I’m very interested in fin-de-siècle women who leveraged the visibility they gained from their acting career into national and/or transnational fame and entrepreneurship. One of the most interesting of these is the French actress known as Madame Réjane, aka Gabrielle Charlotte Réjus (1856-1920). The daughter of an actor, she grew up in the theatre and started acting as a teenager. Eventually she became a theatre owner and manager. She built a touring company based on her international celebrity, visual prominence, and modern challenge to the categories of gender and class. In the summer of 1894, she was playing her most famous part, the titular role in Mme Sans-Gêne in London’s Gaiety Theatre, a role she had debuted at the Theatre du Vaudeville in Paris. Dauphin Meunier’s review essay, “Madame Réjane,” in volume 2 of The Yellow Book, and Aubrey Beardsley’s “Portrait of Madame Réjane” in the same volume, attest to the way this enterprising woman embodied modernity and the visual in the period. Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec’s 1898 lithograph of Mme Réjane, showing her wearing men’s attire, makes an interesting comparison to Beardsley’s image of her in the costume of Catherine, the laundress heroine of Madame Sans-Gêne.
Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 10 September 2020