Cyrano de Bergerac Biography


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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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.{$S[A]Bergerac, Cyrano de;Cyrano de Bergerac}{$S[A]Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac;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...

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