Rolland, Romain Edmé Paul-émile (1866-1944)

views updated


The French author Romain Edmé PaulÉmile Rolland was born on January 26, 1866, in Clamecy, a small town in Burgundy, and died on December 30, 1944, in the old village of Vézelay.

Freud held Rolland in high esteem for his insight into the mind of a child, and he called The Enchanted Soul "a most beautiful novel." André Malraux thought Rolland was "the last of the great French romantic novelists." Quite unlike Freud, Rolland was musical to the core and the seven volumes of his Beethoven the Creator were published between 1928 and 1943. He was awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize for literature for his novel Jean-Christophe.

A politically engaged intellectual from the time of the Dreyfus Affair at the turn of the twentieth century, Rolland aroused Freud's admiration for the anti-war stance he took in 1914 with his essay "Au-dessus de la mêlée" (Above the Battle), in which he argued for international brotherhood instead of mutual destruction. Rolland denounced Hitler as early as 1933 and condemned Jewish persecution as a "crime against humanity." Indeed, Rolland declined the Goethe Prize after the Nazis came to power. After lending critical support to the Soviet Union as a part of anti-Hiterlian strategy, Rolland's idealism moved him for a time in the direction of non-critical communist fellow-traveler. Rolland's correspondence shows his introspective side and his value as an eyewitness to history. (Duchatelet, 1976).

Aware of trends in German culture, Rolland read Freud as early as 1909. The two men would exchange about twenty letters from 1923 to 1936; Freud's first communication was written the same week he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw. Rolland visited Freud only once, on May 14, 1924.

The highly idealized intellectual and emotional relationship between Freud and Rolland suggests a veritable epistolary transference that served Freud as a sounding board for self-analysis during his later years, and several of his major works found their point of departure in exchanges with his "venerated" alter ego.

Despite differences of background and culture, powerful affinities joined these two romantic heroes. Freud admired the poet and "apostle of love for mankind" (Freud, 1960), while Rolland viewed Freud as a "conquistador" of the new world of the mind. In Spinoza they shared a common thread of influenceRolland, the Christian without a church, inspired by "the enlightened Spinoza" and Freud the "Jewish heretic." Both were critical of the dogmas of organized religion but differed over the role of religious feeling. Rolland reproached Freud for not having analyzed the "oceanic feeling" associated with religiosity. Rolland's pantheism led him to view mysticism, by contrast, as a path to knowledge of the human mind; this represents an element of Spinoza's intellectual heritage and contrasts with the uncompromising nineteenth-century atheism of David Friedrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, to which Freud was heir.

In the first chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents Freud located the "oceanic feeling" in the primitive, undifferentiated ego; he pursued the dialogue with Rolland by searching for the causes of civilized unhappiness, which he attributed to excessive repression of sexual and aggressive drives and to the loss of collective ideals. Close to Rolland in his critique of Nazi anti-Semitism, Freud differed with him in showing that quasi-religious idealization of communist dogma masked its underlying violence.

The Journey Within (1942), a kind of self-analysis, which Rolland began after his visit to Freud, reveals an unconscious communication with him: he wrote about mourning his two-year-old sister, Madeleine, who died when he was five. In a mirror transference, with twelve years in age between them, Freud analyzed his own childhood grief, associated with the death of his infant brother Julius, when he was about two years old, in his "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis" (1936a), addressed to Rolland on the occasion of the latter's seventieth birthday. Capping their correspondence and transference relationship, several of Freud's last writings developed themes first sketched in this final burst of self-analysis.

Henri Vermorel and Madeleine Vermorel

See also: Certainty; Civilization and its Discontents ; Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis, A ; Future of an Illusion, The ; Jouissance (Lacan); Judaism and psychoanalysis; Mysticism; Oceanic feeling; Symbiosis/symbiotic relation.


Duchatelet, B. (1976).Á propos d'une correspondance qui n'est pas encore générale. Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 76, 958-975.

Freud, Sigmund. (1927c). Future of an illusion. SE, 21.

. (1930a). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21.

. (1960). Letters. New York: Basic.

Rolland, Romain. (1959). The journey within. New York: Philosophical Library.

Vermorel, Henri, and Vermorel, Madeleine (Eds.). (1993) Sigmund Freud et Romain Rolland: Correspondance 1923-1936. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.