Romanian literature

also spelled  Rumanian,  

      body of writings in the Romanian language, the development of which is paralleled by a rich folklore—lyric, epic, dramatic, and didactic—that has continued into modern times.

The old period.
      The earliest translations into Romanian were from Slavonic and consisted of interlinear verses or interpolations in 15th-century religious texts. From the same period date the so-called rhotacizing texts, preserved in 16th-century copies, which were written in Maramureş, in northern Transylvania, probably under the impetus of the Hussite movement. These include the Psalter of Şcheia and the Codex of Voroneţ, which contains the Acts of the Apostles and the Psalter of Voroneţ.

      The first book printed in Walachia in 1508 was a Slavonic liturgical book. A certain Deacon Coresi printed Romanian translations of the Acts of the Apostles (1563). Other publications of his that survive are the Tîlcul Evangheliilor şi Molitvenic (“Sermons and Book of Prayers”) and Evanghelia cu învăţătură (1581; “Commentary on the Gospels”), and these all encouraged the use of Romanian. In this period some secular literature was also produced, but it consisted mainly of translations from Greek, Slavonic, Byzantine, and Oriental books.

      The printing of Romanian religious books continued in the 17th century and was given new impetus in Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia by the controversy resulting from the Protestant Reformation. A Moldavian metropolitan, Dosoftei, a great scholar and theologian, fled to Poland during the fighting between Poland and Turkey and, in 1673, published there the first Romanian metrical psalter, which was also the first poetry to be written in Romanian. He returned to Moldavia in 1675 and in 1679 translated the liturgy from the Greek. His other outstanding contribution to Romanian literature was his Viaţa şi petrecerea sfinţilor (1682–86; “Lives of the Saints”), in which he introduced popular idioms and encouraged the development of a more flexible prose style.

      Toward the end of the 17th century the monastery of Snagov, near Bucharest, became a centre of literary activity, and books were printed in Romanian, Greek, Slavonic, and Arabic. Religious literature reached its climax with a translation of the Bible (1688) that became the basis for all later translations.

       historiography was at its height with the humanist historiographers of 17th-century Moldavia, whose leader was Miron Costin. He wrote a chronicle of Moldavia in Romanian and a poem on the history of his country in Polish. The chronicle was continued by his son Nicolae, who also pioneered the collection of folklore and legends. Dmitry Kantemir (Dimitrie Cantemir (Kantemir, Dmitry)), prince of Moldavia, a great linguist and historiographer, wrote Latin histories of Romania, Moldavia, and the Ottoman Empire. A special place among Moldavian historians is occupied by Nicolae Milescu (Milescu, Nicolae), who wrote theological, historical, and travel works.

The 18th century.
      Most of the 18th century presents a picture of social oppression and decadence under Ottoman rule. A rich secular and apocryphal literature circulated in manuscript, but there was no progress in comparison with that of the past. In Moldavia a new cultural centre arose at Rădăuţi. The principal achievements of the century were the Minei (“Lives of the Saints”) of 1776–80 and 1807–15 (each in 12 volumes published in Râmnicu Vâlcea and in the monastery of Neamţ, respectively), whose rich and lucid language put them alongside the Bible of 1688.

      Lyric poetry was cultivated toward the end of the century in love songs (1769–99), in the tradition of the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, by Alecu Văcărescu. Alecu's father, Ienăchiţă, a moralist poet, also wrote the first grammar of Romanian; while his son Iancu, the father of Romanian poetry, overshadowed his predecessors by his poems. The fourth Văcărescu poet was Nicolae. The lyric tradition was carried on in Walachia by B.P. Mumuleanu.

The national renaissance.
      The first landmark of this period was the uprising of Tudor Vladimirescu (Vladimirescu, Tudor) (1821) in Walachia against the Ottoman Turks and the return of the national rulers. Romanticism carried forward the falling wave of the Latinist movement. In the second half of the 19th century a serious literary criticism, which originated in German philosophy and French culture, inaugurated modern Romanian literature.

      Transylvanian Latinism crossed the Carpathians and had beneficial effects on the Greek-inspired culture of Walachia. Ion Heliade Rădulescu, who came under this influence, founded the first Romanian newspaper in Walachia and the Societatea Filarmonică (1833), which later created a national theatre in Bucharest. He was a pioneer of Italian influence, which was taken up in Moldavia by Gheorghe Asachi, who created the historical short story, wrote verses in Romanian and Italian, and founded a periodical, Albina Românească. The outstanding literary personality among a galaxy of minor poets and translators who enriched the Romantic heritage was Grigore Alexandrescu. Alexandrescu wrote Poezii (1832, 1838, 1839) and Meditaţii (1863), fables and satires influenced mostly by French writers. A literary magazine, Dacia Literară, edited by Mihail Kogălniceanu (Kogălniceanu, Mihail), a leading statesman and father of modern Romanian historiography (1840), marked a beginning of the traditionalist trend in literature. Alecu Russo, another leader of 1848, enriched literature with a biblical prose poem, Cântarea României.

      Leading writers of the second half of the century were Vasile Alecsandri (Alecsandri, Vasile) and Mihail Eminescu (Eminescu, Mihail). Alecsandri's rich output comprised poetry (Doine şi lăcrimioare [1853], Suvenire si Mărgăritărele [1856]), prose (Buchetiera din Florenţa [“A Bouquet from Florence”], torii în Africa), and plays (Fîntîna Blanduziei, Ovidiu, Despot Vodă). He also revealed treasures of Romanian folklore in Balade (1852–53) and Poezii populare (1866). Eminescu, a philosophical lyric poet, created modern Romanian poetry. He was influenced by Hindu thought and German philosophy but remained rooted in tradition. He raised Romanian poetry to new heights and was the guiding star in every aspect of cultural life. His writings include short stories and political and philosophical essays.

      Romanian literature of the 20th century was rooted in the traditions of the 19th. Important figures spanned both centuries, and the genres, literary groups, and methods of criticism they established continued into the 20th century. Thus, Titu Maiorescu founded (1863) the literary circle Junimea, whose reaction against interest in form at the expense of content pointed toward a later reassessment of the uses of literature. Ion Luca Caragiale (Caragiale, Ion Luca) died in 1912 but was relevant to the 20th century as the creator of Romanian social comedy. Similarly, Barbu Ştefănescu established the historical national drama, and Moses Gaster was important as a pioneer of research into Romanian folklore.

      The literary movements of both eastern and western Europe at the beginning of the century were reflected in Romania. The periodical Viaţa Româneascǎ (1906), based on the Russian model of “populism,” had a social and political ideology. The critic Constantin Dobrogeanu Gherea's theories followed Karl Marx, although Western modernism also influenced Romanian writers. Ovid Densuşianu (Densușianu, Ovid) clearly followed Symbolism, as did the poets Ion Minulescu and George Bacovia (G. Vasiliu), while Impressionism was taken up by literary critic Eugen Lovinescu and poet Nicolae Davidescu (Davidescu, Nicolae), whose epic Cântecul omului (1928–37; “The Song of Man”) aimed at re-creating world history.

After World War I.
      In the period of national unity in Romania following World War I, the novel began to compete with lyric poetry. Writers took inspiration from society or recent events, principally the war. Liviu Rebreanu wrote of the peasants' need for land and independence and in scoala (1932; The Uprising) described the 1907 peasant uprising in Moldavia and Walachia. His best work, inspired by Romanian participation in World War I, was the durea spînzuraţilor (1922; The Forest of the Hanged).

      Cezar Petrescu and the poet Minulescu also dealt with the war, while other writers examined different areas of society: Ionel Teodoreanu described the disappearance of patriarchal life, Victor Popa wrote about rural subjects, G.M. Zamfirescu depicted the Bucharest suburbs, and D.D. Pătrăşcanu wittily described political life. A leading realist writer early in the century was Mihail Sadoveanu, who together with I.A. Brătescu-Voineşti represented a link with the older generation and was extremely influential for the development of prose. He concentrated on the place of the peasant in society. His most famous works are Baltagul (1930; The Hatchet, 1964), Povestiri din razboi (1906; Tales of War, 1962), and Mitrea Cocor (1949; Eng. trans. 1953).

      Scholars, philosophers, critics, and translators also made contributions to literature of the period. The archaeologist Vasile Pârvan commemorated the sacrificed war generation in Parentalia; the historian Nicolae Iorga (Iorga, Nicolae) founded literary periodicals and wrote plays, poetry, and criticism; the geographer S. Mehedinţi (Soveja) edited a periodical and wrote village stories. Lucian Blaga was a philosophic essayist and poet, while Gala Galaction translated the Bible and wrote mystical poems and novels on biblical subjects.

      Lyric poetry has been the genre most cultivated in modern Romanian literature. The diversity of styles was illustrated by Nichifor Crainic's religious traditionalist tendency, the mathematical form of I. Barbu's poems, and the influence of French and German lyric in Ion Pillat's verse. The Romanian who, after Eminescu, created a new lyric poetry was Tudor Arghezi (Arghezi, Tudor). In Arghezi's poems language acquires an exceptional expressiveness and harmony. Both his prose essays of 1935–36 and his verse—including Cuvinte potrivite (1927; “Suitable Words”), Flori de mucegai (1931; “Mold Flowers”), Versuri de seară (1935; “Evening Verses”)—constituted landmarks in Romanian letters.

Developments after World War II.
      Several famous writers continued to write after World War II. Arghezi reached new lyric heights in 1907 and in a hymn praising humanity's will to live and struggle for freedom. Geo Bogza joined the Social Realist movement. Mihail Beniuc became (as he said) “the drummer of the new age” and, in stirring lyrics, celebrated achievements of the postwar period. Demostene Botez, whose prewar poetry described the sadness of provincial life, later revealed a vigorous optimism, and the poet Eugen Jebeleanu protested on contemporary events and themes. Among those who came to the fore during and after World War II were the poets Maria Banuş, who expressed the struggle for peace; Miron Paraschivescu, a lyric poet taking themes from folklore; and Marcel Breslaşu, a complex writer on a wide range of themes.

      Dramatists included Aurel Baranga, who dealt with the problems of contemporary life; Horia Lovinescu, whose plays depicted changing intellectual attitudes; and M. Davidoglu, author of plays set in mines and factories.

      The critic and prose writer George Călinescu wrote an important history of Romanian literature (1944), as well as valuable studies of Eminescu and other writers. Călinescu also wrote novels describing the social life of Bucharest after World War I, its gradual decay, and the part played by intellectuals in the reconstruction after World War II.

      Zaharia Stancu composed novels that evoked Romanian village life in a vanished age. Eusebiu Camilar, in his novel Mist, bitterly indicted fascism. Essays and criticism were written by Mihai Ralea, who also published travel books and philosophical and psychological works, and by Tudor Vianu, who revealed in his writings a materialistic and methodological approach after first having adhered to the aesthetic school.

Additional Reading
Jacob Steinberg (ed.), Introduction to Rumanian Literature (1966), collects selections from representative prose writings by 24 authors. Basil Munteano, Modern Rumanian Literature (1939), is a work of history and criticism.

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Universalium. 2010.

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