Romain Rolland's life coincided closely with the span of the French Third Republic, an age of which he was an acute and critical observer. A mind combining an unusual breadth of sympathies with uncompromisingly lofty values and a novelist's eye for detail, his interests cover a wide range of areas - history, musicology, biography, politics, religion, the East - and his correspondence with both the famous and the obscure, is exceptionally rich. He is remembered for his plays on the French Revolution, his work on Beethoven, his novels, his biographies, his opposition to the First World War, his desperate attempts between the wars to reconcile Gandhism and Leninism and, during the Occupation, his nostalgia for the Catholic faith of his forbears. Drawing on the wealth of the unpublished Archives Romain Rolland, this book offers a fresh perspective on the events of an often turbulent life and traces the changing patterns of his thought, which disconcerted his friends by its constant evolution.
Rolland's work is unified by a fierce desire for independence, an insistence that the psychological force of faith is more important than its content, by an obsession with historical process and by a constant musicianly quest for harmony, or the reconciliation of discords within a synthetic whole. The author attempts to do justice to every side of Romain Rolland's output, showing how each of his works in their diverse genres contributes to the overall thrust of his developing thought. Though covering his political thought, the author avoids over-stressing it, as much previous criticism has done, and gives due weight to the work of his last years, which so far has been very imperfectly studied.