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French Writer

Romain Rolland

French writer Romain Rolland was born in the sleepy village of Clamecy (about 150 miles southeast of Paris) on January 29, 1866 to a provincial, Catholic, and petit bourgeois family.

He attended school in France and later in Rome where his discovery of Italian culture changed the course of his intellectual development. He returned to Paris and received his doctorate writing on theater history.

He began publishing his first creative work at the age of 30. At the turn of the century, Rolland began his theorizing and advocacy of a new, popular theater, writing: “There is only one necessary condition for the emergence of a new theater that the stage and auditorium should be open to the masses, should be able to contain a people and the actions of a people.”

Rolland’s most renowned work, by far, was Jean-Christophe, completed in 1912. The 10-volume novel is the original roman fleuve, a work that chronicles a sprawling history that gives an overall, often-critical view of society during its time.

In 1915 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Romain Rolland “as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings.” Partly because of his outspoken defense of human rights, especially the rights of minorities, Rolland had a mass following among European Jews. In fact, the Yiddish translation of Jean-Christophe was among the most popular Yiddish books ever-published and was the best-selling modern translation into Yiddish.

Rolland was always forthright in his opposition to militarism, racism, and antisemitism. In the face of rising Nazi brutality Rolland considered it obligatory for Jews and non-Jews alike to act out and speak out against fascism. In 1937 he addressed the Alveltlekhn yidish kutlur kongres: “We feel, together with you the Jewish people, our brothers, with the indignity of Hitler and the hatred of all oppressors. Let us bring even closer the unity between the people of Rabelais, Montaigne, and Voltaire, and the people of Karl Marx and Spinoza.

Romain Rolland died 30 December 1944.