June 24, 2021

The First Actress

The First Actress

C.W. Gortner

Published on May 26, 2020 by Ballantine Books (paperback release May 25, 2021)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

From her beginnings as the daughter of a high-class courtesan to her extraordinary transformation into the most celebrated actress of her era, Sarah Bernhardt is brought to life by an internationally bestselling author praised for his historical novels featuring famous women.

Her highly dramatic professional life begins when Sarah’s mother pulls her out of convent school to set Sarah up in her own trade as a sexual companion to a rich elderly gentleman. Despite her desire to pursue a career in stage acting, her mother cuts her off and Sarah has no choice but to comply. Pregnant and unmarried at sixteen, she is expected to give up her baby to the nuns, but she refuses to let him go.

A natural talent and darkly beautiful, Sarah gets a few theatrical roles, thanks to her bold, innovative acting style that attracts both admiration and scorn. Audiences want to see this controversial young actress, and amazingly, she is hired by the famed Comédie Française–only to have her life torn asunder in the savagery of the 1870 Siege of Paris. Amidst the ruins of the city, Sarah nurses wounded soldiers while falling passionately in love with her leading man.

Rising to the height of her fame as the toast of Paris, shocking audiences with her uninhibited acting style and portrayal of male characters, Sarah becomes world famous, touring America and Europe to sold-out crowds. Told in her own voice, this is Sarah Bernhardt’s incandescent story–a fascinating, intimate account of a woman whose wholly original talent and indomitable spirit has enshrined her in history as the Divine Sarah.

My Thoughts:

I received an advanced copy of this title via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Everything Gortner touches is gold! He has a remarkable talent in finding unique characters that are complex, deliciously fascinating, and enigmas in their own time. I knew nothing about Sarah Bernhardt prior to reading this book. Her wants, needs, and desires are relatable to most women throughout history. She was a formidable force and Gortner embodies her essence with ease. A superb account of one who has been largely forgotten. 

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