RACHEL, stage name of ELISA RACHEL FELIX ( 1821-1858), the greatest tragedienne of the Second Empire; born toward the end of February 1821 in a wayside inn at Munf, Switzerland. Her parents were Jewish peddlers of French citizenship. Discovered singing in the streets of Lyons, Rachel was brought to Paris in 1831, where she studied religious music and then acting. Her first stage appearance in 1833 led to coaching by the actor Isidore Samson ( 1793-1871), who secured her admission to the Conservatoire at the end of October 1836. She made her debut at the Gymnase in La Vendéenne on 24 April 1837 and was engaged at the Comédie Française, against the resistance of most of the sociétaires, early in 1838. Her debut ( 12 June 1838) was as Camille in Horace. She seemed destined to be ignored when the critic Jules Janin, who had already noted her Gymnase performance, effusively hailed her in the Journal des débats of 10 September 1838. Her career from that moment soared.
Unprepossessing in appearance, Rachel had a true if essentially indescribable genius for classical tragedy, which almost single-handedly she restored to eminence in France. Her greatest roles were of Camille in Horace,
Despite her qualities of intelligence, character, vivacity, and sense of humor, Rachel was increasingly blamed for a lack of improvement and an unseemly greed for money. The first undoubtedly followed from her extreme precocity; the second led to unfortunate consequences. Certainly the actress was linked with a number of eminent, often prosperous, men of her time: Alfred de Musset