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.