Romanian literature

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Romanian literature

Romanian literature, the literature of Romania. Until the 16th cent. most writing by Romanians was in Slavonic. In 1541 a catechism in Romanian was issued at Sibiu, and from 1560 liturgical works were published in Romanian to meet the needs of the local Calvinist Church. Translations of the legend of Alexander the Great appeared c.1600, and in 1673 the Moldavian Bishop Dositheiu published the first volume of poetry in Romanian, a verse translation of the Psalms. Early historical works were the Moldavian Chronicle of Miron Costin (1633–91) and the famous Moldo-Wallachian Chronicle (1710) of Demetrius Cantemir (1673–1723).

Starting with the Chronicle, a movement gained force to emphasize the Latin as opposed to the Slavic elements in Romanian culture. The mainspring of this movement was Ion Eliade (1802–72), known as Radulescu, and its outcome was a dictionary of the Romanian language produced (1871–76) by August Laurianu et al., in which all words of non-Latin origin were eliminated. In 1860 Latin replaced Cyrillic as the official Romanian alphabet (the church used the Cyrillic until 1890); 1860 thus marks the beginning of modern Romanian literature.

Vasile Alecsandri's ballad Little Lamb (1852) marked a first effort to counteract the strong French influence on Romanian literature. Drama gained importance in the time of Eliade and George Asachi (1788–1869), cofounders (1833–36) of the Romanian national theater. Other outstanding names in drama are Ion Luca Caragiale, a master of the comedy of manners; Ronetti Roman (1853–1908), author of the tragedy Manasse (1900), dealing with the conflict of Jews and Christians in Romania; Victor Eftimiu, who experimented with poetic drama; and Lucian Blaga.

Poetry flourished after Titu Maiorescu (1840–1917) founded (1867) the cosmopolitan journal Convorbiri literare [literary conversations] at Jassy in Moldavia, and soon began to publish the lyrics of Mihail Eminescu. The peasant and folk traditions were collected and preserved by the historian Nicolae Iorga (1871–1940). In poetry this school produced George Cosbuc (1866–1918) and in prose Ion Slavici (1848–1945), who collected native tales, and Ion Creanga (1837–89), a pioneer in the field of the novel.

Themes of social concern were treated by Alexandru Vlahuta (1858–1919) in the novel Dan (1894) and by Duiliu Zamfirescu (1858–1922) in Country Life (1894). The contrast between rural and urban life was detailed in the realistic novels Dinu Millian by Constantin Mille and Parasites (1893) by Barbu Delavrancea (1858–1919). From the "back to the soil" movement in Romanian letters came the novel Ion (1920) by Liviu Rebreanu, known also for his novel of World War I, The Forest of the Hanged (1922). Major Romanian poets of the 20th cent. include Dimitrie Anghel (1872–1914) and Octavian Goga (1881–1938), an outspoken and often partisan advocate of Transylvania.

Under the Ceauşescu regime (1965–89), postwar Romanian writing reflected a strong Communist influence. Nevertheless, after 1968 an independent movement emerged, subjected to great pressure in the years before Ceauşescu's overthrow. Along with the exiled writers Mircea Eliade, Eugene Ionesco, and Emil Cioran, the novelist Mihail Sadoveanu and the poets Tudor Arghezi and Mihai Beniuc are the most notable modern Romanian literary figures. Some significant younger writers are the novelists Zaharia Stancu, Marin Preda, Titus Popovici, and Norman Manea and the poets Veronica Porumbacu, Alexandu Jar, and Maria Banusi.

See E. D. Tappe, Rumanian Prose and Verse (1956); J. Steinberg, ed., Introduction to Rumanian Literature (1966).

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