Romain Rolland Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Romain Rolland (raw-LAHN) is known for his biographies, including François Millet (1902), which was published only in English; others include Beethoven (1903; English translation, 1907), Michel-Ange (1905; Michelangelo, 1915), La Vie de Michel-Ange (1906; The Life of Michelangelo, 1912), Haendel (1910; Handel, 1916), Vie de Tolstoï (1911; Tolstoy, 1911), and Mahatma Gandhi (1924; Mahatma Gandhi: The Man Who Became One with the Universal Being, 1924). Among his musicological works, Goethe et Beethoven (1927; Goethe and Beethoven, 1931) and the comprehensive work Beethoven: Les Grandes Époques créatrices (1928-1945)—part of which was translated as Beethoven the Creator (1929)—are of general interest.

The genre that Rolland embraced initially, without much recognition, was drama. He later grouped several of his plays into cycles. These are Les Tragédies de la foi (1913), consisting of his first published play, Saint Louis (1897)—together with Aërt (1898) and Le Triomphe de la raison (1899)—and the cycle Théâtre de la révolution (1909), originally consisting of Les Loups (pb. 1898; The Wolves, 1937), Danton (pr., pb. 1900; English translation, 1918), and Le Quatorze Juillet (pr., pb. 1902; The Fourteenth of July, 1918), and later including Le Jeu de l’amour et de la mort (pb. 1925; The Game of Love and Death, 1926), Pâques fleuries (pb. 1926; Palm Sunday, 1928), Les Léonides (pb. 1928; English translation, 1929), and Robespierre (pb. 1939). Editions that appeared during Rolland’s lifetime show different or incomplete groupings.

Among Rolland’s other important writings for and about the theater are the satire Liluli (pb. 1919; English translation, 1920) and Le Théâtre du peuple: Essai d’esthétique d’un théâtre nouveau (1903; The People’s Theater, 1918). Of Rolland’s extensive correspondence, thirty volumes have been published in Cahiers Romain Rolland (1948-1996). Autobiographical works and published diaries include Le Voyage intérieur (1942; The Journey Within, 1947) and L’Inde: Journal 1915-1943 (1949), as well as Journal des années de guerre, 1914-1919 (1952). Rolland commanded international attention with his political, polemical, and pacifist writings. Among them are Au-dessus de la mêlée (1915; Above the Battle, 1916) and Les Précurseurs (1919; The Forerunners, 1920), which reappeared together in L’Esprit libre (1953). This collection of essays and open letters is essential for an understanding of Rolland’s position within the post-World War I European intellectual elite.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Romain Rolland remained a relatively obscure figure until he was almost fifty years old. His education prepared him for a career in teaching the history of art and music, and he was on the faculty of the École Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne until 1912 while maintaining a correspondence with various European intellectuals. Although Rolland had the support of some devoted friends, notably his former teacher, Gabriel Monod, and the aged German writer Malvida von Meysenbug, his early literary endeavors met with little success. In 1903, Charles-Pierre Péguy, his friend from the École Normale Supérieure with whom he shared both idealism and literary talent, published Rolland’s work in his Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which had a relatively small but international intellectual readership. In this periodical, the ten volumes of Rolland’s novel Jean-Christophe appeared in segments dating from February 2, 1904, to October 20, 1912. These publications proved to be the foundation of his fame. In 1905, Rolland received the Vie Heureuse prize; in 1909, the award of the Légion d’Honneur; in 1913, the Grand Prix de la Littérature of the French Academy; and in 1915, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The basis of Rolland’s philosophy was the achievement of a Pan-European unity and the social and intellectual emancipation of the masses through the efforts of an international elite—a goal that he perceived as attainable. His hopes were temporarily shattered by...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Fisher, David James. Romain Rolland and the Politics of Intellectual Engagement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Divided into sections on Rolland: his ambiguous position in the 1920’s, his involvement in left-wing politics in the 1930’s, and a concluding chapter on “pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.” Includes detailed notes and bibliography.

Francis, R. A. Romain Rolland. Oxford, England: Berg, 1999. An excellent study of Rolland’s life and influences on his art.

March, Harold. Romain Rolland. New York: Twayne, 1971. An introductory study, with chapters largely built around the places where Rolland lived and worked. Includes a chronology, notes, and bibliography.

Starr, William Thomas. Romain Rolland: One Against All, a Biography. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1971. Starr provides a study of Rolland based on his letters, his other writings, and the impressions of others. Argues that these strands cannot be separated in discussing Rolland. Includes a chronology and index.

Zweig, Stefan. Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work. New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1921. Zweig, a veteran biographer of many modern figures, provides a comprehensive, lively account, divided into Part I: Biographical; Part II: Early Work as Dramatists; Part III: The Heroic Biographies; Part IV: Jean Christophe; Part V: Intermezzo Scherzo; Part VI: The Conscience of Europe. This structure is meant to capture the complexity of a public intellectual, political activist, and major literary figure. Zweig, a friend of Rolland, tends to eulogize his subject.