Life lessons from Eleonora Duse

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She may have died 90 years ago, but the gospel according to the Italian actress Eleonora Duse still rings true. Dazed charts the top ten pearls of wisdom to take on board from her illustrious life, including what to do to get over your ex and how to handle the press.

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JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE A CHILD STAR DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO LOSE YOUR SHIT

Before you shed a tear for the corrupted youth of today’s child stars, spare a thought for Eleonora (Bieber–take note). The daughter and grand-daughter of impoverished Italian actors, Eleonora was only four years old when she joined her family’s acting troupe and began a hefty work schedule that sent her touring across Europe, South America, Russia and the United States. She managed to pull it all off without any known criminal convictions or rehab stints. In her adult life she used her experience of early fame to become a mentor for younger stars.

THE BEST WAY TO GET OVER SOMEONE IS TO GET UNDER SOMEONE ELSE

Eleonora didn’t have the best luck in love – her first lover, journalist Martino Cafiero, left her mid-pregnancy and she tragically lost the child. This didn’t perturb her, and she engaged in numerous passionate affairs with men and women throughout her 65 year life. Her lengthy list of lovers includes writer/prince Gabriele d’Annunzio and Italian feminist/cross dresser Lina Poletti.

PAY YOUR OWN WAY

Eleonora shirked tradition at a time when many women relied on pocket money from their husbands. She established her independence early on in her career by setting up a theatre company and taking on the roles of manager and director. During her affair with d’Annunzio she provided more than just creative support – she also paid all of his bills, including the rent.

GET OVER YOURSELF

Eleonora coined a new acting technique that she described as an “elimination of self”. While other actors in the period were dependent upon a set of over the top stock expressions and lashings of make up for their portrayals, Eleonora internally connected with her characters to enable her performances to come to life. She shunned make up and opted for subtlety over artifice. She has been described as “the first modern actor” for her pioneering performance technique.

DON’T TAKE CRAP FROM ANYONE, EVEN IF YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH THEM

She had a long standing rivalry with actress Sarah Bernhardt. When Eleonora’s lover d’Annunzio cast Sarah in one of his plays over her, she promptly ended the affair. Although d’Annunzio had already written four plays for Eleonora, she wasn’t willing to stick around for such insolence.

NEVER COMPLAIN, NEVER EXPLAIN…

It’s working for Kate Moss, and it worked for Eleonora. While rival Sarah Bernhardt relished in the public gaze, Eleonora refrained from interviews and let her performances do the talking. Her elusiveness contributes to her legend – all that remains of her is one short film, Cenere, and the accolade of others.

…BUT ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS

Not all publicity is bad publicity, as Eleonora discovered when she became the first woman and first Italian to be on the cover of Time Magazine in 1923. She enjoyed reverence from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, who described her as “the finest thing I have ever seen on stage”. Anton Chekhov noted “I’ve never seen anything like it. Looking at Duse, I realised why Russian theatre was such a bore.”

GET SOME FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Eleonora got herself some loyal followers in the shape of President Gover Cleaveland and his wife during her tour of the United States. The couple were in such awe of Eleonora that they attended every single one of her performances. This led to the controversial decision on Mrs Cleaveland’s part to host the first ever white house tea for an actress.

BUT DON’T FORGET TO KEEP IT REAL

Eleonora stuck by her pals in their hours of need. When her close friend – American dancer Isadora Duncan – lost both of her children in a car accident in the river Seine, Eleonora rushed to her side. She spent several weeks counselling her at a seaside resort in Viareggio.

LEAVE YOUR MARK

Eleonora has been a muse to many artistic geniuses. A young James Joyce kept a portrait of Eleonara on his desk and modern dance pioneer Martha Graham worshiped at her alter. Her influence continues to flourish as Dazed takeover star Stacy Martin picks Eleonora as her definitive acting inspiration.

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The plight of the independent bookshops

Upon returning home to south London for the Easter holidays, I experienced a mortifying sense of loss.  As an English literature student it will come of no shock to the reader that I like books.  They are my friends.  The ones with the pretty front covers and gold trimmed pages are like an aesthetically attractive peer – you like to look at them and caress them and if you open them and like the contents then well, that is an added bonus.   There are the books with the coffee stained pages and nibbled edges.  Those are the friends with most fascinating personalities.  You know that they have seen a lot.  It will appear inevitable to the reader that, as books are my friends, I see book shops as a kind of social club.

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My most beloved book shop, My Back Pages, is situated in Balham and has seen me through my degree’s reading lists with heavily discounted and brimming with character second hand books.  I like to open a copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and read the pencilled scrawls ‘To Maggy, I am so sorry, Love Simon’ and think who was Maggy and why did Simon think that (spoiler alert) a book about the sexual assault and subsequent death of a young woman was an appropriate way of saying sorry. You just don’t get that thrill in Waterstones.

The lovely Irish man who runs my beloved book shop can no longer afford the rent.  Like so many other independent retailers, he has had to pack up and sell up.  Inevitably he will be replaced by a Foxtons or a cafe called Bumble Bees or something equally as nauseating.  My Irish man blames ‘Margaret Thatcher’s free markets catching up with us’.  The strength with which he feels this charge is starkly apparent as he made the statement with little sign of remorse for the fact that Mrs. Thatcher had passed away the day before.

Whatever one feels about Thatcher’s economic policies, there are a few others who need to be held to account for the plight of the independent book retailers.  Amazon does an amazing job of offering cheap books delivered straight to your door.  Kindles mean fewer people are buying books full stop.  Even high street chains are suffering – who remembers Borders?

Without these charming one off establishments, Britain is at risk of turning into one great barrel of homogeneity.  Every high street will consist of an estate agent, a chemist, a supermarket, a Costa/Starbucks/Nero, a Nandos and an arbitrary charity shop.  An area’s ‘artiness’ will be measured by how many of these arbitrary charity shops there are.  Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft are currently trying to fend off such influences, but if parts of London are anything to go by, such as Brixton and some of East London, they won’t last long.  In fact, as I write this, the Foxtons in Brixton is being graffitied by a disgruntled local.  I implore you not necessarily to graffiti, but to support your local shops before the world turns into one gigantic estate agent.

As a wise woman once told me (my mother) ‘If all the world were flat as sand, and all the sea were gravel, how blank and drab our maps would be, how sad would be to travel’.

Published in University of Bristol student newspaper The Epigram, May 2013