In the introduction, Skinner states that her purpose was to write an account of Bernhardt that contains the facts of her life without judgment of her personal habits and mannerisms, which have overshadowed her greatness in other biographies. The author does not offer excuses for or denials of the blemishes on the character of Bernhardt that had already been documented, including such descriptions as egotistic, materialistic, tending to exaggerate to the point of lying, and unreliable. Skinner presents the numerous conflicting accounts of Bernhardt’s personality in the introduction. The narrative of the events in Bernhardt’s life is told without judgment of her character.
Some reference is made to the personality strengths and weaknesses of the individuals that Bernhardt knew in her life. Consequently, Skinner introduces many different types of personalities and leaves the reader with a sense of how difficult it would be for a famous individual such as Bernhardt to always say and do the proper thing in such a wide variety of political and social situations.
Skinner’s portrayal of the loves and lovers of Bernhardt makes it clear that there was only one love in her life—the theater. Her numerous suitors are mentioned, but the book does not elaborate on these affairs. Bernhardt was a private person and most of the material written about her love life is secondhand information, much of which is gossipy in nature. Skinner does detail the relationship between Bernhardt and her son, Maurice, allowing the reader to see that this woman was capable of loving a person deeply and over a long period of time.
The cultural traits of the French people are brought out by Skinner in the accounts of Bernhardt’s travels abroad and how shocked and frightened she became when she was first introduced to differences between her own society and foreign cultures. Skinner explains each of the cultural...
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Madame Sarah gives the reader a sense of the major role of theater in stimulating cultural awareness around the world. Masterfully written plays and superb acting, such as Bernhardt’s, let the universal feelings, motivations, and ideals of human beings be portrayed. When the theater of one culture encounters the theater of another, a clear message is sent that societies are more alike than different, no matter the time or place in history.
Educators seeking books to use for teaching particular time periods in history will find that Skinner’s Madame Sarah gives a true account of the impact that political and economic events from 1844 to 1922 had on individuals and on the development of culture within a given society. The author grounds the beginning of her book with references to political leaders in France, England, the United States, and Prussia. References to political leaders continue to be made throughout the book, which allows for students to continue to determine the relationships between world history and specific events. For example, the wars and cycles of economic boom and bust affected the growth of theater throughout this period. The creative manner in which the theater survived during these times is a true testament to the drive and determination of a collective group of people during bleak times.