Authors: Cyrano de Bergerac

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French novelist and playwright

Author Works

Long Fiction:

L’Autre Monde: Ou, Les États et empires de la lune et du soleil, 1656-1662 (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun, 1687; also known as Other Worlds: The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and the Sun, 1965; includes Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune, 1656 [Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon; also known as The Government of the World in the Moon, 1659], and Histoire comique des états et empires du soleil, 1662 [Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun])

Drama:

La Mort d’Agrippine, pr. 1653

Le Pédant joué, pb. 1654

Nonfiction:

Contre les Frondeurs, 1651

Lettres, 1654 (Satyrical Characters and Handsome Descriptions in Letters, 1658)

Miscellaneous:

Cyrano de Bergerac: Œuvres complètes, 1977 (Jacques Prévot, editor).

Biography

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (seer-ah-noh duh behr-zhuh-rahk) was born in Paris in 1619. His father was a lawyer. He was educated in Paris and joined the French army after the end of his studies. Factual information about his life is not extensive, but it appears that a battle injury put an end to his military career. He apparently studied under the free-thinking philosopher Pierre Gassendi, and this transformed Cyrano de Bergerac into an atheist. He died in 1655. The cause of his death is not clear; legend has it that he may have been killed.{$I[A]Cyrano de Bergerac}{$S[A]Bergerac, Cyrano de;Cyrano de Bergerac}{$S[A]Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac;Cyrano de Bergerac}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Cyrano de Bergerac}{$I[tim]1619;Cyrano de Bergerac}

He wrote only two plays. His farce, Le Pédant joué (the pedant outwitted), and his tragedy, La Mort d’Agrippine (the death of Agrippina), enjoyed only modest success, and they have fallen into justly deserved oblivion. He owes his fame to just one work: his novel Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon, published posthumously in 1656 in a highly censured version. Henri Lebret systematically eliminated from Cyrano’s manuscript all religious and social criticism. The sequel, Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun, was published in 1662. As published, the two parts were extremely boring and frequently incoherent. Readers thought that Cyrano de Bergerac was a very poor writer, and they only remembered his praise of people with large noses in his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon. Cyrano was almost completely forgotten until the performance in 1897 of Edmond Rostand’s incredibly popular drama Cyrano de Bergerac. Rostand presented his title character as a sentimental but sad lover. Cyrano’s speech in praise of large noses became immensely popular and has been parodied numerous times in many different languages.

In the early twentieth century, manuscripts of Cyrano’s Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon were discovered in libraries in Paris and Munich, and this novel was finally published in 1921 as Cyrano de Bergerac had actually written it. No manuscript has ever been found for his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun, and its inferiority to its predecessor is obvious, but readers should remember that the published version of this sequel does not represent Cyrano’s intentions. Scholars have wisely discussed his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon only in editions based on the Paris and Munich manuscripts.

In this novel, Dyrcona (an anagram for “Cyrano de”) travels to the moon from Quebec City and encounters a utopian society in which all the injustices in European society have disappeared. On the moon, complete religious tolerance exists, and the inhabitants of the moon simply pray to the almighty and do not attempt to enter into theological disputes. Dyrcona assures the reader that he met several major characters from the Old Testament, and he presents them in such an unfavorable light that it is not surprising that Lebret eliminated Cyrano’s rather offensive comments. Cyrano presents a completely mechanistic view of the universe that is incompatible with a belief in God. He argues that there is no reason to believe that God created the universe because of his conviction that there is a purely logical explanation for everything that exists. Cyrano ridiculed key religious tenets, such as the Christian belief in the immortality of souls. He argues that because cabbages are mistreated by humans who eat them, God should grant immortality to cabbages. He reduces serious discussions on whether one’s soul is immortal to the absurd. It is obvious that no one cares whether cabbages are immortal, but Cyrano strongly suggests that the immortality of souls is equally insignificant.

There is more to his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon than a systematic and heavy-handed attack against Christianity. Cyrano also demonstrates a great deal of wit. On earth, many poets are poor, but this is not the case on the moon. Customers pay for their meals in restaurants by writing poems. Restaurant owners hire critics who evaluate poems. The finer the poem, the more the customer can eat. Cyrano also includes praise of people with large noses such as himself. Parents on the moon are greatly depressed if their babies have small noses, but their neighbors congratulate them if their babies have extremely large noses. Cyrano also mocks human vanity by arguing that it is more dignified to walk on all fours than to walk upright as humans do. His Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon is a witty satire in which he uses humor and parody to make his attack against Christianity more acceptable to his readers. It is unfortunate that his literary reputation suffered for more than 250 years, but the fortuitous discovery in the early twentieth century of manuscript of his Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon enabled readers to appreciate not only his refined wit and parody but also his social and religious criticism. Scholars now realize that Cyrano de Bergerac was one of the major free thinkers in early European literature.

BibliographyAldington, Richard. An Introduction to “Voyages to the Moon and the Sun”. New York: Orion, 1962. One of England’s best critics, Aldington discusses the legend and life of Cyrano, his friends, and his works.Butler, Kathleen T. A History of French Literature: Volume I, From the Earliest Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Russell & Russell, 1923, 1966. In Chapter II, “Literature Under Richelieu and Mazarin (1610-1661),” the author refers to Cyrano’s comedy as burlesque, reflecting a freedom that preceded the standard of taste to which the next generation of writers conformed.Cazamian, L. A History of French Literature. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1955. Discusses the smoothness of Cyrano’s style and characterizes him as the most intellectually fertile of the “irregulars” preceding the marshaled ranks of the classics.Cyrano de Bergerac, Savinien. Voyages to the Moon and the Sun. Translated by Richard Aldington. New York: Orion Press, 1962. This elegant English translation of Cyrano’s two novels also includes a thoughtful introduction in which the translator carefully distinguishes between Cyrano’s life and works and the fanciful legend popularized by Edmond Rostand in his 1897 drama Cyrano de Bergerac.Dowden, Edward. A History of French Literature. London: William Heinemann, 1911. Describes Cyrano’s taste, under the influence of the mannerisms of Italy and Spain, as “execrable” but also notes the satiric truth to be found within his wild fantasies.Harth, Erica. Cyrano de Bergerac and the Polemics of Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970. Contains a thoughtful analysis of Cyrano’s criticism of core Christian beliefs and his development of a mechanistic view of the universe in which God is not necessary, according to Cyrano.Lanius, Edward. Cyrano de Bergerac and the Universe of the Imagination. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1967. Complements Harth in his exploration of the novelist’s imagination.Muratore, Mary Jo. Mimesis and Metatextuality in the French Neo-Classical Text, Reflexive Readings of La Fontaine, Molière, Racine, Guilleragues, Madame de La Fayette, Scarron, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Perrault. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1994. Analyzes Cyrano de Bergerac as a science-fiction writer. Muratore makes good use of late twentieth century criticism. In spite of some jargon, this article can be helpful even for beginning students.Popkin, Richard H. The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes. New York: Humanities Press, 1964. Describes very well Cyrano’s originality in relation to other European freethinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The one weakness of Popkin’s book is that he links atheists such as Cyrano to freethinking Christians such as Desiderius Erasmus and René Descartes.Rogers, Cameron. Cyrano. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1929. An early, popular biography for the general reader. Acceptable as a lively introduction to the writer and his age, but this book must be supplemented by more serious biographical, historical, and literary studies.Rostand, Edmond. Cyrano de Bergerac. New York: Three Sirens Press, 1931. A translation by Helen B. Dole, illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Nino Carbe. Valuable because of W. L. Parker’s introduction, which compares the historical Cyrano with the hero of the play. Parker concludes that Cyrano’s skill with the sword is “no metaphor.” Also contains critical commentary on the play by W. P. Trent.Van Baelen, Jacqueline. “Reality and Illusion in L’Autre Monde: The Narrative Voyage of Cyrano de Bergerac.” Yale French Studies 49 (1973): 178-184. An excellent literary study, concentrating on the structure of the novel.
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