Rachel, born Eliza Felix, was the most noted French actress in the first half of the nineteenth century and one of the most famous French actresses of all time. She was the daughter of Jewish parents, a peddler father and a mother who sold second-hand clothes. A precocious child, she came to Paris around age ten, earning money singing in the streets and determined to become a famous actress. She was able to take elocution lessons, and in January 1837 at age 16 she debuted in La Vendeenne in Paris. The director, Delestre-Poirson, gave her the stage name Rachel. Rachel’s hard work, determination and incredible talent made her an almost instant sensation throughout much of Europe. She eschewed the trend to act in what was then called the realistic style, preferring to act in the classical tragedy style, which, at the time, had virtually died out. What she did not eschew were lovers. Multiple lovers. The list of her paramours includes Alfred de Musset, Napoleonl’s son Alexandre Joseph Count Colonna-Walewski, and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III), among many others. When one of her lovers complained about her lack of exclusivity, she famously answered, I am as I am; I prefer renters to owners. Rachel was unashamedly passionate both onstage and in her personal life.
She worked herself hard and after a long, grueling tour of Russia, she grew ill. She went to Le Cannet near Cannes to regain her strength, but she failed to rally and died of tuberculosis at age 37. Tens of thousands lined the streets and poured into Pere-Lachaise for her funeral and burial. Critic and writer Jules Janin delivered her eulogy in a flowery classical style. Loosely translated, Janin said, We are, bringing the body of the youngest and greatest actress of our times. Here lie, around eloquent Rachel, all the great poets of days gone by. She had brought them back to life through her ingenuous and all mighty voice. At the sight of so much sorrow, Gentlemen, our voice is powerless. Today, only one man could convey such grief; this man is the greatest poet of our times and, like a modern Prometheus, he lives on a reef in the middle of the Ocean! (Janin was referring to Victor Hugo who was living in exile.)
Avenue Rachel that ends at the main entrance to Montmartre Cemetery is named after her.
Francois Vincent Raspail
One of the most evocative monuments at Pere-Lachaise is the chapelle-style tomb of French chemist, naturalist and politician Francois Raspail. The tomb is on the eastern rim of the circle at the end of the Avenue de la Chapelle. Raspail was one of the early proponents of the cell theory of biology and the use of microscopes. He is also credited with championing the use of antiseptics to prevent the spread of germs. Raspail ran for the French presidency of the Second Republic in 1848 and was imprisoned in May 1848 and again in March 1849 for his participation in a revolt. His sentence was commuted to exile in 1853, but he returned in 1862. After he returned, he remained a popular republican politician serving in a number of posts. A metro station in the 14th arrondissement is named after him as well as the 2,370-meter-long Boulevard Raspail that traverses the 6th, 7th and 14th arrondissements. His tomb depicts his dead wife visiting him while he was in prison. The haunting sculpture was carved by Antoine Etex (March 20, 1808-July 14, 1888). Etex also crafted the bronze sculpture of Theodore Gericault and low-relief panel of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa in Division 12 and the statue of Napoleon at Les Invalides. Etex is buried in Division 8 in Montparnasse Cemetery.