Saturday, June 14, 2008

Glimpses of the Divine Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)

By Nadar (1859)

You imagine you have the tiniest sense of the Divine Sarah's off-stage persona from some of these more informal photographs, particularly in the seemingly spontaneous smile.

But this amazing little film gives so much more - including the great tragedian chatting in a social way, to reveal the animated quality of her speech and it's light bright timbre ...

... which contrasts so dramatically with this 1902 recording of her declaiming lines from 'Phedre' (Racine).

What is so touching in the film, for me, is the way she surreptitiously takes the arm of the park bench to support herself - as she had had her right leg amputated in 1915 as a result of gangrene. There is a hint of this in the way she walks out of the theatre on the arm of the gentleman and then as she is handed into her car. By the way, first out of the theatre before Bernhardt is the lesser known contemporary actor, Gabrielle Rejanes (1856-1920).

By the French painter Georges Antoine Rochegrosse (1859-1938)

The film of course also reveals Bernhardt's dramatic, powerful and compelling stage presence in the excerpt from 'La Dame aux Camelias'!


  1. Not sure at all that the old little mouvies bring something more in the understanding of the personalities. This enterprise seems to me quite vain,

  2. hey anon. the understanding (i think) is not specific but is the sense of the kind of emotional profile they have. how they 'are' in terms of a general openness, extravertness or introvertness, and so on. and certainly more than can be known from other imagery. nick

  3. PS ... particularly when you hear the voice - the phonological resources convey so much interpersonal and attitudinal meaning. apart from what is given in meaning about the world. nick

  4. Sorry again!!
    You say: " ... but is the sense of the kind of emotional profile they have, how they "are" in terms of a general openess, extravertness or introvertness ....."
    Good heaven! That's intelectuel nonsense ! and pretentious in this case!
    Signed by Ulysse.

  5. maybe you are not understanding what i am trying to say. 'sorry' again!

  6. This is, without doubt, what's happend.

  7. what i was saying was that people express interpersonal meaning in the 'way' they say things, as opposed to 'what' they say. and this can be revealed in a film with audio. there's lots of research across a number of disciplines that explores this. such as the range of positive and negative approval meanings given to a topic by the way the intonation is managed - as seen in work by J R Martin in systemic-functional linguistics, which (in part) came out of de Saussure's sign and meaning theory. maybe you may consider such research irrelevant (which is fine - your choice) - i see it as something i can draw on (or not) if it is useful in understanding something. for understanding, i also rely on my own common sense and logic. but each to their own i guess. nick