Sunday. July 3, 2016.
Speaking of Sarah Bernhardt. A quick follow up to my post Shakespeare in Fairyland. Act II:
As Henry James had written of her after Bernhardt’s London debut in 1879, “she is a celebrity because, apparently, she desires it with an intensity that has rarely been equaled, and for this all means are alike to her.” These words were not intended by James as praise, but Wilde took them as career advice.
A while back I wrote about Oscar Wilde’s friendship with the actress Lillie Langtry. Wilde was even better friends with Bernhardt, whom, according to David M. Friedman in his book Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Celebrity, Wilde looked to as a teacher and role model. From her he learned how to self-promote.
When Bernhardt returned to England in 1880, after touring America, he showed his fealty to his new mentor by casting an armful of flowers at her feet as she stepped off the ship and onto terra firma. The press coverage of this act of adoration was huge and, best of all from Wilde’s standpoint, as much about him as about her. Not that Bernhardt held a grudge. She was a regular guest at parties thrown by Wilde at Thames House, on one occasion leaving her autograph on a the paneling in the living room. (Bernhardt’s English was spotty, so she and Wilde conversed in French.) Wilde was euphoric about the autograph, his friendship with “the Divine Sarah,” his rise in society, and, most of all, the attention he was getting from the press. But he knew the next phase of his project [of making himself famous] would be even more critical to his future success: from now on he---not Miss Bernhardt or Mrs. Langtry---would have to be the work of art on display.
---from Wilde in America by David M. Friedman.
Painting by Georges Jules Victor Clairin. Circa 1871. Via Wikipedia.
And in case you’re feeling wild for more about Wilde, here’s that post I mentioned, When Oscar met Lillie.