Bryan Rennie on Gaudeamus

Bryan Rennie, British historian of religions, introudces us to Elaide's second novel

British historian of religions, Bryan Rennie, tells us of the wider importance of Eliade's second novel, written when he was a student at Bucharest University:

Eliade’s Gaudeamus, written between February and March of 1928, is a coming-of-age novel based on his undergraduate years at the University of Bucharest (1925 to 1928). His earlier novel, Romanul adolescenului miop (Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent, Istros Books, 2014) had focused on the final years of his Liceu (high school) education and had been serialized in its entirety in the Bucharest periodicals Cuvântul, Viața Literară, and Universul Literar in the 1920s, but the manuscript of Gaudeamus had a different trajectory. Finished before Eliade’s departure for India in 1928, it remained among his papers in the family house on Strada Melodiei in Bucharest. Only three pages, described as an “excerpt” from Gaudeamus, appeared in Viața literară in March of 1928. Eliade attempted without success to place the manuscript with the publisher, Cartea Românească, but the novel was to wait more than fifty years to appear in print. Eliade did revisit and reread it in 1932–33, when, according to his Autobiography, he found it “both lyrical and frenzied, too pretentious, timidly indiscreet, and quite lacking in grandeur.” He never again tried to have it published, nor indeed to have any contact with it. The house was demolished in 1935 and the manuscript passed into the possession of his younger sister Cornelia (Corina) Alexandrescu. It was not until 1981 that the high school teacher and Eliade enthusiast, Mircea Handoca, along with the philosopher, essayist, and poet, Constantin Noica, were given access to Mme Alexandrescu’s attic and recovered the manuscript. Together they assembled the first 2,500 typed pages of Eliade’s writings from 1921 up to 1928. Several chapters from Gaudeamus appeared in three issues of the journal Manuscriptum in 1983, three years before Eliade’s death, but the entire text of the novel did not appear until 1986 when it was published in Revista de istoire și teorie literară and then again as a single volume with Romanul adolescenului miop in 1989. Curiously, the three-page passage from Viața literară was absent from the final version of the manuscript. Thereafter Gaudeamus was translated into French in 1992 and Italian in 2012 and now it appears for the first time in English.

Known in the English-speaking world as an historian of religions, Eliade authored more than twenty major works, including Patterns in Comparative Religion, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, and Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. He taught for almost thirty years, from 1957–1986, at the prestigious Divinity School of the University of Chicago and was editor-in-chief of the 1987 edition of the Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Religions. The school endowed the Mircea Eliade Chair in the History of Religions in his honour shortly before his death. However, decades before this success as a scholar of religions, Eliade achieved recognition as a novelist in his native Romania. After minor successes with periodical publications he published his first novel, Isabel și apele diavolului (Isabel and the Devil’s Waters) in 1930, and his first major success as a novelist came with Maitreyi in 1933. Nuntă în cer (Marriage in Heaven, 1938) was translated into Italian as Nozze in cielo in 1983 and won the Elba-Brignetti prize for the best foreign novel in 1984.

Eliade’s Ph.D., from the Department of Philosophy of the University of Bucharest, had been awarded in 1933 with a thesis on Yoga that constituted the basis of his Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, and after his exile from Romania at the end of the Second World War he focussed more on his career as an academic. His publication of novels became sporadic, although he did publish what he considered his novelistic chef-d’œuvre, Noaptea de Sânziene, in Paris in 1971. This was translated into English in 1978 as The Forbidden Forest (translated by Mac Linscott Ricketts and Mary Park Stevenson, University of Notre Dame Press). Thus the appearance now of this early, initially unpublished novel from the 1920s, in Christopher Bartholomew’s English translation, constitutes a formerly unavailable source of insight into the thought of this versatile author, as well as being edifying reading in its own right.


Read the whole article at Asymptote Journal