JEAN-CHRISTOPHE by Romain Rolland


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 Romain Rolland (18661944), who won the 1915 Nobel Prize for Literature, was a versatile and indefatigable man of letters, best remembered today for this massive roman-fleuve (published in three volumes, between 1902 and 1912), which may best be described as the history of a great musician's sensibility, the growth of his art, and the realization of his goal--roughly, the expression of man's moral nature through the creation of art. A variety of vividly rendered friends and lovers function as counterpoints to the hero's personality and struggles. German-born Jean-Christophe Krafft, a simulacrum of Beethoven (of whom Rolland wrote a biography) emerges from an unfulfilling provincial childhood into a conflicted maturity characterized by a series of deeply formative friendships and liaisons, and vacillating relationships with the differing cultures (of Germany, France, and finally Italy) that, to different degrees, absorb and transform him. Louis Auchincloss has supplied an introduction for this new edition, and despite his great admiration for Rolland's accomplishment, he does concede that this enormously long novel is weighed down by a repetitive ``denunciation of the current social and artistic scene.'' Contemporary readers will surely also be impatient with its sententious symbolism and occasionally cloying romanticism. But persistence and concentration do pay off: Rolland's artist-hero is explored with an empathetic thoroughness that is rare in fiction, and readers who truly apply themselves to this frustrating masterwork may well feel that they have, in so doing, experienced something very like an education.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-7867-0307-5
Page count: 1584pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996