Luca Caragiale was born on the 30th of January 1852 in the village of
Haimanale (nowadays I. L. Caragiale), county of Dâmbovita. He was the son of Luca Stefan
Caragiali and of Ecaterina (born Karaboa), a Brasov merchant's daughter.
Also in 1889, Socec Publishing House issued Caragiale's first volume, Drama, with Titu Maiorescu's preface representing his essay from 1885, "Mr I. L. Caragiale's Comedies". There followed several other volumes, leaflets and booklets, that, together with Calendarul Claponului (1878), Calendarul Moftului român (1902) and the main papers edited by Caragiale, by himself or in collaboration (Claponul, 1877; Natiunea româna, 1877; Bobârnacul, 1878 - 1879; Moftul român, 1893; 1901 - 1902; Vatra, 1984 - 1903), stand for the most complex offer made by a Romanian classic to the literary world and to the general public. In spite of this outstanding activity, that should have established him as a literary genius during his lifetime, Caragiale was systematically denied social and cultural recognition. That brought about a long series of disappointments culminating in the infamous plagiarism trial (1901 - 1902), fabricated by the obscure writer Caion. After he had systematically failed to move to Sibiu (1891), Brasov (1892) or Cluj (1904), Caragiale settled with his family in Berlin, in the spring of 1905. He had been trying to fight the numerous stumbling blocks by spectacular actions (his attempts to make business as a brewer or as an authorized agent with the restaurant in the Buzau railway station), and by a complicated game of political alliances with the Junimea people, with the liberals and conservatories, passing from Timpul to Vointa nationala (1885), Constitutionalul (1889), Gazeta poporului (1895), Ziua (1895) or Epoca (1896 - 1897), but, each time defeated, he resorted to a desperate solution, that of the voluntary exile, to which he gave the significance of an ultimatum.
In the summer of 1908 he engaged in a last important political action, together with Take Ionescu, the leader of the Conservatory-Democrat Party, a newly founded political formation, but also this experience ended in disappointment.
In 1912 he refused to take part in the festivities organized in this country on the occasion of his reaching the age of 60. He died in Berlin in the same year, during the night of the 8th towards the 9th of June. He was buried in a Protestant cemetery on a temporary basis. In the autumn of 1912 the coffin with his remains was brought to this country, and buried at Bellu cemetery.
For many literary critics and historians, Caragiale's first writings are the minor, even trivial root of all his works, one of those instances of his career we should not judge too harshly, as the writer began by making all sorts of petty things for various gazettes, filling in the "oddities", "news from the outside" or "miscellanea" columns. In reality, in spite of their poor style, the writings published by Caragiale during his beginnings, from the notes in Telegraful (1873 - 1974) or from the sonnet dedicated to the baritone Agostino Mazzoli in Ghimpele (1873), to the translation of Defeated Rome by Alexandre Parodi (1878) or the hymn Întoarcerea victorioasa (Victorious Return), in the honour of King Charles I, after the war of independence from 1877 - 1878, in Calendar pentru toti românii (Calendar for All Romanians) (1879), are characterized by an original combination of apparently contradictory features, which, however, the writer assumed completely, producing a complex and original work, of higher value as a whole than as sum of its parts.
The first thing that can be noticed is that the multitude of anecdotes, columns or humorous and elegiac verse, of sonnets, physiological sketches and of the "zigzags" in Ghimpele, Telegraful, Asmodeu, Alegatorul liber, Unirea democratica, Claponul, Natiunea româna, Timpul or Bobârnacul organize around two hierarchically opposed systems of norms and culture, the system of cultivated norms, specific of classical, academic or consecrated literature, and the system of popular norms, characteristic of the trivial variety of literature, found at the periphery of a culture. In short, between 1873 and 1879, Caragiale published a whole "bas-etage" literature, next to serious verse in Revista contimporana (1874) or the translation of the verse tragedy Defeated Rome by Al. Parodi, vacillating between anonymity, pseudonimity, or signing in his own name, between prose and verse, between classical genres (elegy, fable, sonnet, tragedy), and the "frivolous" ones (anecdote, gazette column, fantastic sketch), between realism and science fiction, between totally opposite types of literary circuiting or between the political left and right, that is between the liberals and the conservatories. However, this apparently uncontrollable range of tastes, preferences and literary responsibilities would generate the most prolific and most important pattern of Caragiale's works.
A typical example of collaboration between different cultural patterns, within the structure of a single narrative, is the famous sketch Inspectiune (Inspection) (1900), in which two simple topics (the employees' newsmonger talk at the pub, about a cashier fleeing with a large sum of money, to America, and the news in a gazette, the "latest news" column, about the suicide of the clerk Anghelache) pattern the whole text, generating it. Here, a mystery or trivial pattern develops into a plot ending not in the usual clear-cut dénouement, but in several virtual sequels, as in the literature of purposeful ambiguities, going from a simple news to subtle pangs of consciousness, having an intricate psychological motivation. Similarly, starting from simple facts of life and from news, in Conul Leonida fata cu Reactiunea (1880), a domestic scene, centering around a pensioner's habits, touches the fundamental issue of the relationship between theory and practice or that of manipulation; in the comedy O scrisoare pierduta (1885), the frivolous theme of adultery and blackmail intermingles with the political theme of the struggle for power, and in D'ale carnavalului (1885), the petty love affairs of some Bucharest slammers intermingle with the profound theme of misery and the stubborn refusal to see truth lest one should upset a precarious peace of mind. That way, two different narrative patterns, the essayist, political or philosophical core of the national specificity, on one hand, and the dynamic, romance or picturesque features, on the other, intermingle into a single literary work, able to meet the opposite demands of literature itself and of literature as entertainment, and to satisfy simultaneously the need for aesthetic emotion and playful simplicity that coexist in any modern reader.
The second important idea, put into practice from the very beginning, regards the new dialectics of the relationship between fiction (essentially relating to the self) and facts inspiring creation (that, by their nature, relate to someone else). While stimulating this unusual relationship Caragiale's literature makes sometimes impossible to draw a line between the fiction of the comedies and the sources of inspiration for the political articles, sketches, short stories, and letters or even between various ingredients of the same text. A bird's eye view upon the sketch telegrame (Telegrams) (1899) reveals a few patterns typical of telegrams, the sketch Urgent.(Urgent) (1899) assemblages administrative texts (addresses, circulars, reports, etc.), and in Tal! . (1909), we can identify a series of common real texts used by the author (the poster, warning announcement, regulations or menu included in tabloids).
While reviving the concept of literature, and intermingling essential patterns with the low brow patterns, Caragiale brought about a change in the traditional literary forms, creating prose and drama inspired from reality or produced by imagination at the same time. Starting from this specificity of his literature, many literary critics and historians (G. Ibraileanu, Tudor Vianu, and even Paul Zarifopol) saw Caragiale's literature as a representative document, able to give an account on our national characteristics, and on the way various Romanian structures, institutions or social patterns functioned under certain circumstances. On the other hand, the profoundly revolutionary attitude towards the meaning of literature and towards the text has a documentary and sociological counterpart in a radical attitude towards society, and this feature explains the long-lasting critics' distrust towards Caragiale's literature. Caragiale is our classic with the highest number of detractors and the most contradictory literary destiny. Finally, there are at least two more ways in which the writer proved to be one of the most profound and revolutionary creators in our entire literature: his attitude towards the general public and his attitude as a critic, directly expressed under the form of drama chronicles or studies (the best known being Cercetare critica asupra teatrului românesc (Critical Research on Romanian Drama), 1878 or by a number of parodies, that played the role of discrediting, by deconstructing and overdoing, literary patterns, figures, styles and even genres that underwent a crisis by the end of the 19th century. The original view upon the proper place of each literary genres and forms is reflected also in the attitude towards the general public (Câteva pareri (A Few Opinions), Exigente grele (High Expectations), 1896; [Publicul Teatrului National] (The Audience of the National Theatre), 1900) had as a spectacular result either the creation of complex texts, characterized by an ingenious distribution of information, which requires analytic skills from the readers, or the creation of texts likely to reach various categories of readers/spectators, according to their cultural competence. As a critic he produced parodies meant to overrule the reign of Mannerist poetry of the 1848 generation of poets or that of the symbolist or instrumentalist innovators, as well as the stereotypes of melodramatic drama or romance and naive prose of authors such as N. D. Popescu, Panait Macri and even Al. Vlahuta or Barbu Delavrancea. The most spectacular writing of this category is the fantasy farce O soacra (A Mother-in- Law), (1883), that is permanently directed towards two categories of texts, in order to discredit them: The tabloid variety of journalism, with its newsmongery, and the field of melodramatic literature meant for the low brow environment. Caragiale's entire activity rests upon these ideas and concepts which, by their complexity, engendered reluctance and dispute, compelling the author to build his career according to a scenario alternating writing and inactivity, drama and prose or realism and the fantastic many times, resulting in the most spectacular system of expectations in the entire Romanian literature.
Thus, after the early period, that can be considered closed in January 1879, when the playwright made his debut as an original author on the stage of the National Theatre in Bucharest, Caragiale wrote his masterful comedies, that irritated all those who had expected the writer to force his way to literary respectability through an Orthodox literature, like the tragedy translated in 1878. Staged on the 18th of January 1879, and published in Convorbiri literare in October - November of the same year, the comedy O noapte furtunoasa, that starts from the pretext of a slum farce, points to the three large developing trends of Caragiale's drama: the social environment, the psychological dimension and diction. Dealing with specific local types and situations, this comedy inaugurates in Romanian drama a new era of originality and everlasting worth, for the first time clearing out in a brilliant way the issue of the relationship between the private individual realist detail, on the one hand, and the classic, general, typical significance, on the other.
The following comedy, Conul Leonida fata cu Reactiunea, a farce in one act, read in 1879 in Maiorescu's house and published in Convorbiri literare (1st of February 1880), is a masterpiece of irony and artful staging. Starting from a theme used by V. Alecsandri in Iasii în carnaval, Caragiale deepens the scope of his comedy, adding to the initial conflict (the fear of revolution of those who took part themselves in a revolution) a series of complex oppositions (appearance/reality, theory/practice, the closed space of a room/the open universe of society), and the theme, almost obsessive with him, of the possibility to manipulate individuals' consciences, by political rhetoric and by the press.
The best known of Caragiale's comedies, O scrisoare pierduta, was read at Junimea on the 6th of October 1884, performed at the National Theatre on the 13th of November, with an extraordinary success, and published in Convorbiri literare the next year (1st of February - 1st of March 1885). All the qualities of Caragiale's drama (brilliant diction, the dynamic dialogues, the staging expertise) can be found in this comedy in which, under the disguise of a political contest, with independent electors and patriotic speeches from the bench, a thwarting game is being consummated, centered around an attempted blackmail, and ending in the final farce of compromise. That is a characteristic pattern of Caragiale's works, and one of the most profound moral dilemmas reflected in his entire literature.
The last of the playwright's great comedies, D'ale carnavalului, was performed on the 8th of April 1885, and published in Convorbiri literare on the 1st of May. At first considered to be a simple carnival farce, with too much muddling and quiproquos, later the play revealed not only its unusual technique, but also its depth of meaning, as the general significance is a moral one. The author points a finger at moral promiscuity, lying and mawkish reconciliation, as a way of life. The same as in O scrisoare pierduta, the characters struggling against each other, and up to a certain point determined to act in the most radical manner possible, end in ignoring reality and their own consciences, in order to gain more by such an attitude than by admitting thorny issues. Though rejected after a few performances, on the grounds of their being immoral and deprived of patriotism, Caragiale's comedies stand for the most original, long-lasting and profoundly moral drama repertoire of our literature, as they relate to the precursors' drama the same way as M. Eminescu's poetry relates to that of the 1848 poets and to that of V. Alecsandri. Caragiale's drama proves to be of higher worth than that of all the other Romanian dramatists, both by its moral enterprise and by a genial solution to the intricate issue of literary demand and supply (the way an audience may react to a character like the fanciful lady in the sketch, Începem (We Begin), 1909, who can be either vulgar and aristocratic, whimsical and constant, or primitive and refined), and by an exemplary solution to all the technical problems resulting from the specificity of drama. That is why, Caragiale's comedies are a harmonious synthesis between the classical ideal of simplicity and the Shakespearean one of realism and abundance, before any other author succeeding in illustrating one of these alternatives, with a similar competence. The same as in French classicism, the miracle of Caragiale's comedies resides in its bringing together rigorous profound drama in spite of the seeming simplicity, and a mostly folk audience keen on colourful performances.
For a while the playwright kept a low profile, but from October 1885 to the summer of 1889, Caragiale functioned as a columnist with the Junimea gazette Constitutionalul, where he published a touching article in Eminescu's memory: În Nirvana. However, the real surprise came from the issuing of a new kind of literary works that left the impression that the writer's career took a new turn, as the tragic dark side of existence was emphasized, in the short stories O faclie de Paste (Easter Flame), 1889), and Pacat (Sin). (1892), in the odd sketch Grand Hotel "Victoria Româna" (1890) or in the drama Napasta (1890). Caragiale's key preoccupation seems to be the way in which a normal man suddenly loses control under the pressure of factors that threaten us all. At first sight, from 1889 a profoundly tragic theme replaced the gratuitous joyfulness in Claponul or the comic themes in the comedies, and for almost a decade pervaded Caragiale's creation not only in Pacat., Napasta or O faclie de Paste, but also in the sketch Inspectiune, in the short story În vreme de razboi (In Wartime) (1898/1899) or in the other almost tragic short story, Doua lozuri (Two Jackpots) (1898/1899). In most of these works, a normal man suddenly loses his mind: Leiba Zibal because he is menaced by a thief, and no one runs to his rescue, Dragomir because he killed, and Ion because he was beaten, Stavrache because he can no longer give up the fortune entrusted by his brother, and even Lefter Popescu, because he had come too close to seeing his lifetime dream come true, and in the end an incomprehensible cruel destiny grabbed it away from him. Specific of the works from this period is also the essentially naturalist fact that almost all (O faclie de Paste, Grand Hotel "Victoria Româna", O reparatie, 1896; 1 aprilie, 1896) illustrate particular cases of the "theory of animated motors". However, in spite of the apparently new literary production, the volume from 1892 (Pacat. O faclie de Paste, Om cu noroc) comprises, besides the first two tragic naturalist works, a sketch of the category of Momente (Moments), and very similar to Diplomatie (Diplomacy) or to Mici economii (1900). Moreover, also in his new hypothesis Caragiale continued to be a passionate observer of simple forms, and supporter of meta-literary genres in literature itself, as the minimal variants of Pacat. O faclie de Paste or Napasta are in fact spectacular happenings and legal cases of the category used by the press. On the other hand, the tragic author's vehemence resembles that of the comedy author. Both are guided by the formula "I feel enormously and see monstrously" in Grand Hotel "Victoria Româna", and ignore several political and social taboos in psychological theme comedies, in tragic writings, in which more often than not the heroes are peasants.
The second long period of silence in Caragiale's career began in 1891 and ended in 1893, when the writer resumed his activity on a regular basis in his own literary review, Moftul român. He published in it a few important articles and parodic verse, as well as the dramatic sketch Justitie (Justice), and under the general title of Scoala româna (Romanian School), he issued four fragments of the series on the pedagogue Marius Chicos Rostogan (Inspectiune, Examenul anual [Annual Examination], Conferinta [Conference], and În ajunul examenelor [In the Eve of Exams]). Together with the columns in Universul (1899-1901; 1909), and those in the second series of Moftul român (1901), these sketches make up a whole that by its comic expressivity and social logic coherence comparable with the comedies from 1879 - 1885. By the elements of the programme, laid out in [Introducere la Notite critice] in Universul, that encompass the entire cycle, and by their technical issuing, as serials in a widespread gazette, Caragiale's sketches, of which the best known are gathered in the volume Momente (1901), like the comedies, start from the technique of the simplest participation offer, addressing readers who probably did not expect literary quality in the first place. Taken separately, all the elements in the [Introducere] (Introduction) programme suggest a very clear pattern, synchronizing the work with the reader and his weekly schedule. Here can be included the moves on St. George's Day and St. Dumitru's Day, on the 1st of April, 10th of May, Mosii, Christmas and Easter, the five o'clocks, the Sunday rest or the leisure train, and, from time to time, an exceptional event, making restless the whole community (the political manifestations at the Royal Palace, and Michael the Brave's statue, Boris Sarafoff's crimes, or the "frightening" comet Biela, from the 19th century). However, put together, all these data make up the second, more important, offer of the works, as they appeal to the deeper core of human mind, and to a certain category of townsmen, the same as Alecsandri's Pasteluri, for instance, used to link rural man and the stereotype agricultural works to the ultimate reality they relate to. By his sketches and moments, Caragiale attains a true phenomenology of Romanian society, in its bourgeois town variety, and in a few of the areas in which it is best represented: family, school, bureaucracy, the media, the judicial system. At the same time, the dramatist's typology is enlarged and completed by the typology of the author of sketches (the Bucharest inhabitant, the friend, the spoiled child, the tabloid columnist, the available theoretician), as Caragiale is the discoverer of a picturesque social and moral category, as an expression of the Wallachian type of townsman: the myth system.
In 1902, from Calendarul Moftului român to April 1907, when in the Viennese paper Die Zeit appeared his articles on the peasant uprisings, Caragiale interrupted his activity again, and that was his longest period of inactivity in his career as a writer, while in full creative maturity, As late as in 1909, after he had published a number of sketches, verse and political articles in Opinia (The Opinion), in Convorbiri literare or in Universul, Caragiale dedicated himself to editing his last volume, Schite noua (New Sketches), (1910), including, among others, the two masterpieces of his maturity: the stories Kir Ianulea and Calul Dracului. A spectacular new element, that for some critics was the proof that the author had turned a storyteller, seems to be the fantastic now. Also this time Caragiale's image as transforming himself or evolving should be corrected, because the contents of Momente included the stories La Hanul lui Mânjoala (At Mânjoala's Inn) (1898 - 1899) and La conac (At the Mansion) (1900 - 1901), and, the same as with him the tragic stands next to the fantastic or the miraculous next to realism, from a narrative standpoint, besides the preference for minimal contexts in Curiosul pedepsit (Punished Intruder) (1911) or in the sketches issued in Universul (1909), that is characterized by the systematic removal of all the elements outside time (descriptions, maxims, general considerations), can be identified and the preference for the maximizing context, with many digressions, anecdotes and picturesque décor elements. Moreover, before reaching the fantastic formula in Momente,, and in Schite noua, Caragiale practised the science fiction type fantastic, in the phase of Ghimpele (Thorn), being one of the first representatives of Romanian proto-science fiction, next to the less known George Radu Melidon, Al. N. Dariu or Demetriu G. Ionescu (the future politician Take Ionescu). In the version of Momente and in Schite noua, Caragiale's fantastic is more often than not the miraculous and the fairytale atmosphere, entirely in the spirit of the Balkan folklore mythology, where encounters with the devil, the saints or God at a crossroads are usual, and where the profane is intermingled with the sacred, not out of the desire of mystical conversion, but in order to satisfy a righteous thirst for justice. Other times, the emphasis is laid upon a general initiation meaning, and, from this point of view, Caragiale is close to I. Creanga, the one of Povestea lui Harap-Alb (Harap-Alb's Story). The same as the work itself, Caragiale's letters, written especially during the voluntary exile to Berlin, and literary in wording, by its comic and anecdotic elements, reveals the same problem of the alternation of activity and non-activity periods, as the texts stubbornly stick to a void, achieved by word of mouth, and suggest a very complex way of understanding the core of the mechanisms controlling communication. The idea that a writer faces his readers, a given set of norms and patterns, and finally, a reward/punishment system, compelling him to choose a certain game variant of more possible, had been stated by Caragiale also in his articles, in [Cabinetul negru] (Black Cabinet) (1900) or in Politica si literatura (Politics and Literature) (1909), under the form of open letter to the poet Al. Vlahuta. As a matter of fact, next to the considerations on the audience, the work or the hierarchy of literary genres, the issue of the relationship between a system of texts, the system of (artistic and social) norms, and the system of pays represent, by the end of his career, one of the most important themes of Caragiale's literature, tackled not only in essays, but also in narratives, in Grămătici și măscărici (Grammarians and Clowns) (1895), Karkaleki (1896), Partea poetului (The Poet's Share) (1909) or Ion (1909).
As all these themes and patterns of Caragiale's literature are unraveled, it becomes possible to renounce the piece by piece perspective, specific of earlier literary history, that opposed his beginnings to his maturity works, his drama to his prose, and the tragic to his comedies, after initially dividing his work into chapters and distinct phases, from which readers may choose. In reality, Caragiale's literature, represents the most expressive and audacious attempt at artistic recognition in our entire literature, by a programme with several aesthetic components, represented with a certain degree of intensity, at least once, in a certain stage of the game. But when the author's expectations seem to change, one may lay the blame on the audience's horizon and the aggressivity of the response (critics, the officials, the Academy, the fellow writers), as the writer is conscious he is equally brilliant in the comic and the tragic, in drama, prose or poetry, as the genre mechanisms function differently, while the literary creation is a unit likely to be negotiated with the readers, in a certain historical framework, according to one or several systems of norms, to which literature may relate by turn or simultaneously. That is why, Caragiale should be considered, on the one hand, a classic realist genius, who created the drama language in our literature, the same as Eminescu created our first great lyrical language, and, on the other, a dialectician of genius, over his entire career equally at ease in drama and in prose, in the telegraphic sketches in the Momente variety or in longer stories in Schite noua, finally in his political articles or letters. At the same time, by his refusal to avoid aesthetic and social taboos of his age, Caragiale proved to be the classical writer who attained the most in the field of unravelling a literary text, and in that of deciphering the entrails of our national specificity.
The Dictionary of the Romanian Writers (A-C) by Mircea ZACIU, Marian PAPAHAGI, and Aurel SASU,
Bucharest, The Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, 1995.