Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Eminescu, Mihai

  • RomanianLiterature (fictional prose/drama)Literature (poetry/verse)
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    Creative writers
    Eminescu, Mihai
    Eminescu, Mihai

    Mihai Eminescu (born Eminovici; Botoşani 1850 – Bucharest 1889) wrote poetry, fiction, drama and journalism. After an adventurous youth (he dropped out of Cernăuţi high school to wander around Transylvania and Wallachia with travelling theatre companies), his father (a low-ranking Moldavian boyar) sent him to study in Vienna (1869-72). Simultaneously, he was intensely active in politics, as a member of the România Jună (“Burgeoning Romania”) Society, and developed a political outlook (Romanian militantism, the struggle for national unity and independence) which marked him throughout his life.

    His made his poetic debut in 1866 in a school album; once he began publishing in the regular press his name was romanized from Eminovici to Eminescu. From Vienna he sent poems to the Iaşi-based periodical Convorbiri literare and subsequently moved there, to link up with the Junimea literary society and with the critic Titu Maiorescu, who established his fame as the leading new voice in Romanian letters.

    Eminescu’s existence was precarious. He depended on help of his friends, and published very little of what he wrote. (The trunk of manuscripts Maiorescu donated to the Romanian Academy after the poet’s death was to reveal to the researchers of the following century a much more complex writer – and a more prolific one – than had been apparent from the works published in his lifetime.) His literary stance was that of the unattached outside observer, not unlike the “superfluous young man” typified by Puškin’s Evgenij Onegin; topics like “the genius born at the wrong time” and “the misunderstood artist” recur throughout his work. At the end of his life he lost his reason and died (either from a nervous disease or from syphilis) in a sanatorium.

    In 1883, Maiorescu published a volume of his verse, the sole collection to appear during the poet’s lifetime, which Eminescu regarded as an offensive intrusion into his creative autonomy. Eminescu’s work marked the end of Romanticism in Romanian poetry with its committed and messianic patterns. Eminescu combined different aspects of European Romanticism (cosmology, initiation, love, alienation and alterity) and subverted these ironically.

    Nonetheless, for his contemporaries Eminescu was primarily a prolific and register rhetorical journalist. After following Maiorescu to Bucharest, he served, much against his proclivities, but forced by material necessity, as editor on the staff of Timpul (“The time”). In his journalistic activities he showed himself well-informed, eloquent, mercilessly scathing in his comments on political life in Bucharest and Europe at large, and developed into an opinion leader for the emerging generation of intellectuals. Paradoxically, his ideological heritage would be claimed by both Transylvanian unionists on the eve of World War I (due to his uncompromising pro-Romanian feelings) and by young socialist circles.

    In his journalism, Eminescu’s nationalism, which shows some debt to Fichte’s ethical approach to nationality, comes into sharpest focus. Eminescu sees the nation as the paramount social category and as a fundamental principle in the order of the world. Dumitru Murăraşu (1896–1984) thematically ordered Eminescu’s nationalism under three headings: the enthusiastic affirmation of love of the fatherland, its glorious past and future glory, and its need of national solidarity; the critique of the ruling classes, of political jobbery, linked to anti-Semitism and xenophobia; and the celebration of Romanian culture, of the purity of the Romanian language, of folklore.

    Successive generations of 20th-century aficionados developed a cult of Eminescu as a “national poet” figure; this process involved literary critics and political figures alike, from mid-century fascists to the Ceaușescu regime. Eminescu’s writings were tortuously interpreted or represented to fit this late-Romantic Nationalist interpretation. Even in present-day Romania, Eminescu remains an ambivalent marker of Romanian identity and a cypher for diverse imaginings of that identity. This tardy, post-hoc application of the Romantic Nationalist “national poet” function to a post-Romantic author makes the reception history of Eminescu an unusual case in the history of cultural nationalism in Europe.

    Word Count: 650

    Article version
  • Iorga, Nicolae; Eminescu (Iassy: Junimea, 1981).

    Murăraşu, Dumitru; Naţionalismul lui Eminescu (1st edition: 1932; Bucharest: Pacifica, 1994).

    Spiridon, Monica; Eminescu, proza jurnalistică (Bucharest: Curtea veche, 2003).

    Terian, Andrei; “Prophet, martyr, saint: Mihai Eminescu’s lateral canonization”, in Helgason, Jón Karl; Dović, Marijan (eds.); Great immortality: Studies on European cultural sainthood (Leiden: Brill, 2019).

    Vatamaniuc, Dumitru; Publicistica lui Eminescu (Bucharest: Minerva, 1996).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Both, Ioana, 2022. "Eminescu, Mihai", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 26-04-2022, consulted 24-05-2024.