Jurnalul portughez al lui Mircea Eliade: valoarea documentară şi literară

Articolul analizează şi evidenţiază valoarea documentară şi literară a Jurnalului portughez de Mircea Eliade. Structurat ca o autoconfesiune, acest text alcătuieşte un portret inedit al autorului. Jurnalul scoate în evidenţă un moment de criză a identităţii eului. Evenimentele care se produc la nivel social: războiul, criza civilizaţiei şi a valorilori ei, sunt trecute prin filtrul reflecţiei în relaţie cu cele personale – boala şi moartea soției, pericolul pierderii echilibrului interior.

Cuvinte-cheie: Mircea Eliade, Jurnalul portughez, memorii, documentar, cronologie.


World-known Romanian theorist of religion and fiction writer Mircea Eliade (1907-86) served as a diplomat in Portugal during the years 1941-45. As Press Secretary, Eliade had to sign all kinds of articles and reports for the home office about political activities and tension in Portugal, to write about Romanian culture in Portuguese journals, and to participate to dinners and public ceremonies.

As usual throughout his life, Eliade kept in Portugal a detailed journal. The value of this text cannot be overstated. The biographer will find it the most reliable source of facts for these years of Eliade’s life. The literary historian will prize it for the information it provides on the background of the books Eliade published during the war. For historians of religions, most precious is what this journal reveals about the inception of his two major works in the field, Patterns in Comparative Religion and Cosmos and History, and the importance he assigned to them. But for anyone who wants to gain insight into the enigmatic and multifaceted personality of Mircea Eliade, this Portugal Journal will be a treasure.

The Portugal Journal is written, like all of Eliade’s journalistic, autobiographical and fictional works, in his native Romanian language.

It should be pointed out that this portion of the Journal, unlike previously published volumes, is not a matter of selections made by the author. The American researcher of Eliade, professor Mac Ricketts describes this journal as neatly written manuscript [1, p.57]. He suggests that it was transcribed, at least partially, and in fact Eliade states in one place that he was writing on loose sheets and copying them later into the notebooks, while several times he mentions transcribing or elaborating from travel notebooks. Some portions of the journal appear not to have been copied [2, p. 350]. The pages are numbered consecutively. The author did not write the journal for publication, and he did not imagine at the time that he would ever publish anything from it but selections – and those only after he had reached the age of sixty. Why he did not do so, he never said [1, p.87]. The fact that this volume is unabridged and that it was not edited for publication cannot be over-emphasized, since Eliade cannot be suspected of deliberately withholding something from the public, as could be the case in his other published journals and autobiographical volumes.

Due to different reasons, which we are not going to focus on now, the Portugal Journal was published firstly in Spanish, and only later in English and Romanian.

As the Portugal Journal is the only one of Eliade’s journals to be published in its entirety, unedited by its author, in it Eliade writes frankly about things that he could never bring himself to make public, including his relationship with the Iron Guard, his problems with hypersexuality, and his religious. This journal is fascinating to read because Eliade invites the reader into the interior of his troubled mind. The journal is replete with existential pathos, anxiety, loss, fear, danger, suffering, sorrow, and happy moments.

But the main topic of the Portugal Journal is the Second World War.

Although Eliade wrote in several places in the Portugal Journal [3, p.127, 145, 254] that he was deliberately avoiding mention of the war, it was, of course, impossible for him to do. Entries of this sort are relatively few for 1941 and 1942. As the war continued, he became increasingly pessimistic about its outcome and aftermath. He confirms, that not his personal case concerns him. What makes him tremble, is the nothingness he sees ahead of him.

Eliade, as we see, was subject to moods of deep despair. The war was the principal impetus for these moods. Late in 1942 he writes that the only one thing he cannot accept, cannot assimilate, is the tragedy of his nation. His despair finds its source mainly in this Romanian destiny [3, p.53].

Throughout 1943 the Journal abounds in references to the war. In one of his longest and most bitter commentaries on the war, dated 7 June 1943, he says that in the apocalyptic struggle, his country has very little chance of surviving. In his opinion, that time Romania and even the Romanian people were passing through the greatest crisis in their existence [3, p.85].

Eliade’s journal for 1944 contains only a few entries concerning the war; he insistently tries to avoid mentioning any military event. In January he wrote: “My disgust for history has grown so much that almost nothing happening in the world today interests me any longer. Since the first of January I haven’t touched a newspaper, haven’t read single communiques from the war” [3, p.102].

One last entry from 1944 pertaining to the war deserves to be noted: “Looking out my window, observing the beauty of the night – I was suddenly reconciled to the war, to the catastrophe, to the end of the Europe I have known and loved. The destructions of war have a meaning; they fulfill a role in the universal equilibrium. War – like death in the individual case – corresponds to the other cosmic act<…>: regression into the primordial amorphic state, where everything is lost in everything else, merging into unity…” [3, p. 113].

Thus, Eliade finds a “cosmic meaning” in the otherwise meaningless historical events of the past five year.

Another sad event happened during Eliade’s stay in Portugal – his wife got ill and finally died. Nina’s illness (uterine cancer, although Eliade didn’t know it), preoccupied him for several years, until her death on 20 November 1944 [4, p.198], [5, p.73] – and then his grief overshadowed everything else for several months.

“I’m thinking of writing a life of the Mother of the Lord – voeux for the healing of Nina” [3, p.138], “<…>Hard night with Nina. The important thing is that I stay calm and optimistic. When I feel attacks of nerves coming on, or a darkening of my mind, I say to myself <…>’The Mother of the Lord’” [3, p.139].

Forty days after her death, Eliade arranged for a requiem at the church across the street from their apartment, which was dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. Both of us, he writes, “had boundless faith in the Lord’s Mother of Fatima. In the eight months of her illness, whenever there was a service at Fatima, I told Nina to pray – and she did. On 13 October, when the ceremony with the candles began, Nina watched from her bed and we both prayed” [3, p.143].

Soon after her death, Eliade recorded that he couldn’t read anything but the Bible. The intensive Bible reading continued until as late as 11 April 1945. On 6 January he noted: “As often as I can, I pray. And I believe[3, p.138].

The most remarkable religious activity undertaken by Eliade was a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, some ninety miles north of Lisbon, in March [2, p.367] – for the repose of Nina’s soul, and on his own behalf. But the pilgrimage seems to have done little to banish Eliade’s melancholy [4, p.198].

Nina’s death on 20 November 1944 brought the reality of death to him as nothing else had. On 23 December he expressed himself on the subject in more personal and dramatic terms: “For several years my hope and my despair have had their sources in the reality of the spirit and in life after death. The awful nihilism that sometimes comes over me is unleashed in the moment when I doubt there is anything beyond< …>I must believe that we both will rise, in our bodies. Only in this way can Nina’s sufferings possibly be redeemed: physically, so we may experience the joys we might have had and didn’t have” [3, p.142].

The keyword that defines Eliade’s feelings is despair : “I’m in despair whenever I see ahead of me no alternative: more precisely, when I feel that whatever I do, the result will be despair. I can endure more easily the past, despite all its horrors. When Nina’s departure overwhelms me, I still see a way out of the suffering: my own death and our meeting again” [3, p.173].

Eliade Feels guilty for being egocentric – as he called himself for keeping thinking about Nina all the time, for neglecting the world catastrophe in which tens of thousands of persons are losing their lives daily, when cities are being annihilated and nations devastated. He realizes his duty – the duty of writer and of scientist: “Melancholy or despair, torpor or temptation, whatever may be—my duty is to work, to write the several books I’ve begun or planned” [3, p.175].

Eliade reads his wife’s death as an act of God “to make me think in a creative way, that is, to facilitate my salvation”. The only sense that Eliade sees in Nina’s death is initiatic: her sufferings should show him the direction to move towards. This idea he expresses quite emotionally: “Nina was taken for my sins and for her salvation. God willed to take her, in order to cast me into a new life – of which, now, I still know nothing” [3, p.179].

Really, after her death Eliade decides to immigrate to France. The stay in this country will make him world known scientist. Without Portuguese period this dramatic transformation could be hardly possible.

But the significance of the book lies not only in the many facts and much information useful for understanding the author that will be found there, but also in its literature value. In Portugal Journal Eliade makes a creative experiment in diary genre.

A well-written private diary (or intimate journal) was one of Mircea Eliade’s favorite forms of literature. In his own journals he often mentions reading such a book for pleasure. There is no doubt that he assigned an important place to journal writing within his numerous and varied activities as an author. Throughout his life, with the exception of only a few years, he faithfully recorded his activities and thoughts in notebooks.

So, journal form as his preferred genre became an area of his literature experiment. Traditionally, every journal entry contains an indication of time when it was written. Eliade’s Portugal Journal has more sophisticated temporal structure. His grief over the loss of his beloved wife defines a special character of chronology. After Nina’s death practically every comment will be marked by indication of period of time passed after this tragic end. So we can observe a system of double chronology.

29 December: Forty days since Nina’s passing.

20 January: Two months since Nina’s passing. In the past several days, a terrible sadness. Nothing to be done. 164

20 February: Three months.

20 April: Five months since Nina’s departure. Hard morning.

20 August, nearing the end of his Portuguese sojourn: “Nine months since Nina’s departure. One of the saddest days I’ve had since then” 223


So, we can observe the system of parallel calendars, general and personal one.

Remarkable is the fact that sometimes general calendar is replaced by personal. In these cases entries have no indications of date (only typographical sign *). Date indication is replaced by indication the time passed after Nina’s death. So, an entry from April: “Five months. At night, sitting on the terrace, I think again about Nina. I’m sure that my neurasthenia is due, in large part, to her sufferings”. Or an entry from May: “Six months since Nina’s departure”. This entry continues by remembering the party some years ago when Nina felt well, describing details of the party …

Some entries with indication of the time passed after Nina’s death contains Eliade’s dreams and memories that only increase their untemporality: So, Eliade writes that he can’t remember anything from his dream of last night except Nina’s words: “I am your bride and you are my dearly beloved bridegroom. The world tries to separate us, but even oblivion binds us” [3, p.211]. Or he is remembering “all the phases of Nina’s illness struggling harder and harder with melancholy”[3, p.213].

These and other examples allow us to speak of dominating nature of personal chronology.

Eliade sometimes chooses another starting point for his personally chronology. It can be:

The date when Nina become ill: “It is one year today since Nina became ill …I remember the date so precisely because we had been to Estoril to celebrate Brutus’s birthday. It was the last social event in which Nina took part in good health. Until July we went to several diplomatic dinners and dined with friends, and we were obliged to give a few luncheons—but Nina was sick” [3, p.187],

The date when they left Oxford: “On this day four years ago, we had finished our preparations for leaving England. I remember now, hour by hour, those last days in England[3, p.178],

The date of starting their romance: “Twelve years ago, on 25 December 1932, my friendship with Nina, which had lasted for several months, was transformed suddenly into love” [3, p.143],

The date of their engagement: “Eleven years and eleven months (lacking five days) since our engagement” [3, p.158].

So, temporal structure of the Portugal Journal is a cyclic one. In this complicated chonology we see the artistic realisation of mythe de l’éternel retour, the key scientific concept developed by Eliade.


Critical references:

  1. Mac Linscott Ricketts, Former friends and forgotten facts, Chicago, Criterion Publishing, 2003.

  2. Mac Linscott Ricketts, Rădăcinele româneşti ale lui Mircea Eliade, Bucureşti: Humanitas,

  3. Mircea Eliade, The Portugal Journal, preface and translation by Mac Linscott Ricketts, Albany, N.Y., SUNY Press, 2010.

  4. Sorin Alexandrescu, Dinspre Portugalia, Bucureşti, Humanitas, 2006.

  5. Eugen Simion, Eliade. Nodurile şi semnele prozei, Bucureşti, Humanitas, 2005.

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