Image of Romain Rolland


Lifetime: 1866 - 1944 Passed: ≈ 79 years ago


Dramatist, Novelist



Romain Rolland

Romain Rolland was a French dramatist, novelist, essayist, art historian and mystic who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915 "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".

He was a leading supporter of Joseph Stalin in France and is also noted for his correspondence with and influence on Sigmund Freud.

Rolland was born in Clamecy, Nièvre into a family that had both wealthy townspeople and farmers in its lineage. Writing introspectively in his Voyage intérieur (1942), he sees himself as a representative of an "antique species". He would cast these ancestors in Colas Breugnon (1919).

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 Meysenbug–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 Les origines du théâtre lyrique moderne. Histoire de l’opéra en Europe avant Lulli et Scarlatti (The origins of modern lyric theatre. A History of Opera in Europe before Lully and Scarlatti). For the next two decades, he taught at various lycées in Paris before directing the newly established music school of the École des Hautes Études Sociales from 1902 to 1911. In 1903 he was appointed to the first chair of music history at the Sorbonne, he also directed briefly in 1911 the musical section at the French Institute in Florence.

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, he embraced the work of the philosophers of India ("Conversations with Rabindranath Tagore" and Mohandas Gandhi). Rolland was strongly influenced by the Vedanta philosophy of India, primarily through the works of Swami Vivekananda.

In 1921, his close friend the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig published his biography (in English Romain Rolland: The Man and His Works). Zweig profoundly admired Rolland, whom he once described as "the moral consciousness of Europe" during the years of turmoil and War in Europe. Zweig wrote at length about his friendship with Rolland in his own autobiography (in English The World of Yesterday).

Victor Serge was appreciative of Rolland's interventions on his behalf but ultimately thoroughly disappointed by Rolland's refusal to break publicly with Stalin and the repressive Soviet regime. The entry for 4 May 1945, a few weeks after Rolland's death, in Serge's Notebooks: 1936-1947 notes acidly that "At age seventy the author of Jean-Christophe allowed himself to be covered with the blood spilled by a tyranny of which he was a faithful adulator." 

Hermann Hesse dedicated Siddhartha to Romain Rolland "my dear friend".

Books by Romain Rolland

Jean-Christophe, Volume I Cover image

Jean-Christophe, Volume I

Autobiography Struggle Injustice Life Memory Peace

Jean-Christophe is the novel in 10 volumes by Romain Rolland for which he received the Prix Femina in 1905 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. It was translated into English by Gilbert Cannan.

Jean-Christophe In Paris Cover image

Jean-Christophe In Paris

Memoir Novel
Love Success Struggle Explore Art Philosophical Desire Music Experiences

The story follows the protagonist, a musician named Jean-Christophe Krafft, as he moves to Paris to pursue his career. Jean-Christophe is torn between his love for music and his desire for success, and the novel explores the struggles he faces as he...

Handel Cover image


Tribute Autobiography Influential Composition Journey Life Music Experiences

Handel by Romain Rolland is a compelling biography that delves into the life and artistic genius of one of the most influential composers in history. This engaging book presents an in-depth exploration of Handel's remarkable career, shedding light on...

Pierre and Luce Cover image

Pierre and Luce

Pierre and Luce were an unlikely young pair who found themselves in the chaos of Paris during the war; Pierre, the shy, recently conscripted pacifist, and Luce, the free spirited artist in training, and both confused about the things going on around...

Jean-Christophe Journey's End Cover image

Jean-Christophe Journey's End

Just when Christophe's work starts to receive the recognition it deserves, he is again presented with many challenges in his career and love life. Circumstances drive him from Paris, his second home, to Switzerland, where he survives an existential c...