Traian Rafael Radu Demetrescu (also known under his pen name Tradem or, occasionally, as Traian Demetrescu-Tradem; December 5, 1866 – April 17, 1896) was a Romanian poet, novelist and literary critic, considered one of the first symbolist authors in local literature.
Influenced by French writers such as François Coppée and the Decadent Maurice Rollinat, as well as by the local poet Mihai Eminescu, he was made popular by his poems, many of which served as the basis of popular romanzas. Receptive to impressionism and naturalism, he wrote a number of psychological novels and several short stories, some of which are remembered for their melancholic and occasionally macabre themes.
Also noted for his socialist convictions and his contributions as a journalist, Demetrescu advocated an original view of literature, which, despite placing emphasis on progressivism, was distinct from the Marxist views of his contemporaries Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and Constantin Mille.
A friend and associate of the influential poet Alexandru Macedonski, he played a minor part in a lengthy polemic with the conservative literary society Junimea, and authored a series of essays and memoirs documenting the Romanian intellectual environment.
Tradem was affected by the infectious disease, tuberculosis, which his contemporaries said was to be found in the depressive or exuberant tones in his writings. His original take on poetry served to inspire the Romanian symbolist groups. He is seen as a predecessor to Ştefan Petică, N. Davidescu and George Bacovia, while his prose was an influence on Caton Theodorian.
Born in Craiova, Traian Demetrescu was the son of a pub owner known by the name of Gherbea; he had a sister, Victoria, and two brothers.
One of them, Radu Demetrescu, graduated from the Theatrical Conservatory in Bucharest, where he befriended actor and future avant-garde dramatist George Ciprian, together with whom he was later employed by the National Theater Craiova.
Tradem kept memories of the house where he grew up, and especially of the fact that it was situated “among trees”. After attending the Carol I High School in his native city, he was withdrawn by his parents, and sent to work in a shop—he was nonetheless able to complete his studies after taking private lessons in 1884.
Later in life, he admitted being upset over having been forced to quit school, and indicated that he had to surmount “a lot of obstacles” in order to improve his situation.
It was during the same period that he debuted as a poet, having one of his pieces, titled Ploaie din senin (“Sudden Rain”) published by the local magazine Vocea Oltului. His contributions attracted Alexandru Macedonski’s attention, who praised his abilities and re-published some of his lyrics in his Bucharest-based journal Literatorul.
In autumn 1884, on their way to Paris, Macedonski and his wife Anna stopped in Craiova to meet with Tradem. Four years later, the latter recalled being gripped by “tremors of emotion” upon receiving his mentor’s visit.
The two writers grew closer after Macedonski returned from his trip, and frequently engaged in discussions on scientific and philosophical topics. Tradem recalled having spent an entire summer in Macedonski’s Bucharest house.
However, they came to disagree and eventually grew estranged—answering to claims that Macedonski was a vain and vindicative man, Tudor Vianu, his friend and biographer, indicated that this and other splits occurred “without coldness and the heart’s versatility”.
In March 1888, together with the lawyer G. D. Pencioiu, Tradem founded Revista Olteană, a magazine dedicated to literary and social criticism.
In one of his articles, Demetrescu justified the new enterprise, arguing that Craiova displayed “a kind of snoozing, a sickly indifference in respect to intellectual life.” He and Pencioiu were soon joined by other journalists, among them Nicolae Basilescu, Eduard Hübsch, Ralian Samitca, Moses Schwarzfeld, and Henric Streitman.
Revista Olteană was loosely based on the socialist magazine Contemporanul, although their respective ideologies were rather different. Tradem’s leftist viewpoints did not set the tone for the publication, and was contrasted by Pencioiu (the latter, although he respected Karl Marx’s views, remained a supporter of liberalism).
The publication met with financial difficulties and ceased to be issued after March 1890, but was revived by its original founder and the poet Carol Scrob in November 1891 (when it became a supplement for the local newspaper Economistul). Demetrescu probably had a disagreement with Scrob, and left soon after—the magazine survived his departure, but suddenly ceased print just months after.
In summer 1892, he withdrew to the locality of Cilieni, where he completed Intim (“Intimate”), his most influential poetry volume.
During that period, Tradem was especially close to the socialist circles, and, in turn, their members held him in high esteem. In 1890-1892, he was also a collaborator for Constantin Mille’s leftist newspaper Adevărul, one of his notable contributions being a study on the works of poet Théodore de Banville.
During spring 1893, he became a member of the short-lived Romanian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, and helped organize it at a grassroots level, together with, among others, Alexandru Radovici and George Diamandy (Demetrescu ran the Craiova base, Radovici was active in Galaţi, and Diamandy represented the Romanian diaspora).
Traian Demetrescu defended Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea in his polemic with Junimist leader Titu Maiorescu, and, after 1893, was among a group of younger socialists to mount a press campaign against Junimea (other people in the group included Dimitrie Anghel, Anton Bacalbaşa, Emil Fagure, Garabet Ibrăileanu, Raicu Ionescu-Rion, Sofia Nădejde, Henri Sanielevici, Constantin Stere, and Avram Steuerman-Rodion). One other socialist writer with whom Demetrescu came to associate at the time was the future Orthodox priest Gala Galaction.
Over the early 1890s, Demetrescu’s condition worsened, and he sought treatment for tuberculosis in the Alpine climate regions of German Empire and in Austria-Hungary.
In 1894, he was in Munich and later at the Rheyer Villa in Bad Reichenhall. He subsequently traveled to Vienna, where he visited the Cathedral of Saint Stephen.
The following year, he was present in the Bukovinan town of Solca, where he attempted to cure his illness by living in the close proximity of firs and breathing in the scented air.
Tradem’s efforts were fruitless, and he died one year later, at the age of 29, after a particularly severe episode of hemoptysis.