Mateiu I. Caragiale

Mateiu Caragiale left us a literary heritage, fragmentary in its outlook that puzzled and amazed through its originality, through an appetite for mystery it seemed to originate in, through the secret inspiration that fed it and through its old-fashioned lyricism which was still real that eludes all analysis, but, above all, through the unusual life experience that it presents. Those in search of classifications I was talking about at the beginning of my study immediately offered him a place, as if they had endowed him with some small senior's right, in a particular area, where he wasn't usurping anybody's territory, pushing him beyond the tumultuous flow of a literature that was orienting through its main figures in an opposite direction. The criticism between the wars, dominated by the idea and the ideal of social and psychological realism, in which it saw the culmination of narrative prose and the true sign of maturity of a literature that lost its way too much in the mists and mirages of lyricism, would not have it brought back there by that wizard with his anachronistic magic wand. In spite of the recognition of the literary merits, the author of Old-Court Philanderers couldn't be assigned but a side-place, of a baroque and bizarre originality that seemed to have contented even the writer himself. His lack of manifest ambition, the withdrawal in a corner of solitude and pride, the artificiality in which he had hidden his self and his works, in the last period of his life, didn't lead to a different conclusion regarding his literary posterity. Admitting to such qualities, making them the basis of the future evaluation of the writer's work seems to us the most dangerous judgement that can be made so to say in his favour. After all, the critics that have done that and are still doing that are merely repeating what was said at that time about the publishing of Pajerele [Arms]: a lyrical work lacking vitality but, of a genuine originality, developing or speculating on cultural themes, originating in an anachronistic position and placing itself outside the reality of the real life and of the reality of the time of Romanian society, but asserting itself through an attitude of great, selfish persistence. It is enough to pick these formulas and use them on a higher level to apply them to Old-Court Philanderers or to the whole work of Mateiu Caragiale. This originality, of a way which was not the main one, is but one of the possibilities of interpreting our writer's works. Another way seems to come from the originality of structure, from the intended usurpation of the story, from the aggression on the classical narrative style, from the assertion of another narrative formula, due to which Mateiu Caragiale has an assured place of prominence in the prose contemporary to him and especially in that which followed in the next decades. G. Călinescu, displaying a categorical disbelief in this original formula that contradicted anyway the classical style, named by him Balzacian and cultivated in his own novels, inferred the possibility of using it in a general modernist orientation and put the writer "rather in the surrealist group. His resemblance to Edgar Poe – the critic asserted – in his preoccupation for authenticity, leaving aside all invention, the colour of the reddish sky, the raving bustle, the withdrawal in the ineffable ancestral element, draws the writer near to I. Vinea and I. Barbu, to the poets of the obscure fund."[1] This classification is not entirely wrong, but it should be sustained through other words than those of the author of the History of Romanian Literature. The complex structure of Philanderers proves to be unexpectedly modern, and this thing is a fact, irrespective of the fact that it is or not the consequence of a conscious action. This assertion, that I've made for the first time in the study published in 1971[2], was categorically rejected, but in my opinion, without valid arguments, by Ovidiu Cotruş in his book: "I cannot subscribe to the assertion of Alexandru George that Mateiu I. Caragiale's works, alongside with those of Ion Vinea – especially The Paradise of Sighs – is 'the most important attempt of disorganisation of the classical novel (in fact realist)'[3]. An attempt is always developing at the level of consciousness, of the intentional project of the author. Sensitive to the experiments of the new art, (much more modern than Mateiu I. Caragiale, even though The Paradise of Sighs bears no comparison to Old-Court Philanderers), Ion Vinea intended, without doubt, a "disorganisation" like this. Mateiu tried, on the other hand, through various devices, such as autobiographical fiction, the resemblance to a chronicle, the feeble psychological motivations, to save the realist appearances of his work."[4] This observation doesn't seem valid to me. The differences between the art of the two great lyrical prose writers are not so drastic and, especially if they exist, do not emerge from the lyrical and anti-epic structure of their works, the only one discussed by us (not to mention the fact that The Paradise of Sighs itself – irrespective of the value of this piece of writing – is a model, even better, of "autobiographical fiction" and thus is close to Mateiu's novel in this respect). Both writers participate to that tendency of overlooking the traditional epic structure and of constructing their work through memories, evocations or dreams developing in a way other than following a narrative thread. As for the "intentional project" of Mateiu Caragiale's writing, it didn't take direct explicit forms but it exists nevertheless. The artist never proclaimed his intentions, he didn't launch manifestos, didn't even sketch the project of a poetic art, but this doesn't mean that his work doesn't give out a meaning, an implicit intention, through its very compositional structure so shockingly original. This is what we were referring to when we talked about its unexpected "modernity" – but without mentioning how much deliberate or conscious it is. Besides that, two literary works may resemble in essential aspects, irrespective of their artistic value – and in this respect I believe we can notice the resemblance of Old-Court Philanderers not only with The Paradise of Sighs but also with other writings that contribute to the same tendency, within the lyrical novel. (The difference in value between the prose of Edouard Dujardin from Les lauriers sont coupés and Joyce's Ulysses does not cancel their great resemblance of structure, if we are to consider the use in both writings of "interior monologue"[5]. Concerning the striking originality of Old-Court Philanderers and the possible comparison to certain very modern experiments, we will dwell upon a fundamental observation Al. Oprea made in the same direction as my former inductions: "It seems more important to me that, in the discussion around the novel, we should underline another element that reveals the author in a shockingly modern hypostases. I am referring to his presence among the characters of the book, not only as a witness (that is to narrate what he saw and heard), but as a writer that, simultaneously with living the events, aims at the artistic shaping of them, directing his observation, "spying" on his characters, in a word, elaborating his book as its novelistic matter itself constitutes. Old-Court Philanderers belongs in a way to the category of a "novel about novels" the modern prose has so many examples of."[6] And the critic enumerates some other elements, from the title of the book, suggested as such by Paşadia himself, to the permanent attitude of observer of the narrator, acknowledged and even accepted by the other characters, or even from the connection he makes in Old-Court Philanderers with his preceding "works" (that is with Pajerele, already published) to his attitude of demiurge – in my opinion, much better illustrated in Remember. But, beyond this perfectly valid observation which shows the attitude and the fundamental situation of the "narrator" in Old-Court Philanderers, Al. Oprea does not insist on the other "modern elements of the novel, be it unconscious: "We would be obviously wrong – he writes afterwards – if, under the influence of other models we would push the demonstration too far; the truth is that Mateiu Caragiale doesn't seem to be interested to use at the level of the technique of the novel, the advantages that such a hypostasis offers him, he does not go so far as to question the way in which reality is rendered (which will be, for example, the ambition of the representatives of the 'new novel'). He ignores, so it seems, such possibilities, remaining with obstinacy the romantic prose writer, attracted by the secrets of some beings, that, as he himself puts it, 'kindle' the imagination to build on them small novels." Of course it would be an exaggeration to affiliate Mateiu Caragiale to the "new novel" or rather to the "lyrical novel," choosing the extreme form of a literary formula to which he is in general linked. But in the spirit of the "new novel" or rather of the "lyrical novel," certain characteristics common both to it and to Old-Court Philanderers will not appear to us as contradictory or as impossibilities. "The question is," Al. Oprea continues, "if this contradictory situation in which he founds himself, being a witness and an actor as well and up to a certain point a director in the events narrated is without consequences. Are we still to believe some romantic poses once the sleepless, always watching eye of the demiurge was enticed? To live spontaneously the act of life and to objectify yourself, in art, represent totally opposed operations." These too categorical discriminations aren't justified unless we consider the elements in a so-called conflict from the point of view of the classical novel, linear and objective. They will appear to us as very naturally joined if we consider them as components of a subjectivist and lyrical conception. There is no contradiction between the position of witness and that of an actor or even director if we place them within the confession narrative, which seems autobiographical; they appear to us, on the contrary, as very natural. Even if living spontaneously the act of life and objectifying yourself, in art, seemed completely opposite operations, they do not exclude each other categorically, but represent two succeeding moments in a strategy of the novelistic development that follows a line other than the classical one, that is the one that has as aim the isolation of a sector of reality through objectification. In any epic literature in which the author takes part in the action and in general in any epic scheme in which we suppose the existence of the author as witness or as narrator, these moments coexist and they match. That is why we cannot agree with the conclusive exclamation of the author of the study: "A novel-chronicle, a novel-confession and a novel-apology, can one find terms more antithetic than these ones? And Mateiu Caragiale has to smuggle through these mountains that touch their peaks like in a combat to steal the holy water of art! The command levers will go in the end to the poet that usurps, in a Mephistophelian way, the legal rights of the chronicler." Mateiu Caragiale's works do not seem to come from a conflict or a confrontation, a rivalry between the poet and the prose writer, between the one who remembers nostalgically and the realist observer, even though these hypostases can be isolated within his artistic approach. He sets in alternation or combines quite heterogeneous elements, but through a natural process, deriving from defying the classical modality of development and in fact of "composing" the action. His artistic approach does not shape itself into a confrontation with the difficulties that it would impose upon itself unwillingly, but appears as a free synthesis of some contradictory impulses. In the light of the modern novelistic experiments, the novel-chronicle is no longer set in an authentic antithesis with the novel-confession, nor does the intention to express things in an epic form exclude the idea of apology. Proust's work that I have mentioned reconciles all up to a certain extent. And it isn't the only example… Almost all the recent novels and especially the poetical novel made useless the criteria of the separation of the genres and much more so of the species or types of novel. What is for some a constitutive deficiency of Mateiu's art is likely to appear to others, that have gone through the latest experiments of the novel, as its main victory. Last but not least, I believe that one of the reasons why the posterity will appreciate Mateiu Caragiale's work derives from this originality of structure – that I haven't ceased to highlight in my study, but considering it so far only in itself – if we consider it as a fact of profound, unrepeatable experience corresponding to a unique relation author-work. Indeed, one can assert that the dislocated form of his work, observing other laws than the common ones and developing in its own ways only known by the author, translates at a literary and stylistic level the very social and historical experience that the literary text illustrates. To the classic way of presentation, to the definite structure of the realist novel of the Balzacian and Tolstoyan type would correspond a century later the experiments of the new novel, illustrating another historical era and another mentality. In spite of his great admiration for Balzac, Proust, for example, the great initiator of the new novel, adopted or elaborated the least restraining form of combining and developing the episodes and the moments of the action, did away with the epicism and gave subjectivity a main, constitutive role, like a sort of correspondence at a literary level of his so peculiar life experience. It is an observation that has been made by many analysts of the Proustian novel; without isolating the pre-eminence of one or other formula and without considering the Proustian one the illustrative expression and, consequently, decadent, of an era of moral and social dissolution, I will still notice that the "subjectivity" or "arbitrariness" of the new novel, in their different forms, have a certain correspondence in the process of modification of the relations with reality, in a philosophy that allots another place to the ego, in a general view upon the world more detached from the conventional, a view typical of a part of contemporary society. Mateiu Caragiale's writing is, at the strict level of the literary technique also, the result of such a situation. He mingles up to confusion the experience of the author as witness with evocation, but also with the shaping of a world, in a literary mode that appears as the most direct expression of this very intimate relation. Mateiu Caragiale's writing succeeds in illuminating an experience of life and of historical culture, in an artistic formula that proves to be more authentic (or "authenticating") than the linear story and the flat representation. In this respect he is not limited to elaborating a mere "picture," although our writer didn't lack imagination, on the contrary, we may say that it was one of his main virtues. To him, the "object" of his writing is a reality that constitutes itself through the act of writing, the emotional involvement lightening the moments and situations in the book more than their intrinsic epic virtues (which are a fact still, but are kept hidden). It is there a fact of crucial importance in characterising Mateiu's writing and which separates him totally from the mere lyrical style, marked by past-ridden accents, which is illustrated by other prose writers, from those who could have offered him a "model." I'm referring first of all to Barbey d'Aurevilly, a nostalgic writer of an anachronistic attitude, led by the same subjectivist or even egotistic impulses, but for whom the "writing," with all its solemn out of the ordinary air, is dominated by verve, by an expression of unrestrained vital force, by unquestionable rhetoric, like a verbal and stylistic noise, but at the same time displaying a perfect clearness and a classical origin in its entire approach. The Matein style, sinuous, "tormented" (in Călinescu's words), complicated, with unbalanced levels, crossing over one another, offers a perspective much more adequate as to the complexity, the exceptionist and hidden characteristic of this literature and of the way in which it can make itself visible to us through a corresponding approach: with discontinuities, nostalgic returns, imaginative projections or even through compensatory evasions into dreams. In this respect works the essential confusion that Mateiu Caragiale's writing entertains, that between storyteller and narrator of a reality, but also that between creator and the world of his imagination. That unique tone of mysterious authenticity comes from the very mist that surrounds the secret making of this work, the so unusual existence of the sources of inspiration – which, alongside with the work, constitutes the great achievement in the artist's life. The experience of writing such a book is different from that which resides in observing transcribing, rendering or reconstructing. It implicates emotional involvement, an action of vital compensation and a correspondence of essences for each page, for each line. Old-Court Philanderers is not meant to be just a realist picture nor a more or less exact historical "restoration," but, besides these, a judgement of history, a drama solved in a twofold way, ideal and real, which is rather clearly observable through the ending of the novel, when the main characters are reunited for the last time in a dream, to disappear into unreality, but also in the sunset, in that "bloody sunset" that the author had contemplated with sadness and voluptuousness even from his literary debut and had evoked in so many lyrical fragments. It is an ideal apotheosis of a world, of an era, that Mateiu Caragiale had observed in their reality with full lucidity and in which he lingered or wanted to linger without apparently no restriction of a "higher" order. The ending, more cruel and prosaic, at the level of reality, counts less, although is has its value. It finds the three philanderers fallen apart, taking each of them the way that destiny had given them, in loneliness or at least on totally different levels. This precipitation "into prose," liquidation of the whole fiction and internal cohesion of the novel is barely softened by the lyrical moments and, for the last time, nostalgic: Pena Corcoduşa's death and the reappearance of the musical theme (in fact: funeral, as Ovidiu Cotruş proved it well) of the "slow waltz" that accompanies for the last time Pantazi's return – in both of the meanings of this word. The reader won't miss, though, the dry tone, prosaic on purpose of the way the author knows how to change his stylistic register in his last pages. The double solution that the novel offers to us reveals once more the "double" man that Mateiu Caragiale proves to be; living the same moments in dream and in reality, praising and denigrating them, imagining himself as direct participant to the action and at the same time a demiurge and judge. Without directly speculating, like in Remember, the relation author-work of art to make a real demonstration of artistic creation, in Old-Court Philanderers also, this subjectivist tinge comes to surpass or to break the level of strict fiction, allotting to the storyteller another role than that of mere observer. These conclusions being drawn, Mateiu Caragiale's writing, with all its so peculiar aura, doesn't appear as the result of a merely distorting subjectivity; on the contrary, we'd rather believe this passion, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes violent, to be the exceptional victory of an urge for subjectivity, demanding, imposing a great, original privilege of existence, for the very reason of unveiling its essence. Maybe within this vision even his aristocratic whim had its contribution and would find its explanation: it didn't remain at the level of simple "snobbery" and of a superficial "pose," but purified itself, translated itself in that superior certainty, careless of any convention and rule, that we will have noticed not only in the general conception of Old-Court Philanderers, but also in the smallest episodes of the author's writing and life. I don't know if I have to praise in this achievement the fact that at last the author seems to be talking "from" his work or the fact that he knew how to create a pure fiction that makes it right for us to have such an illusion. Instead of some terms like: mystification, illusion or even spell, I mean to impose that pure, simple, but also profound, of art. 1981
[1] The History of Romanian Literature, 1941, p. 504[2] Mateiu Caragiale and the Style of Evocation, in Signs and Marks, Cartea Românească Publishing House, 1971, p. 54-63[3] In fact my sentence continued: "and of replacement of the narrative style with the evocative one" (p. 62)[4] Ovidiu Cotruş, cited work, p. 251[5] In fact, the fundamental difference between The Paradise of Sighs and Old-Court Philanderers does not reside in their degree of lyricism (very close), nor in defying the established narrative formula (coming from an explicit programmatic intention, in the case of Ion Vinea, and from a deficiency of creation with Mateiu Caregiale – as Ovidiu Cotruş believes), but from the fact that The Paradise of Sighs applies the lyrical style in the analysis of a case of consciousness, of a theme from the psychological literature, while Mateiu Caragiale's novel ignores all psychologism and combines the lyrical style with the evocation of a historic moment, of the ending of a world, written by a man who thinks he can give to his subjective vision the profound meaning of a real revelation. [6] Al. Oprea, Mateiu Caragiale – The Absolution of the Artist in The Myth of the Misty Maker, Albatros Publishing House, 1973, p. 209

by Alexandru George (b. 1930)