Rolland, Romain

views updated May 17 2018


ROLLAND, ROMAIN (1866–1944), French novelist and dramatist.

Romain Rolland was born in Clamecy (Nièvre), France. His life spanned two centuries and he played a notable part in the history of his time, involving himself frequently in public debate.

Rolland's family left Clamecy in 1880 so that he could study in Paris. There he attended Lycée Saint-Louis (1880–1882) and Lycée Louis-le-Grand (1882–1886) and went on to earn his bachelor of arts degree and pass the agrégation in history at the École Normale Supérieure (1886–1889). He attended the École Française in Rome (1889–1891) and obtained his doctorate from Paris University in 1895, where he wrote a thesis on Les Origines du théâtre lyrique moderne (The origins of modern lyric theater).

Although resigned to a life of teaching, Rolland was always determined to write. His hope was that his work would express his vision of the world as summed up as early as 1888 in the declaration of faith, or "Credo quia verum": arising from nothingness, he asserted, Man partook of Being, of which he was but a fragment; his earthly life was merely a dream and true life lay elsewhere—beyond death. But how were these two realities to be reconciled?

As a professor at the École Normale, and later (1903–1910) at the Sorbonne, Rolland hewed fast to his literary ambitions, even as he taught the history of music. He began as a playwright, choosing subjects from the classical world (Empedocles, Niobe, Caligula) or writing what he called "tragedies of faith" (The Siege of Mantua, SaintLouis, Jeanne de Piennes). None of these plays were produced.

Repelled by the literary and political atmosphere of the times, which he considered to be decadent, disillusioned, and in search of a faith, Rolland was drawn to socialism, which he felt held out the promise of renewal. He anticipated an era of revolutions but feared the violence that these upheavals were liable to precipitate. In 1897 he began a play on this subject, Les Vaincus (The defeated), which was never completed but which summed up his eternal dilemma: he was attracted by the heroic faith of revolutionaries, yet he could not embrace their violence. His enthusiasm nevertheless led him to write a cycle of plays highlighting the great moments of the French Revolution: Les Loups (1898; The wolves), Le Triomphe de la Raison (1899; The triumph of reason), Danton (1900), Le Quatorze juillet (1902; The fourteenth of July), and Le Temps viendra (1903; The Time will come).

Impressed by the productions of Maurice Pottecher's théâtre du Peuple (People's Theater) in Bussang (Vosges), Rolland lent his energies to this attempt to create a theater that would serve as a "tool of social struggle." But these efforts came to naught, and after setting forth his thoughts on this experience in Le théâtre du Peuple (1903), Rolland abandoned drama at least temporarily and turned his full attention to a project that he had been dreaming about for years: a novel for which he had already amassed copious notes.

It was Charles Péguy who made it possible for Rolland to embark on his great roman-fleuve, Jean-Christophe, by agreeing to serialize it in the pages of his fortnightly paper, Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which had already published the revolutionary dramas and the highly successful La Vie de Beethoven (1903)—the second of Rolland's "lives of famous men" (the first being Millet, 1902).

The ten volumes of Jean-Christophe appeared between 1904 and 1912. The first installment, Dawn, opens with a birth, and the series closes with New Day—the titles underlining the theme of the cyclical nature of life, of never-ending renewal as represented in the novel by the presence of the Rhine. By calling his German hero Krafft (strength), Rolland meant him to epitomize the power of life, which, though marked by much suffering, ends, echoing Beethoven, with a hymn to joy. From this point of view, Jean-Christophe may be considered a novel of education. But the work has another dimension, too, for Rolland placed his hero squarely in the Europe of the time: although German, Krafft visits France, Switzerland, and Italy in the course of the narrative. The author was thus able to paint a portrait of his era, and indeed a politically committed portrait. Predicting, in effect, the catastrophe then in the making, which emerged as World War I, the novel denounced the evil tendencies at work in each nation and constituted a last-minute appeal for European reconciliation. The novel's form was new. This was the first great roman-fleuve, tracing the entire course of the protagonist's life. Ultimately, however, it addressed the heart rather than the intelligence of the reader, playing above all on the emotions. Rolland himself saw the work as a poem—the poem of a life, or of Life itself—rather than a novel.

During these same years, Rolland completed his series of "heroic lives" with volumes on Michaelangelo (1906) and Leo Tolstoy (1911). His musicological work was represented by articles collected in Musiciens d'autrefois (1908; Musicians of yesterday) and Musiciens d'aujourd'hui (1908; Musicians of today). A study of Handel appeared in 1910 and Voyage musical au pays du passé (Musical voyage to the country of the past) in 1919.

Rolland's literary success (he was awarded the Vie Heureuse prize in 1905 and the Grand Prix of the Académie Française in 1913) won him international renown and allowed him to live by his writing alone. After two years on leave, he resigned his teaching post in 1912 and set to work on a new novel, different both in conception and in form from Jean-Christophe. This was Colas Breugnon, published only after the war, in 1919.

The coming of war in 1914 changed everything in Europe, and Rolland's life and work likewise took a new course. From Switzerland, he returned to the political struggles informing Jean-Christophe. In Au-dessus de la mêlée (Above the battle), a collection of articles published in 1915, he condemned the war, called for the belligerents to settle their differences peacefully, and became the voice of a passionate pacifism. His influence thereafter was substantial. In the same year, he received the Nobel prize in literature.

See alsoFrance; Pacifism; Péguy, Charles.


Primary Sources

Rolland, Romain. Jean-Christophe. Paris, 1912. Reprint, Paris, 1966. The 1966 edition is definitive.

——. Colas Breugnon. 1919. Reprint, Paris, 1978.

Secondary Sources

Duchatelet, Bernard. Romain Rolland tel qu'en lui-même. Paris, 2002.

Fisher, David James. Romain Rolland and the Politics Intellectual Engagement. Berkeley, Calif., 1998.

Francis, Richard. Romain Rolland. New York, 1999.

March, Harold. Romain Rolland. New York, 1971.

Starr, William T. A Critical Bibliography of the Published Writings of Romain Rolland. Evanston, Ill., 1950.

——. Romain Rolland: One Against All: A Biography. The Hague and Paris, 1971.

Bernard Duchatelet

Romain Rolland

views updated May 14 2018

Romain Rolland

The French writer Romain Rolland (1866-1944) was the author of many works, all reflecting the conscience of a great humanist.

Romain Rolland was born on Jan. 29, 1866, in Clamecy (Burgundy). His family moved to Paris in 1880, where he graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in 1889 in history. During these years, disillusioned by the decadence of French society, having lost faith in Catholicism, but still looking for ideals, he turned toward the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza. In 1889 he arrived in Rome, where he discovered the Italian Renaissance and met Malvida von Meysenburg, who introduced him to the heroes of revolution and German romanticism; these various influences appear for the first time in his two unpublished dramas—Empedocle and Orsino.

Rolland returned to Paris in 1891, where he slowly turned toward the incipient socialism. In 1898, involved in the polemic aroused by the Dreyfus Affair, he wrote Les Loups (The Wolves), a play that transposed the case to 1793 and attempted to present objectively the arguments of both sides. The success of Les Loups encouraged him to write a whole cycle of plays on the French Revolution, whose spirit, he thought, must be carried into the future; among them were Danton (1900) and Le Quatorze Juillet (1902; The Fourteenth of July). Believing in the revolutionary role of culture, he wrote a series of essays in Le Théâtre du peuple (1903; The People's Theater).

In 1904 Rolland taught at the Sorbonne, inaugurating a course on the history of music. From 1904 to 1912 he wrote Jean-Christophe, a novel which shows the confrontation between an artist and a decadent society. Built like a symphony, Jean-Christophe is an affirmation of the German musical genius. Colas Breugnon (1914) is, on the contrary, a novel whose humor reminds one of François Rabelais. Meanwhile Rolland produced a series of biographies: Beethoven (1903), Michel-Ange (1906), and Tolstoi (1911).

Rolland spent the war years in Switzerland. He accused both France and Germany in a series of essays, Au dessus de la melée (Above the Battle). After the fall of Europe, only the Russian Revolution gave him some hope for the future. Opposing violence, he did not, however, join the Communist party. Throughout the 1920s he called for the unity of all truth-searching minds, regardless of political opinion, in Déclaration d'indépendance de l'esprit (1919; Declaration of the Independence of the Mind). His belief in nonviolence made him praise the Gandhian idea of revolution through his several books on Hindu thought.

Rolland meanwhile came back to his plays on the French Revolution; the last one was Robespierre (1939). In 1933 he published another novel, L'Â me enchantée (The Enchanted Soul), dealing with the problem of political action. Moved perhaps by the mounting fascism, he adhered more closely to communism; several essays show this evolution, in particular, Quinze ans de combat (Fifteen Years of Struggle).

In 1938 Rolland settled in Vézelay, where he composed his Mémoires and Le Voyage intérieur (Journey inside Himself), his spiritual autobiography. He died on Dec. 30, 1944.

Further Reading

Stefan Zweig, Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work, translated by Eden and Cedar Paul (1921), is one of the best studies but necessarily incomplete. William T. Starr, the specialist on Rolland who published the detailed and very useful A Critical Bibliography of the Published Writings of Romain Rolland (1950), also wrote Romain Rolland: One against All—A Biography (1971), based on Rolland's works, letters, notes, and diary.

Additional Sources

Kastinger Riley, Helene M., Romain Rolland, Berlin: Colloquium-Verlag, 1979. □

Rolland, Romain

views updated May 17 2018

Rolland, Romain

Rolland, Romain , famous French author and musicologist; b. Clamecy, Nièvre, Jan. 29, 1866; d. Vézelay, Yonne, Dec. 30, 1944. He was educated in Paris at the école Normale Supérieure (1886–89), the école de Rome (1889–91), and the Sorbonne (doctorat es lettres, 1895, with the diss. Les Origines du théâtre lyrique moderne: L’Histoire de l’opéra en Europe avant Lully et Scarlatti; publ. in Paris, 1895; 4th ed., 1936). He then was a prof. of music history at the école Normale Supérieure until becoming the first prof. of music history at the Sorbonne (1903); was also director of the école des Hautes Sociales (1903–09). In 1900 he organized the first international congress for the history of music in Paris, and read a paper on Les Musiciens italiens en France sous Mazarin et “l’Orfeo” de Luigi Rossi (publ. 1901); with J. Combarieu, he ed. the transactions and the papers read as Documents, mémoires et voeux (1901). In 1901 he founded, with J. Combarieu (ed.), P. Aubry, M. Emmanuel, L. Laloy, and himself as principal contributors, the fortnightly Revue d’Histoire et Critique Musicales. From 1913 he resided in Switzerland, but in 1938 returned to France and took up his residence at Vézelay.

Rolland’s Writings exhibit sound scholarship, broad sympathy, keen analytical power, well-balanced judgment, and intimate acquaintance with the musical milieu of his time. The book by which he is most widely known is Jean-Christophe, a musical novel remarkable for its blending of historical accuracy, psychological and aesthetic speculation, subtle psychological analysis, and romantic interest; it won him the Nobel Prize in literature (1915). The first vol. was publ. in 1905, the last (10th) in 1912 (Eng. tr., N.Y., 1910–13). Rolland’s other works include Paris als Musikstadt (1904; in Strauss’s series Die Musik; rewritten and publ. in French as Le Renouveau in Musiciens d’aujourd’hui); Beethoven (Paris, 1903; 3rd ed., 1927, as La Vie de Beethoven; Eng. tr., 1969); La Vie de Haendel (Paris, 1906; 2nd ed., 1910; Eng. tr., 1916; rev. and enl. by F. Raugel, 1974); Voyage musical au pays du passé (1920; Eng. tr., 1922); Beethoven: Les Grandes époques créatrices (4 vols., Paris, 1928–45; Eng. tr., 1964); Goethe et Beethoven (1930; Eng. tr., 1931); Beethoven: Le Chant de la Résurrection (1937; on the Missa solemnis and the last Sonatas); essays in various journals he collected and publ. in 2 vols, as Musiciens d’autrefois (1908; 6th ed., 1919; Eng. tr., 1915) and Musiciens d’aujourd’hui (1908; 8th ed., 1947; Eng. tr., 1914); D. Ewen, ed., Essays on Music (a selection from some of the above books; N.Y., 1948).


P. Seippel, R. R.: L’Homme et l’oeuvre (Paris, 1913); S. Zweig, R. R.: Der Mann und das Werk (Frankfurt am Main, 1921; Eng. tr., N.Y., 1921); J. Bonnerot, R. R., Sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris, 1921); E. Leren, R. R. und die Erneuerung der Gesinnung (Munich, 1926); M. Lob, Un Grand Bourguignon, R. R. (Auxerre, 1927); C. Sénéchal, R. R. (Paris, 1933); M. Doisy, R. R. (Brussels, 1945); R. Argos, R. R. (Paris, 1950); W. Starr, A Critical Bibliography of the Published WRITINGS of R. R. (Evanston, 111., 1950); J. Robichez, R. R. (Paris, 1961); E. Bondeville, R. R. à la recherche de l’homme dans la création artistique (Paris, 1966).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Rolland, Romain

views updated May 21 2018

Rolland, Romain (b Clamecy, 1866; d Vézelay, 1944). Fr. writer and musicologist. Prof. of mus. hist., Sorbonne, 1903–13. Lived in Switzerland 1913–39. Author of books on Beethoven and Handel. His huge novel, Jean-Christophe (1904–12), concerns the life of a composer and won him the Nobel Prize for literature. Friend of R. Strauss (their interesting correspondence has been pubd.).