Romain Edmé Paul-Émile Rolland (raw-lahn), Nobel Prize-winning novelist, biographer, and playwright, is known primarily as the author of Jean-Christophe, the ten-volume story of a German musician living in France—symbolic of a union of European culture. Rolland was born on January 29, 1866, in Clamecy, France, the son of a notary. His mother was religious and a lover of music. As a boy, Rolland experienced poor health, but he amused himself with music and reading, becoming an admirer of William Shakespeare.
He attended the college in Clamecy until he was fourteen and then continued his education at the schools St. Louis and Louis-le-grand in Paris. In 1886 he entered the École Normale Supérieure, at that time distinguished by its faculty and its scientists in residence, among them Louis Pasteur. Rolland specialized in history with Gabriel Monod. During that period he began to make the acquaintance of distinguished writers and critics, including Ernest Renan, one of the most eminent of French historians, and Leo Tolstoy. Rolland wrote to Tolstoy because he was depressed by the materialistic life around him and wanted to discuss the matter. He was also interested in Tolstoy’s aesthetic theories.
In 1889 Rolland received his bachelor’s degree and went on to the École Française d’Archeologie et d’Histoire in Rome, where he studied history and archaeology. During the next two years he studied, traveled in Italy and Sicily, and formed a close friendship with the aging author Malvida von Meysenburg.
Rolland then returned to Paris and married Marie Bréal, daughter of Michel Bréal, the philologist. Rolland’s doctorate was granted in 1895; his thesis was on the origins of European opera. His first published drama, succeeding a considerable number of unpublished dramas on the Italian Renaissance period, was Saint Louis. While teaching at the École...
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