Oooo, this post is late this morning, but I have a good writers reason. Or at least, a good language lover’s reason. I went with my friend Jenny last night to see Cyrano de Bergerac at Dallas’s Shakespeare in the Park.
It seemed like plays were the only things I really enjoyed reading in High School literature. Maybe because they were short. (My other favorites were all short, too–Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Pride and Prejudice…) But I distinctly remember Rostand’s play, despite my teacher’s best effort to drain the joy out of it by over-analysis, like everything else.
My nose!…You pug, you knob, you button-head,
Know that I glory in this nose of mine,
For a great nose indicates a great man –
Genial, courteous, intellectual,
Virile, courageous – as I am – and such
As you – poor wretch – will never dare to be
Even in imagination. (I. 336-342)
Yes, there are important character study moments, and commentary, and historical references, and what Rostand has to say about the politics of artistic patronage and Cyrano’s refusal of it.
So, when I win some triumph, by some chance,
Render no share to Caesar – in a word,
I am too proud to be a parasite,
And if my nature wants the germ that grows
Towering to heaven like the mountain pine,
Or like the oak, sheltering multitudes –
I stand, not high it may be – but alone! (II. 428-434)
But really, I loved Cyrano because he was one of my first literary crushes. That scene in the first act where he rattles off all the different ways one might have described his nose if one had any creativity? Genius. But really? It’s the scene in Act iii in the garden that really does it.
Your name is like a golden bell
Hung in my heart; and when I think of you
I tremble, and the bell swings and rings –
“Roxane!” …(III. 300-316)
Roxanne is an idiot, of course. I find her infuriating (and undeserving of Cyrano’s devotion), and I have no sympathy for her as a character, only for the actress who has to try and make her likable. She’s really quite clever, except in love. Even after she falls in love with Christian’s (really Cyrano’s) letters and declares she would love him even if he were hideous (as Cyrano considers himself), this is never tested. And in fact, she continues to cling that that false vision of perfect love (beautiful AND eloquent) like a plaster saint. Which might make her a better drawn character than I’d ever given her credit for, but still an idiot.
How could you hear someone say THIS to you, and EVER mistake the sound of his voice for any other’s?
Yes, that is Love – that wind
Of terrible and jealous beauty, blowing
Over me – that dark fire, that music…
Love seeketh not his own! Dear, you may take
My happiness to make you happier,
Even though you never know I gave it you –
Only let me hear sometimes, all alone,
The distant laughter of your joy!…(III.316-323)
Looking up these quotes, I came across an essay comparing Dr. House (of the TV show) to Cyrano, in his wit, his arrogance and self-loathing, and his damn-the-consequences challenge of authority. I think that’s dead accurate, and it makes me realize that I wouldn’t much like to LIVE with Cyrano.
But that’s the thing about literary crushes. They’re captured in a crystalline moment that highlights their heroic brilliance, and their fatal flaw is heartrending and tragic. In the frame of a book or a play, there’s only the night of literary passion, and not the morning after of “God! Just talk about your feelings already!”
So why go all High School Lit Class on a blog about genre fiction? Because Shakespeare and Rostand weren’t writing literary masterpieces at the time. They were as populist as any of us on this blog, but they pushed their characters outside of the bell curve of the ordinary, and made them endure.
Heroic brilliance. Tragic flaw. A touch of melodrama and an ounce of wit and a gallon of courage. That’s my Kryptonite in a literary crush. What’s yours?