The fantastic in the works of great romanian classics

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THE FANTASTIC

IN THE WORKS OF GREAT ROMANIAN CLASSICS
The fantastic is part of our literature, a literature with a really rich and original folklore, an artistic expression of a people who (beside a realistic sense) also reveals a unanimously admitted proverbial poetic nature. It was not possible for a literature with such an innate mood for lyricism not to register in this direction – of the fantastic – clear, indubitable successes, competitive values in the universal context.

The massive existence of the mythological fantastic constitutes one of the characteristics of our literature. The cultured tale is a species that has spectacularly blossomed on the land of the Romanian folklore and mythology. The first attempt belongs to Mihai Eminescu, under the influence of the German Romanticism. “Fat-Frumos din lacrima” is an anthological prose where many of the elements of Eminescu’s lyrical universe are to be found. The titanic force is a major theme. It combines with an atmosphere similar to Hoffmann’s fantastic prose.

The Romanian cultured tale has reached its climax in Ion Creanga’s work. The writer form Humulesti was a great narrator, whose stories came out of the folklore’s circuit and became personal literary works. In Creanga’s works the fabulous is treated in a realistic manner, his stories being characterized by “an original juxtaposition of the miraculous and the most specific reality” (George Calinescu).

The fantastic has been important in Ion Luca Caragiale’s literary work, as well. Correlations have been made between his fantastic short-stories and Edgar Alan Poe’s ones. Caragiale’s fantastic is the fantastic of the queer and of the frightful, spliced on the inland mythology trunk. In some of his short-stories, Caragiale exploits the mythical and magical mentality, the popular superstitions and beliefs and makes us familiar with a new category, the satanic and demonic one.

Approaching the fantastic from the perspective of our great classic literature, I organized my paper in the following chapters:

I. THEORETICAL REMARKS. THE FANTASTIC – AESTHETICAL CATEGORY. THEORIES

I considered the defining of the aesthetical category of the fantastic, the significances of the concept, the main theories of the fantastic, their critic, new interpretations of the fantastic in world literature.

II. In the second chapter I dealt with THE ROMANIAN FANTASTIC. HISTORICAL AND FOLKLORE ROOTS. We think that the mythological Romanian fantastic has its roots in folklore. The mythical and magical miraculous world constitutes one of the most important directions of the Romanian fantastic prose, that makes it stand out among other literatures. The mythic and the magic are permanent ingredients of the human spirit. Tales are myths no longer sacred. By their orientation to folklore and mythology, the Romantics created the cultured tale as a superior synthesis of poetry and philosophy.

Besides the tales, the folklore brought the myths, fabulous stories with a semantic loading, especially complex because of the problems approached: people’s beliefs about gods and legendary heroes, etc. as a first step to knowledge; the first efforts of man to establish, by intuition, the great truths of the world – mythical truths.

III. In the third chapter I dealt with THE FANTASTIC BEFORE AND DURING THE REVOLUTIONARY IDEOLOGICAL MOVEMENT THE 1848 PERIOD. The most important writer before that movement occurred in Romanian literature was Ion Budai Deleanu, the author of the only finished Romanian epic work, in spite of other attempts that followed it. In “Tiganiada” we witness an admirable illustration of the popular fantastic, both in the elements of demonology and in presenting the Christian supernatural or in incantations, spells, traditions, beliefs. The scenes where heaven and hell are depicted offer striking descriptions fed by the raw and healthy sap of the popular fudges and not by the conventionality of the theological views.

As a whole, the 1848 period literature is not the literature of a generation; it includes the most representative writers, spanning from the older ones to the younger generation. Yet, 1848 period literature displays a unitary orientation with an extraordinary inner coherence. Among the important characteristics of this period literature is the appreciation of folklore.

Turning to good account the value of folklore was an important achievement. Among the important features of the literature of that period was the development of in Moldavia. Gheorghe Asachi, in Moldavia, develops the specific forms of the early Romanticism the frightful and the dark of the world of the resurrected medieval legends, of ghosts and ruins in works like “Eufrosina”, “Viziune pe rapele Ozanai” and especially “Turnul lui But” and “Dochia si Traian”; an endeavour to creat a Moldavian mythology.

Less productive in the fantastic area, Costache Stamati wrote two poems: “Povestea povestelor” and “Dragos”, in which we can find invincible heroes, fairies, personifications of the destiny, in a universe governed by miracles. In narrating strange happenings or in describing the macabre frame, the author insists on the suggestive details that remind of Edgar Allan Poe’s fantastic prose.

The folklore has always circulated the myths. Ion Heliade Radulescu wrote his masterpiece “Sburatorul”, the myth of love, also quoted by Dimitrie Cantemir. Heliade has the merit of locating the myth in an area where reality “talks” to the mystery. This is the Romanian village from the past, subject to some old beliefs. We can also consider “Caderea dracilor”, where the titanic heroes are romantic, while the central motif sends us to the biblical texts.

The fantastic has an aesthetical function in Grigore Alexandrescu’s masterpiece “Umbra lui Mircea. La Cozia”, the theme being the resurrection of the brave soldiers’ shadows who fought and died. In this poem, Mircea is a fantastic character typical for Romanticism. The personified night, as well as the whole nature, contributes to the frame of mystery, a characteristic of the fantastic.

More substantial from the point of view of our topic is Dimitrie Bolintineanu’s poetry. The cycles of his “Basme (tales)” gathers heterogeneous poems. Some of them, like “Fata din dafin”, “Sir’te margarite”, “Pestera mustelor” feature the fantastic ballads. “Mihnea si baba”, “O noapte la morminte”, “Umbra razbunatoare” show a gloomy atmosphere, similar to that in the German ballads of Burger Uhlan.

Vasile Alecsandri’s literary work is under the magic sign of folk literature. Form the perspective of the topic, “Dan, capitan de plai” is a brilliant legendary epic, in which the author artistically combines history and folklore, reality and fantastic. The coordinates of the myth and allegorical story with explanatory value are to be found in “Legenda crinului”, “Legenda lacramioarelor”, “Legenda randunicai”, “Razbunarea lui Statu-Palma”.

IV. The fourth chapter “THE FANTASTIC IN THE WORKS OF OUR GREAT CLASSICS: MIHAI EMINESCU, ION CREANGA, ION LUCA CARAGIALE” is organized in subchapters:


  • “Mihai Eminescu and the romantic fantastic”, subdivided in “The premises of the development of Eminescu’s fantastic”,

  • “Mihai Eminescu and the cultured tale”,

  • Eminescu’s great poems – “Luceafarul” (the Evening Star), “Povestea magului calator in stele”, “Strigoii”, “Calin (file de poveste), “Memento mori”

  • “Eminescu’s arhaeu – the prototype of the immortal man”,

  • “The originality of Eminescu’s fantastic world in Romanian literature”,.

Mihai Eminescu has given to the fantastic the most genuine Romantic dimension in Romanian literature. For him, the dream was also a poetic way to the fantastic, overlapping the poetic imagination. The Romantic themes presented by George Calinescu as a background for Mihai Eminescu’s work are, in fact, forms of the romantic fantastic: the imagery of the initial chaos in the poetic cosmogony, the imaginary journey of man in the outer space, the contemplation of plurality of the worlds in representations of the sidereal spaces, the music of the spheres, the merging and changing of the worlds, the underground spirits that intervene in people’s lives under strange disguises, the macabre contrasts, the beautiful dead, the cadaverous dream, the insignificance of the ego in the confusion between dream and reality, the demolition of the human being, a.s.o.

The tale “Fat Frumos din lacrima”, exemplary contains the great irradiating cores, proper to the fantastic specificity in Eminescu’s entire work. The epic and fantastic development of the tale starts from a fundamental magic idea in the order of the genesis mystery. We can add the selfishness springing from the drama of frustrating the fatherly instinct, the complex of sacred maternity, the over-sizing of the tale structures, dissociating between the tale and the legend; only the latter ones get nearer the fantastic allegory of writing.

The hero has striking features of Eminescu’s “Archaeus”: the vocation to embody the principle of the vital energy in eternity; the gifts to move in a timeless time and in a space without dimensions; to own the supreme code of the eternal passge from life to death and from death to life, to be away from any consciousness of the knowledge limits, including the draw line between life and reality. Such data belonging to the Romantic dogma of Kant and Schoppenhauer, absorbed by the spirituality of the fabulous Romanian epic, transform this short- story-like tale an allegory of the human existence in and through the outer space.

The dream, as an aesthetic mode of fantastic and imaginary, in a nocturnal frame, is present in Eminescu’s great poems. The dream, sometimes, has the meaning of the tale, increasing the dimensions of reality to charge the imaginary with a lyrical significance, to sustain the feeling in a world in which no disruption is expected.

The poem “Strigoii” has a symbolic title in the poetic reorganization of the Romanian myth. A first layer is made up by the ancient folklore treasure, with primitive magic significances. The historic meaning of the symbol is the very explanation of the primitive Getic-Dacian inheritance, an inheritance of beliefs in wilderness – the spirits of the earth. The human thought takes the form of the macabre fantastic when the obsessive desires transform the “world beyond” which is a world of the “spirits”; they are conceived, in the primitive mentality, as some “alive corpses”; then as some ghosts coming from the shadow kingdom among the alive to accomplish a curse. Setting the story in an ancient space, Eminescu illustrates in his poem two opposite motifs: the Romanian motif, the belief in ghosts and the northern motif, the deep faith in magic powers.

The old wizard in “Strigoii” is one and the same of “Povestea magului calator prin stele”. He stands for the wisdom and the power of the earth, being as old as times and as strong as them. The wizard travels among stars because he himself is the genius, a traveller to the endlessness of his soul. The symbol develops a meaning specific to Eminescu. If in “Strigoii” the wizard is Zamolxe’s servant, in “Povestea magului calator prin stele” he becomes the genius, the consciousness of immortality which he gets to on the long way of descending from the imaginary world to the real one.

In “Memento mori”, nature becomes fantastic mythological beings, in the myth of the Dochia Fairy. In Dochia’s wood fortress lives the army of Dacia’s gods, representing nature broken loose in a storm run by Zamolxe. The Dacian myth deepens and relates to other southern an northern mythologies, in mysterious pages, difficult to interpreted. Inheriting the image of Dacia – depicted as a paradise in the literature of 1848 period. The mythic Dacia in “Memento mori” has no beginning, doesn’t seem to have experienced development and seems to exist for ever. In the structure of Dacia’s landscape one can barely see a frozen rocking of a primordial cosmic pulsation.

Just like in the folk love, Eminescu’s love comes to life from material elements of the beloved one, bearer of a magical task in conveying feelings. In the same authentic folklore vision in “Calin (file din poveste)”, the traditional imperial wedding is celebrated as a symbol of the cosmic triumph of the good over the evil. The whole nature rejoices with the guests in a bunch of symbols. The insects’ weeding has the same symbolic value, the whole vision being a dream like atmosphere whose fantastic is woven from the threads of an ancient mythical representation, still kept in the folklore (traditional) thinking.

In the Romanian literature, Eminescu proves to be a representative of the modern titan themes. He processes the folklore motifs of the Romanian myth. Eminescu, like a poet of the modern titan themes, transforms the dragon in “Fata din gradina de aur”, who in the popular belief is a symbol of the evil, into a symbol of the goodness, or of the creative genius in “Luceafarul’ (“Evening Star”). Hyperion is subject to divinity, yet he is not a defeated Satan, but a demon resigned to his own conscience, an alter-ego who is the Demiurge.

For Lucian Blaga the myth is the attempt of revealing a mystery with imaginative means; for Mircea Eliade the myth is a story of the sacred, regarding the fabulous times of the beginnings; for Mihai Eminescu the myth is often just a starting point of a thematic approach, with visible openings to larger areas of existence, to the own conscience. The myths in the commented poems set new relations between the meaning and the poetic ego.

Eminescu’s fantastic prose is build upon a sound philosophical basis. It is shaped around the time and space reflections in the theory of metempsychosis and around a series of concepts like avatar, archetype, anamnesis. These concepts, together with the theories of time and space become Eminescu’s fundamental philosophy and are part of his round conception about world and life. In “Sarmanul Dionis”, the poet starts from the Kantian premise but he builds his arguments in the manner of Shopenhaur. With this short-story, the author inaugurates a new direction in the Romanian prose, namely the metaphysical, philosophical, fantastic direction. In “Archaeus”, Eminescu expresses his theory about this particular topic concerning it the great mystery of life The theme of metempsychosis appears in the short-story “Avatarii Faraonului Tla”. The author praises the superior Indian spirituality as opposed to the limited pragmatic European spirituality. “Geniu pustiu” is a novel in which there is a balance between the realistic and the fantastic directions, both the accurate description of reality and the insertion of the dream into everyday life go together.

Eminescu’s fantastic is philosophical, doctrinarian, giving depth to his prose and poetry, and guaranteeing its originality at universal level. We undelined analogies and differences between Eminescu’s view on fantastic and the view of the great romantic European writers: Novalis, Jean Paul Richter, Hoffmann, Holderlin, Théophile Gautier, Gerard de Nerval, Young, Byron, Edgar Allan Poe.

The analysis of Ion Creanga’s work from the perspective of the fantastic is to be found in the chapter entitled “Ion Creanga and the Mythological fantastic” with the following subchapters: “Archetype Structures of Fairytales”, “Demonology”, “The Initiation Journey, “The Story of Harap-Alb”.

Creanga is appreciated for the homerism of his view, namely his capacity to see and evoke in a grand manner. His interest for greatness, together with the touch of a magic and miracle lead us to the conclusion that his stories and fairytales must be seen from the fantastic perspective, too. The structural moralism which characterizes Creanga’s entire epic Essentially, the degree of matching the fantastic criteria follows the pattern that this type of moralism has to complete; that is, from the explicit didactic stage to the existential implicit stage.

Worthy of interest are two stories: “Punguta cu doi bani” and “Fata babei si fata mosneagului”. The presence of human characters together with the animal characters, the communication established between these two distinct types of characters build up the miraculous factor; these are, in fact, elements by means of which the fabulous context of the narration is being shaped, subsequently becoming a realist-fabulous universe.

In the narrations where we find demonology: (“The Story of Stan Patitul” and “Danila Prepeleac”), the suggestive rebuilding of the epic from a novelistic point of view is the translation of the magical-folk element. The fabulous and the fantastic are being approached in a realistic manner. The plot is still there but we can notice the unpredictable. The surreal, belonging to the fantastic, originates in the impact between the confessional substitution and the memorable realistic short-story setting imagined by the author. In “Ivan Turbinca”, the writer mocks at the sacred (holy) in both divine and demonic states. Creanga’s writing is made up of both the realistic way of writing a short-story and the specific ways of writing a hagiographic legend.

Quintessence of the Romanian tale, “Povestea lui Harap Alb” (the story of Harap-Alb) is a heteroclitical work. Regarding our theme we may say that this tale reveals its epic existence as a projection into fantastic. The homerism of the writer’s vision creates that unique space where the fusion between reality and imaginary reaches perfection. The text represents a real book of knowledge commented. First of all, it deals with the myth of the initiation voyage; the old king tries to advise his son. In the compositional plan, the three hypostasis of the protagonist character correspond to the stages of the initiation voyage: the stage of getting ready for the journey at the King’s court – “The King’s son, the youngest” (naïve), the stage of departure and going trough the journey, Harap-Alb, the novice, who has to be initiated, and the stage of the reward, the emperor (the initiated). The buildungsroman feature of the tale supposes the pursuing of a spiritual becoming, by means of overcoming obstacles and changing the social status of the protagonist character.

Tudor Vianu, by considering that the most important features of Creanga’s tales are “the humanizing of fantastic” and the “novelistic character”, also states that the Moldavian author “makes possible the transition of literature from the popular level to the cultured level in a very spontaneous way, by the developing of a talent brought back from the ancient rural culture that got now to the point of overcoming itself”.

The masterpiece of fantastic in Creanga’s work is, in Ovidiu Ghidirmic’s opinion, “The tale of Harap-Alb, a Romanian odyssey where, besides the taste for unusual experiences, what impresses is the flavor of the original language. The graphic of the vocabulary that starts from lexical inventiveness, unique by its boldness and the exploring of euphoric effects trough onomatopoeia make us recognize Creanga’s supremacy of style. Creanga, as our first great storyteller of universal value, stays on the same level in Romanian literature as Boccacio in the Italian literature and Chaucer in the English literature.

The fantastic hass an important place in I.L.Caragiale’s work. His notion of fantastic is terrifying and strange, built up on the Romanian mythology.

In this paper, we analyzed his fantastic approach in the chapter entitled ”Fantastic in the work of Ion Luca Caragiale” with the subchapters entitled: “The Miraculous Buff”, “The Short-story Tale” and “The Balcanic Spirit and Satanism”.

Firstly we speak about the sketches where the pattern of the allegorical-fabulous popular tale creates the impression that it has the obvious purpose of underlining the social satire from a falsely miraculous angle. Typical for such a formula are: “Norocul Culegatorului”, “Olga si Spiridus” and “O inventie mare”. The narrative substance is being touched by the colossal popular epic. As a prose structure, the author’s performance is due to the creative freedom, the fantastic obtained by combining contrasting paradoxes of the realistic and journalistic styles of the narration and the one revealed by the mythical feature. The writer’s art shows the naïve and serious tone, appropriate to the religious apocryphal tales.

The short-story tale, as an imitation meant for obtaining moralist effects is represented by the short narrations “Poveste”, “Lungul nasului” and “Fat-Frumos cu Mot-in-Frunte”. As far as these narrations are concerned we may say that the epic doesn’t flow from real everyday facts. The three narrations go beyond the folk prototype. They actually inaugurate a new tale species that of the comic- satiric genre, typically to Caragiale.

In these narrations too, the function of the fantastic element, extracted from the background of the folk miracles, is extremely easy to spot. The author’s effort is due to the revival of the fantastic tale and to the transition of the latter into a short-story structure. To imitate the folk tale, Caragiale had to refresh and tame the original epic substance to the specific rules of short-story creation, namely what the modern theory of the narrative prose calls “short-story tale”. And that is what, in the Romanian literature, Caragiale and Creanga brilliantly illustrate.

Regarding the short-story tale, the writer’s masterpiece is “Abu-Hassan”. Subtitled “oriental story” the prose brings to our attention one of the most unusual form of intrusion concerning the folk mythical fantastic. The extraordinary capacity of structuring, in the sense of individualizing this piece of prose originates in the subtle combination of the comedy-anecdote substance with the fantastic concept translated into particular shapes.

The following narrations: “Calul Dracului”, “Kir Ianulea”, “La Hanul lui Manjoala”, “La conac” si “In vreme de razboi”- quite different as a structure tend to the epic realism. The fantastic originating in the folk magic reveals the deep demonic dimension of “Satanism”. It enters the psychology of man, often marking his behavior and, implicitly, his destiny. Here comes the most important element of Caragiale fantastic, namely what the critics have called “Satanism” of the great writer’s epical fantastic vision. Caragiale`s Satanism doesn’t surpass the folk concept; the devil embodies itself in man to tempt our weaknesses; we can consider “La conac” as a good example; in “La hanul lui Manjoala” the devil takes the shape of an animal; it is the spirit that disturbs our subconscious allowing to some well kept desires to get to the surface. Referring to the technique of the fantastic, the author uses the fantastic with a master’s technique. Thus, the Caragiale’s realism, visible throughout his writing, is in complete balance with the magical fantastic, the sign of an artistic lucidity which escapes into the fantastic in order to epically unfold his moralist intuitions, which in their turn, come from the contemplation of the human mechanisms of experience and observation.

According to the different patterns they follow, these stories identify satanism with the fantastic. While the satanism in “Calul dracului” and “ Kir Ianulea” has a distinctive epic expression, in “La hanul lui Manjoala”, “La conac”, “In vreme de razboi” we witness the contamination phenomenon of the character’s psychology. Such differential phenomena are meant to unravel the true typology of this particular area of Caragiale’s prose and also to capture the relation with the fantastic.

In the narrative literature, the fantastic is the privileged field of the extraordinary, of what is out of the ordinary, either by the exotics or by the unusual. Its specificity supposes the touching of extremes, the situation of foreignness, which is the unconventional. Tzvetan Todorov considers that the fantastic has a very short existence, occupying the interval of an uncertainty, of a reader’s hesitation, of a hero’s dilemma: what is happening is real or it is just an illusion?

To sum we keep in mind that the fantastic concept can’t exist outside the creative fiction, and that it represents a fracture, a distortion of our perception of reality. There is a fine border between the fantastic and other forms of the bizarre of existence. Caragiale’s concept of fantastic, nuances the miraculous notion we find in Mircea Eliade’s short stories.

The last chapter is reserved to conclusions. The massive existence of the mythological fantastic is one of the main characteristics of our literature. The cultured tale is a literary species that will spectacularly flourish in the field of Romanian folk and mythology. The fantastic reflected in the works of Eminescu, Creanga and Caragiale becomes reference of spirituality. It can’t be ignored even if the works of the three great authors know other dimensions too. Even Slavici partially joins their circle. Gala Galaction inaugurates it in the mythical dimension of the specific Danube space. Sadoveanu’s fantastic is particularly complex, in works like “Creanga de aur” and “Nunta domnitei Ruxandra”. In “Mergand spre Harlau” we can anticipate the enigmatic fantastic of modern prose and in “Ochi de urs”, both the mythological and the psychological fantastic bond together.

Between the folk fabulous experiences and the miraculous mythical-magical ones, we have Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. Stefan Banulescu describes in his short-stories a veritable mythography of Baragan, which stands in-between the fabulous and the surreal.

The traditional fantastic literature knows notable accomplishments also in the works of other writers such as Liviu Rebreanu, Mircea Eliade, Mateiu Caragiale, Ion Voinea, Al. Philippide and Laurentiu Fulga. An ideological complex finds its expression in multiple epical structures. Esthetical domains where our exegesis stood long enough.



The selective critical bibliography presents the fantastic dimension reflected both in fiction and exegesis.





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