon stirred the whole house. Finally in the fifth act, when the unfortunate artiste is dying, poisoned by her rival, there was quite a manifestation, and every one was deeply moved. At the end of the third act all the young men were sent off by the ladies to find all the musicians they could get together, and to my surprise and delight on arriving at my hotel a charming serenade was played for me while I was at supper. The crowd had assembled under my windows at the Albemarle Hotel, and I was obliged to go out on to the balcony several times to bow and to thank this public, which I had been told I should find cold and prejudiced against me. From the bottom of my heart I also thanked all my detractors and slanderers, as it was through them that I had had the pleasure of fighting, with the certainty of conquering. The victory was all the more enjoyable as I had not dared to hope for it.

I gave twenty-seven performances in New York. The plays were Adrienne Lecouvreur, Froufrou, Hernani, La Dame aux Camélias, Le Sphinx, and L'Etrangère. The average receipts were 20,342 francs for each performance, including matinées. The last performance was given on Saturday, December 4, as a matinée, for my company had to leave that night for Boston, and I had reserved the evening to go to Mr. Edison's at Menlo Park, where I had a reception worthy of fairyland.

Oh, that matinée of Saturday, December 4! I can never forget it. When I got to the theatre to dress it was mid-day, for the matinée was to commence at half-past one. My carriage stopped, not being able to get along, for the street was filled by ladies, sitting on chairs which they had borrowed from the neighbouring shops, or on folding seats which they had brought themselves. The play was La Dame aux Camélias. I had to get out of my carriage and walk about twenty-five yards on foot in order to get to the stage door. It took me twenty-five minutes to do it. People shook my hands and begged me to come back. One lady took off her brooch and pinned it in my mantle a modest brooch of amethysts surrounded by fine pearls, but certainly for the giver the brooch had its value. I was stopped at every step. One lady pulled out her note-book and begged me to write my name. The idea took like lightning. Small boys under the care of their parents wanted me to write my name on their cuffs. My arms were full of small bouquets which had been pushed into my hands. I felt behind me some one tugging at the feather in my hat. I turned round sharply. A woman with a pair of scissors in her hand had tried to cut off a lock of my hair, but she only succeeded in cutting the feather out of my hat. In vain Jarrett signalled and shouted. I could not get along. They sent for the police, who delivered me, but without any ceremony either for my admirers or for myself. Those policemen were real brutes, and they made me very angry. I played La Dame aux Camélias, and I counted seventeen calls after the third act and twenty-nine after the fifth. In consequence of the cheering and calls the play had lasted an hour longer than usual, and I was half dead with fatigue. I was just about to go to my carriage to get back to my hotel, when Jarrett came to tell me that there were more than 50,000 people waiting outside. I fell back on a chair, tired and disheartened.

"Oh, I will wait till the crowd has dispersed. I am tired out I can do no more."

But Henry Abbey had an inspiration of genius.

"Come," said he to my sister. "Put on Madame's hat and boa and take my arm. And take also these bouquets give me what you cannot carry. And now we will go to your sister's carriage and make our bow."

He said all this in English, and Jarrett translated it to my sister, who willingly accepted her part in this little comedy. During this time Jarrett and I got into Abbey's carriage, which was stationed in front of the theatre where no one was waiting. And it was fortunate we took this course, for my sister only got back to the Albemarle Hotel an hour later, very tired, but very much amused. Her resemblance to myself, my hat, my boa, and the darkness of night had been the accomplices of the little comedy which we had offered to my enthusiastic public.

More information about Sarah Bernhardt from Wikipedia

More selections (38) in this category: Aesthetics

More selections (15) in the iTunes category: Arts/Performing Arts

university press audiobooks
Mississippi in Africa The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia

The War of 1812 A Forgotten Conflict

The Well-Balanced Teacher How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out

Swingin' at the Savoy The Memoir of a Jazz Dancer

Vision Awakening Your Potential to Create a Better World

The Heart’s Truth Essays on the Art of Nursing

Martin Luther King, Jr. A Chelsea House Title

The Vampire A Casebook

The CIA in Hollywood How the Agency Shapes Film and Television

Modern Dance A Chelsea House Title

Tomorrow's Air Force Tracing the Past, Shaping the Future

Terrorism for Self-Glorification The Herostratos Syndrome

The Battle of Lake Erie and Its Aftermath A Reassessment

American Rodeo From Buffalo Bill to Big Business

The West Wing

Choosing Wisdom Strategies and Inspiration for Growing through Life-Changing Difficulties

Aesthetics   |   Baseball Lessons   |   Business & Economics   |   Drama   |   Fables & Tales   |   History/Society/Politics   |   Human Sciences   |   Medicine   |   Novels   |   Philosophy   |   Poetry   |   Science   |   Short Stories   |   Travel/Adventure   |   iTunes Categories   |   Links