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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. Literary representations of the “national character”

Rromanian man and Rromanian woman

Ion Luca Caragiale
Traduction de Mária Kovács

Texte intégral

1Title: Rromânul/Rromânca (Rromanian man and Rromanian woman)

2Originally published: Rromânul was published under the title ‘Moftangiul’ in Moftul român, no. III (3 February 1893), p. 1. Rromânca, was published under the title ‘Moftangioica’ in Moftul român, no. V (11 February 1893), p. 1.

3Language: Romanian

4The text used is from the original

About the author

5Ion Luca Caragiale [1852, Haimanale (near Ploieşti) – 1912, Berlin]: playwright and literary critic. The son of a lawyer, Caragiale completed primary and secondary education in Ploieşti. After graduating, he worked in his uncle’s theatre company. In 1870, he participated in a republican revolt in Ploieşti. After its suppression, Caragiale went to Bucharest to study law. In 1874, he published his first poetry in Revista contimporană (Contemporary review). In 1877, he began working for Timpul (The Time), one of the most important newspapers of the time. In the same year, Caragiale published Almanah hazliu şi popular (Humorous and popular almanac) and had his first play staged by Nottara Theatre in Bucharest. It was in this period that Caragiale was introduced to the Junimea circle, where he recited some of his plays. From 1881 to 1884, Caragiale was a school-inspector, but continued to write plays and publish political articles. Being accused of ‘immorality’ and national denigration, he was repeatedly overlooked for awards by the Romanian Academy. In 1893, Caragiale founded Moftul român (Romanian caprice), and in 1894, together with novelist Ioan Slavici (1848–1925) and the poet, translator and journalist George Coşbuc (1866– 1918), he edited the journal Vatra (The Fireplace). From 1893 to 1902, Caragiale worked as a brewer and opened several pubs in Bucharest. In 1902, Caragiale was again refused an award by the Romanian Academy. Dimitrie A. Sturdza (1833– 1914), one of the influential members of the committee and president of the Romanian Academy between 1882 and 1884, accused his works of denigrating ‘national values’. From 1904 until his death in 1912, he lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin. Caragiale occupies a controversial place in the Romanian national canon. During the interwar period, some literary critics, including literary critic and journalist George Călinescu (1899–1965), continued the earlier categorization of Caragiale as ‘non- Romanian’, and criticized him for allegedly failing to identify with Romanian national ethos; others, however, like the Romanian-born French playwright Eugen Ionescu (1909–1994), extolled his literary qualities. This form of criticism was partially abandoned during the communist era, when Caragiale’s plays were revered as the most subtle indictment of the decadent Romanian bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century. After 1989, Caragiale was finally recognized as the greatest Romanian playwright of all times, and his cultural satires and critiques were fully integrated within their proper political and cultural context.

6Main works: Teatru [Theatre] (1889); Note şi schiţe [Notes and sketches] (1892); Momente [Moments] (1901); Schiţe nouă [New sketches] (1910); Novele, povestiri: Opere complete [Novels, stories: the complete works] (1914).


7During the nineteenth century, Romanian culture experienced a number of transformations, all originating in the search for cultural models among the ‘great’ European cultures and in the difficulty in adopting those models to local Romanian realities. The French intellectual and political model was among the most enduring in Romanian culture. This emulation was reinforced by the fact that Romanians spoke a Romance language and that they were, especially after the revolution of 1848 and the creation of the Romanian state in 1866, overtly importing the French political tradition. This process did not, however, eradicate the main tenets of Romanian culture and society which were traditional, rural, and connected to their regional experience. Since the nineteenth century, Romanian intellectuals had been painfully aware that the discrepancy between the cultural models shared by the educated elite and those characterizing the rest of society was the source of both the progress and backwardness of Romania. The internalization of these two opposing types of identity representation developed into two different forms of cultural and political criticism, one insisting on the universality of Romanian culture, the other on its local and regional nature.

8Mihai Eminescu for example, produced a literary representation of the local type of identity, and virulently criticized the universal. Caragiale, on the other hand, offered a negative diagnosis of Romanian society without separating the two types. His plays are a merciless mirror of Romanian society of the time, standing out in their criticism of political obsession and the lack of morality, ridiculing the contradiction between effective obscurity and pretensions as well as the deformation of the Romanian language through the adoption of French. Many of the modern manners adopted by Romanians were, according to him, false and superficial. As such, his cultural critique was essentially urban. Caragiale did not satirize the essence of the Romanian national character (the peasant for example), but the new social product of modernity: the shallow individual, the new economic and political oligarchy. Neither was his satire gender oriented, as he equally demystified both male and female behavior. His comedies also criticized the provinciality of political life in Romania. Further, his ideas about politics were vividly expressed in a number of articles Caragiale contributed to various conservative journals.

9These texts, which never became part of the national canon, attempted to offer a fine analysis of the Romanian national character. In a unique style, Caragiale exposed what he deemed as the negative attributes of the Romanians: false patriotism, flamboyant nationalism, and sham intellectualism. Undoutedly, Caragiale’s depiction of the Romanian character was to some extent cynical, and he consciously exaggerated most of the features attributed to the trifler. Despite this, however, these characterizations did not differ from his general observations of the human condition in Romania, which abounded in his satirical plays. Ultimately, Caragiale’s caricatured account of the Romanian trifler brought to light the contradiction between social obscurity and cultural pretensions as well as between political obsession and lack of moral principles, distinctive features that he identified in many of his contemporaries. Far from linking Romanian national character to the rural communities, Caragiale focused exclusively on urban Romania, and pointed out that there was a strong connection between urbanization and the individuals he depicted in his texts. Like his other fictional characters, the Romanian trifler, personified, in fact, Caragiale’s dissatisfaction with the superficiality of the Romanian culture, allegedly modernized, but in many ways exhibiting a distorted combination of Romanian traditions and Western, especially French, cultural styles.

10Both acclaimed and disputed, many of Caragiale’s writings, especially his comedies ‘A stormy night’, ‘A lost letter’, and ‘At the carnival’, became classic texts of the Romanian literary canon. Like his comedies, his satirical short stories ‘Moments’, provided many of the descriptions used by the Romanians in their critical self-identification. Since his death, Caragiale’s accurate depictions of the mutant nature of modernity have resurfaced in both the scholarly work and public debates in Romania. Although the adaptation of some of his plays, especially by film directors, was banned during the 1980s, after the collapse of communism, Caragiale was reinstated in his position as one of the greatest literary figures of modern Romania.


Rromanian man

12The trifler is eminently Romanian; despite this, before being Romanian, he is first of all a trifler. Born into a poor, but honest, family, he is the offspring of his works, and therefore although a democrat by birth, he belongs to the aristocracy of intelligence, merit, science, art, culture, etc. But … born into an old family of genuine boyars, who have always known how to place the interests of the country above the interests of the class, giving up privileges, the pure breed aristocrat is the true democrat… The trifler is definitely a patriot, an exclusive nationalist, a Romanian to the bottom of his heart! Everyone must know it!

13A supporter of the government, or when that is impossible, a member of the opposition, the trifler congratulates Romania in the first case, and cries over it in the second, and in both he loves her madly. That is why he hates everything that is not Romanian, which is not national.

14He respects agriculture, but dreams of a large national industry that would rid us of the tribute that we pay to foreigners: what really scares him is Romania’s conquest in the economic field by the infamous foreigners, assisted by the foster children of his dear country!

15He is a party member, as long as it comes only to home politics. As soon as it comes to representing us in front of foreigners, he believes that all Romanians should forget about their tiny passions and, holding hands in a brotherly manner, step united to face the economic, political, social and cultural danger threatening the Nation! The common enemy is the foreigner! Death to Foreignism! Long live Romanianism!

  • 1 Fr. hotel with furnished rooms.

16Whoever thinks differently … is a traitor! The trifler is to be found in all social classes; his species moves in all but a few channels of communication with a free ticket and is embedded everywhere, from the grandest palaces to the most modest room of a hotel garni.1

17The trifler may or may not have a profession, he may be rich or poor, stupid or smart, dumb or bright, young, old, of one sex or another, or of both, he was, has been and always will be a genuine Romanian … God forbid anyone from attacking his Romania however remotely, for the Romanian trifler is here ready to crush them.

18The Romanian trifler is:

19Between primary school and the baccalaureate—an anarchist

20From the baccalaureate to the first examinations at college—a socialist

21From the first examination to the final examination—a progressive

22From the first job to pension—a conservative

23From pension onwards he shares the principles of the college youth … make sure to find him whenever there is a more or less political or impolite demonstration of the more or less Romanian students!

Rromanian woman

  • 2 Fr. and therefore.

24Daughter of a tenant, a merchant, a clerk, a lawyer, an officer, a priest— whether papa was a Bulgarian, a Serb or a Greek—the Romanian she-trifler is consequently noble, et par consequent2 she cannot stand churlish peasants. She is a patron on the committee of several Romanian philanthropic or national culture societies.

  • 3 Fr. with the servants.
  • 4 Fr. unfortunately.

25The Romanian she-trifler speaks Romanian only avec les domestiques,3 apart from this she speaks French—and now she is studying English. Every day, the she-trifler turns entire stores upside down and inside out, from the highest shelf to the lowest, looking for samples, and, malheureusement,4 never finding what she needs. Rich as well as poor, often, out of absentmindedness, when the storekeeper is not looking, she happens to drop something into her mitten or under her mantle. The she-trifler always has her carriage stop across the road. In her opinion, there are only two cities where someone can live: Paris et Bukarest!

  • 5 Fr. accompaniment.

26She has one or more admirers, not out of pleasure or passion, but rather out of duty: such a high society lady has to have a suivez-moi.5 If she is rich, there is no greater pleasure for her but show her garments to her poor ladyfriends, and to advise them of their fabulous price, and then of the budget plan for her future garments. The poor she-trifler is very discreet; therefore, she does not despise secret funds, quite on the contrary. For plotters, it is advisable to avoid the Romanian she-trifler. If green, that is to say unripe, she receives gifts from rich man; if rich she gives gifts to her poor nephews; that is to the green youth: “Oh! You green creature!”

27When it comes to the list of her “victims,” the Romanian she-trifler forgets their line, their names and their data; however, in this respect, when it comes to her lady-friends, her memory is prodigious.

28When you want to flirt with the she-trifler, she rushes you and grumbles. If you talk to her in earnest, she laughs, and jokes; if you joke, she is dead serious; if you greet her, she hardly mumbles thing; if you love her, she gives you away. […]

  • 6 Fr. very fashionable.
  • 7 Fr. Will start speaking very loudly.

29The she-trifler is a brave Romanian woman: she knows how to endure, with the determination and bravery so characteristic of the Romanians, the torture of classical music concerts, fort en vogue6 nowadays … Thus, if you like music, stay away from those concerts: whenever the orchestra plays a pianissimo, the she-trifler commencera a causer fortissimo…7

30In general, the she-trifler has stomachaches; whenever she goes out in the evening, she will starve all day long to get into her corset. Therefore, it is wise not to ask her for a waltz; her breath reminds you regretfully of the smell of Parma violets.

31Invited or uninvited, she has to attend all the prescribed balls, at the court, at societies, in the grand world, premiers, whether extraordinary or festive. […]

  • 8 Fr. If you wish.

32Each she-trifler will happily tell you in great detail the conversation that she had with the heiress princess “for almost half an hour” at the last ball in Cotroceni. Imagine the number of she-triflers that went to the ball—for none was missing!—and figure out how many half hours that wonderful ball must have lasted. If you ask a pompously dressed she-trifler—about seven times more pompously than her spouse’s means could pay for—what she thinks about the princess, she will say, “ Well, mon cher, I have to admit, she is young and quite pretty, si vous voulez,8 but she is … too luxurious! […]

  • 9 Fr. “Of, dear, I cannot stand her!”

33The top of ambition—a minister for a husband and a secretary for a gentleman friend. Oh, and I almost forgot… When you see two she-triflers mixing their lipstick and kissing each other with extra warmth, you should know they cannot stand each other. “Ah, ma chere, je ne puis la sentir!9


1 Fr. hotel with furnished rooms.

2 Fr. and therefore.

3 Fr. with the servants.

4 Fr. unfortunately.

5 Fr. accompaniment.

6 Fr. very fashionable.

7 Fr. Will start speaking very loudly.

8 Fr. If you wish.

9 Fr. “Of, dear, I cannot stand her!”


Mária Kovács (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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