For serious readers of his works, the facts of Cyrano de Bergerac’s life offer an important corrective to his legend. Though his family laid claim to noble status, the only basis for that claim was their ownership of two “fiefs,” or manorial properties—Mauvières and Bergerac—in the valley of the Chevreuse near Paris. The Cyranos were in fact of bourgeois origin; their son was christened Hector Savinien de Cyrano, and he himself added the title “de Bergerac” as a young man (as he occasionally assumed the pretentious given names of Alexandre or Hercule). This was deceptive on two counts, for, aside from smacking of nobility, the title suggests a Gascon origin. Rostand thus portrays his hero as born and bred in Gascony, which the real Cyrano never visited.
Cyrano was born in Paris and christened there on March 6, 1619. Some of his childhood was spent on his father’s properties in the Chevreuse valley, where he acquired a love of nature and a hatred of dogmatic authority. The hatred was inspired by a country priest to whom Cyrano was sent for schooling; it was to grow into a lifelong passion, reinforced by his experiences at the Collège de Beauvais in Paris, where he completed his education. (The headmaster of the collège, Jean Grangier—a man of considerable scholarly reputation—is mercilessly satirized in Cyrano’s comedy, Le Pédant joué, while the country priest is pilloried in Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun.) Once out of school, Cyrano gave free rein to his rebellious streak and joined the circles of libertins, or freethinkers—and free livers—who frequented certain Paris cabarets. Among his libertine friends were several pupils of the materialist philosopher Pierre Gassendi, including the avowed atheist Claude-Emmanuel Chapelle and possibly the young Molière. Whether he studied with Gassendi himself, Cyrano was heavily influenced by his ideas, which are discussed at length in Other Worlds.
At about this time, Cyrano’s father suffered serious financial reverses and was forced to sell his fiefs; it has been suggested that Cyrano’s gambling losses may have been a factor. Whatever the reasons, relations between father and son were strained, and they continued to be so until the father’s death; according to records left by his lawyers, Abel de Cyrano suspected his two sons...
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