Sarah Bernhardt – swapping the convent for high drama

Sarah Bernhardt, nicknamed “La Divine”, is a name that has gone into theatrical legend , a Hollywood-style celebrity before Hollywood even existed, the unmatchable actress who remains forever at the top despite the 100 years that have passed since her death. A Paris exhibition this year will celebrate her talents and extraordinary life as the daughter of a courtesan, who once contemplated becoming a nun but followed instead in her mother’s footstep.

  There is some doubt as to her birthdate. ADB has 23 October 1844 8 pm while Astrotheme (also on the basis of a birth certificate) says 22 October at 2am. Both are below and you can take your pick.

 The young Sarah appeared in the Paris police register (Vice squad). Their Book of Courtesans was a detailed record of high-class sex workers, often actors and dancers, who were the mistresses of princes, aristocrats and the wealthy. Then in her teens she was noted as being popular with “old men and especially members of parliament”.

  After a slow start in acting she eventually performed her most celebrated roles at the prestigious Comedie Francaise, then set up her own company and toured the UK and USA.

Mark Twain wrote: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses … and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.” DH Lawrence saw her in La Dame Aux Camelias and wrote: “Sarah was wonderful and terrible … she is not pretty, her voice is not sweet, but there is the incarnation of wild emotion that we share with all living things.”

  ‘She was hot-headed, rebellious and frequently mired in scandal. Her stage style was often melodramatic and self-promoting.’ She became an influencer of fashion, an artist and a sculptor, a writer and an activist. During WW1 she entertained troops at Verdun and Argonne despite having had a leg amputated after an injury led to gangrene. She died in 1923 of kidney disease.

 She had a Sun opposition Pluto which makes sense of an intense, dramatic life – with that opposition squaring onto Saturn in Aquarius for a personality, hardened by tough experiences in childhood with no father and abandoned by mother for a year. She certainly had endurance and stamina. The 22nd October birth date gave her a late Libra Sun opposition an 8th house Pluto which makes sense of the mark she made on the culture; with a well-organised Saturn in her 5th house of entertainment, giving her the impetus to run her own business. Her buoyant Uranus Jupiter conjunction opposition Mars would give her a risk-taking, wild streak.

  But you could equally well make a case for the 23rd birth date with a Scorpio Sun in her performing 5th house; and a 10th house Aries Moon conjunct Uranus opposition Mars – with an 8th house Saturn making intimate relationships tricky.

  The 23 October has a marginally more descriptive 22nd harmonic for an undoubted global super-star.

  Whichever is the right date, that Sun Pluto Saturn T square alongside an exuberant and reckless Mars Jupiter opposition Uranus certainly made for a high-octane personality.

7 thoughts on “Sarah Bernhardt – swapping the convent for high drama

  1. Marcel Proust in his great novel celebrated Sarah Bernhardt and his teenage (and older) obsession with her, which he typically analyses. She becomes the character La Berma, who has the sweetest voice. Looking quickly at his chart (10 July 1870) i see no obvious crossover between them.

    • The composite chart between Proust (1871) and Bernhardt had an exact Sun Venus conjunction trine Pluto. Both had Venus in Virgo and Mars in Libra and his Taurus Moon would oppose her Scorpio/Libra Sun.

  2. All these dead people who are preserved on media in a life-like state. I’ve been reading ‘Dancing With Dogma – Britain Under Thatcherism’ – not only is ding dong the witch is dead, and Ian Gilmour’s critique of “People promoting Montarism who had less understanding of economics than an A Level student” – Ian Gilmour, a noble man challenging Neo-Liberalism and Thatcher’s delusions, he is also dead. And Sarah Bernhardt. Marjorie, what is the astrological concept of after-death? Where do these people/we people go according to the stars?

  3. I’m tempted by the Moon Aries conjunct Uranus opposite Mars chart. Sculpture was a second career for Sarah B, and that mix seems to describe sculpting to me, particularly for a woman at that time.

    “Rodin dismissed her sculpture as “old fashioned tripe,” and she was attacked in the press for pursuing an activity inappropriate for an actress. She was defended in these pursuits by her great friend and admirer, Emile Zola, who wrote, “How droll! Not content with finding her thin, or declaring her mad, they want to regulate her daily activities […] let a law be passed immediately to prevent the accumulation of talent!” (Macklowe Gallery)

    Also, she took the role of Hamlet in 1899 to great success, also appearing as Hamlet in a film the following year. Perhaps the unconventional themes of a Moon (women) in the sign of the young warrior ram, conjunct Uranus and opposing Mars suggests the way she subverted gender and age stereotypes when she did this. She was 55.
    ‘Death of Ophelia’ is one of her most well-known sculptures, further linking her to this story. She most certainly resonates with Hamlet’s “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them”. What a woman.

  4. She was one of the first to recognise the artistic genius of Alphonse Mucha and it was his unique posters and set designs that she used to great effect that helped to cement both their reputations. He languished in obscurity until she came along.

  5. Back in 2009, I read a book called Heroic & Outrageous Women by Gemma Alexander – which featured Sarah Bernhardt (along with many other interesting historical characters like Isadora Duncan and Lola Montez). Bernhardt certainly lived an interesting and exciting life.

    If anyone knows of a good documentary about Sarah Bernhardt, I would love to see it.

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