Censorship can be useful. Here is the proof. A long-lost comedy by the French playwright Edmond Rostand, creator of the nasally challenged romantic hero Cyrano de Bergerac, has resurfaced in the archives of the French government theatre censor.
Rostand paid the manager of the Theatre Cluny to keep his first play Le Gant Rouge (The Red Glove) on the stage for 17 nights in 1888. To no avail. The farce, set in a waxwork museum, was booed by audiences at its first showings and dismissed by some critics as "unspiritual" and verging on the obscene.
In 1903, after the international triumph of Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand paid the same director to drop plans to revive Le Gant Rouge. He destroyed all known copies of the play and rarely mentioned it again.
But he missed one copy. In the late 19th century, all French plays were subject to censorship. An amateur scholar, and Rostand enthusiast, Michel Forrier, decided to scour the French national archives. He discovered, in a dusty censors' file marked "Theatre Cluny", the unsigned text of Rostand's play.
"There was no author's name but when I saw the the title page, I knew that I had found it at last," he said. Le Gant Rouge will be published next week along with a collection of letters from Rostand to Rosemonde Gérard, his fiancée and future wife.
"I feel deeply, cruelly, the undeserved failure of Le Gant Rouge ," Rostand wrote in one of the letters. He said that, at the final performances, audiences were "contorted" with laughter but the original reviews had been so bad that the theatre had decided not to extend the run.
In 1897, Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac, about a courageous army officer with a huge nose, and never looked back. But is Le Gant Rouge any good? Olivier Goetz, a literature don who helped edit the new book, said that the play had a "certain originality and modernity". At the time it was first played, he said, it was too advanced for the reactionary critics but not adventurous enough to be regarded as avant-garde by actors and directors.