Postcolonial Readings of Romanian Identity Narratives

by Onoriu Colăcel (Author)
©2015 Monographs 190 Pages


The book offers a view of national self-identification in the literary culture of twentieth century Romania with a special focus on the postcolonial paradigm. Romanian identity narratives downplay the colonial setup of the country’s past and the colonial past goes unmentioned in the country’s historiography and popular culture. However, the postcolonial paradigm helps readers grasp national self-identification in modern Romanian culture. The author analyses how Anglo-American reporting on interwar Romania and later Romanian historical fiction establish notions such as hybridity and cultural overlap as conducive to the making of modern Romanian culture.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • 1. The Romanian Quest for Identity: Culture-bound Storytelling and Postcolonialism
  • 1.1. Identity versus Identification in Narrative Reporting on National Feeling
  • 1.2. Nationalism and Literary Image Studies: Romanian Narratives of Self-identification
  • 1.3. Postcolonialism and Modern Romanian Literary Culture
  • 2. Documenting the Language of Indictment
  • 2.1. English-written (Self-) Identification in Storytelling about Romania
  • 2.2. The Ethnonym in Romanian Self-identification
  • 2.3. The Constructedness of Indictment in Public Storytelling
  • 3. The British Take on What Natives Want
  • 4. The American Take on What Natives Want
  • 5. What Foreigners Want: Decolonising the Country
  • 5.1. Competing Ethnic Histories in Early 20th-century Romania
  • 5.2. Fictions and Memories about Making the Nation
  • 5.3. The Decolonized Present of Historical Novels in After Me, a Day …. and The Forgerers
  • 6. Westernization as a Culture-Bound Narrative
  • 7. Bibliography

← 6 | 7 → Acknowledgments

The idea for this book came out of a discussion with my mentor and friend Cornel Veselovschi. I am grateful to Dr Luminita Elena Turcu for making possible its publication. I will always be indebted to professor Turcu for her patience and advice.

I appreciate my friend and teacher Dr Dan Nicolae Popescu for supporting me in my research. My heartfelt thanks go to my friend Marius Gulei for his resourceful assistance. I am also grateful to Nicoleta Andronachi for her help.

Last but not least, I am ever thankful to my wife, Geta, for always encouraging me. ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 → Foreword

The question of identity in Europe, grounded on the birth of the nation and of nationalism at the turn of the nineteenth century, became an utterly prominent topic in the twentieth century both before and in the aftermath of the two world wars, when it revealed itself through various kinds of political, social and cultural discourses. The case of Eastern Europe, however, gained a special particularity as the countries struggled for their national independence around WW I, to partially lose it after WW II, when the communist regime with the Russian seal was installed. During the more recent decades, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the identity question in Eastern Europe has acquired a postcolonial dimension, produced both by the reconsideration of the historical events of the early twentieth century through postcolonial lenses and by the collapse of communism, whose features and effects are usually described as similar to those of colonialism.

Romania (baptized with this name in 1859 on the occasion of the union of Moldavia and Wallachia), who became Greater Romania in 1918 when Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia joined the mother country, is probably the best example of a state made up of provinces whose identity has been shaped and reshaped, built and demolished according to the particular interests of the neighbouring empires (Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian/Soviet) and political rulers (Phanariot, German-born, Soviet oriented).

At present, when Romania is acknowledged as a European voice (in her capacity of a full E.U. member), Onoriu Colăcel’s study, Postcolonial Readings of Romanian Identity Narratives, tackles the highly disputed topic of Romanian (self)identification and identity construction in the twentieth century when the country found herself at the crossroads between the Phanariot regime, the Austro-Hungarian rule, the German-born monarchs and the Russian imposition of communism. The primary sources on which the author’s analysis is based are travelogues, memoirs and historiographic-fictions, written and published in English or written in Romanian and translated into English, in the early twentieth century, with a view to introducing the newly formed Romanian state to the Anglo-American audience. It is known that Romania’s longest and closest friend had been France due to the common roots in language and to the Romanians’ fascination with the French culture and customs. It is also known that the wealthy local boyars educated their off-springs in France, who provided them with revolutionary ideas, and that the French fashion and style were to be seen in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, while still en vogue in the Parisian streets.

← 9 | 10 → Onoriu Colăcel’s approach to the formation and expression of the Romanian identity follows the well-known postcolonial views on identity construction, which he cleverly applies to popular narratives. According to the author, both the literary and the non-literary discourse follows the (post)colonial rhetoric and frames, in the narratives under scrutiny, the stereotypical representations of the colonized Self and the colonizing Other. However, the nationalism construction and the identity shaping and reshaping in Romania is revealed as a less typical case, which it definitely is, since the natives of these lands have oscillated between the long-lasting oriental (Ottoman) influence, imbued with Slavic elements (to be found mainly in the Church and in the use of the Cyrillic alphabet until the late nineteenth century), and their alignment with the West, based primarily on the Latin roots of the Romance language spoken by all the Romanians irrespective of the province they were born in.

In such an overlapping, hybrid cultural context, the identity narratives about Romania both observe and undermine the postcolonial (i.e. post-communist) discourse frames according to specific historical moments as well as to momentous decisions, which more or less legitimized a nationalist rhetoric. Could this be one of the reasons why the words describing the position of Romania in Europe are still in dispute? Is Romania a Balkan country, an Eastern-European one or an East-Central state? The question does not hint at the strict geographical position of the country (which is known to be closer to central Europe than to its eastern part), but rather aims at the cultural and attitudinal characteristics of the natives.

Identity building and national claims are strongly dependent on how Romania has positioned itself in the cultural context of Europe, how she understands and expresses the European values, in other words, whether she looks west, south or east. Her identity narratives are, therefore, constructed accordingly.

The texts under scrutiny in Onoriu Colăcel’s ample study are mainly concerned with the representation of the Romanians by the Other and depict the national(ist) spirit of the Romanians in what he calls public narratives that is, historical novels, memoirs and travelogues meant to describe the country and her people to a non-Romanian readership. The first two books discussed by the author are Roumania and Great Britain (1916) by the Romanian born A. Herșcovici Hurst and Twenty Years in Roumania (1921) by the Irish Maude Parkinson, a close friend of the Romanian minister Tache Ionescu, himself married to an English woman. In both texts (the former a history book, the latter a memoir), the Romanians are presented as a culturally hybrid nation who implemented the Western laws, administration and education, but, in spite of them, ← 10 | 11 → was still living according to Eastern customs and habits resulted from a long tradition and influences of Orientalisms. The hiatus between the public and the private, the official discourse and the unofficial reality created a unique hybridity, usually described by the foreigners as exoticism, which positioned the country in a subaltern relation with the industrial, more developed western civilizations.

The next texts discussed in the subsequent chapters of the present volume: A.W.A. Leeper’s The Justice of Rumania’s Cause (1917), Gogu Negulesco’s Rumania’s Sacrifice. Her Past, Present, and Future (1918), Nicholas Lupu’s Rumania and the War (1919), Radu Rosetti’s fictional stories Monk Zosim and Other Stories (1920-21) and Memories (1923), and the two historiographic novels După mine, o zi [After me, a Day] by loan Dan Nicolescu (1983) and Calpuzanii [The Forgerers] by Silviu Angelescu (1988), are used to exemplify both the (self)iden- tification process and the rhetoric of indictment in the Romanian construction of identity.

The majority of the primary sources are written and published either during or after WW I, which is, according to the author, the peak period of identity consolidation in Romania. Although the last texts (labelled as historical novels) were published in the eighties, they refer to the nineteenth-century Romania and to the emergence of identity formation in the Southern province of Wallachia. The common point in the texts mentioned above is the analysis of the rhetoric of indictment used both by the foreigners as regards the native population and by the Romanians against the ethnic communities living in the country (e.g. Greeks, Jews, Roma).

Onoriu Colăcel’s conclusion to this very challenging and strongly documented study is that during the last two centuries, the Romanians have undergone a process of self-identification in the course of which the rhetoric of indictment has played a crucial role. Conversely, the ethnonyms, which, according to the author, are both a source and an object of popular resentment, are in accordance with the major characteristics of the decolonizing processes through which other nations have also passed. Moreover, as the author claims, it is the national selfidentification in and through the Romanian popular narratives, which played an important role in the country’s alignment to the West that made Romania a modern state, according to the European values.

Adina Ciugureanu ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 → 1. The Romanian Quest for Identity: Culture-bound Storytelling and Postcolonialism

1.1. Identity versus Identification in Narrative Reporting on National Feeling


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Postcolonialism Nationalism Studies Self-identification Nation-building Romanian Studies Literary Culture
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 190 pp.

Biographical notes

Onoriu Colăcel (Author)

Onoriu Colăcel is Lecturer of British Studies and English Literature at the Faculty of Letters and Communication Sciences of Stefan cel Mare University (Romania). His work focuses on contemporary English literature and patterns of self-identification in literature and popular culture.


Title: Postcolonial Readings of Romanian Identity Narratives
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192 pages