Bigger Than Any Gender Could Hold

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The-Life-of-Sarah-BSarah:  The Life of Sarah Bernhardt
by Robert Gottlieb
Yale University Press.  256 pages, $25.

MARK TWAIN wrote famously: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses—and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” Twain of course was not the only one to comment upon Bernhardt’s uniqueness as an actress. Her death in 1923 ended a sixty-year career in the theatre, where she had become the most recognized woman in France, and had an international reputation that exceeded any stage actress before her. As with many exaggerations about her life, it was estimated that a stack of all the photos ever taken of her would reach the height of the Eiffel Tower, and that all the articles ever written about her, laid end to end, would circle the globe. She was the first international celebrity at the moment when the idea of a celebrity was just taking shape.

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