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Romain Rolland and H. G.

Wells
Author(s): William T. Starr
Source: The French Review, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jan., 1957), pp. 195-200
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/382307
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Romain Rolland and H. G. Wells
by William T. Starr

R OMAIN ROLLAND'S readings in English literature were broad


and deep enough that they cannot fail to have contributed to his develop-
ment as a writer. Among British authors whom he mentions and com-
ments upon are Milton (Rolland, Vie de Ramakrishna [Paris, 1930], pp.
80-81), Carlyle, Bernard Shaw (Rolland, Journal des annies de guerre
[Paris, 1950], Index), Emily Bront6, Jane Austen, and Robert Louis
Stevenson (unpublished letters to Mlle. Madeleine Rolland, Oct. 15, Nov.
20, Nov. 30, 1916, and Sept. 2, 1917). After reading Fielding, whom he
called "robust," Rolland wrote, especially a propos of Joseph Andrews:
"I1 est notre pbre, A nous tous, romanciers de la vie contemporaine et
bourgeoise" (unpublished letter to Mme. Sofia Bertolini Gonzaga-Guer-
rieri, April 12, 1909). An important part of his literary fare was the works
of various contemporary English writers. By 1914, as we have pointed
out elsewhere, he had decided that the greatest contemporary English
novelists were Arnold Bennett, who had visited Rolland early in 1911
(see the Journal of Arnold Bennett [New York, 1933], p. 404), H. G. Wells,
and John Galsworthy.1 Rolland met the last two writers personally after
the First World War, when, in 1923, he went to England on the occasion
of the P.E.N. Club meeting. At this time he visited Hardy and Shaw,
and met Galsworthy, Wells, and others.2
It may have been Wells's science fiction that was the starting point
for a fantasy and motion picture scenario by Rolland: La Revolte des
machines, ou la Pens&e dechainee (Paris, 1921). In this fantasy, in which
the machines revolt against man and attempt to drive him out, the ele-
ment of satire and social criticism is greater than in many of Wells's
stories, but a similar idea of technological progress may be detected. Both
men accept the usefulness of machines, but paint a grim picture of a
technologically dominated future. We can of course only speculate that
Wells's fantasies were the starting point for Rolland. He had long been
acquainted with them, having read them apparently soon after their
1 See my article, "Romain Rolland and Thomas Hardy," Modern Language Quar-
terly, XVII (June 1956), 99-103.
2 Rolland, "Une Rdunion internationale des 6crivains," Rassegna Internazionale,
V, (June-July, 1923), 632-642; also in an account of the same meeting, under the
above title in Europe, II (June-Sept., 1923), 102-106, and in an abridged version in
his Quinze ans de combat (Paris, 1935).
195

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196 FRENCH REVIEW

translation into French.3 The first mention that I have found of Wells is
in a letter from Rolland to Mme. Sofia Bertolini Gonzaga-Guerrieri, June
13, 1909:

Que diriez-vous, si vous alliez continuer [d engraisser], et si votre docteur


avait trouvB la fameuse Hdrakldophorbia de M. Bensington, qui fait grossir
les herbes, les animaux et les hommes, sans qu'il y ait plus aucun moyen
ensuite d'arrOter leur croissance? (Vous connaissez l'amusant et fantastique
roman de Wells: Place aux g6ants?)

He was of course also acquainted with the non-science fiction of the Eng-
lish writer. Rolland mentioned several of Wells's novels in 1917. He wrote
to Mile. Madeleine, May 14, that he had read Miss Waters, but made
no comment about it; on April 27, he wrote to her about The History of
Mr. Polly (translated into French in 1912): "J'ai lu l'Histoire de M. Polly
de Wells, que j'ai trouv6e vulgaire, mais excellente. Wells me parait lui-
mime de cette classe,-un petit boutiquier de g6nie. Il est un M. Polly
qui a r6ussi." At the same time he was reading Bealby (translated in 1915),
about which he wrote to his sister, April 29: "Je ne savais pas qu'il pou-
vait 6crire des oeuvres d'aussi franche bouffonnerie. C'est un heureux
bonhomme." There was perhaps a note of envy in these words, for Rol-
land, as he confided to his sister in a letter of Nov. 27, 1916, had felt stirr-
ing within him all sorts of characters. He had written his gay and lusty
Colas Breugnon (1912-1913), but he was too serious about his creations;
he could not laugh with them, and rarely at them, and Colas does not
always come off well. A touch of Wells's buffoonery would perhaps not
have been amiss as a counter-irritant for the occasionally unrelieved
seriousness of his novels. Rolland admired this and other qualities in
Wells: his "good sense," intelligence, and especially his marvelous power
of artistic rejuvenation (Journal des annies de guerre, p. 717).
Rolland's admiration was returned, for Wells considered him an im-
portant novelist. In his essay "The Contemporary Novel," Fortnightly
Review, November 1, 1911 (pp. 860-873), Wells pointed out that since
the days of Dickens the novel had been contracting, subordinating char-
acterization to story, description to drama. He rejoiced to see signs of a
return to a looser, more spacious form. The movement, which was a re-
volt against the exacting and cramping conditions of artistic perfection
and a return to the freedom and discursiveness of such English novels as
Tristram Shandy and Tom Jones, was partly of English origin and partly
of foreign origin, "and derives a stimulus from such bold and original

* The Time Machine, translated by H. D. Davray, appeared in 1899, the War of


the Worlds in 1900, and all the others in rapid succession.

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ROLLAND AND WELLS 197

enterprises as that of Monsieur Romain Rolland in his Jean-


Christophe... ." If Wells was correct, it is an interesting example of the
cross-currents of literary influence. The representative of the nation which
had done more than any other to bring the novel to a compact form of a
certain type of artistic perfection was one of the influences leading to-
wards the form that is the complete opposite.
Besides the esteem they felt for each other as men of letters, the fact
that both men were in their ways reformers added another bond to their
relationship. The specific reforms they aimed at and their methods were
frequently different, but the spirit was much the same. On one particular
point they agreed: the necessity for transcending the bounds of the nar-
rowly national, but again their means for so doing differed; Rolland was
essentially a mystic, while Wells was a fellow traveller of the scientists.4
They were bound to conflict. Their ideas began to differ sharply after
the outbreak of the war of 1914. Rolland, through his English editor,
Heinemann, asked Wells to sign a protest against the devastation of
Louvain and Rheims. Wells answered that he would be happy to do so,
and suggested that a statement of faith in Russia and her future would
be of immense value. Would Rolland sign? Rolland would, but only on
certain conditions. He affirmed his faith in the spiritual strength and the
future of the Russian people, but expressed his profound distrust of "le
tsarisme monstrueux," which was moreover infected with Germanism. He
refused to combat one monster (Prussian imperialism) to defend another.
Wells, he thought, should state that the Russia they believe in is free
Russia, "celle qui doit constituer un jour (c'est in6vitable) les Etats-Unis

slaves ....p."69).1
guerre, (letter to Wells,
Wells Oct. 4, 1914;
signed Rolland's see the
protest, but Journal des annies
did not himself de
draw
up the statement of faith as Rolland had suggested. The latter's own ex-
pression of faith in Russia came shortly afterwards, in part, in his "De
deux maux le moindre: Pangermanisme, Panslavisme," which appeared
in the Journal de Geneve, October 12, 1914.
Rolland was probably not aware of all that Wells wrote in the Times
(London) during the first two years of the war, not, certainly, of Wells's
letters to the editor (Times, August 8, 17, 20, 24, 1914) urging the organi-
zation and arming for homefront duties of the Boy Scouts and all who
were too old, young, or infirm to go into the regular army, for there is no
comment in his Journal des annies de guerre (largely a collection of the
'His fellow students at the Ecole Normale Supdrieure were very close to the mark
in 1886 when they labelled him, "Rolland, le BouddhA musical d'une mysticitd
r6volutionnaire." See Le CloMtre de la rue d'Ulm . . . (Paris, 1952), p. 18.
5 After the war, Wells took a moderate stand concerning revolutionary Russia.
His attitude was not unfavorable, but it was far from the enthusiastic faith that
Rolland had begun to feel for the new Russia, by 1919.

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198 FRENCH REVIEW

hysterical attitudes an
self were brought to
Wells: "The Lament
Wells, who had just re
glowing reviews of it
tion to Rolland's ideas
carrying on? (Wells d
the struggle.") Rollan
aims. Wells criticized
Rolland denounced th
with Cossack, Turkish
plain this passage so t
One of Rolland's parti
cized this passage, an
part, Wells's open lett
guerre (pp. 717-720),
expected from a man
supposition is almost
wrote, a year later, t
Etes-vous neutres deva
The book is a collectio
molishing the defeat
particularly nasty atte
Wells repeated his cr
ment J. Bundock, wh
matter of fact, Wells
terms of practical, co
tended to speak in mo
intend to make specif
lieved that the defeat
evil to Germany; furt
even greater enemy-h
In France and Englan
at any price, and calle
6 Wells's open letter als
Charles Albert, Al di sot
Charles Albert, Au-desso
"Open Letter to Mr. H.
opened the controversy,
April 6, 13, 20, 1916, and
tive. Bundock had written
its publication in Englan
9, 1916.

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ROLLAND AND WELLS 199

Wells, criticizing opponents


de la ml6e-as the man sai
the bull gored his sister."s
grouped around the Labour
Morel.9 In a letter to the edit
the groups which were run
were striving to impede th
land first hailed as the hop
writings found favor. Ho
about the Socialist Party
of war-time necessities to
the worst of opportunistic
1000-1001).
In 1919 Wells felt that the
tion beside Rolland. The lat
revolutionary group "Clart6
as Anatole France, Paul F
that the latter ". ..parait-il,
mais que maintenant il ver
Twelve years later it appea
second conviction of a Fren
by the same court."1 Howev
Rolland carried away a rath
writer.

J'ai revu Wells et Nansen,


tiens: Nansen, devenu pessi
qu'il voie la situation du mo
presentes et futures en long
pour son esprit curieux, qui
finira bien-dans cinq ou six
1924, unpublished).

Rolland was again disappoin


dranath Tagore's visit to
come to see Tagore, displa
capable of recognizing the
? Wells, Italy, France, and Br
' Ibid., pp. 191, 240.
10 Journal des annges de guerr
11 See the statement in the J
i2 Rolland, Inde. Journal 1915

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200 FRENCH REVIEW

As might be expected
as these men did, both
and Clerambault resp
tions of a man toward
front. But this is only
rambault is the swallo
teria, and the gradual
his individuality. For
largely his examen de
what he has come to
ligious overtones. In c
of thought from the
knew and what he mu
other nature. The En
French in 1917; Clera
1917, although not pu
lost their confidence i
absolute wrong of Ge
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

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