Romain Rolland

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Romain Rolland Nobel prize medal.svg
Romain Rolland (portrait).png
Born: January 29 1866(1866-01-29)
Clamecy, Nièvre
Died: 30 December 1944 (aged 78)
Vézelay
Occupation(s): novelist
Nationality: French
Writing period: 1902–1944
Influences: Goethe, Leo Tolstoy
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Romain Rolland (January 29, 1866 – December 30, 1944) was a French writer and dramatist, best known as the author of the novel series Jean-Christophe (1904-1912).

His first book was published in 1902, when he was already 36 years old. Thirteen years later, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915 "as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings."

His mind sculpted by a passion for music and discursive admiration for exceptional men, he sought a means of communion among men for his entire life. Through his advocacy for a 'people's theater', he made a significant contribution towards the democratization of the theater. Because of his insistence upon justice and his humanist ideal, he looked for peace during and after the First World War in the works of the philosophers of India ("Conversations with Rabindranath Tagore," and Mohandas Gandhi), then in the new world that the Soviet Union had built. But he would not find peace except in writing his works. Romain Rolland was strongly influenced by the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, and authored several books (see bibliography below) on the subject.

Contents

Life

Rolland was born in Clamecy, Nièvre to a family of notaries; he had both peasants and wealthy townspeople in his lineage. Writing introspectively in his Voyage intérieur (1942), he sees himself as a representative of an "antique species." He would cast these ancestors in a truculent bawdy tale Colas Breugnon (1919).

Accepted to the École normale supérieure in 1886, he first studied philosophy, but his independence of spirit led him to abandon that so as not to submit to the dominant ideology. He received his degree in history in 1889 and spent two years in Rome, where his encounter with Malwida von Meysenburg—who had been a friend of Nietzsche and of Wagner—and his discovery of Italian masterpieces were decisive for the development of his thought. When he returned to France in 1895, he received his doctoral degree with his thesis The origins of modern lyric theater and his doctoral dissertation, A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti.

Towards a people's theater

Rolland's most significant contribution to the theater lies in his advocacy for a 'popular theater' in his essay Le Théâtre du peuple (1903).[1] "There is only one necessary condition for the emergence of a new theater," he wrote, "that the stage and auditorium should be open to the masses, should be able to contain a people and the actions of a people."[2] The book was not published until 1913, but most of its contents had appeared in the Revue d'Art Dramatique between 1900 and 1903. Rolland attempted to put his theory into practice with his melodramatic dramas Danton (1900) and Le 14 juillet (1902), but it was his ideas that formed a major reference point for subsequent practitioners.[3]

"The people have been gradually conquered by the bourgeois class, penetrated by their thoughts and now want only to resemble them. If you long for a people's art, begin by creating a people!"
Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du peuple (1903).[4]

The essay is part of a more general movement around the turn of that century towards the democratization of the theater. The Revue had held a competition and tried to organize a "World Congress on People's Theater," and a number of People's Theaters had opened across Europe, including the Freie Volksbühne movement ('Free People's Theatre') in Germany and Maurice Pottecher's Théâtre du Peuple in France. Rolland was a disciple of Pottecher and dedicated Le Théâtre du peuple to him.

Rolland's approach is more aggressive, though, than Pottecher's poetic vision of theater as a substitute 'social religion' bringing unity to the nation. Rolland indicts the bourgeoisie for its appropriation of the theater, causing it to slide into decadence, and the deleterious effects of its ideological dominance. In proposing a suitable repertoire for his people's theater, Rolland rejects classical drama in the belief that it is either too difficult or too static to be of interest to the masses. Drawing on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he proposes instead "an epic historical theater of 'joy, force and intelligence' which will remind the people of its revolutionary heritage and revitalize the forces working for a new society."[5] Rolland believed that the people would be improved by seeing heroic images of their past. Rousseau's influence may be detected in Rolland's conception of theater-as-festivity, an emphasis that reveals a fundamental anti-theatrical prejudice: "Theatre supposes lives that are poor and agitated, a people searching in dreams for a refuge from thought. If we were happier and freer we should not feel hungry for theatre. […] A people that is happy and free has need of festivities more than of theatres; it will always see in itself the finest spectacle."[6]

A teacher, a pacifist, and a loner

Rolland with Gandhi in Switzerland, 1931. The two were friends and regular correspondents.

Rolland became a history teacher at Lycée Henri IV, then at the Lycée Louis le Grand, and member of the École française de Rome, then a professor of the History of Music at the Sorbonne, and History Professor at the École Normale Supérieure.

A demanding, yet timid, young man, he did not like teaching. Not that he was indifferent to the youth—Jean-Christophe, Olivier and their friends, the heroes of his novels are young people—Rolland was distant in his relationships with living people, youths and adults alike. He was above all a writer. Assured that literature would provide him with a modest income, he resigned from the university in 1912.

Romain Rolland was a lifelong pacifist. He protested against the First World War in Au-dessus de la Mêlée (1915), Above the Battle (Chicago, 1916). In 1924, his book on Gandhi contributed to the Indian nonviolent leader's reputation and the two men met in 1931.

In 1928 Rolland and Hungarian scholar, philosopher and natural living experimenter Edmund Bordeaux Szekely founded the International Biogenic Society to promote and expand on their ideas of the integration of mind, body and spirit and the virtues of a natural, simple, vegetarian lifestyle.

He moved to Villeneuve, on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to devote himself to writing. His life was interrupted by health problems, and by travels to art exhibitions. His voyage to Moscow (1935), on the invitation of Maxim Gorky, was an opportunity to meet Joseph Stalin, whom he considered the greatest man of his time. Rolland served unofficially as ambassador of French artists to the Soviet Union.

In 1937, he came back to live in Vézelay, which, in 1940, was occupied by the Germans. During the occupation, he isolated himself in complete solitude.

Never stopping his work, in 1940, he finished his memoirs. He also placed the finishing touches on his musical research on the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. Shortly before his death, he wrote Péguy (1944), in which he examines religion and socialism through the context of his memories. He died December 30, 1944 in Vézelay.

Legacy

Rolland and Freud

From 1923, a dialogue was struck up between the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Rolland, who found that the admiration that he showed for Freud was reciprocated (Freud proclaiming in a letter to him: "That I have been allowed to exchange a greeting with you will remain a happy memory to the end of my days." [7] Of most importance from this dialogue was the introduction to Freud of the concept of the "oceanic feeling," a concept that Rolland had developed through his study of Eastern mysticism. This led Freud to open his next book Civilization and its Discontents (1929) with a debate on the nature of such a feeling, which he mentioned had been noted to him by an anonymous "friend." Rolland would remain a major influence on Freud's work, continuing their dialogue right up until Freud's death in 1939. [8]

Quotations

If there is one place on the face of the earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India …. For more than 30 centuries, the tree of vision, with all its thousand branches and their millions of twigs, has sprung from this torrid land, the burning womb of the Gods. It renews itself tirelessly showing no signs of decay." [1], Life of Ramakrishna

The true Vedantic spirit does not start out with a system of preconceived ideas. It possesses absolute liberty and unrivalled courage among religions with regard to the facts to be observed and the diverse hypotheses it has laid down for their coordination. Never having been hampered by a priestly order, each man has been entirely free to search wherever he pleased for the spiritual explanation of the spectacle of the universe." [2], Life of Vivekananda.

Bibliography

 Romain Rolland Bibliography
Year Work Notes
1888 Amour d'enfants  
1891 Les Baglioni Unpublished during his lifetime.
1891 Empédocle
(Empedocles)
Unpublished during his lifetime.
1891 Orsino Unpublished during his lifetime.
1892 Le Dernier Procès de Louis Berquin
(The Last Trial of Louis Berquin)
 
1895 Les Origines du théâtre lyrique moderne
(The origins of modern lyric theatre)
Academic treatise, which won a prize from the Académie Française
1895 Histoire de l'opéra avant Lully et Scarlatti
(A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti)
Dissertation for his doctorate in Letters
1895 Cur ars picturae apud Italos XVI saeculi deciderit Latin-language thesis on the decline in Italian oil painting in the course of the sixteenth century
1897 Saint-Louis  
1897 Aërt Historical/philosophical drama
1898 Les Loups
(The Wolves)
Historical/philosophical drama
1899 Le Triomphe de la raison
(The Triumph of Reason)
Historical/philosophical drama
1899 Georges Danton Historical/philosophical drama
1900 Le Poison idéaliste  
1901 Les Fêtes de Beethoven à Mayence  
1902 Le Quatorze Juillet
(July 14 – Bastille Day)
Historical/philosophical drama
1902 François-Millet  
1903 Vie de Beethoven
(Life of Beethoven)
Biography
1903 Le temps viendra  
1903 Le Théâtre du peuple
(People's Theater)
Seminal essay in the democratization of theatre.
1904 La Montespan Historical/philosophical drama
1904 - 1912 Jean-Christophe Cycle of ten volumes divided into three series – Jean-Christophe, Jean-Christophe à Paris, and la Fin du voyage, published by Cahiers de la Quinzaine
1904 L'Aube First volume of the series Jean-Christophe
1904 Le Matin
(Morning)
Second volume of the series Jean-Christophe
1904 L'Adolescent
(The Adolescent)
Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe
1905 La Révolte
(The Revolt)
Fourth volume of the series Jean-Christophe
1907 Vie de Michel-Ange
(Life of Michelangelo)
Biography
1908 Musiciens d'aujourd'hui
(Contemporary Musicians)
Collection of articles and essays about music
1908 Musiciens d'autrefois
(Musicians of the Past)
Collection of articles and essays about music
1908 La Foire sur la place First volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris
1908 Antoinette Second volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris
1908 Dans la maison
(At Home)
Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris
1910 Haendel  
1910 Les Amies
(Friends)
First volume of the series la Fin du voyage
1911 La Vie de Tolstoï
(Life of Tolstoy)
Biography
1911 Le Buisson ardent Second volume of the series la Fin du voyage
1912 La Nouvelle Journée Third volume of the series la Fin du voyage
1912 L'Humble Vie héroïque
(The Humble Life of the Hero)
 
1915 Au-dessus de la mêlée
(Above the Battle)
Pacifist manifesto
1915   Received the Nobel Prize in Literature
1917 Salut à la révolution russe
(Salute to the Russian Revolution)
 
1918 Pour l'internationale de l'Esprit
(For the International of the Spirit)
 
1918 L'Âge de la haine
(The Age of Hatred)
 
1919 Colas Breugnon Burgundian story
1919 Les Précurseurs
(The Precursors)
 
1920   Founded the review Europe
1920 Clérambault  
1920 Pierre et Luce  
1921 Pages choisies
(Selected Pages)
 
1921 La Révolte des machines
(The Revolt of the Machines)
 
1922-1933 L'Âme enchantée
(The Enchanted Soul)
Seven volumes
1922 Annette et Sylvie First volume of l'Âme enchantée
1922 Les Vaincus  
1924 L'Été
(Summer)
Second volume of l'Âme enchantée
1924 Mahatma Gandhi  
1925 Le Jeu de l'amour et de la mort
(The Game of Love and Death)
 
1926 Pâques fleuries  
1927 Mère et fils
(Mother and Child)
Third volume of l'Âme enchantée
1928 Léonides  
1928 De l'Héroïque à l'Appassionata
(From the Heroic to the Passionate)
 
1929 Essai sur la mystique de l'action
(A study of the Mystique of Action)
 
1929 L'Inde vivante
(Living India)
Essays
1929 Vie de Ramakrishna
(Life of Ramakrishna)
Essays
1930 Vie de Vivekananda
(Life of Vivekananda)
Essays
1930 L'Évangile universel Essays
1930 Goethe et Beethoven Essay
1933 L'Annonciatrice  
1935 Quinze Ans de combat  
1936 Compagnons de route  
1937 Le Chant de la Résurrection
(Song of the Resurrection)
 
1938 Les Pages immortelles de Rousseau
(The Immortal Pages of Rousseau)
 
1939 Robespierre Historical/philosophical drama
1942 Le Voyage intérieur
(The Interior Voyage)
 
1943 La Cathédrale interrompue
(The Interrupted Cathedral)
Volumes I and II
1945 Péguy Posthumous publication
1945 La Cathédrale interrompue Volume III, posthumous


Notes

  1. David Bradby, "Rolland, Romain." In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Ed. Martin Banham. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 930
  2. Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du peuple (Paris: Albin Michel), 121. Quoted by David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa ; NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978), 16.
  3. Bradby, (1998), 930
  4. David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978), 32.
  5. Bradby and McCormick, 32
  6. Bradby and McCormick, 32-33
  7. William B. Parsons The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism Retrieved December 21, 2007.
  8. William B. Parsons The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism Retrieved December 21, 2007.

References

  • Bradby, David, "Rolland, Romain." The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Ed. Martin Banham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0521434378.
  • Bradby, David and John McCormick, People's Theatre. London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978. ISBN 0847660737.
  • March, Harold. Romain Rolland. New York, Twayne Publishers, 1971. OCLC 150159

External links

All links Retrieved December 21, 2007.

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