Romain Rolland

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Rolland, Romain

(rômăN` rôläN`), 1866–1944, French novelist, biographer, playwright, and musicologist. After studying in Paris he spent two crucial years in Rome, where he was influenced by German intellectuals. He wrote biographies of Beethoven (1903, tr. 1909), Michelangelo (1905, tr. 1915), Tolstoy (1911, tr. 1911), and Mahatma Gandhi (1924, tr. 1924). His 10-volume novel Jean-Christophe (1904–12, tr. 1910–13), established his reputation in the literary world. An example of the roman-fleuve, or continuous series of novels, it is a fictional biography of a German-born musician and a study of contemporary French and German civilization. Rolland was awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize in Literature. His genuine pacifistic philosophy and the courage of his convictions, reflected in Above the Battle (1915, tr. 1916), led to self-imposed exile in Switzerland, where he remained until 1938. Among his other works are the play The Wolves (1898, tr. 1937), inspired by the Dreyfus Affair; the seven-volume novel The Soul Enchanted (1922–33, tr. 1925–34); and a biography (1945) of Péguy. Journey Within (2d ed. 1959, tr. 1947) and Mémoires (1956) are autobiographical.


See biography by W. T. Starr (1972); study by H. March (1973).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rolland, Romain


Born Jan. 29, 1866, in Clamecy; died Dec. 30, 1944, in Vézelay. French writer, public figure, and musicologist.

The son of a notary, Rolland received a liberal-arts education at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. In 1895 he defended his dissertation, “The Origins of Modern Operatic Theater: The History of Opera in Europe Before Lully and Scarlatti,” at the Sorbonne. Beginning in 1897, he was a professor of the history of music at the Ecole Normale, and from 1902 to 1912 he was also a professor at the Sorbonne. He was commissioned by the Sorbonne to organize and head the music section at the School of Higher Social Studies. Together with J. Combarieu, P. Aubrey, and others, Rolland founded the journal Revue d’histoire et critique musicale (1901). He was the author of papers on the history of music and of monographs and articles.

Rolland’s uniqueness as an artist—his keen sensitivity to moral problems and his great interest in active heroic personalities—was already evident in the early dramas Saint Louis (1897) and Aërt (1898). His ideological and aesthetic position was first set forth in The People’s Theater (1903). In the late 1890’s, Rolland began work on a cycle of dramas about the French Revolution, which included the plays The Wolves, The Triumph of Reason, Danton, and The Fourteenth of July (1898–1902).

Rolland’s literary sketch of Beethoven (1903) was the first of a series of biographies of great creative artists. The Life of Michelangelo appeared in 1907, and The Life of Tolstoy in 1911. While still a student, Rolland had written to Tolstoy and had received a reply. The Russian writer, by Rolland’s own admission, had a great influence on him. This can be seen in Rolland’s ten-volume epic novel, Jean-Christophe (1904–12), which brought him world acclaim. This work is the culmination of a quest for a broad epic form in the spirit of War and Peace and echoes Tolstoy’s ideas about artistic creativity as a selfless activity for the good of the people. Its principal character, a German musician, an innovator and rebel, bears a strong resemblance to Beethoven. In Jean-Christophe, Rolland embodied his dream of a creative genius molded amid the struggle against despotism and the venal world of the bourgeoisie and its highly refined art. The work, permeated with passionate social commentary, recounts against the background of a panorama of Europe the spiritual biography of the hero with great psychological analysis and with insight into the mysteries of the creative process. Rolland predicts the coming world war, but contrasts to it the idea of the brotherhood of peoples.

The problems in which Rolland was vitally interested—the fate of culture and art in a historically critical age and the relations between “thought and action” and between the creative personality and the people—are raised again in a new way in the novella Colas Breugnon (completed 1914, published 1918), whose colorful and lively rhythmic prose recalls folk works. The action is set in Burgundy in the early 17th century. The hero, the unruly and derisive Colas Breugnon, is the living embodiment of the folk spirit.

World War I found Rolland in Switzerland. In August 1914 he began appearing regularly in print as an antiwar publicist. His articles were gathered in the collections Above the Battle (1915) and The Precursors (1919). Rolland appealed to the reason and conscience of “the peoples being murdered” and exposed the capitalist magnates as the culprits of the world carnage, without, however, calling for revolutionary action. His antiwar views were expressed in various ways in the dramatic satire Liluli (1919) and in the lyric novella Pierre and Luce (1920). The novel Clérambault (1920) reflected the dilemma of the Western European intelligentsia, outraged by the imperialist barbarism and tragically out of touch with the people.

Rolland welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia. He viewed the Great October Socialist Revolution as an event of tremendous international significance but for a long time rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat and revolutionary methods of struggle against the exploiters. Rolland maintained this position through the 1920’s. His dramas about the French Revolution The Game of Love and Death (1925), Palm Sunday (1926), and The Leonides (1927), while affirming the greatness of the revolution, focused on the human tragedies and the victims. In quest of nonviolent forms of social action, Rolland turned to the experience of the Indian people and their religious and moral doctrines, writing books about Mahatma Gandhi, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda. At the same time, he continued to follow developments in the USSR closely. He carried on a friendly correspondence with M. Gorky. He opposed the anti-Soviet campaigns and military preparations of the imperialistic bourgeoisie. Gradually, not without difficulties and vacillations, Rolland’s views changed, as revealed by the articles “Farewell to the Past” (1931) and “Lenin: Art and Action” (1934) and by the collections of publicistic articles Fifteen Years of Struggle and Peace Through Revolution (both 1935). Together with H. Barbusse, Rolland helped organize congresses against war and fascism; he became one of the ideological inspirers of the international antifascist front. In 1935, Rolland visited the USSR at Gorky’s invitation.

Rolland’s principal work of fiction after World War I was the novel The Soul Enchanted (1922–33). The story of the ideological development of the heroine, Annette Rivière, and her son, Marc, showed the spiritual life of the progressive European intelligentsia, the path from individual rebellion or solitary acts of humaneness to participation in the organized struggle of the masses against the forces of the old world. The novel warns mankind of the danger of fascism. The death of Marc, who is killed in a street fight with an Italian Fascist, provokes a spiritual crisis in Annette and causes her to join the ranks of fighters. The characters of the novel in their arguments and thoughts turn more than once to the experience of the Soviet Union.

In 1939, Rolland completed the monumental tragedy Robespierre, thus concluding the cycle of dramas about the French Revolution. The scene of the death of Robespierre and his associates is illuminated by the idea of the grandeur and ineradicable force of mankind’s liberation movement.

Rolland spent the years of World War II in Vézelay, in the occupied zone, sick and cut off from his friends. During this period he completed his autobiographical memoirs, which sometimes reveal a man in a deep depression. However, Rolland worked intensively, regarding his literary labor as a form of resistance to the invaders. He completed his multivolume cycle Beethoven the Creator (published 1928–45) and a biography of C. Péguy, which came out in December 1944, after the liberation of France.

Rolland made significant contributions to both French and world literature. Having early become aware of the unique character of his age, he based his work on the principle of heroic deeds. His quests and doubts reflected the objective contradictions of the development of a sizable segment of the Western intelligentsia in the age of the transition from capitalism to socialism. In supporting the October Revolution, Rolland provided an instructive example to Western European cultural figures and helped them find their place in public life and the social struggle. Rolland’s innovativeness was closely connected with the ideological nature of his work. The original features of Rol-land’s fictional style helped him to express the acute problems of his times and to convey the dramatic character of mankind’s movement toward the future. Rolland received a Nobel Prize in 1915.


Cahiers Romain Rolland, vols. 1–23. Paris [1948–75].
Romain Rolland: Journal des années de guerre. Paris, 1952.
Textes politiques, sociaux et philosophiques choisis. Paris, 1970.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–20. Leningrad [1930]–1936.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–14. Moscow, 1954–58.
Soch., vols. 1–9. Moscow, 1974.
Vospominaniia. Moscow, 1966.


Gorky, M. [Articles.] Sobr. soch. ν tridtsati tomakh, vol. 24. Moscow. 1953.
Lunacharskii, A. V. [Articles.] Sobr. soch., vols. 4–5. Moscow, 1964–65.
Balakhonov, V. E. R. Rollan ν 1914–1924 gody. Leningrad, 1958.
Balakhonov, V. E. R. Rollan i ego vremia (“Zhan–Kristof). Leningrad, 1968.
Balakhonov, V. E. R. Rollan i ego vremia: Rannie gody. Leningrad, 1972.
Motyleva, T. Tvorchestvo R. Rollana. Moscow, 1959.
Motyleva, T. R. Rollan. Moscow, 1969.
Diushen, I. “Zhan-Kristof R. Rollana. Moscow, 1966.
Europe, 1926, no. 38: 1955, nos. 109–10; 1965, nos. 43940.
Cheval, R. R. Rolland, l’Allemagne et la guerre. Paris, 1963.
Barrére, J.-B. R. Rolland par lui-même. [Paris, 1968.]
Pérus, J. R. Rolland et M. Gorki. Paris, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Romain Rolland, The Life of Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, New Delhi, 2015
"Romain Rolland." The Penguin Companion to Literature: Europe.
The volume was widely popular among doctors of my father's generation; the copy I first read sat on his office shelves, wedged between Axel Munthe's The Story of San Michele and Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe.
In the second half of the book there is an increasing number of letters in languages other than Hungarian: Sinko's correspondents include Romain Rolland, the Moscow-based German communist writer Alfred Kurella, the English John Lehmann, and the Croatian Miroslav Krleza.
Francis's Romain Rolland is without doubt a useful and significant contribution to Rolland studies.
At the same time, Jones almost completely ignores Toomer's more intimate affiliations, especially in his formative years, with the "native" modernists and cultural nationalists who combined social and "spiritual" concerns about the possibilities of democracy with aesthetic criticism - the likes of Waldo Frank, Paul Rosenfeld, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Romain Rolland. These artists' differences with Eliot and Pound were actually as great as those between the self-identified "New Negro" authors and Jean Toomer throughout the late teens and the twenties.
Examples include Jean-Christophe (1904-12) by Romain Rolland, A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27; Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust, Les Thibault (1922-40) by Roger Martin du Gard, and Les Hommes de bonne volonte, (1932-46; Men of Good Will) by Jules Romains.
The recipients have been: 1901, Rene Francois Armand Sully Prudhomme (Fr); 1902, Theodor Mommsen (Ger); 1903, Bj ornstjerne Bjornson (Norw); 1904, Frederic Mistral (Fr) and Jose Echegaray (Sp); 1905, Henryk Sienkiewicz (Pol); 1906, Giosue Carducci (Ital); 1907, Rudyard Kipling (Eng); 1908, Rudolf Eucken (Ger) 1909, Selma Lagerlof (Sw); 1910, Paul von Heyse (Ger); 1911, Maurice Maeterlinck (Belg); 1912, Gerhart Hauptmann (Ger); 1913, Rabindranath Tagore (India); 1914, none; 1915, Romain Rolland (Fr); 1916, Verner von Heidenstam (Sw); 1917, Karl A.
We remember him first as a tragic victim of his own dark times, second as a Viennese bon vivant who knew everyone worth knowingSigmund Freud, Theodor Herzl, Romain Rolland, the list goes onand only third as a writer, whose work has been called the "Pepsi of Austrian writing."