Monday, November 17, 2008
Sarah Bernhardt to Jean Richepin
“… trample me under your storms …”Sarah Bernhardt (born Henriette Rosine Bernard; 1844—1923). French actress. Born in Paris, Sarah was the illegitimate child of mixed French-Dutch parentage of Jewish descent. She entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1859, winning fame in 1867 as
Zanetto in Copper's Le Passant and the Queen of Spain in Roy Blas. After 1876, she frequently appeared on stage in London, the United States, and Europe. In 1882, she married Jacques Damala, a Greek actor possessed of limited talent and an over¬sized ego, from whom she later separated. Among her lovers were the Belgian Prince de Ligne (by whom she had her only child, Maurice), the artist Gustave Dore, numerous actors, and the picaresque French poet, dramatist, and novelist Jean Richepin(1849—1926). This turbulent and torturous affair began shortly after her husband left to serve in the army in North Africa. A short time later, Jacques returned, bringing home gambling debts and a new mistress. Sarah took him back, threw Jean out, then threw Jacques out, and carried on in much the same dra¬matic manner as she performed on stage. However, as evinced in the fol¬lowing letter, there can be no doubt that she was deeply in love with Jean.
My adulated one, my distracting master, I beg your pardon. Oh, do forgive me! Did I say so many bad and infamous things then that you had to write such angry words? I feel dizzy under the torrent of your anger; your phrases stab my heart and carve themselves into my being. I have read eight phrases of your letter and they were all struggling to be the first to arrive. I am tired of your continual scolding and I am still yours more than ever—the blame is yours; I cannot be distant from you . . .
Come back! I implore you, come back—tomorrow I will write you an official letter telling you to come back quick, quick! See, Jean, truly I cannot help it. I adore you; I am all yours because it had to be, because that's how I feel for you. My letter could reach you only now because you were not free. It is not my fault—I wrote one ten days ago saying that I love you as I do today; I swear I am incapable of betraying you. Yes, I know too well that I like being a traitor, that I am made of bad thoughts and treason—I am everything it pleases you to call me. I have been all these things; the superiority I felt over all those around me created my perversity; but that is all dead, nothing exists anymore. You came—you breathed your pow¬erful breath over me and other people, my hesitations, and my whys and wherefores all crumbled. I drank on your lips the truth of love and I trembled in your arms, feeling the real, mad sensation of bodily rapture, and I saw in your eyes the absolute superiority of your being. With the beauty of a new flower I gave myself completely for I brought you a being that belonged only to you. I invented nothing about me, I felt it all afresh.
So you see, Jean, you must forgive my bad temper. As soon as you left, it overwhelmed me, leaving me no time for reflec¬tion. Still moist from your arms, perfumed by your being, it showed me the bed, the night, the awakening, the kiss, the lov¬ing.. . All right, all right! Let's not talk of my temper any more. I beg you to forgive me for all I may have asked you. With both my arms around your neck I ask you to forgive me—I'm sick of having shouted so loudly.
There, be kind; take me close to you, my Jean. Sing me some of your beautiful verses, bear me away in tender blue leaves, roll me over in dark clouds, trample me under your storms, break me in your rage, but love me well. My adored lover, love me in the name of love.
My claws are strong but they cannot leave a lasting mark in your heart if you run away from me. Tell me that it's all fin¬ished, that you'll destroy that stupid letter—but most of all tell
me that you know I'm faithful, that I can't betray you: it would be cowardly, infamous and stupidly foolish.
My letter was a cry of vengeance and you believed in it. Still, you must know it was only a scream of rage and real anguish. But don't you know, adored Master, that you are always near me, looking at me with your golden clarity; don't you know that my hand ceaselessly brushes against yours, that I find myself talking to you, offering my lips: this is the spell I'm suffering under. How can you suspect me of planning only for the moment, of stealing a parcel of what belongs to you?.. .You would notice such a theft, I'm sure, and I feel ashamed just thinking about it—quiet, calm yourself. From high above, very high, very high, where you shall be, pity my confused folly. I was hurt, I was wary—Everything you do must be and is right. I submit myself to your will and I subdue my pride: you shall punish me by refusing me your lips for a second . . .
Tell me that your faith in me revives, though all your hopes are ragged. Let us begin our flight again and even though you make me suffer too much I won't stop our mad race. I shall hurl myself down from above, my love, I shall nod to you and kill myself in the fall.
I kiss each of your hairs, gently I calm your adored body and my lips ask a hundred thousand pardons and beg that your lips be given back to me.
Sarah's on-again, off-again, relationship with Jacques was too much for Richepin to bear, and he finally warned the frivolous and drug-addicted actor that the world was dimply not big enough for the two of them. Jacques retreated, and Jean confidently claimed Sarah as his own. But the great actress belonged to no one, and she continued her affairs, thereby alienating Jean as a lover, but retaining him as a friend until her death, forty years later.