Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Playing Sarah Bernhardt: A Novel

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Playing Sarah Bernhardt: A Novel

Article excerpt

Joan Givner, Playing Sarah Bernhardt: A Novel (Toronto: Dundurn, 2004), 256pp. Paper. $21.99. ISBN 1-5500-2537-6.

This novel is not about Sarah Bernhardt, or even about an actress playing Bernhardt. It is about an actress playing Mazo de la Roche. The title is not a red herring, however: the protagonist, Harriet, has made her name starring in a high-profile drama about Bernhardt. Her next part, as Mazo de la Roche in a local production in a small prairie city (evidently Regina) seems to contrast strikingly with her signature role. Yet Harriet begins to realise that Sarah Bernhardt and Mazo de la Roche 'weren't all that different'. She explains:

they were both sort of illegitimate. Bernhardt was literally born out of wedlock to a kept woman . . . Mazo's family was less than respectable, and she lived in a same-sex relationship with overtones of incest. They both had to struggle for financial independence and social acceptance, and they each choreographed their lives in a highly theatrical manner as they tried to lay claim to legitimacy (p. 149).

Gradually, the question of legitimacy and parentage becomes increasingly relevant to Harriet herself, as she discovers unexpected connections between herself and de la Roche, and perceives the way in which her own life has been choreographed and performed. …

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