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Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française Paperback – January 12, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books; First Edition edition (January 12, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822315718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822315711
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,513,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

In what she claims ``might be called a postmodern biography,'' Brownstein (English/Brooklyn College; Becoming a Heroine, 1982) does not present the life-story of the 19th-century French ``star'' known only as ``Rachel'' (1821-58)--but, rather, she considers her as a ``text,'' interprets her as a ``cultural construct,'' and examines this daughter of peddlers who became an empress of the stage as a ``function of her personal effects.'' ``Stars,'' says Brownstein, because they are ``invented by writers,'' attract other writers, especially biographers--of which Rachel has had many (e.g., Joanna Richardson's Rachel, 1957). But none have so subtly yet expansively managed to avoid her life in favor of decoding how others saw her and what it all meant. We learn enough here to pique our interest: illiterate waif, woman, priestess, criminal, mistress, femme fatale, Rachel was the ``conflation'' of all her roles. But she was also the creation of men: her calculating father; her mentor at the Com‚die Fran‡aise; critics, journalists, playwrights, writers, painters. Rachel revived the classical ideals of Racine and Corneille; as a ``mock queen,'' she gave dignity to royalty in an age that was repudiating it; and, as a ``republican muse,'' she inspired patriotism-- although, as a Jew, she remained an alien. In her travels from Moscow to New York, she served as a French cultural icon, while as an actress she provided models for painters, and for writers from Henry James to Balzac. Notorious for her sexuality, she bore two illegitimate sons (one of them Napoleon's grandson) before she died of TB, at age 37. An epic meditation, rich with detail on the history of the stage, of Jews in France, of journalism and its role in creating a Rachel. But with no chronology, life story, or even obituary, this is an interpretation without a narrative, a biography without a life. (Thirty illustrations, including eight pp. color--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Rachel, the great tragic French Jewish actress, comes to us alive in this wonderful book. I have longed to read a fine book in English about the Tragic Muse of the French theater, and now, here it is."—Claire Bloom

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. P. Larson on February 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Tragic Muse" will leave you with two regrets, albeit worthy ones: first, that her performances are lost to history; second, that you still don't have a grasp on her. This book is not meant so much as a biography as a recounting of Rachel as social and psychological phenomenon. It's an unusual and enjoyable approach, and Brownstein does a beautifully researched if nonlinear job of it. But while we're looking at the world's view of Rachel -- femme fatale, keeper of the antique flame, courtesan, child of Israel -- I'd enjoy more of a look at Rachel's view of herself. What were her letters really like? Why did so many men love her so well? What did she offer that the world in general did not have? There are lessons that could be learned from these answers; hopefully they too won't be lost to the ages.
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By Cheryl Simani on November 2, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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