The Filigree Of Genius

The Secret Correspondence between Mihai Eminescu and Veronica Micle Halfway through last year, a genuine editor's bomb was being thrown on our cultural market: the Polirom publishing house based in Iaşi had issued – and was launching on 15 June – a volume of secret mail between Mihai Eminescu and Veronica Micle. At the end of a century in which both Eminescu's work as an "artistic" whole and virtually every scrap of paper that had Eminescu's writing on it had been thoroughly read through on all sides, regarded from various vantage points, analyzed, commented on, etc, at the end of a century in which the great Eminescu academic edition had just been finished, here comes a massive stock of secret mail out of the blue: 93 letters that Eminescu had sent to Veronica Micle, 15 that she had sent him (plus another 2 to Harieta Eminovici, the poet's sister), and, finally, a note that Maiorescu had addressed to Eminescu. The amount of this previously unknown mail is also amazing: comparing the 108 brand new "pieces" (whose authenticity no expert has challenged so far) to the 66 "traditional" letters (Eminescu's 13, Veronica Micle's 48 and …Octav Minar's 5) leaves one dumbfounded. So much so, that you are even afraid to fully enjoy this unlikely present that reads My sweet Lady/ My beloved Emin*. How was it possible?The tangled-up, a trifle rocambolesque story (reality meets many a time the standards of fiction) of the "survival" of these letters is de/inscribed by Christina Zarifopol-Ilias, the editor of this edition, in the second part of a preface that's even entitled The History of a Hidden Treasure. In her turn, she does this however in a muddled manner, until the names she is enumerating start to blur before your eyes, forcing you to "pin" them down on paper in the form of family trees. The letters got to us on the following connection: from Mihai Eminescu to Veronica Micle, from her to her eldest daughter, Valerie Micle Nanu Sturdza, then to the latter's daughter, Graziella Nanu-Grigorcea, and finally to Anna Maria Grigorcea-Messeri, Veronica Micle's great-granddaughter. Like a ring presented every generation to the eldest girl before wedding, the love letters between Eminescu and Veronica Micle passed an entire century through careful and worthy feminine hands that did not destroy, scatter or lessen their numbers. The family inheritance was locked in a Swiss safe (!) for maximum safety, Mrs. Graziella Nanu-Grigorcea definitely refusing, according to her grandmother's wish, to go public. Only this private "road" of the rightful and actual owners intersected decisively the enormous public interest towards anything related in one way or another to Eminescu's writing. The "ambassadors" of Romanian culture (if this is not too pretentious - and I believe that in this case it is not) have been Mrs. Maria Poenaru (former tutor and good friend of Veronica Micle's great-granddaughter) and her own daughter, Mrs. Christina Zarifopol-Illias, the editor. One cannot thank Mrs. Maria Poenaru enough, for due to her resolution this mail has become integrated in the public sphere after more than a century. But there is one more thing that adds to this long row of favorable opportunities and circumstances, something related to the very starting point: Veronica Micle, otherwise so "unfaithful", has apparently treasured these letters from Eminescu, annotating them with, well, feminine "particularity", enabling thus the dating of many pieces. How different is this from the sick fantasy of a mystifier like Octav Minar! How different indeed from Titu Maiorescu taking the poet's manuscript case to the Academy without even trying to systematize the "treasure" and possibly fill in the blanks. This is how the fate of literary history sometimes lies in a woman's hands, in her care and, maybe, her pride of being loved by a great poet of the time… And we are lucky again: this set of secret mail not only contains 93 letters sent by Eminescu, but also 15 by Veronica Micle. But how can one account for the fact that they have stayed in Veronica Micle's possession, being from here on inherited from generation to generation? We are lucky that… the two lovers had a major quarrel at some point; angry and imperative, Veronica Micle asked back the letters she had sent (in addition to a photograph of her face) and the poet "complied". Fortunately: for we now have the possibility of going through an organic, "feedback" mail, in which many of the letters clarify each other through their mutual dependence. Both as far as the dating and the coherence of the two "discourses" are concerned. Some of Eminescu's letters are thus perfectly mirrored: namely, by those of Veronica Micle, her requests and reproaches, her hopes and frustrations. In what way Eminescu answers these requests and how far he carries them out, how he defends himself against reproach and why he upbraids her further himself: all these reactions are extremely important in order to enter the poet's psychology by means of the couple's own. This can be traced and explained more easily not in a monologue, spanned, wire-like, above all biographical determining (what else is Eminescu's poetical work but one such high voltage wire?), but rather in a dialogue imbued with the daily problems and troubles. What deserves more extensive comments – in the second "episode" of this literary review – is the fact (the "paradox") that one of the most important themes of the love mail is a very material problem: following the death of her husband, the mild and totally unsuspecting Ştefan Micle, she asks for Eminescu's help in her "application" for a lifetime allowance. Centered upon this problem, the letter dialogue between the two, lively and continuous at first, fuses into a sort of almost artistically built whole. In Caragiale, a lost letter memorably characterizes every figure involved in the plot through its actual dramatic absence, thus rendering the comedy a remarkable unity of action; here, the failure to get an allowance contributes no less memorably to the portrayal of the two lovers, of their love and of the age that "contains" them.Here we have, for instance, the poet's actual "abstraction" from the written dialogue, his justified "desertion" from the sweet tasks of amorous exercise: "don't be angry if I don't write back as soon as I get your letters, but I am truly floating among stars. I'm caught in the fever of rhyming at the moment and you will soon see what I am writing", he confesses to Veronica in the letter of 10 April 1882. We hope Veronica Micle was not angry a hundred and twenty years ago with the poet for creeping down the man's sleeve. Eminescu was writing Luceafărul in the meanwhile!… The very next letter of 24 April will redirect the brilliant author up the human "sleeve" he had escaped: "My work is done and now I only have to copy it down; consequently, our mail can resume at its regular length. Listen here, I don't get along with Verussi for political reasons". Etc, etc. It now becomes clearer that Eminescu's intrinsic seriousness rules out the option of using a woman's love and his personal feelings towards her as some sort of researching source for his poems. Of course a good quota of his love affairs (and not only that) melts into his poetry – for there are no unbreakable doors between the two selves (the creative and the social one). However, Eminescu is not the amoral writer type who would literally use those around him, and especially close friends, "crushing" as many literary meanings and effects from them as possible. (Maybe because he is a poet and not a novelist; maybe because his poetry is "romantic-classical" and not "realistic".) As can be seen, he goes by the written and unwritten laws of both these fields (of creation and of private life) without mixing them and without trying to cheat in this way. He does not answer Veronica Micle's requests and solicitations with the style effects and subtle considerations of a great disinterested poet who is actually sick with such earthly matters. Just as well, he doesn't bring the "slag" of the all too human activities inside the pure space of art: when writing Luceafărul, the poet must be completely aloof from daily problems, and even from the great pleasures of amorous dialogue. They are very different matters! Eminescu's genius also comes out of this "transparent" simplicity of adapting to reality: to the various super- and infrarealities he lived through or created. His very sound logic implies common sense, the indispensable differentiation, "discrimination" among different areas and ways of reasoning, the use of pertinent and uncorrupt criteria. My Sweet Lady/My Beloved Emin, the volume of secret mail between the poet and Veronica Micle stands, like a pincushion, countless incisions from various perspectives. With it as a starting point we can recreate the "lovescape" ("mioritically"* curled, uphill-downhill!) of his relationship with Veronica Micle, as well as the poet' s intercourse with his "friends" – inverted commas become compulsory after a certain point –, with Maiorescu, and especially with I. L. Caragiale. The political climate is also clearly outlined in these letters, as Eminescu talks (writes) about his Sisyphean toil as a journalist with "Timpul", and about his ever more obvious alienation among "cold" friends and "warm" foes. The plans of marital happiness, both the man's and the woman's are themselves depicted in lively colors – these however turn ever paler, blurrier and sadder as time goes by. The door to Eminescu's creative lab slits open a couple of times as well, only to close again soon (along with the already quoted direct reference to the writing of Luceafărul, we must necessarily reproduce the extremely important "disclosures" in another letter, that of 2 March 1882: "you know that reshuffling is a capital thing for me, for I need to be in a similar mood as the last time I wrote. […] don't be jealous [sic!] of the Muse, because she truly isn't producing anything anymore. I even think the rhyming talent was only an incident of my youth and that it's only prose that I will be writing from now on"). Even his family relationships are shed light on. How shall I put this? Eminescu doesn't seem to hide anything in these love letters, quite the contrary, he writes a lot to Veronica Micle, as he sees in her – is now beyond doubt – an ideal addressee. Which she actually was; and what best proves it is the fact that she has kept these letters so carefully, thus doing an immense favor to Romanian literature. Do we deserve such luck nowadays? Honestly, I do not think so. One cannot easily forget the absurdities written on both sides of the Eminescu "case". What can one do, if they are so memorable? Many articles, reviews, essays and studies (and maybe even books in a not too far-off future) with various viewpoints and goals have already been and will probably be written on the present volume of secret mail. People have not been too quiet about Eminescu, as a literary critic (!) was demanding some years ago. Bringing down the statue, playing down the myth and mocking at Eminescu and Veronica Micle is losing momentum – or maybe this is strategic postponing, or a well-deserved break. The ironies, the corrections, the "revisions" forced on the poet, making the journalist kneel on nutshells at the backdoor of Europe seem to have come to a stop for now. The resounding slapping of Mihai Eminescu on the sometimes rude and sometimes shy cheeks of his worshippers has diminished.What could be going on? January-February 2001
* My Sweet Lady/ My Beloved Emin. Mihai Eminescu–Veronica Micle : Secret Correspondence. Letters from the archive of the Graziella and Vasile Grigorcea family. Edited by, transcribed, annotated and prefaced by Christina Zarifopol-Illias, Polirom Publishing House, Iaşi, 2000.* from "Mioriţa", very culturally influential Romanian ballad (tr. n.).

by Daniel Cristea-Enache