29 January 1866|
|Died||30 December 1944
|Occupation||Dramatist, Essayist, Art historian, Novelist|
|Notable award(s)||Nobel Prize in Literature
Romain Rolland (29 January 1866 – 30 December 1944) was a French dramatist, novelist, essayist, art historian and mystic who was awarded 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".
Rolland was born in Clamecy, Nièvre into a family that had both wealthy townspeople and farmers in its lineage. Writing introspectively in his Voyage intérieur (1942), he sees himself as a representative of an "antique species." He would cast these ancestors in 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 Meysenbug–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 theatre and his doctoral dissertation, A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti.
His first book was published in 1902, when he was 36 years old. Through his advocacy for a 'people's theatre', he made a significant contribution towards the democratization of the theatre. As a humanist, he embraced the work of the philosophers of India ("Conversations with Rabindranath Tagore" and Mohandas Gandhi). Rolland was strongly influenced by the Vedanta philosophy of India, primarily through the works of Swami Vivekananda.
A demanding, yet timid, young man, he did not like teaching. He was not indifferent to youth: Jean-Christophe, Olivier and their friends, the heroes of his novels, are young people. But with real-life persons, youths as well as adults, Rolland maintained only a distant relationship. He was first and foremost 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 he 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.
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. However, as a pacifist, he was uncomfortable with Stalin’s brutal repression of the opposition. He attempted to discuss his concerns with Stalin, and was involved in the campaign for the release of the Left Opposition activist/writer Victor Serge and wrote to Stalin begging clemency for Nikolai Bukharin. During Serge’s imprisonment (1933–1936), Rolland had agreed to handle the publications of Serge’s writings in France, despite their political disagreements.
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 on 30 December 1944 in Vézelay.
In 1921, his close friend, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, published his biography (in English Romain Rolland: The Man and His Works). Zweig profoundly admired Rolland, whom he once described as "the moral consciousness of Europe" during the years of turmoil and War in Europe. Zweig wrote at length about his friendship with Rolland in his own autobiography (in English The World of Yesterday).
Rolland's most significant contribution to the theatre lies in his advocacy for a "popular theatre" in his essay The People's Theatre (Le Théâtre du peuple, 1902). "There is only one necessary condition for the emergence of a new theatre", 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". 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 about the French Revolution, Danton (1900) and The Fourteenth of July (1902), but it was his ideas that formed a major reference point for subsequent practitioners.
|"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).|
The essay is part of a more general movement around the turn of that century towards the democratization of the theatre. The Revue had held a competition and tried to organize a "World Congress on People's Theatre", and a number of People's Theatres 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 The People's Theatre to him.
Rolland's approach is more aggressive, though, than Pottecher's poetic vision of theatre as a substitute 'social religion' bringing unity to the nation. Rolland indicts the bourgeoisie for its appropriation of the theatre, causing it to slide into decadence, and the deleterious effects of its ideological dominance. In proposing a suitable repertoire for his people's theatre, 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 theatre of 'joy, force and intelligence' which will remind the people of its revolutionary heritage and revitalize the forces working for a new society" (in the words of Bradby and McCormick, quoting Rolland). 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 theatre-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."
Rolland's dramas have been staged by some of the most influential theatre directors of the twentieth century, including Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator. Piscator directed the world première of Rolland's pacifist drama The Time Will Come (Le Temps viendra, written in 1903) at Berlin's Central-Theater, which opened on 17 November 1922 with music by K Pringsheim and scenic design by O Schmalhausen and M Meier. The play addresses the connections between imperialism and capitalism, the treatment of enemy civilians, and the use of concentration camps, all of which are dramatised via an episode in the Boer War. Piscator described his treatment of the play as "thoroughly naturalistic", whereby he sought "to achieve the greatest possible realism in acting and decor." Despite the play's overly-rhetorical style, the production was reviewed positively.
Rolland's most famous novel is the 10-volume roman-fleuve Jean-Christophe (1903–1912), which brings "together his interests and ideals in the story of a German musical genius who makes France his second home and becomes a vehicle for Rolland's views on music, social matters and understanding between nations". His other novels are Colas Breugnon (1919), Clérambault (1920), Pierre et Luce (1920) and his second roman-fleuve, the 7-volume L'âme enchantée (1922–1933).
He 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.
Correspondence with Freud
1923 saw the beginning of a correspondence between the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Rolland, who found that the admiration that he showed for Freud was reciprocated in equal measures (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."). This correspondence introduced Freud to the concept of the "oceanic feeling" that Rolland had developed through his study of Eastern mysticism. Freud opened his next book Civilization and its Discontents (1929) with a debate on the nature of this feeling, which he mentioned had been noted to him by an anonymous "friend". This friend was Rolland. Rolland would remain a major influence on Freud's work, continuing their correspondence right up to Freud's death in 1939.
- "To one whose mind is free, there is something even more intolerable in the suffering of animals than in the sufferings of humans. For with the latter, it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the person who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any person were to refer to it, they would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable crime. That alone is the justification of all that humans may suffer. It cries vengeance upon all the human race. If God exists and tolerates it, it cries vengeance upon God." Jean Christophe.
- "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." 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.",Life of Vivekananda.
- "There are some dead who are more alive than the living." "No, no! It would be more true to say that there are some who are more dead than the dead." "Maybe. In any case there are old things which are still young." "Then if they are still young we can find them for ourselves.... But I don't believe it. What has been good once never is good again." Jean Christophe.
- "All these young millionaires were anarchists, of course: when a man possesses everything it is the supreme luxury for him to deny society: for in that way he can evade his responsibilities." Jean Christophe.
|1891||Les Baglioni||Unpublished during his lifetime.|
|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|
|1899||Le Triomphe de la raison
(The Triumph of Reason)
|1899||Georges Danton||Historical/philosophical drama|
|1900||Le Poison idéaliste|
|1901||Les Fêtes de Beethoven à Mayence
(The Celebrations of Beethoven in Mainz)
|1902||Le Quatorze Juillet
(July 14–Bastille Day)
|1903||Vie de Beethoven
(Life of Beethoven)
|1903||Le temps viendra
(The Time Will Come)
|1903||Le Théâtre du peuple
(The People's Theatre)
|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|
|Second volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|Fourth volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|1907||Vie de Michel-Ange
(Life of Michelangelo)
|Collection of articles and essays about music|
(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
|Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris|
|First volume of the series la Fin du voyage|
|1911||La Vie de Tolstoï
(Life of Tolstoy)
|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|
|1911||Jean-Christophe: Dawn . Morning . Youth . Revolt||In English, first four volumes published in one. Henry Holt and Company. Translated by Gilbert Cannan|
|1911||Jean-Christophe in Paris: The Market Place . Antoinette . The House||In English, second three volumes published in one. Henry Holt and Company. Translated by Gilbert Cannan|
|1915||Jean-Christophe: Journey's End: Love and Friendship . The Burning Bush . The New Dawn||In English, final three volumes published in one. Henry Holt and Company. Translated by Gilbert Cannan|
|1912||L'Humble Vie héroïque
(The Humble Life of the Hero)
|1915||Au-dessus de la mêlée
(Above the Battle)
|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, and basis for the opera by Dmitry Kabalevsky|
|1920||—||Founded the review Europe|
|1920||Pierre et Luce|
|1921||La Révolte des machines
(The Revolt of the Machines)
(The Enchanted Soul)
|1922||Annette et Sylvie||First volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|Second volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|1925||Le Jeu de l'amour et de la mort
(The Game of Love and Death)
|1927||Mère et fils
(Mother and Child)
|Third volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|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||Vie de Ramakrishna
(Life of Ramakrishna)
|1930||Vie de Vivekananda
(Life of Vivekananda)
|1930||Goethe et Beethoven
(Goethe and Beethoven)
|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)
|1942||Le Voyage intérieur
(The Interior Voyage)
|1943||La Cathédrale interrompue
(The Interrupted Cathedral)
|Volumes I and II|
|1945||La Cathédrale interrompue||Volume III, posthumous|
- David Bradby, "Rolland, Romain". In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Ed. Martin Banham. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-521-43437-8. p.930.
- Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du peuple (Paris: Albin Michel) p.121. Quoted by David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978). ISBN 0-8476-6073-7. p.16.
- Quoted by David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978). ISBN 0-8476-6073-7. p.32.
- David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978). ISBN 0-8476-6073-7. p.32.
- Quoted by David Bradby and John McCormick, People's Theatre (London: Croom Helm and Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1978). ISBN 0-8476-6073-7. p.32-33.
- See John Willett, The Theatre of Erwin Piscator: Half a Century of Politics in the Theatre, London: Methuen, 1978 (p.15, 35, 46-7, 179). ISBN 0-413-37810-1.
- Piscator (1929, 353).
- Hugh Rorrison, in Piscator (1929, 55-56).
- Piscator (1929, 58).
- John Cruickshank, "Rolland, Romain", in Anthony Thorlby (ed.), The Penguin Companion to Literature 2: European Literature. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969, p. 661.
- William B. Parsons, The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 23, Questia, 2 Apr. 2007.
- William B. Parsons, The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 19, Questia, 2 Apr. 2007.
- The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at www.ocvhs.com
- Hinduism Today | Mar 1996 at www.hinduismtoday.com
- Romain Rolland, "Jean-Christophe: Revolt," p. 395.
- Romain Rolland, "Jean-Christophe: Revolt," p. 399.
|French literary history|
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- The Nobel Prize in Literature 1915
- Romain Rolland Nobel Prize website
- Works by Romain Rolland at Project Gutenberg
- Sven Söderman on Rolland
- Association Romain Rolland
- Romain Rolland's thoughts on Vedanta
- Works by Romain Rolland (public domain in Canada)
- Romain Rolland at the Internet Movie Database
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