Identitate şi memorie culturală în Europa secolelor XX – XXI

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titreIdentitate şi memorie culturală în Europa secolelor XX – XXI
date de publication13.05.2017
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typeDocumentos > littérature > Documentos
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2. Early twentieth century Romania in western travel books
The twentieth century represents a period of great change in the way people lived, as a result of shifts in politics, ideology, society, economy, culture etc. The media have also developed in a manner never seen before and made the world knowledge more widely available. The period settled the settings of two world wars, the polarization between the Communist block and the Western democracies, the fall of Communism and, on the whole, brought major changes in the world’s political maps. Since it is necessary to also consider the internal struggles (a list which is by no means comprehensive of such blows would include the peasants’ revolt in 1907, the political and economic crises from the inter-war period, the brutal repression against the anti-communists, the break out of communism and the subsequent transition, all favored by the international context), it would be no exaggeration to say that the twentieth century was the most tumultuous in the history of Romania. It is the period that provides the most numerous travel books on Romania, and also the period in which the travel novel takes shape as a literary species. Since the twentieth century features events that represent turning points in world history, it is appropriate to analyze the travel books on Romania within the context of the historical events that were closest to their publication.
2.1. The First World War
After two years of neutrality, Romania entered the First World War as an ally of the Triple Entente (France, the United Kingdom and Russia). It seems that, even before entering the war, Romania had been offered considerable financial aid from the Great Britain, which engaged itself in massive imports of Romanian cereal crops [thus paying, through the Bank of England, an anticipation of 10.000.000£, according to Seton-Watson, 1934: 415], consequently preventing the opposite side from making the purchase. As Lăcătuşu [2000: 204] notices, this was a profoundly political act; moreover, Britain provided the Romanian army with modern warfare material. On the 17th August 1916, Romania signed the Treaty of Alliance and was to declare war to Austria-Hungary, with the subsequent right to annex territories inhabited by Romanians. Cultural relations with Britain also developed considerably that period, thanks to a firm lobby made in England by The Association of Romanian University Professors [Lăcătuşu, 2000: 204], which led to the foundation of The English – Romanian Society in August 1917.

Two travel books on Romania were published right after the First World War and the Great Romanian Union in 1918: Ethel Pantazzi’sRoumania in Light and Shadow (1920) and Maude Parkinson’s Twenty Years in Roumania (1919), both considered to be ‘friendly’ by the Romanian philologists of the time.

According to Parkinson [1919: 5], Romania represents a country in which she spent many of the happiest years of her life. The English governess’s work (which is mentioned, later on, by other travelers, too) resumes the (developing) motif of Romania as a dichotomous space between East and West. Without necessarily considering her findings as being negative, Parkinson describes a rather stationary society, resisting the Western development model (with the exception of the French manners and trends) and indicates Orthodoxy as a fundamental feature of the Romanian identity. She also speaks of the Romanian (unusual, exotic) table habits, in which lunch and dinner are copious in what she calls a breakfastless country [1919: 57]. Parkinson alternates her personal Romanian experience (in which she idyllically presents, among other things, the customs and traditions from the rural zones using obvious rhetorical devices meant to exoticize, or labels the Orthodox baptism as being cruel), with almost theoretical considerations related to Romania’s state organization. The author strongly supports the Romanian cause during the First World War:
Everyone, I should think, would be fully aware by now of the aims which decided Roumania to intervene in the late war. To regain Transylvania and see it incorporated in Roumania has always been the ardent desire of every Romanian [1919: 251].
She gives the example of a professor whom she personally met, who had to leave the Hungarian Transylvania because of his political views.

A Canadian whose husband, a high-ranked Romanian naval officer fought in the First World War, Pantazzi spent no less than ten years in Romania, between 1909 and 1919. While going further with presenting the East-West dichotomy of Romania (“In one aspect it is Occidental, Parisian, elegant; in another, Oriental, provincial and picturesquely squalid. It is the mirror reflecting faithfully every image in turn of this old-new border country”, p. 67), she confirms what Deletant [in Beller & Leerssen, 2007: 224-225] believes would represent the main coordinates of Romania’s image in (travel) literature: the Latin heritage, on the one hand, and the fatalistic character, on the other, which she expresses in the form of a cliché:
I find on the whole the Roumanians have an emotional temperament very like the Italians with whom I have come in contact, but their minds, though possessing the logical clearness characteristic of the Latin races, have a strong leaning to mysticism and that fatalistic “laissez-aller” one sees in the Russians and the Turks. They let things go their own way, because “It is destiny” [1920: 66].
Pantazzi deals with Romanians’ customs and traditions, and also makes some critical comments on the existence of stray dogs on the streets (p.116), an aspect which, sadly enough, has survived to this day and has become a source of stereotyping. A certain objectiveness is suggested by the title of Pantazzi’s book, although the light and the shadow mark the pre-war period and the war period, respectively. Pantazzi is, in her turn, very supportive of the Romanian cause, as she excitedly praises (p. 279) the fulfillment of “ ‘Rumania Mare’ – Greater Roumania – the national dream of centuries.”

Pantazzi is also the one who promoted in America Dorothea Kirke’s Domestic life in Rumania (1916, published in London and New York), a collection of 31 letters written by Millie Ormonde to her cousin, Edmund Talbot, Squire of Talwood, Devonshire. The title refers to Ormonde’s own domestic life, and not to that of the Romanians. The letters are (supposedly) sent from Bucharest and Sinaia, but there are no temporal indications. Besides the personal affairs that are communicated, references to Romania (mostly dealing with the beauty of different landscapes and the kindness of people) are highly positive, with no criticism whatsoever.

Lady Kennard (the daughter of the British Minister to Romania) published her Roumanian Diary in 1918, a book which presents a vivid picture of Romania’s entrance in the First World War. The war circumstances generate a terrible image characterized by hunger and illness. However, she is also supportive of the Romanian cause, claiming that
Roumania is deserving of notice and appreciation; we outsiders feel that we want to go home and tell the family of Allies that our little brother Roumania has grown into a man of whom we have reason to be very proud (p.202).
2.2. The Period between the Two World Wars
Both the cultural and political life of Romania and its relations with Western countries took a rather paradoxical turn after the accomplishment of the long standing ideal of Romanian unity in 1918. On the one hand, Romania’s cultural relations with Britain developed significantly. Of course, the newly established Romanian territory received a greater attention from the West, yet the average British newspaper reader from the thirties, as Deletant [2005:8] observes, knew two things about Romania – one was oil and the other Mme Lupescu. Only few travelled to Romania and the British public had to rely on folklorists and writers such as Sitwell and Patmore, while a more specialized public was better served by a number of journalists and by Seton – Watson (and Samuelson, we should add). Back to Romania, an English department was set up at the University of Iasi, in 1925, another one at the University of Bucharest in 1936, while in 1934, the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries (called the British Council starting with 1938) began its activity in Romania as a complementary instrument of foreign policy. Anthony Eden, foreign affairs minister and later Prime Minister [cited by Ursu in Deletant, 2005, p.202] believed that the British Council was an indispensable ally of foreign policy. The establishment of the British Council in Romania was a consequence of the Anglo-Romanian societies which were founded in Cluj (1923) and Bucharest (1927) and strongly supported by the United Kingdom [Deletant, 2005:16]. The Council was paying the salaries of six British professors who were teaching English in Bucharest, Iasi and Chernivtsi [Deletant, 2005: 22]. Translations from Romanian into English continued to be published in Britain in this period. Mention should be made of a collection of Romanian Stories (1921) translated by Lucy Byng, which encompasses stories originally written by authors such as Sadoveanu, Slavici, Creangă or Caragiale. Also, Alice Wise translated Rebreanu’s Pădurea spânzuraţilor (The Forest of the Hanged) in 1930. Professor Dragos Protopopescu, head of the English department of the University of Bucharest, had a significant contribution to the reception of the Romanian literature and culture in the Great Britain, he himself providing numerous studies and translations. The reception of the British literature and culture in Romania was facilitated by N. Iorga, who published A History of Anglo-Romanian Relations in 1931. On the other hand, British – Romanian economic relations had stagnated. As Deletant [2005: 8] shows, Britain declined to make any but the most generalized commitments towards Eastern Europe after the First World War. Since Romania was an exporter of food and raw materials and an importer of manufactures, its modernization depended largely on foreign loans and investments. However, Britain stopped treating Romania like a privileged trading partner, so Romanian products had to compete with any other sources. The oil that might have interested Britain was quasi-unavailable, due to the law series from 1924 which established Romanian control over all the mineral resources. Foreign involvement was accepted, but 3/5 of the capital and 2/3 of the administration had to be Romanian [Hitchins, 1994:406]. Even so, British investments in the Romanian oil industry were quite significant (to Romanian standards), and between 1929 and 1933 Britain accounted for the most oil exports. Such financial activity was, however, considered modest by the United Kingdom [Hitchins, 1994: 499], who also considered that, politically, Romania was floating in France’s orbit.

The period between the two world wars had a significant impact on Romania’s rating in the West, and the country brought its own input in this respect. Three widely known travel books on Romania were published in the thirties: Hall’s Roumanian Furrow (1933), Sitwell’s Roumanian Journey (1938) and Patmore’s Invitation to Romania (1939).

As its title suggests, Roumanian Furrow is an autobiographical travel book which relates young English traveler Donald Hall’s journey to Romania in search of a rural lifestyle which was gradually evanescing in the West. The motif of the Romanian rural lifestyle which is unaffected by the suffocating modernization has survived to this day and is widely used by tourism companies as well as by the friendly foreign media or statesmen (such as Prince Charles, for example). Nowadays, Romania is investing considerably in the market segment appealing to the so-called “green tourists”, and Hall’s travel book pretty much meets the same requirements (while also evoking the locals’ generosity and hospitality). The author recounts his active participation in the peasant life and is very impressed with the local customs. However, Hall warns that this terra incognita, as it is labeled by the Folklore Journal (Vol. 47, No. 3, Sep., 1936) is likely to lose its virgin specificity due to the inroad of the western civilization (again, a recurring motif nowadays too). The book was reedited in 2007 and is fairly advertised in England, in a period in which the rescission of work restrictions for Romanians in the United Kingdom is causing much controversy.

The most famous travel book on Romania is most probably Sir Sacheverell Sitwell’s Roumanian Journey (1938). His enterprise is a result of a private arrangement with the Callimachi family of boyards. He even admits that Romania is one of the least known countries in Europe and assumes that an Englishman’s knowledge of the country is limited to Bucharest, Sinaia and the oil wells. This arrangement seems a very wise act of Romanian propaganda (to which it is said that the Government contributed financially, with five hundred pounds, according to Goldsworthy, 1998:194). Sitwell spent four weeks in Romania (during which he personally met Queen Mary, an ardent promoter of the Romanian culture), and shows an idyllic picture of the country in the inter-war period. He combines the attraction for the exotic with scholarly historical references, while also comparing the places he visited with those he found in other countries. His book is often cited by writers who later travelled to Romania. For instance, Ogden (2000) frequently refers to Sitwell’s work while sharing his own impressions. Although he spent the four weeks travelling in a high class manner, the writer actively participated in the Romanian everyday life. He was very impressed by the churches and tackles the (still surviving) controversial statute of the Gypsies, whom he criticizes for their resistance to conform to the lifestyle of the majority and to the legal and social conventions of the Romanian society, although he rightfully acknowledges their musical talents and handy craft work. This opinion is also shared by Newman in That Blue Danube, 19353. Sitwell explains that in Romania, minorities are treated with utmost respect and benefit from all applicable liberties, yet it would be legitimate to say that they suffer from many inconveniences because of the Gypsies. Overall, the book is very appreciative of the Romanian people, its traditions and even of Romanian cities (although he himself makes reference to the Eastern influences, Byzantine or Levantine). Sitwell contradicts, based on his personal experience, almost all the negative aspects that were shown in the British media of the time.4 The book became famous enough to cross the Atlantic, as it was reviewed (rather negatively) in the American Saturday Review of Literature (vol. XVIII, no. 18, 27 August 1938, p. 22). The reviewer considers that the photographs are the book’s major attraction, as the writing features too many descriptions of private houses which could not be typical of the whole country. What the American reviewer considers as really interesting are the references to oil wells and Gypsies.

Anne Marie Callimachi is also responsible for Derek Patmore’s visit to Romania which was followed by yet another book, Invitation to Roumania (1939). Patmore’s book is different from those by Hall and Sitwell as it concentrates on the upper classes rather than on the rural communities by which the former authors seemed so fascinated. Nevertheless, Patmore also portrays Romanians as being kind and tolerant, qualities which might have caused them problems. Patmore also makes some scholarly references to Romanian literary works and provides an English translation of the Miorita ballad.

Tolerance is the leit-motif of the references to Romanians in the travel writings of the 1930’s. The constant modernization of the state and its historic accomplishments, as well as the generosity of ordinary people and the beauty of Romanian landscapes (still unaffected by human interference), are other features so frequently referred to, that they became (positive) clichés. In accordance with the unprecedented development of cultural relations between Britain and Romania (although not so much endorsed by economic relations), we could well state that Romania had never benefited from a better coverage in terms of English travel books than in the period between the two World Wars.
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