Wednesday, 6 May 2015

    Cyrano de Burgess

     A recent look at Jean-Paul Rappenau’s film of Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), with Gérard Depardieu characteristically cutting a large, vital figure in the titular role, impressed on me how thoroughly Burgess (already deft at capturing England and the East in fiction) had made himself at home in Continental culture. The spirit of Rostand’s classic, it seems to me, is probably as quintessentially “French” as you can get—and there is Burgess, in his 1970 stage-play in verse on which the Rappenau film was based, distilling all the finesse, flamboyance, flair, élan, esprit, sang-froid—all the romantic and martial panache—of the original.

         I suspect that the figure of Cyrano held considerable appeal for Burgess: some of the speeches read like the sort of quixotic artistic manifestos Burgess himself might have delivered, given the chance—and indeed, maybe he did, obliquely and in other arenas, other genres, throughout his career. Besides, for example, the early speech to the spiritless fop (who’s scorned for “Lack of fire, spunk, spark, of genius, pride/ Lack of the lyrical and picturesque,/ Of moral probity—in brief, of nose”) and the death speech (where all this finds its hated antithesis embodied in “the noseless one, all bone,” and life is defined as a fight against all the “old enemies—Falsehood, Compromise, Prejudice, Cowardice…Stupidity”), there is also Cyrano’s lengthy defiance of the realist Le Bret.  In this speech Cyrano articulates better than anywhere else in the play his own ethos, which is a Gallic version of what Count Ludovico in Castiglioni’s The Courtier calls “sprezzatura,” or an effortless grace in everything (with style understood here not merely as empty show or adornment but as a symbol of one’s own spirit, as a personal art). It is a soliloquy that upholds aesthetic bravado as an ultimate value, and you can almost hear Burgess’s murmurs of approval offstage:

                                                       Is it
Best I should think it best to make a visit
Rather than make a poem? Relish the savour
Of stuffy salons? Seek condescension, favour,
Influence, introductions? No, no, no,
Thank you, no. No, thank you. But to go
Free of the filthy world, to sing, to be
Blessed with a voice vibrating virility,
Blessed with an eye equipped for looking at
Things as they really are, cocking my hat
Where I please, at a word—yes or no—
Fighting or writing: this is the true life. So
I go along any road under my moon,
Careless of glory, indifferent to the boon
Or bane of fortune, without hope, without fear,
Writing only the words that I hear
Here—and saying, with a sort of modesty,
“My heart, be satisfied with what you see
And smell and taste in your own garden—weeds,
As much as fruit and flowers.”

No comments:

Post a Comment