Academic journal article German Quarterly

Sara Bernhardt: Inszenierung von Weiblichkeit im Fin de siècle

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Sara Bernhardt: Inszenierung von Weiblichkeit im Fin de siècle

Article excerpt

Thorun, Claudia. Sara Bernhardt: Inszenierung von Weiblichkeit im Fin de siècle. Hamburg: Olms Verlag, 2006. 355 pp. euro29.80 paperback.

Claudie Thorun hes gethered together en enormous emount of primary and secondary source materiel on Sere Bernherdt's performances and their reception in the European fin de siècle, and done, in many places, excellent and impressive close readings of both the performances and their reviews. Regrettably, however, it took this reader almost a third of the way through to discover to what end the material was presented, and another third to find out why certain sections were relevant at all. Without, furthermore, a clear and consistent theoretical framework for her generally feminist, generally medie-studies reeding, we ere left, for most of the book, in the derk es to how we ere to think about the fascinating tid-bits and detailed descriptions.

The mein idea turns out to be something to the effect that Sarah Bernherdt's performances and their reception demonstrate that womanhood itself (also, perhaps, Jewishness, masculinity, nationelity) is always e form oí Inszenierung or dramatic presentation (staging) which both influences and is influenced by predetermined social constructs. The performance of sexual (and other) roles, in other words, raises the question of whether aU roles ere merely per f ormence. A sub-theme which deels with netureUsm versus stylized artificiality in Bernherdt's performances end lifo turns out to be connected to the question of Inszenierung beceuse, of course, the st agi ng of womanhood is an artificiel end potentially treacherous activity which is echoed by the dichotomy of woman as innocent and natural end/or deceitful end artful. Thorun shows that Benhardt excelled at representing other polar opposi tes as weU (femme fatale/femme fregile; courtesan/ virtuous virgin; practical maneger/hysteric; animalistic and strong/ neurasthenic and sickly; exotic "Other "/national heroine; jewess/Virgin Mary; mother figure/Star; rational and formulaic/irrational and changeable) both on stage and in her life, often even remarkably playing both roles within the same play or event. A discussion of Bernherdt's Hosenrollen further illuminates her role as cross-dresser/crossrepresenter, and Thorun provides an interesting analysis of Bernherdt's challenge to prevailing ideas about whet kinds of mele roles were considered acceptable for women performers. …

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