Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1954)
Sandglass Number IX:18
Artwork: Pen and Brush Drawings that have been Watercolored by Pierre Brissaud
Translated and Introduced by Louis Untermeyer
Heritage Press Reprint of LEC # 240/22th Series V. 8 in 1954
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – This feathery design was done through a specifically designed marbled cloth, modeled after the 17th century French style. The Press calls it an unusual material for them. It’s on both the front and the back. My first copy did not come with a slipcase, but the second did, and it’s a tan color. Both the Heritage and LEC versions of this book were designed by George Macy himself.
I am a nut about Cyrano de Bergerac (which I’ll get into below). So, I am beyond pleased to tell you that there are two Limited Editions Club variants of this fine play. This is the second. In 1936 the LEC issued the first, with Sylvain Sauvage rendering Cyrano and his band in his trademark style. The binding is in line with others done by Sauvage at this time. If you would like to know Sauvage better, check out my Zadig post.
As for Pierre Brissaud, the artist recruited for the second edition, he had a decent run for Mr. Macy. He illustrated three Limited Editions Club titles, which are Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Saint-Simon’s Memoirs along with Cyrano. He also rendered the Heritage Press’ The Story of Manon Lescaut. Manon Lescaut was issued in 1936, but Brissaud had disappeared during the chaos of World War II (as I further explain below), and would not return to the Macy fold until 1950 with Madame Bovary. Cyrano was released in 1954, and Saint-Simon would be his final Macy commission in 1959. He passed away in 1964.
Frontispiece – Right before the title page is this fantastic curtain call illustration by Brissaud, which I think perfectly suits Cyrano. A fine way to start a book! According to the Sandglass, Brissaud was originally commissioned to tackle this project back in 1936, and had done an initial set of illustrations. Alas, those would become unavailable for the Club thanks to World War II making worldwide mail impossible. Brissaud vanished in the turbulence, and the Club hired Sauvage and issued the book with his artwork. When the Club reconnected with Brissaud in 1952, they offered him the chance to print his Cyrano, with the lost art they were unable to use. Brissaud’s response was “that in the intervening years he had certainly grown older and possibly wiser, that he certainly ought to make a new set of pictures – which would be better pictures.” So he did twenty five brand new illustrations, done with pen and brush, before they were reproduced as gravures with dark brown ink. From there Brissaud watercolored them all and returned them to the Club. Herbert Rau cut each color into a rubber plate, so that the book’s reproductions would match up to Brissaud’s originals. I’m sure the LEC looks even more exquisite (I’ve seen it once, but was unable to look inside at the time).
Edmond Rostand, another of the legendary French playwrights (alongside Moliere, of course), did create other dramas beyond Cyrano, but none seemed to resonate the same way as his epic retelling of the eccentric de Bergerac. The George Macy Company didn’t feel the need to create books for any of his other works, but being printed in two separate LEC volumes is relatively rare, so kudos to Rostand for that achievement (and having two spectacular artists doing your work justice at that!).
Title Page – Louis Untermeyer was commissioned to do a new translation for the Limited Editions Club’s second take on Cyrano, which this Heritage faithfully reprints. Personally, I find it one of the best, if not the best I’ve read of this production, and I adore this play. Some backstory: before the war, when the Club was initially beginning this edition, Jacques LeClercq was going to be the book’s translator. However, the Club felt that LeClercq was not able to quite recapture Cyrano‘s poetry in English, or as the Sandglass puts it, “he had not made real poems out of the ‘set pieces'”. With Brissaud unable to get his illustrations out of Europe during the war, the project settled on Brian Hooker’s spin on the piece along with Sauvage’s art. The first truly was a desperate book in that both the artist and translator were unable to complete their task to Macy’s wishes (for drastically different reasons, mind). In the interim, the Club pondered who could translate Cyrano‘s poetry, and, when Brissaud was found, settled on American poet (and LEC/Heritage Press favorite) Untermeyer. It was his first attempt at translating this work, and he also delivers the Introduction for this edition. He performed the task quite handily, if I may say so.
Page 16 – Christian and Ligniere chat about Roxane, before the performance of Montfleury. De Guiche can be seen talking to Roxane in the balcony. Beautiful The text is Times Roman (the dialogue) and News Gothic (character names), which were composed by Empire Typographers in New York. The Heritage reprint was printed by the Ferris Printing Company on specifically made paper for this edition.
Page 65 – Cyrano and Roxane share a moment after the scene with the poets. I think this is definitive proof of Brissaud being an ideal match for Rostand’s classic.
Bonus Pamphlet – Along with a Sandglass, the Heritage Press included a comparison between Cyrano’s famous “nose” speech in Act I, and how it has been translated over the years (including LeClercq’s unused translation). A rather fascinating document!
Personal Notes – Acquired at a Oakhurst library sale, this was my third Heritage Press book (The Aeneid and Sherlock Holmes preceding it). It’s arguably the one that clued me into discovering that there was a particular press making all these exquisite books I was getting. I’ve become hopelessly devoted to these literary treasures. I consider this one of my absolute favorite books in my collection. As I mentioned, I love this play, and I found Untermeyer’s translation very readable and smooth. Having been a part of this dramatic production as De Guiche for my local college, I consider it to be a great way of remembering the good times being in this show. Brissaud’s excellent art is a great cherry on top. I’d love to own a LEC of this someday. Wish me luck!
My first copy, which is where these images came from, saw an unfortunate accident strike it. While watering our plants, some water flooded out and hit this and several other of my incomplete books, but luckily I was able to replace it not too far after selling it in. I think this one looks better, and it came with a slipcase, too, so now it’s complete!
Here’s Django6924’s comments about this fine book, as well as some comments on the prior LEC Cyrano:
The designer of the Heritage edition–and of the LEC version with Brissaud’s illustrations–was none other than George Macy himself. Again, aside from the binding, the printing for the LEC being done at the Marchbanks Press, and the plates being hand-colored by Walter Fischer, I can see virtually no difference in the pages when I compare my Heritage copy to my LEC copy. Both are wonderful.
The older LEC wasn’t as nicely bound, to my taste, anyway, but the reproductions of Sylvain Sauvage’s illustrations I’ve seen make me wish I owned a copy of it as well! I don’t know a thing about the translation used for that one–by Brian Hooker–but I bet I’d prefer Untermeyer’s.
Updated 5/30/2012 – JF