Romain Rolland Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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 His first published drama, succeeding a considerable number of unpublished dramas on the Italian Renaissance period, was Saint Louis.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...

(The entire section is 785 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Romain Rolland was born Romain Edmé Paul-Émile Rolland in Clamecy (Nièvre), France, on January 29, 1866. His father, Émile, a fourth-generation notary, and his deeply religious and musically talented mother, Antoinette-Marie (née Courot), were financially secure and respected in the Burgundian borderland in which their families had lived since before the Revolution. One of his lasting early memories was the death of his younger sister, Madeleine, while the family was vacationing at Arcachon, near Bordeaux. The experience left the then five-year-old Rolland with a fear of death and a preoccupation with respiratory ailments. In later life, he included in his works images of suffocation, such as in the opening passages of Beethoven, and the frailty of his health, with which he struggled to the end of his life, contained a strong neurotic element.

To facilitate Rolland’s schooling, the family moved to Paris in the fall of 1880. The impression he gained of the city, described in his Mémoires et fragments du journal (1956), is that of an unwholesome, immoral, feverish, sickening, godless abyss, breathing death and decay. The coarseness of literature, vice on the streets, and the sexual brutality expressed by the young imbued him with a belief that this decadence foreshadowed the death of Western civilization, a theme that dominates the fifth (La Foire sur la place) and tenth (La Nouvelle Journée) volumes of his novel Jean-Christophe. After his years at the lycée, where he became friends with Paul Claudel and André Suarès, he studied art and music at the École Normale Supérieure from 1886 to 1889. The following two years he spent in Rome on an appointment to the École Française. While studying feverishly, he also fell passionately in love with a young woman, Sofia Guerrieri-Gonzaga; found a friend and confidant in the aged German writer Malvida von Meysenbug, who had enjoyed the friendship of Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner; and wrote his first plays: “Empédocle” (1890), which remained a fragment, and “Orsino” (1890), which was finished but not published. The two years in Rome were to be among the happiest of his life.

After his return to Paris, Rolland married Clotilde Bréal, daughter of a philology professor, on October 31, 1892. This marriage lasted until May, 1901. During the years from 1892 to 1900, he wrote numerous plays that met with minimal success. Among them are Les Baglioni and Niobé (both written in 1892), Caligula (wr. 1893), Le Siège de Mantoue (wr. 1894), and Savonarole and Jeanne de Pienne (both written in 1896). His first published play was Saint Louis (pb. 1897), and on May 3 and May 18, 1898, respectively, his Aërt and The Wolves were staged. In...

(The entire section is 1163 words.)