While in Rio de Janeiro for her third and final performance of her South America tour, famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt injured her knee and was left with an artificial leg. In this video, Jam...
John P. Birkelund Lecture
Sarah Bernhardt’s Knee: The Feminine Ideal in Belle Époque Rio de Janeiro
In 1905, the celebrated French actress Sarah Bernhardt embarked on her last tour of South America. According to most accounts, she injured her knee during a final performance of the play La Tosca in Rio de Janeiro, which led to more serious complications. At the time, Brazilian gender norms were changing for middle- and upper-class women. Using her fraught visit as a vehicle to analyze the Brazilian elite’s ideas concerning gender, James N. Green considers Bernhardt’s reception on and off stage as way of understanding the emergence of the “New Woman” feminist ideal. This concept profoundly influenced twentieth-century feminism and can further enhance present-day gender norms discourses.