Mircea Eliade Essay - Critical Essays

Eliade, Mircea


Eliade, Mircea 1907–

Known primarily as an eminent historian of religions, Eliade was born in Rumania but now lives in the United States. In addition to numerous books and treatises on religious history, philosophy, yoga, and mysticism, he has written several well-respected novels of ideas. According to Claude Mauriac, Eliade is torn between fantasy and scholarship; however, a concern with contours of time and space and the effect of myth on each unifies his scholarly and creative writings. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68, rev. ed.)

Vintila Horia

Mircea Eliade's novel Forêt Interdite [The Forbidden Forest], whose mythic signification is evident,… belongs to the current inspired by the depth psychology of Jung. Eliade's book can be defined as the meditation of a man upon the thousand-year history of his people, with all the risks and calamities that this implies. (p. 390)

I find it logical to relate [his] "prohibited forest," the symbol of a definitive realization in the beyond, in what Eliade himself called in another novel "the celestial marriage," to the Jungian "Mandala." If in effect we conceive the human drama, in general, as the search for equilibrium, according to a process of individualization, it is evident that "to dream in the forest" means that one has arrived at interior equilibrium, at a final phase in a process of psychological healing. And healing here means salvation, in the most spiritual sense possible. "Santé" and "salut," in French, imply the same finality. And it seems important to me to indicate, at the end of these notes concerning Eliade's novel, that the "prohibited forest," the collective myth of Romanian history, the image of a general salvation …, represents here a perfect psychic ideal, the visible form of a goal reached in the inner self of the two personages in the novel.

These aspects of Eliade's novel place it in a privileged position with respect to the writing of contemporary novels because it has been worked out according to a plan of the visible-invisible, historical, psychological, and metaphysical which few novelists have yet been able to achieve. There is in it a germ of the human totality which rejects and annihilates any partiality or partisanship, signs of the contemporary mediocrity of those who cannot maintain the complex and honest mentality of a philosopher of religions. From this point of view, and because he is who he is, Mircea Eliade is a novelist of the future. (pp. 394-95)

Vintila Horia, "The Forest As Mandala: Notes Concerning a Novel by Mircea Eliade," in Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H. Long (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1969 by The University of Chicago), University of Chicago Press, 1969, pp. 387-95.

George Uscatescu

[The] literary work of Mircea Eliade presents itself to us open to a global understanding, through the well-armed and lucid critical spirit of its author. We misjudge the creative personality of this Romanian author if we place the accent exclusively on his vast and solid scientific work. The fundamental elements of his complex subject in the field of scholarship, the search for and comprehension of homo religiosus, are present in his literary creation: Mythos, Eros, Thanatos, and Logos are the fundamental resolutions of his literary themes. They are themes which are parallel to Eliade's scientific investigations as a historian of religions; the predominant accent, however, is never philosophical or erudite, but rather literary and artistic. His literary creativity goes pari passu with his scientific erudition, and both, in a certain way, reflect the preoccupation of those moments which correspond to the grasping of reality. It is not necessary to seek in one of the forms the means for completing the other; rather, the search should be for a modality which expresses in another way the spiritual disquiet of the author in search of an expressive, creative plenitude.

For that reason we believe that Eliade's literary work … offers some profiles of the whole, independently including the themes that are common to the themes of his work as philosopher and essayist and leaving us free from any dogmatic and theoretical freight in an aesthetic experience with its own dignity and economy.

It is important that it should be thus since the extent of Eliade's literary productivity is noteworthy. The first long novels, Isabel și Apele Diavolului (1930) and Maitreyi (1933), draw their inspiration from Indian themes of a strong erotic character and reveal in the hands of a new author both a solid technique and understanding which assures significant success to the works. His novelistic creativity continues with Intoarcerea din Rai (1934), Huliganii (1935), Domnișoara Christina (1936), Sarpele (1937), Nuntǎ în Cer (1939), and Secretul Doctorului Honigberger (1940) [The Secret of Dr. Honigberger]. Contemporaneously with these appears his first scientific work, concerning mythic and religious elements, which, together with his literary work, constitutes an ample fresco of a reality that ideally combines the imaginative with the social and truly historical. In his lucid, penetrating, and intelligent spirit, myth and destiny occupy an important place. Both can be followed and interpreted from the basis of a methodology centered in a "coincidentia oppositorum" which will culminate in the field of literature, years later, in the great novel Forêt Interdite (1955) and the volume of short stories, Nuvele (1963), which are enormously suggestive for the study of the aesthetic economy of Eliade's literary creativity.

His studious tenacity regarding the reality, so actual and passionate, of myths in contemporary sensibility is dominated by another problem which is not precisely that of myth. It is the problem of time, which, in the most significant part of his literary work, he takes delight in presenting as a novelesque theme. In this he follows a particular tradition of Romanian spirituality whose supreme personification is the poet Mihail Eminescu. (pp. 398-99)

In Eliade this problem acquires forms of "pathos," and his work thus offers us motifs for reflections of great significance. Time is drama, a dominating drama which extends like an ample veil of melancholy upon the destiny of the characters. In this sense Eliade is a spirit perfectly identified with the sensibility of his age. Although tension has always existed between spirit and the objective reality of the surrounding world, very seldom before our time has man felt with greater dramatic intensity the weight of time upon his destiny. Our age is characterized by the disjunction of beliefs, the hopeless crisis of desires, and the absence of possibilities for completeness—in a word, by the typical state of spiritual crisis. (p. 400)

We encounter precisely this central problem in Eliade's great novel Forêt Interdite…. Eliade's great novel appears after fifteen years of epic silence. Some of the themes from his novels of the thirties return, but the technique, thematic extent, inspiration, poetic elements, and above all the atmosphere, offer appreciable novelties. It is...

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I think it will be evident to any attentive reader [of Tales of the Occult] that I wanted to relate some yogic techniques, and particularly yogic folklore, to a series of events narrated in the literary genre of a mystery story. In both novelettes ["The Secret of Dr. Honigberger" and "Nights at Serampore"] a number of important personages are real. (p. ix)

However, throughout these two tales I have carefully introduced a number of imaginary details, in order to awaken in any cautious reader suspicion concerning the authenticity of the yogic "secrets." For instance, at a certain moment the life of Dr. Honigberger is radically mythologized…. Likewise, the region around Serampore is described in such a way as to reveal its status as a mythical geography. The same observation is pertinent with regard to certain of the yogic techniques depicted: some descriptions correspond to real experiences, but others reflect more directly yogic folklore. As a matter of fact, this mélange of reality and fiction is admirably suited to the writer's central conception of "camouflage" as a dialectical moment…. But in these two stories "camouflage" is used in a paradoxical manner, for the reader has no means to decide whether the "reality" is hidden in "fiction," or the other way around, because both processes are intermingled. (pp. ix-x)

I knowingly utilized a number of clichés, for my ambition was to follow as closely...

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Charles S. J. White

One feels confident that additional translations … of Eliade's literary oeuvre will be recognized as imperative in the English speaking world for understanding the relationship between the scientific and artistic motivations of the man who has in a special way reopened access for modern sensibility to the mythic and the religious. (p. 717)

As [examples of the genre littérature fantastique], they are excellent stories, affording moments of delicious horripilation. Particularly, "The Secret of Dr. Honigberger" builds to a climax in which plot, mood and time are handled with perfect command. At the end we are cast into doubt as to the true nature of the experience of the narrator....

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Marguerite Dorian

Auf der Mântuleasa-Strasse is a genuine "fantastic story" in the best hair-raising tradition; but the incredible, the bizarre, is firmly supported here by the ingenious frame of acute actuality: the reality of terror—that ingredient of our times—the reality of the human being under lock and key in a police state….

Is Auf der Mântuleasa-Strasse a satire of the police state? A roman à clef? In the brutality of the inquisitors, contrasting to the hallucinatory beauty of that old human obsession, is there a fable of man annihilated by his fellow man? Or is the hero only a seedy old teacher caught in the clutches of a savage machinery? The story does not want to answer directly but...

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Nicholas Catanoy

Delusional thought processes leading to bizarre conduct and scenes of pathological suspicion are described with Voltairean irony [in Die Pelerine (The Cape)]. There are plenty of conversational acids, and the author prodigally provides for the reader's delectation absurd dialogues that call to mind Samarakis's The Flaw. The accent is on suspense rather than violence and shows Eliade's technique at its most wizardly. His writing is fast, intelligent and wryly funny. He has earlier proved his mastery of the craft of creating a suspense-laden plot that offers wider perspectives than one generally finds in a political thriller. Die Pelerine is a shocker. (p. 431)


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E. S. Turner

[No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969] is packed with the jottings of an overflowing mind: dreams too good to lose; insights to be refined later; sad thoughts on the degeneracy of orientalists….

The journal can be hard going. As a travelogue it disappoints, but as a record of the cerebral life in the early jet age it has its niche. We leave the professor grappling with Chicago hippies, persuading himself that the uninhibited sexuality they praise is 'part of the (unconscious) process of the rediscovery of the sacredness of life.' By now he may know whether he was right.

E. S. Turner, "Vagaries" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1978; reprinted by permission...

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Nicholas Catanoy

Obviously there is far too much material [in Die drei Grazien (The Three Graces)] for a conventional story. As was the case in most of his other stories or novels …, Eliade offers very little romanesque plotting. But as always, the real subject of his writing is the flow of his scientific erudition. Die drei Grazien is so deeply plunged in thought that, despite attractive characters and immaculately executed scenes, it all often seems less like a story than one of the author's admirable essays.

Nicholas Catanoy, "Romanian: 'Die drei Grazien'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 4, Autumn,...

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Nicholas Catanoy

In Der Hundertjährige (The Centogenarian), which deals with the problem of rejuvenation and also offers a final speculation on the Übermensch, Mircea Eliade … again balances technical expertise with mythological thinking. Unlike his other tales, centrifuges of virtuosity, Der Hundertjährige is tightly structured, with a beginning, a middle and a sudden, inevitable end. His new character Dominic has less definition but more bulk. Eliade pursues his doddering prey with tiny twists of plot, through the use of Irish legends and Etruscan myths. All have been dragged entertainingly into the book. Ultimately, though, Eliade's work is a tale of ideas: sacred and profane, political and religious. It is a...

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