Chapter 13: Literary Elements

(Zamfir, “Invirtita”)


     “The Gift of Diamonds” contains several literary elements that give the novel its structure. Foremost, it is a historical novel which uses for background the political and historical periods of 1940-1989 in Romania. It is also a Künstlerroman, a sub-division of the more general literary genre, the Bildungsroman, which is the narration of the development of a young protagonist from childhood to adulthood. The Künstlerroman, more specifically, concentrates on the artist-protagonist’s development to become an artist (Künstler in German). “The Gift of Diamonds” is also a picaresque novel, for Mica represents a mischievous pícaro character. As she voyages westward, we see through her eyes the unfolding of the story.

For my doctoral dissertation in Comparative Literature, I wrote “Voyage into Creativity:  the Modern Künstlerroman.” Some years later, I updated the work as a literary critique and had it published. It is interesting that at the same time I was beginning to write my own Künstlerroman. I often wonder if I chose this literary structure consciously or unconsciously. I tend to believe the latter, for I do not write with an outline, nor do I plan beforehand what I will write. I use an “automatic” technique which is full of surprises for me. Mica’s story was the best surprise of all!

What is a Künstlerroman? It is the narration of the development of the artist in a novel. This literary genre traces the embryonic growth of the artist from the moment when he/she exhibits artistic talent and interests to the point when he/she actually creates.  Two themes appear and reappear as leitmotifs:  the voyage motif and concept of artistic creativity.

The voyage theme, which is not limited to modern literature or uniquely associated with the artist’s search for a homeland, is traditional in the history of western literature. Basically, the young protagonist leaves his parental home seeking new experiences and situations desiring to free himself from the past. The goal longed for is the discovery of one’s individuality. The journey takes place on several levels.

The artist-protagonist has inherited the romantic poet’s malediction of the sensitive pariah who must live in a world where the “Unity of Being is impossible.” The only way to synthesize the dichotomies of his soul, is to create. And it is in this way that art becomes the creator’s homeland. But in order to reach this Utopia the artist must first voyage through several stages of development: spiritual, social and psychological.

The most common and obvious appearance of the voyage archetype is found at the geographical level when the young artist leaves his parental home in search of new
experiences and situations. Life becomes his principal teacher, the attainment of wisdom and “savoir faire” his primary goals. Exotic cities, foreign sounds and new sights serve as subjects that arouse the artist’s sensibility and ultimately offer artistic inspiration.

The artist’s final goal is creativity and the un-limited expression of his Being. As such, the voyage motif  moves from a geographic to psychological plane–from external to internal. Ultimately the artist must turn to himself, look inside his soul, draw upon his imagination, and create his own world.

“The Gift of Diamonds” is a Künstlerroman, but it is first and foremost a historical novel. The protagonist does become a dancer and we see Mica’s artistic talents as early as in chapter one when she is introduced as an actress. But the novel cannot be primarily viewed as a Künstlerroman, because the emphasis of the storyline is not on her artistic development.

“The Gift of Diamonds” shares similarities with the Russian novel, “Dr. Zhivago,” where Pasternak’s objective is not to portray Yuri Zhivago primarily as a poet but more pertinently as a sensitive individual who has been influenced by the tides of history. The principal theme of  “Dr. Zhivago” is the historical and social upheaval of “Mother Russia” as witnessed by one of her sons.  Yuri Zhivago voyages through 20th century Russian history and encounters different guises of his country:  Imperial Russia, Bolshevik Russia and Working-class Russia. He becomes a part of each phase of history through the three different women he loves. Zhivago’s descent into the dark shadows of revolution, resembles Mica’s voyage through 20th century Romania as she witnesses the change from one political period to another.

As a “poet,” Doctor Zhivago sings of change and death; as a “Russian” the weary traveler praises the beauty of the past when his country was crowned in lofty dreams.  Zhivago’s artistic talents are not an “end” in themselves; rather they represent a “means” by which Pasternak can express his own fear of totalitarian governments that deprive men of their individuality and freedom. “Dr. Zhivago” is primarily a historical novel. The author’s emphasis is to depict politics and history, not to show the protagonist’s development into an artist.

The aim of “The Gift of Diamonds” is to narrate Mica’s story: her growth into a young woman, her quest, and her survival. At the same time as she voyages through history, her story becomes a fresco of Romania. In this way, the voyage motif takes us to another plane, for we travel with our protagonist.