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21 February 1821
|Died||3 January 1858 (aged 36)|
Elisabeth Félix (21 February 1821 – 3 January 1858), better known only as Mademoiselle Rachel, was a French actress. She became a prominent figure in French society, and was the mistress of, among others, Napoleon III, Prince Napoléon, and Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, the illegitimate son of Napoleon I. Efforts by newspapers to publish pictures of her on her deathbed led to the introduction of privacy rights into French law.
Rachel Félix was born as Elisa-Rachel Félix on 28 February 1821, in Mumpf, Rheinfelden, Aargau, to a family of Jewish background. Her father, Jacob Félix, was a peddler and her mother, Esther Hayer, was a Bohemian dealer in second-hand clothes. She had four sisters (Sophie-Sarah, Rébecca, Mélanie-Dinah, and Adelaïde-Lia) and one brother, Raphaël.
As a child, Félix earned money singing and reciting in the streets. She arrived in Paris in 1830 intending to become an actress. She took elocution and singing lessons, eventually studying under the instruction of the musician Alexandre-Étienne Choron and Saint-Aulaire. She took dramatic arts classes and debuted in La Vendéenne in January 1837, at the Théâtre du Gymnase. Delestre-Poirson, the director, gave her the stage name Rachel, which she chose to retain in her private life as well.
Rachel was described as a very serious and committed student. She was admired for her intelligence, work ethic, diction, and ability to act. Auditioning in March 1838, she starred in Pierre Corneille's Horace at the Théâtre-Français at the age of 17.
During this time, she began a liaison with Louis Véron, the former director of the Paris Opera, which became the subject of much gossip. During this time, from 1838 to 1842, she lived in a third-floor apartment in Paris's Galerie Véro-Dodat.
Although French classical tragedy was no longer popular at the time Rachel entered the stage of Comédie-Française, she remained true to her classical roots, arousing audiences with a craving for the tragic style of writers like Corneille, Racine and Molière.
She created the title role in Eugène Scribe's Adrienne Lecouvreur. Her acting style was characterized by clear diction and economy of gesture; she evoked a high demand for classical tragedy to remain on the stage. This represented a major change from the exaggerated style of those days, as society was beginning to demand the highly emotional, realistic, instinctual acting styles of the Romantics. Félix completely rejected the Romantic Drama movement happening in nineteenth-century France. She was best known for her portrayal of the title role in Phèdre.
Félix's health declined after a long tour of Russia. Her efforts to remain successful and the constant flux of her relationships had weakened her. She had shown symptoms of tuberculosis as early as 1841, and died early in 1858 of the disease, aged 36, in Le Cannet, Alpes-Maritimes, France. She is interred at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Upon her deathbed, she wrote many farewell letters to her sons, family members, lovers, colleagues and theatre connections at Comédie-Française. She is buried in a mausoleum in the Jewish part of Père Lachaise Cemetery and Avenue Rachel in Paris was named after her.
A modern account of her life and legacy by Rachel Brownstein was published in 1995.
- La Vendéenne by Paul Duport (Théâtre du Gymnase, 24 April)
- Le Mariage de raison by Scribe et Varner (Théâtre du Gymnase, 12 June)
At the Théâtre Français:
- 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)
- 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
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This article relies heavily on the French Wiki article of the same name, from which this was partially translated in May 2006.
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|Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia article about "Mlle. Rachel".|