See biography by W. T. Starr (1972); study by H. March (1973).
Accepted to the École normale supérieure in 1886, he first studied philosophy, but his independence of spirit led him to abandon that so as not to submit to the dominant ideology. He received his degree in history in 1889 and spent two years in Rome, where his encounter with Malwida von Meysenburg–who had been a friend of Nietzsche and of Wagner–and his discovery of Italian masterpieces were decisive for the development of his thought. When he returned to France in 1895, he received his doctoral degree with his thesis The origins of modern lyric theatre and his doctoral dissertation, A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti.
His first book was published in 1902, when he was 36 years old. Through his advocacy for a 'people's theatre', he made a significant contribution towards the democratization of the theatre. As a humanist, embraced the work of the philosophers of India ("Conversations with Rabindranath Tagore", and Mohandas Gandhi). Rolland was strongly influenced by the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism.
|'"The people have been gradually conquered by the bourgeois class, penetrated by their thoughts and now want only to resemble them. If you long for a people's art, begin by creating a people!"|
|Romain Rolland, Le Théâtre du peuple (1903).|
The essay is part of a more general movement around the turn of that century towards the democratization of the theatre. The Revue had held a competition and tried to organize a "World Congress on People's Theatre", and a number of People's Theatres had opened across Europe, including the Freie Volksbühne movement ('Free People's Theatre') in Germany and Maurice Pottecher's Théâtre du Peuple in France. Rolland was a disciple of Pottecher and dedicated Le Théâtre du peuple to him.
Rolland's approach is more aggressive, though, than Pottecher's poetic vision of theatre as a substitute 'social religion' bringing unity to the nation. Rolland indites the bourgeoisie for its appropriation of the theatre, causing it to slide into decadence, and the deleterious effects of its ideological dominance. In proposing a suitable repertoire for his people's theatre, Rolland rejects classical drama in the belief that it is either too difficult or too static to be of interest to the masses. Drawing on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he proposes instead "an epic historical theatre of 'joy, force and intelligence' which will remind the people of its revolutionary heritage and revitalize the forces working for a new society" (in the words of Bradby and McCormick, quoting Rolland). Rolland believed that the people would be improved by seeing heroic images of their past. Rousseau's influence may be detected in Rolland's conception of theatre-as-festivity, an emphasis that reveals a fundamental anti-theatrical prejudice: "Theatre supposes lives that are poor and agitated, a people searching in dreams for a refuge from thought. If we were happier and freer we should not feel hungry for theatre. [...] A people that is happy and free has need of festivities more than of theatres; it will always see in itself the finest spectacle.
He became a history teacher at Lycée Henri IV, then at the Lycée Louis le Grand, and member of the École française de Rome, then a professor of the History of Music at the Sorbonne, and History Professor at the École Normale Supérieure.
A demanding, yet timid, young man, he did not like teaching. He was not indifferent to youth: Jean-Christophe, Olivier and their friends, the heroes of his novels, are young people. But with real-life persons, youths as well as adults, Rolland maintained only a distant relationships. He was first and foremost a writer. Assured that literature would provide him with a modest income, he resigned from the university in 1912.
Romain Rolland was a lifelong pacifist. He protested against the first World War in Au-dessus de la Mêlée (1915), Above the Battle (Chicago, 1916). In 1924, his book on Gandhi contributed to the Indian nonviolent leader's reputation and the two men met in 1931.
In 1928 he and Hungarian scholar, philosopher and natural living experimenter Edmund Bordeaux Szekely founded the International Biogenic Society to promote and expand on their ideas of the integration of mind, body and spirit and the virtues of a natural, simple, vegetarian lifestyle.
He moved to Villeneuve, on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to devote himself to writing. His life was interrupted by health problems, and by travels to art exhibitions. His voyage to Moscow (1935), on the invitation of Maxim Gorky, was an opportunity to meet Stalin, whom he considered the greatest man of his time. Rolland served unofficially as ambassador of French artists to the Soviet Union. However, as a pacifist, he was uncomfortable with Stalin’s brutal repression of the opposition. He attempted to discuss his concerns with Stalin, and was involved in the campaign for the release of the Left Opposition activist/writer Victor Serge. During Serge’s imprisonment (1933-1936), Rolland had agreed to handle the publications of Serge’s writings in France, despite their political disagreements.
In 1937, he came back to live in Vézelay, which, in 1940, was occupied by the Germans. During the occupation, he isolated himself in complete solitude.
Never stopping his work, in 1940, he finished his memoirs. He also placed the finishing touches on his musical research on the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. Shortly before his death, he wrote Péguy (1944), in which he examines religion and socialism through the context of his memories. He died on 30 December 1944 in Vézelay.
In 1921, his close friend, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, wrote his biography: The Man and His Works. Zweig profoundly admired Rolland, of whom he once said to be: "the moral consciousness of Europe" during the years of turmoil and War in Europe.
"Then if they are still young we can find them for ourselves. . . . But I don't believe it. What has been good once never is good again."
Romain Rolland, "Jean-Christophe: Revolt," p. 395
Ibid., p. 399.
|Romain Rolland Bibliography|
|1891||Les Baglioni||Unpublished during his lifetime.|
|Unpublished during his lifetime.|
|1891||Orsino||Unpublished during his lifetime.|
|1892|| Le Dernier Procès de Louis Berquin|
(The Last Trial of Louis Berquin)
|1895|| Les Origines du théâtre lyrique moderne|
(The origins of modern lyric theatre)
|Academic treatise, which won a prize from the Académie Française|
|1895|| Histoire de l'opéra avant Lully et Scarlatti|
(A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti)
|Dissertation for his doctorate in Letters|
|1895||Cur ars picturae apud Italos XVI saeculi deciderit|
|1898|| Les Loups|
|1899|| Le Triomphe de la raison|
(The Triumph of Reason)
|1900||Le Poison idéaliste|
|1901||Les Fêtes de Beethoven à Mayence|
|1902|| Le Quatorze Juillet |
(July 14–Bastille Day)
|1903|| Vie de Beethoven |
(Life of Beethoven)
|1903||Le temps viendra|
|1903|| Le Théâtre du peuple|
|Seminal essay in the democratization of theatre.|
|1904||La Montespan||Historical/philosophical drama|
|1904 - 1912||Cycle of ten volumes divided into three series–Jean-Christophe, Jean-Christophe à Paris, and la Fin du voyage, published by Cahiers de la Quinzaine|
|1904||L'Aube||First volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|1904|| Le Matin|
|Second volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|1905|| La Révolte|
|Fourth volume of the series Jean-Christophe|
|1907|| Vie de Michel-Ange|
(Life of Michelangelo)
|Collection of articles and essays about music|
(Musicians of the Past)
|Collection of articles and essays about music|
|1908||La Foire sur la place||First volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris|
|1908||Antoinette||Second volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris|
|1908|| Dans la maison|
|Third volume of the series Jean-Christophe à Paris|
|1910|| Les Amies|
|First volume of the series la Fin du voyage|
|1911|| La Vie de Tolstoï|
(Life of Tolstoy)
|1911||Le Buisson ardent||Second volume of the series la Fin du voyage|
|1912||La Nouvelle Journée||Third volume of the series la Fin du voyage|
|1912|| L'Humble Vie héroïque|
(The Humble Life of the Hero)
|1915|| Au-dessus de la mêlée |
(Above the Battle)
|1915||Received the Nobel Prize in Literature|
|1917|| Salut à la révolution russe|
(Salute to the Russian Revolution)
|1918|| Pour l'internationale de l'Esprit|
(For the International of the Spirit)
|1918|| L'Âge de la haine|
(The Age of Hatred)
|1919||Colas Breugnon||Burgundian story|
|1919|| Les Précurseurs|
|1920||Founded the review Europe|
|1920||Pierre et Luce|
|1921|| Pages choisies|
|1921|| La Révolte des machines|
(The Revolt of the Machines)
|1922-1933|| L'Âme enchantée|
(The Enchanted Soul)
|1922||Annette et Sylvie||First volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|Second volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|1925|| Le Jeu de l'amour et de la mort|
(The Game of Love and Death)
|1927|| Mère et fils|
(Mother and Child)
|Third volume of l'Âme enchantée|
|1928|| De l'Héroïque à l'Appassionata|
(From the Heroic to the Passionate)
|1929|| Essai sur la mystique de l'action|
(A study of the Mystique of Action)
|1929|| L'Inde vivante|
|1929|| Vie de Ramakrishna|
(Life of Ramakrishna)
|1930|| Vie de Vivekananda|
(Life of Vivekananda)
|1930||Goethe et Beethoven||Essay|
|1935||Quinze Ans de combat|
|1936||Compagnons de route|
|1937|| Le Chant de la Résurrection|
(Song of the Resurrection)
|1938|| Les Pages immortelles de Rousseau|
(The Immortal Pages of Rousseau)
|1942|| Le Voyage intérieur|
(The Interior Voyage)
|1943|| La Cathédrale interrompue|
(The Interrupted Cathedral)
|Volumes I and II|
|1945||La Cathédrale interrompue||Volume III, posthumous|