• 187 Years Since The Birth Of Ion Creangă: His Untold Story As A Single Father

    March 1, 2024
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    Ion Creangă and his son Constantin

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    On March 1st, Romania celebrates both the tradition of Mărțișor and the birth of Ion Creangă, the national storyteller whose tales have left an undeniable mark on Romanian children, serving as a constant source of inspiration whenever mischief beckoned. But to understand him as a writer, we must look at his relationship with Constantin, his only son.

    Ion Creangă's son, Constantin Creangă, born on December 19, 1860, faced a challenging childhood marked by his father's strict demeanor. Despite the constant fights leading to Ion Creangă's separation from his wife Ileana, 6-year-old Constantin remained to be raised by his father. The family's financial struggles forced Ion Creangă to open a tobacco shop in central Iași after being forced out of the clergy and from his position as a schoolteacher.

    Young Constantin was enrolled in military school, a move prompted by the family's difficult circumstances. This decision, while driven by necessity, promised a respectable professional career within the ranks of the Romanian Army, and provided financial stability for the future. Even though the military path was more of a pragmatic choice, Constantin Creangă later acknowledged his affinity for the profession, stating, "I became a soldier because that's what my father wanted."

    Ion Creangă’s plans didn’t always mirror Constantin’s wishes

    Ion Creangă had great plans for his son, grooming him for the intellectual life. However, at the age of 17, Constantin Creangă enlisted to fight in the War of Independence without informing his father. Despite being a minor and lacking the authority to decide independently, he advocated for himself. Upon discovering what his son was doing, a concerned Ion Creangă asked Petre Carp for help, a friend of his from the Junimea literary circle. Carp intervened with Prime Minister Ion Brătianu, leading to the demobilization of Constantin.

    While Constantin was still a student in Bucharest, Ioan Slavici, a distinguished Romanian writer, closely monitored his academic progress, keeping his father informed. "I don't know if he is studying or just resting on his laurels," Ion Creangă wrote to Ioan Slavici. In 1878, Constantin graduated from the Officer School, attaining the rank of sublieutenant. Between 1883 and 1885, with the support of his father, he studied in Vienna and Brussels at the School of Engineering.

    Throughout his youth, Constantin harbored dreams of enrolling in the Faculty of Architecture of Vienna. He passionately fell in and out of love, with a chronic lack of funds serving as the sole constant in his labyrinthine life. Constantin frequently lamented his financial struggles, expressing dissatisfaction with his father's sponsorship. Even in correspondence with Mihai Eminescu (Romania’s national poet), who addressed the financial tension between father and son, Constantin's complaints were evident. Eminescu urged Ion Creangă to overlook any grievances and occasionally send funds for his son. Despite the financial strain, Creangă, like any parent, loved his child and believed in his potential. "With commendable love, he sought support from those he knew to speak a good word for his offspring," noted the poet about Creangă's son.

    Ion Creanga’s home village. Illustration by Olga Rogozenco

    Like Father like Son

    Young Constantin seemed to follow in his father's footsteps, trying his hand at writing, wrongly believing he inherited his father's talent, but failing miserably. In 1884, he showed signs of wanting to reform, yet he didn't abandon his aspiration. It was during this time he met Olga Pătru from Brăila, the 16-year-old daughter of Mr. Neculai Petrea, a businessman who had immigrated from Thessaloniki, Greece. The girl's significant merit lay in receiving 25,000 gold coins from her father, who supposedly possessed a wealth of over a million gold coins and only two children to inherit it all.

    Despite being ten years Olga's senior, Constantin married her in 1886. Two years later, in 1888, Ion Creangă welcomed his first grandchild into the world, Letiția, a girl born in Italy, Torino, and named after a princess of the House of Savoy. She would be the only grandchild Ion Creangă would see and hold in his arms.

    The great storyteller passed away on December 31, 1889, at the age of 52, and was laid to rest on January 2, 1890. On the crown laid by Constantin, who had risen to the rank of captain, at his father's grave, read: "To my future of good, dear friend, and father." Despite Constantin Creangă's desperate pleas for money during his father's death, he displayed a generosity contrary to his previous behavior. Constantin donated all the savings found in the storyteller's house, around thirty thousand lei, to an editorial committee responsible for publishing the first edition of Ion Creangă's Complete Works.

    Constantin and Olga had three more children besides Letiția: Horia, born in 1892; Silvia, born in 1894; and Ion, born in 1898. Constantin Creangă tried his luck in business, initially trading in cigarette paper. Later, after the establishment of the state monopoly, he ventured into selling pastries. Like his father, Constantin's relationship with Olga deteriorated. In 1904, Olga sought separation of assets, and two years later, she left Constantin. After the divorce, she remarried and subsequently divorced again.

    Constantin Creangă died in anonymity in 1918 at the age of 58

    Ion Creangă’s relationship with his son influenced many of his works, especially those focusing on fortune and loss, intelligence, and parental love, such as The Goat with Three Kids, The Bag with Two Coins, The Pig’s Story, and Five Loaves of Bread.

    Ion Creangă’s narrative memoir for the first time in English

    While many have heard of Creangă’s talent as a storyteller, not many international readers have had the chance to read his literary works. Memories of My Childhood, his most beloved work, is now available in English, in a deluxe illustrated edition, from the Center for Romanian Studies and Histria Books.

    Preorder here: https://histriabooks.com/product/memories-of-my-childhood/

    To learn more about Ion Creanga’s life, check out this article: https://thebalkan.press/2023/03/01/186-years-since-the-birth-of-ion-creanga-the-national-storyteller-of-romania/



    Diana Livesay

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