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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Mircea Eliade

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To purchase Gaudeamus

Title: Gaudeamus
Author: Mircea Eliade
Genre: Novel
Written: (1928) (Eng. 2018)
Length: 230 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Gaudeamus - US
Gaudeamus - UK
Gaudeamus - Canada
Gaudeamus - India
Gaudéamus - France
Gaudeamus - Italia
  • Romanian title: Gaudeamus
  • Though written in 1928, Gaudeamus was only first published in full in a journal in 1986, and then in book form in 1989
  • Translated by Christopher Bartholomew
  • With a Foreword by Bryan Rennie
  • With an Afterword by Sorin Alexandrescu

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Our Assessment:

B : almost ridiculously self-indulgent, but surprisingly winning in its excess

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 22/6/2018 James Smart
TLS . 27/8/2018 Amanda Hopkinson

  From the Reviews:
  • "He writes beautifully about nature and the buzz of student gatherings, although his lengthy, staged conversations with friends about faith and meaning grow wearing." - James Smart, The Guardian

  • "While numerous characters can be identified, others serve primarily to voice topical and provocative concepts. Collectively they search for self- definition, whether by moving from Christianity to atheism, or by exchanging their Austro-Hungarian identity for a Romanian one. (...) What Eliade, however, gives us is an evocative if disquieting slice of his early life and times.(...) However retrospectively adapted, Eliade’s two slim volumes of juvenilia anticipate much of what now passes for life-writing, auto­fiction or even creative non-fiction." - Amanda Hopkinson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Where Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent was Eliade's high-school (lycée, here) age memoir-novel, Gaudeamus is the account of the next stage in his life, his early university years -- though focused so tightly on the still ultra-self-absorbed narrator that it's certainly no campus novel. It is again a work of very thinly veiled autobiography -- right down to the chapter titled: 'The Characters Judge the Author', where he gets together with old friends and classmates from the lycée and they complain about their portrayal in his Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent (specifically, that he hadn't even bothered to change their names).
       The narrator notes that the transition to university marks a great change, specifically in the company he keeps, his old classmates going their different ways. He has his book-filled attic room, his fortress of both solitude and company -- he holds the occasional audience here, and one of the major activities he is involved in throughout the novel is a club that he helps establish, with the first meetings in his tight quarters. The narrator does observe academic life to some extent -- mentioning which of his acquaintances is studying where, and the nature of the different faculties -- but isn't much focused on day-to-day university life at its most academic. His own lectures barely rate much of a mention (though exam prep is a recurring issue for him and many of the others), and only a few professors and courses are discussed at any length. Typically, the narrator finds (of one particular admired professor):

     My professor was a genius, or perhaps a practical joker, but how was I supposed to know which ?
       Lust features prominently -- typical late-teen frustrated lust, him having: "the same mediocre sex life as everybody else, dependent on pure chance". His higher spiritual ambitions are in constant conflict with his base desires, a major theme of the novel.
       There is a girl. Several, even, but specifically Nișka -- a girl he is immediately struck by, and then recalls having seen some six years earlier -- recalling also that back then:
That afternoon, I had decided to devote my life to chemistry. I had promised myself not to waste my time on anything else. On the first page of my Diary notebooks, I had written, that very afternoon, my cardinal rule: I will never fall in love !
       Nișka sorely tests his rule. He can see himself truly, completely falling for her; he can see a life together -- but he sees that as limiting and constraining him, preventing him from achieving his higher ambitions.
       His ambitions are grand indeed -- now far beyond mere chemistry:
I have sworn to become a hero of ethics; why not also a hero of knowledge ? Why not turn myself into a masterpiece ? Why not make my spiritual life a mirror of the age ?
       Much of the novel has him studying intently -- not at university, but holed up alone, trying to take in as much as possible, turning away from all others. The temptation of Nișka (and Nonora, another of the girls he is close to) remains, and he is obviously bothered when she has a fiancé, but his aspirations to a higher spiritual, intellectual life ultimately win out -- whether as excuse (he is too afraid to actually give in to his feelings) or because he really believes that this is what he must do. He certainly behaves like a man possessed.
       The narrator can't entirely avoid the traditional-romantic, and even wallows in it occasionally; among the nicer (though perhaps too obvious, showing just how carefully Eliade frames and presents every little bit of himself and his narrative) little scenes is the exchange:
     'Have you ever been in love ?'
     In response, he received my usual inscrutable mask.
     'I don't think so.'
     'Then you will be happy.'
     'I know,' I lied, with a sad smile.
       But the cost of traditional romance is also clear in a late exchange he has, letting go of the woman he surely loves: "Nișka , by predicting your happiness in mediocrity, I offer you comfort". The horrible thing is that he means it. He can't envision -- or is too afraid to -- that romantic love also might allow individual greatness (which he relentlessly strives for). To give in to love is to resign oneself to a life of mediocrity, even as it might offer a basic happiness and sense of satisfaction. But this is an unbearable, unthinkable fate for him: he doesn't want simple happiness, but rather fulfillment on the highest plane. An other -- a wife, family, bourgeois domestic bliss -- would stand in the way of his higher calling.
       The narrator strives for a purity of spirit and intellect, challenging himself to reach the greatest heights; he doesn't frame it solely in Nietzschean terms (though he does make that obvious reference), but his striving is to shape himself into a kind of Übermensch. Much of the fun of Gaudeamus is in just how adolescently seriously he takes himself, and his ambitions -- with just enough self-awareness of the absurd silliness of it all. Indeed, the narrator of Gaudeamus seems, in many ways, still adolescent, and there's a bit of him that recognizes that he is not yet entirely mature (and, of course, part of his struggle is in what kind of maturity he can hope to achieve).
       Gaudeamus is mostly personal journey, but also gives a glimpse of 1920s Romania -- including the disturbing nationalism and anti-Semitism of the time. Focused so on himself -- and on what he sees as a higher spiritual and ethical level -- , the narrator does not engage with these issues in much depth, but there are still descriptions of encounters with fellow students such as one with a swastika who explains:
As I've told my friend Marcu many times any enlightened Romanian student who is not an anti-Semite is either a coward or a fool. An enlightened student has to be a nationalist.
       His idealization of the feminine and near-fanatical obsession with becoming a 'superman' make for a protagonist who tends towards losing himself in the abstract, but enough of Gaudeamus includes real-life encounters and events to ground the text and prevent it from becoming entirely too airy. The narrator's self-awareness is rather skewed, but at least there's a bit of what is recognizable as typical youthful Angst. Arguably, his tormented doubts aren't quite the usual ones, but the basics are familiar enough -- and there's certainly something to be said for this variation, with this narrator so wonderfully full of himself.
       Gaudeamus is also very lively, the narrator's bubbling thoughts and opinions spurting forth. It's hit and miss, often enough, but he also captures many good observations -- taking, for example, from an exchange with one admired professor his nicely put:
     When you go to Germany, you'll understand Descartes. Over there, the people walk down the street differently. Do you realise how much you can learn in a city where people walk differently than they do here ?
       The narrator doesn't follow-up here, but the sense is very much that he's always paying keen attention, learning all the while. Foolish though much of what he does and how he acts is, he's no fool -- and his learning isn't all book-learning.
       Gaudeamus is an odd but surprisingly enjoyable obsessive tale, about a very strange and in many ways misguided but also fascinating character.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 June 2018

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Gaudeamus: Reviews: Mircea Eliade: Other books by Mircea Eliade under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) taught at the University of Chicago.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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