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Romain Rolland (Clamecy, Nièvre, January 29, 1866 – Vézelay, December 30, 1944) was a French writer. His first book was published in 1902, when he was 36 years old. Thirteen years later, he won the 1915 Nobel Prize for Literature “as a tribute to the high idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love for truth with which he has described various types of human beings.”
His existence was marked by a passion for music and heroism, and throughout his life he sought means of communion among men. His imperious need for justice led him to seek peace beyond the war during and after the First World War. He was a great admirer of Leo Tolstoi, a great figure of nonviolence, of the philosophers of India (Conversations with Rabindranath Tagore, and Mohandas Gandhi), of the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda; he was fascinated by Bahá’u’lláh (whom he refers to in Clerambault, a novel in which he presents his ideas about war) and later by the new world that the Soviet Union advocated in its beginnings. But nowhere, but in the writing of his works, he knew how to find peace. Romain Rolland received the strong influence of the Hindu philosophy of Vedānta (see bibliography), a subject to which he devoted several books.
He was born in Clamecy, Nièvre, France, in a family of notaries, although among his ancestors there were both peasants and notable people. Writing introspectively in his voyage intérieur (1942), he saw himself as a representative of the “ancient species.” He would make these ancestors participate in the truculent and uplifted story Colas Breugnon (1919).
Accepted at the École normale supérieure in 1886, he first studied philosophy, but his independence of spirit led him to abandon it in order not to submit to his dominant ideology. He graduated in History in 1889 and spent two years in Rome, where his meeting with Malwida von Meysenbug – who had been friends with Nietzsche and Wagner – and his discovery of Italian masterpieces were decisive in the development of his thinking. When he returned to France in 1895, he received his doctorate with the thesis The origins of modern lyrical theater and his dissertation A History of the Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti.
Master, pacifist and lonely
He started as professor of History at the Lycée Henri IV, later at the Lycée Louis le Grand and at the École française de Rome. Later he would be professor of History of Music at the Sorbonne and professor of History at the École Normale Supérieure.
Demanding, shy and young, he did not like to teach. He was not indifferent to youth: Jean-Christophe, Olivier and his friends-heroes of his novels-are young. But with young people, as with adults, Rolland only maintained distant relationships. I wanted to be above all a writer. Sure he could live devoted only to literature, he resigned from the university in 1912. In 1915 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and in 1922 he founded the magazine Europe.
Romain Rolland was a militant pacifist. In 1924, his book on Gandhi contributed to his later reputation, and both met in 1931.
He moved to the beaches of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, to dedicate himself to writing. His life was interrupted due to health problems and trips and art exhibitions. His trip to Moscow (1935), at the invitation of Maxim Gorky, was an opportunity to meet Stalin, and served unofficially as an ambassador for French artists in the Soviet Union.
In 1937, he returned to live in Vézelay, which in 1940 was occupied by the Germans. During the occupation, he isolated himself in complete solitude.
Without stopping working, in 1940 he finished his Memoirs. He also devoted himself to putting the final touches to his musical research on the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. Shortly before his death, Péguy (1944) wrote, in which he examines religion and socialism in the context of his memoirs. He died in Vézelay.
In 1921, his close friend, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, wrote his biography: Man and his works; Zweig deeply admired Rolland, whom he once asserted was “the moral conscience of Europe,” during the years of turmoil and war in the Old Continent.
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