Rachel (actress)

Elisabeth Rachel Félix , better known only as Rachel (21 February 1821 - January 3 1858), was a French actress.


Born in Mumpf, Aargau, the daughter of Jewish Alsatian peddlers, Rachel earned money as a child singing and reciting in the streets. She came to Paris around 1830, and took elocution and singing lessons, eventually studying under the instruction of the musician Alexandre-Étienne Choron and of Saint-Aulaire, and taking dramatic arts classes at the Conservatoire. To provide for the needs of her family she debuted in La Vendéenne in January 1837 at the Théâtre du Gymnase. Delestre-Poirson, the director, gave her the stage name Rachel, a name that she chose to keep in her private life. Auditioning in March 1838, she started at the Théâtre-Français in Pierre Corneille's Horace at the age of 17. At this time she began a long liaison with Louis Véron, a wealthy manufacturer and a notorious libertine, and subsequently her personal life was a subject of great scandal, well documented by biographers and acquaintances of the time in the references below.

Her fame spread throughout Europe following a sensational success in London in 1841, and became particularly associated with the works of Racine, Voltaire, and Corneille, touring in Brussels, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. She created the title role in Eugène Scribe's Adrienne Lecouvreur. Her acting style was characterized by clear diction and economy of gesture, and represented a major change from the exaggerated style of those days. She was best known for her portrayal of the title rôle in Phèdre. Eliza Rachel, as the actress was also known, was reportedly a great tragédienne.

She became the mistress of Napoleon I's son, Alexandre Joseph Count Colonna-Walewski, and together they had a son Alexandre Colonna-Walewski in 1844. In England, Rachel briefly had an affair with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III as well as with Napoléon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte.

Rachel never married, although she had many lovers. When Walewski upbraided her for not remaining faithful to him, she retorted, "I am as I am; I prefer renters to owners."

Her health declined after a long tour of Russia. She died of tuberculosis in Le Cannet, Alpes-Maritimes, France. She is buried in a mausoleum in the Jewish part of Père Lachaise Cemetery. The English theatre critic James Agate published an excellent biography of her in 1928.

The character Vashti in Charlotte Brontë's novel Villette was based on Rachel, whom Brontë had seen perform in London.

Rachel, a light tannish colour, primarily for face-powder used in artificial light, is named after her; the raschel knitting-machine is according to the OED also named after her.

Chronological repertoire

  • 1837:
    • La Vendéenne by Paul Duport (Théâtre du Gymnase, 24 April)
    • Le Mariage de raison de Scribe et Varner (Théâtre du Gymnase, 12 June)

At the Théâtre Français:

  • 1838:
    • Camille in Horace by Corneille (12 June to 11 September)
    • Émilie in Cinna by Corneille (27 September)
    • Hermione in Andromaque by Racine (4 September)
    • Aménaïde in Trancrède by Voltaire
    • Ériphile in Iphigénie en Aulide by Racine
    • Monime in Mithridate by Racine
    • Roxane in Bajazet by Racine (23 November)
  • 1839:
    • Esther in Esther by Racine (29 February)
    • Laodice in Nicomède by Corneille (9 April)
    • Dorine in Tartuffe by Molière (30 April)
  • 1840:
    • Pauline in Polyeucte Martyr by Corneille (15 May)
    • First tour in France during the summer (Rouen, Le Havre, Lyon)
    • The title role of Marie Stuart by Lebrun (22 December)
  • 1841:
  • 1842:
    • Chimène in Le Cid by Corneille (19 January)
    • The title role of Ariane by Thomas Corneille (7 May)
    • Toured in England and Belgium (summer)
    • Frédégonde in Frédégonde et Brunehaut by Lemercier (5 November)
  • 1843:
    • The title role of Phèdre by Racine (21 January)
    • The title role of Judith by Girardin (24 January)
    • Toured in Rouen, Marseille and Lyon (summer)
  • 1844:
    • The title role of Bérénice by Racine (6 January)
    • Isabelle in Don Sanche d'Aragon by Corneille (17 January)
    • The title role of Catherine II by Romand (25 May)
    • Marinette in Le Dépit amoureux by Molière (1 July)
    • Toured in Belgium (summer)
    • Birth of her son Alexandre in Marly-le-Roi (3 November)
  • 1845:
    • Virginie in Brest (3 July)
    • Polyeucte in Nancy (25 August)
  • 1846:
  • 1847:
    • La Muse sérieuse in L'Ombre by Molière (15 January)
    • Fatine in Le Vieux by La Montagne (6 February)
    • The title role of Athalie by Racine (5 March)
    • Toured in London, in the Netherlands, and at Liège (May-June)
  • 1848:
    • Birth of her second son, Gabriel, at Neuilly-sur-Seine (26 January)
    • Horace (13 March)
    • Toured in Amsterdam (June-October)
    • Britannicus by Racine (October)
  • 1849:
    • Andromaque (January)
    • The title role of Le Moineau de Lesbie by Armand Barthet (22 March)
    • The title role of Adrienne Lecouvreur (14 April)
    • Toured in west and southwest France (29 May - 31 August)
  • 1850:
  • 1851: Toured
  • 1853: Toured
  • 1854: Toured in Warsaw, Saint Petersburg and Moscow (January-April)
  • 1855: Toured in New York and in the United States (September-December)
    • The troupe separated in Cuba in December.
  • 1858: Rachel died on 3 January


  • This article relies heavily on the French wiki of the same name, from which this was partially translated in May 2006.

Anonymous. Rachel et la Comédie Française. Brussels, 1842.
de B---, Madame, Memoirs of Rachel. London, 1858.
Barthou, Louis, Rachel. (Acteurs et Actrices d’Autrefois.). Paris, 1926.
Brownstein, Rachel, Tragic Muse: Rachel of the Comédie-Française Duke University Press, 1995
Coquatrix, Emile, Rachel à Rouen. Rouen, 1840.
Faucigny-Lucinge, Rachel et son Temps”. Paris, 1910.
Fleischmann, Hector, Rachel Intime: d’après ses lettres d’amour et des documents nouveau. Paris, 1910.
Gautier, Théophile, L’Art Dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans. Six Volumes. Paris, 1859.
Gribble, Francis H.,Rachel: her Stage Life and her Real Life. London, 1911.
d’Heylli, Georges, Journal Intime de la Comédie Française (1852-1871). Paris, 1878.
d’Heylli, Georges, Rachel d’Après sa Correspondance. Paris, 1882.
d’Heylli, Georges, Rachel et la Ristori. Paris, 1902.
d’Heylli, Georges, Rachel et la Ristori. Paris, 1902..
Houssaye, Arsène, Les Confessions: souvenirs d’un demi-siècle. Four Volumes. Paris, 1885.
Janin, Jules, Rachel et la Tragédie. Paris, 1861.
Kennard, Mrs. Arthur, Rachel. Eminent Women Series. London, 1885.
Louvet, A., Mademoiselle Rachel: Etude sur l’Art Dramatique. Paris, 1892.
Martin, Sir Theodore, K.C.B., Monographs: Garrick, Macready, Rachel, etc.”. London, 1906.
Maurice, Charles, Histoire Anecdotique du Theâtre. Paris, 1856.
Maurice, Charles. La Vérité-Rachel: examen du talent de la première tragédienne du Théâtre Français. Paris, 1850.
de Musset, Alfred, Un Souper chez Mademoiselle Rachel– Oeuvres Poshumes. 1839.
de Saint Amand, Imbert, Madame de Girardin [Delphine Gay], avec des lettres inédites de Lamarine, Châteaubrieand, Mlle Rachel”. Paris, 1876
Samson, Mme., Rachel et Samson: souvenirs de thèâtre”. Paris, 1898.
Thomson, Valentine, La Vie Sentimentale de Rachel d’aprè des lettres inédites. Paris, 1900.
Veron, Louis, Mémoires d’un Bourgeois de Paris. Five Volumes. Paris, 1856.

External links

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