Romain Rolland

(1866—1944) French novelist, dramatist, and essayist

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French novelist, dramatist, and essayist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915.

Born at Clamecy, Mièvre, into a well-established middle-class family, Rolland studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, later lecturing there and at the Sorbonne on history, art, and the history of music. His early plays were inspired by heroic historical events; they include Les Loups (1898; translated as The Wolves, 1937) about the Dreyfus affair, Danton (1900), and Le Quatorze juillet (1902).

Rolland's passion for genius led to biographies of Beethoven (1903), Michelangelo (1905), and Tolstoy (1911) and ultimately to his major novel, Jean-Christophe (1904–12). The life story of a German composer who becomes a mouthpiece for Rolland's views and whose friendship with a young Frenchman symbolizes the author's desire for harmony between nations, the novel first appeared in instalments in the journal Cahiers de la Quinzaine. It initiated the literary form known as the ‘roman-fleuve’, in which the story develops like the course of a flowing river, and was widely acclaimed throughout Europe.

Living in retirement in Switzerland during World War I, Rolland published a controversial pamphlet, Au-dessus de la mêlée (1915), exhorting the intellectuals of France and Germany to cooperate in the quest for truth, humanity, and peace. The fantasy Colas Breugnon (1919) was followed by a series of studies of Indian philosophy, notably Mahatma Gandhi (1924) and La Vie de Vivekananda (1930). To this period also belong the play Le Jeu de l'amour et de la mort (1925), a second novel-cycle in seven volumes, L'Âme enchantée (1922–33), and the early part of a lengthy musicological study of Beethoven (1928–49).

In 1923 Rolland founded the review Europe and began to develop an interest in left-wing activities and the politics of the Soviet Union. He also made known his opposition to Mussolini and Hitler, but never officially affiliated himself with any political party. The latter part of his life was devoted to his Mémoires, published posthumously in 1956. His correspondence with great contemporaries such as Richard Strauss, Einstein, and Bertrand Russell is collected in the Cahiers Romain Rolland (1948).

Subjects: Arts and Humanities.

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