Women Inc.

The first woman characters of the modern Romanian literature were anything but womanly. The Romanian romantic theatre and the historical romances of the nineteenth century abound in strong-willed, ambitious princesses, exasperated by the lack of guts in their male partners. Vidra, from B. P. Hasdeu's play "Răzvan and Vidra", spurs the gallant gypsy outlaw who had first kidnapped, then seduced her, urging him to climb the social scale up to the position of a reigning prince. The man is doting on her and he would rather enjoy their intimacy, far from the worldly turmoil. Vidra is a self-willed and resolute person, who despises mildness and moderation. The insatiable drive for power and glory overcomes any other values. The conflict solves into tragedy, just like in "Macbeth". However, in the Romanian play, the witchcraft is absent and the moral issue is not at stake. Vidra is Lady Macbeth without the obsession of the blood stain. They are both childless and, as such, exercise educational pressure upon their respective husbands, whom they want brave and determined. The women from Caragiale's plays and short stories are perceived, more often than not, as vulgar and ridiculous creatures, dressed up in gaudy, bright-colored gowns, whose habits and manners are characteristic only for our part of the world. One overlooks the fact that, at the time (about 1880), the artificial colors were a fashionable novelty. I. G. Farbenindustrie had only just brought into the market the aniline dyes, and the dresses changed suddenly their appearance. The subdued colors, based on plants, gave way to the electric, vivid hues of chemical compounds. The Bucharest women were just keeping up with the newest trends in fashion all over the world. Didina Mazu, from "In Carnival", is an adventuress, a "femme entretenue", like her contemporary, Odette de Crécy. They dress up similarly when going – the first to the Moshi (The Bucharest fun fair), the latter to Champs Elysées (the fashionable Paris promenade). Caragiale's women have a genuine feeling for art and a keen interest in culture. Mitza Georgescu, delighting in "Pederaski's minuet", joins M-me Verdurin, who, enraptured, eyes closed, listens to the Vinteuil's sonata. The well-to-do ladies receive regularly in dignified parlors the cultural "lions" of the time. Mrs. Parigoridi presides an NGO, which aims to support the local talents. A certain Nastasia – philosophically inclined – signs as Graziella highbrow, feminist studies. Aurore Dudevant did the same thing when she decided to call herself George Sand and to live as a free-lancer. The modernization of society at large also changes the intimate intercourse between men and women. The adulterous Veta from Caragiale's "A Stormy Night" is as determined to experience sexual fulfillment as her more famous contemporary, Anna Karenina. Veta loves Kyriac just as passionately as Anna loves Vronsky, but – more pragmatic – does not attempt to defy the social norm. She prefers to bring together, under the same roof, all she loves: both the protecting husband and the ambitious lover. In a romantic period, Veta would have had the fate of M-me de Rênal. As such, she is Anna Karenina without the temptation of the train. The Romanian novels of the 20th century put forward new types of exciting and endearing feminine characters. Olgutza from Ionel Teodoreanu's "At Medeleni" and Otilia from G. Călinescu's "Otilia's Enigma" are endowed with the charms and ambiguity of adolescence. They are as playful and vivacious as Natasha Rostova, as impertinent and funny as Scarlett O'Hara and have the same gift for a repartee as Jane Austen's Elizabeth. Any writer takes great risks when attempting to account for the maturation process of such characters. More often than not, he or she prefers to avoid it. Jane Austin wisely puts the story to an end upon her heroine's marriage. "Gone with the Wind" required a sequel. Tolstoy provides a cruel epilogue, wherein the former adorable young girl is shown as a tamed, commonplace mother and wife. Călinescu makes Otilia sadly predict that "a girl has a short time to live as such" and brings forward a photo of an elegant and subdued woman, practically unrelated to her former self. Ionel Teodoreanu imagines a more interesting development for Olgutza: she falls in love with an exceptional character, a Russian revolutionary, practically an anarchist. However, the author has to revert to the theme of a tragic ending – a "convenient" incurable illness – in order to complete the story. The Romanian intellectuals are more or less haunted by the seductive image of Mrs. T (a name which should be pronounced Té, not the usual way) from Camil Petrescu's "The Procrustean Bed". She is refined and haughty, simultaneously passionate and aloof. However, she can be related to the less interesting, but more popular character of Irene from Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga". They both exert a fascination upon men by putting on airs, keeping distances and combining fragility with obstination. The feminine mystery has its feeble point: the same step that leads, according to Napoleon, from the sublime to the ridicule, separates genuine fascination from ridiculous pretense. Most of the feminine characters in Romanian literature have their counterparts elsewhere. However, there is one which seems to me unique. This is Adela, Ibrăileanu's creation. She is young, but not innocent, appealing, but not tempting, accessible, but not captivating, cultivated, but not a blue-stocking. She emanates waves of sensuality, but these do not choke her shy and learned suitor, thus leaving him intact the freedom of choice. We shall never know if he made the right one – probably not. Lack of decision power is, contrary to common opinion, a manly shortcoming, which a woman is tacitly asked to overcome. The fascinating Romanian characters can be incorporated in the global trust of Women Inc., all except one, and this one is my favorite.

by Adrian Mihalache