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Mac Linscott Ricketts

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Title and/or Abstract:
The Uniuted State's Response to Eliade's Fiction.

Mac Linscott Ricketts

All his life, Mircea Eliade engaged in both scholarly and literary writing, being unwilling to choose between one or the other exclusively. In his native Romania, his reputation as an author was at least as great as his fame as an historian of religions. His second published novel, Maitreyi, which appeared in 1933 when he was 24, received a coveted literary prize and today is considered in his homeland to be one of the classics of Romanian literature, studied by every lycean. Prior to writing this novel, the youthful Eliade had published some 34 short stories-the earliest of which when he was fourteen-and another major novel, and he had drawers full of manuscripts of literary efforts, some of which are only now, posthumously, coming into print. In the 1930s Eliade authored altogether a dozen novels and novellas, as well as one play that was performed in 1942. After the War, he wrote only one novel, Noaptea de Sanziene (The Forbidden Forest)-which he considered his masterwork-but he published a series of nearly two dozen novellas and short stories, most of them in a magical-realist genre. In 1978 he was seriously considered for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Eliade wrote his "literature" (as he termed it) exclusively in Romanian. With one or two exceptions, all his fictional works since 1930 are about Romanians and nearly all have their setting in his native land. A large number of the novels and stories have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other languages, and on the Continent Eliade appears to be well known and appreciated as a creative writer. His 1938 novel, Nunta in Cer, in an Italian translation, received the prestigious Elba Island literary prize in 1984 for the best foreign book published in Italy that year.

Yet the English-reading public, and the American one in particular, remains mostly unacquainted with Eliade's fiction. Only two of his novels (Forbidden Forest, 1978, and Bengal Nights [Maitreyi], 1995) exist in English, and four other books, containing a total of eight novellas, have appeared in the US. A few other short fictional works in English are scattered in compilations or periodicals. But even though the major books have been reviewed in such media as the New York Times, they do not seem to have enjoyed very large circulation nor attracted much attention from American literary critics. I know of only two sessions (in 1982 and in 1989) dealing with Eliade's fiction sponsored by MLA groups. Eliade seems to remain virtually unknown in the U.S. as a writer-outside circles of Eliade specialists and scholars of Romanian literature. Even among literary critics and scholars, he is better known for his theoretical work on myth and symbolism than for his own literary creations.

This paper will seek to determine statistically the extent of Eliade's recognition as an author and how he is regarded by those Americans who have read him. I will attempt to account for his lack of literary success in America, and I will report what I can find in Eliade's journal and correspondence about how he himself reacted to this state of affairs. I will look into the question of how knowledge of the fact that Eliade had a "double vocation" may have influenced opinions about Eliade's scholarship held by certain of his scholarly critics.

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Mac Linscott Ricketts is now retired. He was full professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Louisburg College in North Carolina. He studied the history of religions under Eliade at Chicago, where he took the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees with a dissertation on the Native American trickster figure. He also taught at Duke University.

He is the author of "Eliade and Altizer: Very Different Outlooks" (Christian Advocate (Oct. 1967): 11-12); "Fate in the Forbidden Forest" (Dialogue 8 (1982): 101-119); "In Defense of Eliade: Bridging the Gap between Anthropology and the History of Religions" (Religion 1 no.3 (1973): 13­34); "Mircea Eliade and the Death of God" (Religion in Life 36 no.1 (Spring 1967), 40­52); "The Nature and Extent of Eliade's 'Jungianism'" (Union Seminary Quarterly Review 25 no.2 (1970): 211­234); "On Reading Eliade's Stories as Myths for Moderns" an unpublished paper read at the Midwestern Modern Language Association, Cincinati, Ohio, 1982; and the two volume Mircea Eliade: the Romanian Roots 1907-1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

Ricketts has translated Eliade's major novel, The Forbidden Forest from Romanian into English (University of Notre Dame Press, 1978) as well as Eliade's Journals (vols. I and IV) and his Autobiography (vols. I and II). He has also translated much of Eliade's Romanian scholarship and most of his fictional work, although these translations are as yet unpublished. He is currently translating the remainder of Eliade's journals and writing an account of Eliade's life from 1945 on.