She became a prominent figure in French society, and was the mistress of, among others, Napoleon III and Napoleon Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte. 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 Elisabeth Félix on 28 February 1821, in Mumpf, Rheinfelden, Aarqau, Aarau, 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 (Sarah, Rebecca, Dinah, and Leah) and one brother, Raphael.
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 1838–42, 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 Phedre.
- February, 21, 1828
- Aargau, Switzerland
- January, 01, 1970
- Le Cannet, France
Cause of Death
- Cimetière du Père Lachaise