Henry Bernstein did not distinguish himself by winning awards; his notable achievement is his long, rich, sometimes even courageous playwriting career, which spanned more than a half century. One critic has said that Bernstein dominated the French stage from 1900 to 1917. Bernstein is, however, sometimes dismissed as a playwright of the Paris Theater of the Boulevard —meaning that he wrote only entertainment for a low-brow, middle-class public. However, a measured consideration of Bernstein’s work proves that such a perspective is exaggerated. In fact, Bernstein’s plays provide not only a fascinating record of what the French theatergoing public admired in the first forty years of the twentieth century but also a sound idea of the moral concerns of the bourgeoisie and minor nobility of the era. If Bernstein is not a playwright of profound ideas, he nevertheless intriguingly depicts an always interesting time, society, and ethos.
Chandler, Frank Wadleigh. “Bernstein.” In The Contemporary Drama of France. Boston: Little, Brown, 1920. A judgment that is all the more valuable for its contemporaneity with Bernstein’s apogee. Chandler thinks that Bernstein’s drama becomes more substantial with Le Secret and L’Élévation.
Knapp, Bettina L. French Theatre, 1918-1939. London: Macmillan, 1985. A rich presentation of the state of theater in France during part of the era in which Bernstein worked. Focuses particularly on the avant-garde theater, whose playwrights saw Bernstein as a writer of little more than cheap, unimaginative, bourgeois entertainment.
Knowles, Dorothy. French Drama of the Inter-War Years, 1918-1939. London: Harrap, 1967. Knowles focuses on the differences between “boulevard” theater and more serious drama, including a short discussion of Bernstein.
Smith, Hugh Allison. Main Currents of Modern French Drama. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1925. Chapter 14 includes several pages on Bernstein. Smith finds Bernstein’s drama superficial, too melodramatic, and formulaic.