Despite the fact that they are meant to be competing against one another, young magicians Celia and Marco fall in love. Their love is a rebellion against the isolation imposed by their guardians, allowing them to collaborate and enhance the power of their magic. Celia and Marco embrace the vulnerability of an intimate connection in a way their guardians were never able to do. Where competition and rivalry lead only to isolation, love in the novel is presented as a force powerful enough to overcome any obstacle and engender both empathy and self-sacrifice.
The two young magicians are immediately drawn to each other, and their abilities connect them like a shared secret. The same emotional and professional isolation that distanced Hector and Mr. A.H. is what connects Celia and Marco. From the first moment they meet, Marco is drawn to Celia by a sense of admiration for her magical abilities. When she auditions for Le Cirque des Rêves, Marco is visibly affected by her skills, and immediately recognizes her as his opponent in the competition. He can hardly disguise his interest in her, providing Celia with “years of glances and comments she had read as no more than coy flirtation.” While Celia does not learn the identity of her competitor for until much later, she is thoroughly impressed by Marco nevertheless: when she enters his first creation for the circus, the Ice Garden, she feels at home immediately, and spends hours exploring the space. She “longs to know how her opponent came up with the idea,” and decides that it is her favorite tent in all of Le Cirque des Rêves. Once Celia and Marco get to know each other, they develop a “delicate camaraderie” built on the tension between what is expected of them and what they want for themselves. They have both been taught to work in solitude and cautioned not to worry about their opponent in the competition but are irresistibly drawn to one another. This emphasizes the power of their mutual attraction, and hints at the ultimate ability of their connection to overcome the isolating confines of the rivalry that has been imposed upon them.
Their new emotional connection is not without its pitfalls, however, and Celia and Marco initially have trouble letting down their guard. As magicians, both are accustomed to controlling others’ perceptions, and any intimate connection between them would require that they relinquish some amount of control. When she realizes that Marco is her opponent, Celia “feels suddenly exposed” by the connection she does not control. What’s more, she knows that Hector Bowen seduced her mother and then abandoned her, leading Celia to promise herself that she “would not suffer so for anyone.” Like Mr. A.H., Marco spends much of his time manipulating those around him from a distance: his role as an assistant for Chandresh LeFevre, the proprietor of Le Cirque des Rêves, allows him to control certain aspects of the circus without revealing his identity or intentions. He also must hide his feelings about Celia to his girlfriend, Isobel the fortune-teller, so that she will keep tabs on Celia and the magic she performs in the circus. When Celia and Marco recognize their feelings for one another, they begin to let down their guards, which is a new experience for both of them. As Marco reveals details about himself, Celia wonders why he is being so honest. He replies that “it is refreshing to be truly honest with someone for a change,” indicating one of the first times he is able to do this. Celia also asks him to stop manipulating his looks for her, hoping that he will lose his “false face” and let her see him as he really is. Love, then, is only possible with and encourages a certain emotional vulnerability that competition seeks to stifle.
Marco and Celia collaborate, beginning with the Labyrinth: they create connecting chambers within the tent, hoping to impress and delight one another with ever more impressive magic. Their guardians disapprove of this collective work, of course. Hector calls it a “debauched juxtaposition” and a “tawdry mixing of skills,” but at the same time, it is clear that they are producing their best work together. Marco tells Mr. A.H. that all of the magic he performs is for Celia: “every impossible feat and astounding sight, I have done for her.” He is subverting the competition, and creating exceptional feats of magic out of love rather than rivalry. Their final act of rebellion against their guardians comes when they exit the competition together. Neither Marco nor Celia wants to win the game, and they both offer to commit suicide to save the other’s life and end the competition once and for all. They use the circus as a touchstone in order to anchor themselves to a place where they can be alone together in a suspended state of half-life that appears to be indefinite. “I didn’t know if it would work but I couldn’t let you go,” Celia tells Marco once they have crossed into this new dimension. By escaping together, they both forfeit the competition, neither winning nor losing, and are no longer bound to the isolation of antagonistic rivalry. This willingness to sacrifice for love is the opposite of the selfish nature of the rivalry and competition their guardians have imposed on them. They would rather die for love than continue fighting, much like Tsukiko’s competitor, who sacrificed herself to end the rivalry.
The romance between Marco and Celia is built on fundamental themes of youthful rebellion, self-determination, and the desire for a genuine connection to another human being. When he discovers the depth of their relationship, Hector Bowen calls Celia “weak. Weaker than I’d thought” for falling in love with her competitor. On the contrary, however, their love requires a great deal of strength in order to overcome the will of their guardians and their deeply ingrained tendency towards self-protection. It is that strength that empowers them to risk everything for love, which at once sets them free and bonds them together indefinitely.
Love Quotes in The Night Circus
“I owe you my deepest gratitude, Miss…?”
“Martin. Isobel Martin.”
“Marco, Marco Alisdair.”
“[…] with whom have you studied?”
“With my father, Hector Bowen. Though perhaps he is better known as Prospero the Enchanter.”
“I spent the first several years of my life watching my mother pine for him, steadfastly. Loving and longing far beyond the time when he had lost what little interest in her he ever held. Until one day when I was five years old and she took her own life. When I was old enough to understand, I promised myself I would not suffer so for anyone. It will take a great deal more than that charming smile of yours to seduce me.”
“Thirteen years with barely a word and now you wish to speak with me?”
“Are you looking for this? It was made by a ring when I was fourteen. It said something in Latin, but I don’t know what it was.”
“Esse quam videri. To be, rather than to seem. It’s the Bowen family motto. My father was very fond of engraving it on things. I’m not entirely sure he appreciated the irony.”
“Do you love him?”
“Do you believe he loves you? Love is fickle and fleeting. It is rarely a solid foundation for decisions to be made upon, in any game.”
“You were not a diversion.”
“Did you ever love me?”
“No […] I thought perhaps I could, but…”
“Our instructors do not understand how it is. To be bound to someone in such a way. They are too old, too out of touch with their emotions. They no longer remember what it is to live and breathe within the world. They think it simple to pit any two people against each other. It is never simple. The other person becomes how you define your life, how you define yourself.”
“You told me love was fickle and fleeting.”
“I lied. I thought it might be easier if you doubted him. And I gave you a year to find a way for the circus to continue without you. You have not. I am stepping in.”
“You think being imprisoned marvelous?”
“It’s a matter of perspective. They have each other. They are confined within a space that is remarkable, one that can, and will, grow and change around them.”