Cyrano de Bergerac occupies a unique place in the modern theater. Deliberately disavowing realism and contemporary relevance, Rostand’s masterpiece represents a turning back in time and spirit to an earlier age of high adventure and soaring idealism. Its magnificent hero, Cyrano – noble of soul and grotesque in appearance, gallant Gascon soldier, brilliant wit, and timid lover, alternately comic, heroic, and tragic – represents one of the most challenging of all acting roles in its complexity and mercurial changes of mood. From its original production to the present day, Cyrano de Bergerac has enjoyed a charmed existence on the stage, its unflagging pace of action and eloquence of language enchanting critics and public alike. Here, in a superlative translation, is the ultimate triumph of the great French critic Lemaître, “prolongs, unites, and blends… three centuries of comic fantasy and moral grace.”*
*from my book blurb
I have noticed that my latest reviews are brought about by intense feelings that had to be expressed. This applies to this book VERY MUCH. You know those stories where the guy falls in love with a girl, but the girl likes someone else, and so the guy helps that someone else just for the girl’s happiness? This is like a classic version of that. It is so heartbreaking and at the same time so beautiful that I just can’t help but stop as I drink the words in. This is the kind of plot that transcends time and could be universally understood by just about anyone, but there is something about the language in which it is executed that manages to make you stop and read it all over again.
I love Cyrano de Bergerac for many reasons. He is funny. He is witty. He is intelligent. He is headstrong and courageous. His sensitivity on the topic of his thrice-larger-than-normal nose is sadly amusing. He is in love with Roxane, but because he knows that she is in love with Christian, one of his fellow Cadets, he has taken it upon himself to help Christian in wooing her. It’s a really depressing situation, but Cyrano’s love for Roxane is such that he would be willing to see her happiness at the expense of his own. The events that transpire in this sort of arrangement are such downers indeed for Cyrano, and even though I was screaming to him in my mind to just admit that all those letters Christian wrote for Roxane were really products of his amazing talent, I couldn’t help but see the beauty of it. I doubt that this story would have been half as tragically beautiful as it is with him being the agonizing lover in the shadows.
I also have to give props to Edmond Rostand for his flawless writing. I have the sort of modernized translation of the play by Lowell Bair, but even then, the words that frolic together in the verses pay homage to a timeless romance that is totally unforgettable for me and to several generations of readers and theatre-goers who had the privilege of learning Cyrano’s story. The type of love that Rostand managed to portray through Cyrano is so pure and sincere, the type that makes anyone radiant to the point that even a nose that is not pleasant to look at cannot outshine it.
Please read this play. Its beauty just pierces the heart in a way that contemporary romance doesn’t (at least for me). If ever I do fulfill that part of my bucket list that says “learn the mother tongue of Victor Hugo, Madame de Pompadour, and the Phantom of the Opera,” I am going to find a copy of this in the original French, and I will read it.
And because I am such a sucker for magnificent prose, I am going to share a few of my favorite quotes:
There, now you have an inkling of what you might have said to me if you were witty and a man of letters. Unfortunately you’re totally witless and a man of very few letters: only the four that spell the word “fool.” But even if you had the intelligence to invent remarks like those I have given you as examples, you would not have been able to entertain me with them. You would have spoken no moe than half the first syllable of the first word, because such jesting is a privilege that I grant only to myself.
She’s a mortal danger without meaning to be one; she’s exquisite without giving it a thought; she’s a trap set by nature, a rose in which love lies in ambush! Anyone who has seen her smile has known perfection. She creates grace without movement, and makes all divinity fit into her slightest gesture. And neither Venus in her shell, nor Diana striding in the great, blossoming forest, can compare to her when she goes through the streets of Paris in her sedan chair!
After all, what is a kiss? A vow made closer range, a more precise promise, a confession that contains its own proof, a seal places on a pact that has already been signed; it’s a secret told to the mouth rather than to the ear, a fleeting moment filles with the hush of eternity, a communion that has the fragrance of a flower, a way of living by the beat of another heart, and tasting another soul on one’s lips!
My personal favorite is Cyrano’s last monologue. It is too long to be typed here, and I don’t want to spoil it, but the effect it had on me was such that after reading the last words, I had to put down the book for a bit and think about life… really. It is THAT good. So please. For my sake, for the sake of theatre, for the sake of romance, read this.
No, I haven’t watched Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), nor have I watched the famous Roxanne (1987) with Steve Martin in it, but now that I have read this, they are my topmost priority for film choices at the next available opportunity. I have, however, watched Penelope (2006) with James McAvoy and Christina Ricci. Very cute, without the tragedy of Cyrano’s tale but with the ugly nose in the form of a pig snout, and not as good as the emotions I got from reading this.
Incidentally, this is the last book that completes my personal reading challenge for this year! 125 books! This personal achievement is made so much sweeter by that fact that this book is quickly becoming one of my favorites. ❤
In a nutshell…
Author: Edmond Rostand
Original Language: French
Genre: Romance, Drama, Classic, Play