Short summary - Jean-Christophe - Romain Rolland

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Jean-Christophe
Romain Rolland

In a small German town on the banks of the Rhine, a child is born into the Kraft family of musicians. The first, still unclear perception of the surrounding world, the warmth of mother's hands, the gentle sound of the voice, the feeling of light, darkness, thousands of different sounds ... The ringing of a spring drop, the hum of bells, the singing of birds - everything delights little Christophe. He hears music everywhere, because for a true musician "everything that exists is music - you just need to hear it." Unbeknownst to himself, the boy, playing, comes up with his own melodies. Christoph's grandfather records and processes his compositions. And now the music book "Joy of Childhood" with a dedication to His Highness the Duke is ready. So at the age of seven, Christophe becomes a court musician and begins to earn his first money for performances.
Not everything is smooth in the life of Christoph. The father drinks most of the family money. Mother is forced to work as a cook in wealthy houses. The family has three children, Christoph is the eldest. He already had time to face injustice when he realized that they are poor, and the rich despise and laugh at their ignorance and bad manners. At the age of eleven, to help his family, the boy begins to play the second violin in the orchestra, where his father and grandfather play, gives lessons to spoiled rich girls, continues to perform at ducal concerts, He has no friends, he sees very little warmth and sympathy at home, and therefore gradually turns into an introverted, proud teenager who does not want to become "a little burgher, an honest German." The boy's only consolation is conversations with his grandfather and uncle Gottfried, a traveling merchant who sometimes visits his sister, Christoph's mother. It was the grandfather who first noticed Christoph's musical gift and supported him, and the uncle revealed to the boy the truth that "music should be modest and Truthful" and express "real, not fake feelings." But the grandfather dies, and the uncle rarely visits them, and Christophe is terribly lonely.
A family on the brink of poverty. The father drinks away his last savings. In despair, Christoph and his mother are forced to ask the duke to give the money earned by his father to his son. However, these funds soon run out: the eternally drunk father behaves disgustingly even during concerts, and the duke refuses him a place. Christophe writes custom-made music for the official palace festivities. "The very source of his life and joy is poisoned." But deep down he hopes for victory, dreams of a great future, happiness, friendship and love.
In the meantime, his dreams are not destined to come true. Having met Otto Diener, Christoph thinks that he has finally found a friend. But Otto's good manners and caution are alien to the freedom-loving, unbridled Christoph, and they part. The first youthful feeling also brings Christoph disappointment: he falls in love with a girl from a noble family, but he is immediately shown the difference in their position. Another blow - Christophe's father dies. The family is forced to move to a more modest home. In a new place, Christophe meets Sabina, a young mistress of a haberdashery shop, and love arises between them. The unexpected death of Sabina leaves a deep wound in the soul of the young man. He meets with seamstress Ada, but she is cheating on him with his younger brother. Christoph is left alone again.
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He stands at a crossroads. The words of old uncle Gottfried - "The main thing is not to get tired of wanting and living" - help Christoph to spread his wings and, as if throwing off "yesterday's already dead shell, in which he was suffocating - his old soul." From now on, he belongs only to himself, "at last he is not the prey of life, but the owner of it!" New, unknown forces awaken in the young man. All his previous works are "warm water, caricature-ridiculous nonsense." He is not only dissatisfied with himself, he hears false notes in the works of the pillars of music. Favorite German songs and songs become for him "a flood of vulgar tenderness, vulgar excitement, vulgar sorrow, vulgar poetry ...". Christophe does not hide the feelings overwhelming him and publicly declares them. He writes new music, strives to “express living passions, create living images”, putting “wild and tart sensuality” into his works. "With the magnificent audacity of youth," he believes that "everything must be done anew and redone." But - a complete failure. People are not ready to accept his new, innovative music. Christophe writes articles for a local magazine, where he criticizes everyone and everything, both composers and musicians. Thus, he makes many enemies for himself: the duke expels him from service; the families where he gives lessons refuse him; the whole city turns away from him.
Christophe suffocates in the stifling atmosphere of a provincial burgher town. He meets a young French actress, and her Gallic liveliness, musicality and sense of humor lead him to the idea of leaving for France, for Paris. Christophe cannot decide to leave his mother, but the case decides for him. At a village holiday, he quarrels with soldiers, the quarrel ends in a common fight, three soldiers are wounded. Christoph is forced to flee to France: a criminal case is being brought against him in Germany.
Paris greets Christophe unfriendly. A dirty, bustling city, so unlike the slick, orderly German cities. Friends from Germany turned their backs on the musician. With difficulty he manages to find a job - private lessons, processing works of famous composers for a music publishing house. Gradually, Christophe notices that French society is no better than German. Everything is rotten through and through. Politics is the subject of speculation by clever and arrogant adventurers. The leaders of various parties, including the socialist one, skillfully cover up their low, selfish interests with loud phrases. The press is deceitful and corrupt. It is not works of art that are created, but goods are manufactured to please the perverted tastes of the jaded bourgeoisie. Sick, divorced from the people, from real life, art is slowly dying. As in his home country, Jean-Christophe does more than just watch in Paris. His lively, active nature makes him interfere in everything, openly express his indignation. He sees through and through the falsity and mediocrity that surrounds him. Christophe is in poverty, starving, seriously ill, but does not give up. Not caring about whether his music will be heard or not, he enthusiastically works, creates a symphonic picture "David" on a biblical plot, but the audience booes it.
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After an illness, Christoph suddenly feels rejuvenated. He begins to understand the unique charm of Paris, feels an irresistible need to find a Frenchman "whom he could love for the sake of his love for France."
Olivier Janin, a young poet who has long admired Christophe's music and himself from afar, becomes Christophe's friend. Friends rent an apartment together. Anxious and sickly Olivier "was made for Christophe." “They enriched each other. Everyone contributed - they were the moral treasures of their peoples. " Under the influence of Olivier, Christophe suddenly opens up "the indestructible granite block of France." The house in which friends live, as if in miniature, represents various social strata of society. Despite the unifying roof, residents shun each other due to moral and religious biases. With his music, indestructible optimism and sincere participation, Christophe makes a hole in the wall of alienation, and people so dissimilar to each other get closer and begin to help each other.
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Through the efforts of Olivier, Christophe suddenly comes to fame. The press praises him, he becomes a fashionable composer, secular society opens its doors to him. Christophe willingly goes to dinner parties "to replenish the supplies that life supplies him - a collection of human looks and gestures, shades of voice, in a word, material - forms, sounds, colors - necessary for an artist for his palette." At one of these dinners, his friend Olivier falls in love with the young Jacqueline Aange. Christophe is so preoccupied with the arrangement of his friend's happiness that he personally intercedes for the lovers before Jacqueline's father, although he understands that, having married, Olivier will no longer belong entirely to him.
Indeed, Olivier is moving away from Christophe. The newlyweds leave for the province, where Olivier teaches at the college. He is absorbed in family happiness, he has no time for Christoph. Jacqueline receives a large inheritance, and the couple return to Paris. They have a son, but the former understanding is no longer there. Jacqueline gradually turns into an empty society lady, throwing money left and right. She has a lover, for the sake of which she eventually leaves her husband and child. Olivier closes in his grief. He is still friends with Christoph, but he is unable to live with him under the same roof, as before. Having transferred the boy to be raised by their mutual friend, Olivier rents an apartment not far from his son and Christophe.
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Christoph meets revolutionary workers. He doesn't think "with them or against them." He enjoys meeting and arguing with these people. "And in the heat of the argument, it happened that Christophe, seized with passion, turned out to be much more revolutionary than the rest." He is outraged by any injustice, "passions turn his head". On the first of May, he goes to a demonstration with his new friends and drags along with him Olivier, who is not yet strong after illness. The crowd separates the friends. Christophe rushes into a fight with the police and, defending himself, impales one of them with his own saber. Drunk with battle, he "sings a revolutionary song at the top of his lungs." Olivier, trampled by the crowd, dies.
Christophe is forced to flee to Switzerland. He expects Olivier to come to him, but instead receives a letter with the news of the tragic death of a friend. Shocked, almost insane, "like a wounded animal", he gets to the town where one of his admirers of talent, Dr. Brown, lives. Christophe locks himself in the room provided to him, wanting only one thing - "to be buried with a friend." The music becomes unbearable for him.
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Gradually, Christophe comes back to life: he plays the piano, and then begins to write music. Through Brown's efforts, he finds students and gives lessons. Love breaks out between him and the wife of the doctor, Anna. Both Christoph and Anna, a deeply religious woman, have a hard time experiencing their passion and betrayal of their friend and husband. Unable to cut this knot, lovers try to commit suicide. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Anna falls seriously ill, and Christophe flees the city. He takes refuge in the mountains on a secluded farm, where he is experiencing a severe mental crisis. He longs to create, but cannot, which makes him feel on the verge of insanity. Coming out of this test ten years older, Christophe feels at peace. He "departed from himself and approached God."
Christophe wins. His work is recognized. He creates new works, "a plexus of unknown harmonies, a string of dizzying chords." Only a few have access to the latest daring creations of Christoph, he owes his fame to earlier works. The feeling that no one understands him intensifies Christoph's loneliness.
Christophe meets Grace. Once, being a very young girl, Grazia took music lessons from Christophe and fell in love with him. Calm, light love of Grace awakens a reciprocal feeling in Christoph's soul. They become friends, dream of getting married. The son of Grazia is jealous of his mother for the musician and is trying with all his might to prevent their happiness. The spoiled, sickly boy feigns seizures and coughing fits, and eventually becomes seriously ill and dies. After him, Grazia also dies, believing herself to be responsible for the death of her son.
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Having lost his beloved, Christophe feels the thread connecting him with this life is torn. And yet it is at this time that he creates his most profound works, including tragic ballads based on Spanish folk songs, among which "a dark love funeral song, like ominous flashes of flame." Also, Christophe wants to have time to connect the daughter of a departed beloved with his son Olivier, in which a deceased friend seemed to have risen for Christophe. The young people fell in love with each other, and Christophe is trying to arrange their wedding. He has long been unwell, but hides it, not wanting to darken the happy day for the newlyweds.
Christoph's powers are waning. Lonely, dying Christophe lies in his room and hears an invisible orchestra playing the hymn of life. He remembers his departed friends, lovers, mother and prepares to unite with them. “The gates are opening ... This is the chord I was looking for! .. But is this the end? What are the open spaces ahead ... We will continue tomorrow ... "