Henrik Ibsen The Modernist

I wonder just how many other people became curious about the life and works of  playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen because of a television variety show.  One of my favorite regular features of “Rowen And Martin’s Laugh-In” was when the mild mannered poet came on  screen with his oversized flower. He’d announce the title of his poem and attribute it to himself, Henry Gibson. The actor’s name was a pun on that of the author, Henrik Ibsen.

I think that Henrik Ibsen would have loved the irony of Henry Gibson.  Both men loved theatre and both men loved the social commentary that theatrical performance offers.

Ibsen was born on this date in 1820 at Shein (now Oslo), Norway. He was one of Norway’s HenrikIbsen-portraitmost reknown writers. He had a very progressive, innovative style of writing that placed a contemporary moral analytic core within a stark, realistic, middle-class framework.  His plays featured deep thought, economy of action, and moving dialogue.

“Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace and happiness.”– Henrik Ibson

His outlook arose from a childhood lived in an impoverished family.  His father fell from grace by going bankrupt, his mother was filled with somber religiosity.  To escape that bleakness, young Henrik, aged 15, moved to the small town of Grimstad.  He studied for his university entrance exams there while supporting himself as an apothecary’s apprentice.  In his spare time, he authored a play.

HenrikIbsen-CatilineThe play, “Catiline” is rather amaturish but did display Ibsen’s innate instinct for the theatre.  It also brought out his themes that personified the rebellious hero with the destructive mistress.

In 1850, he moved back to the capital city for university studies.  He was an unenthusiastic student, though.  So, at the age of 23, Ibsen was appointed the director/playwright in Bergen, Norway.  He was to write a play there, each year. After struggling through traditional, cumberson Norwegian drama, Ibsen set out with his own ideas.

In 1862’s “Love’s Comedy” he wrote a satire about romantic illusions. The play was not at all popular.  The next year he authored “The Pretenders”. He brought to life the inner male authority at the core of a great king, leader, or artist.  The play was critically acclaimed but the theatre went bankrupt.  Ibsen’s stage writing career seemed to come to an end.

But the end of that theatre was actually Ibsen’s liberation. He had become free to write more honestly and vibrantly. He no longer felt the need to kowtow to a petty, conservative public with hollow, pretentious attitudes. He was awarded a state grant, then lived, in succession, in Rome, Dresden, and Munich for the next 27 years with only short visits back home.

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools? I think we can agree it’s the fools, no matter where you go in this world, it’s the fools that form the overwhelming majority.”

While away, Ibsen wrote his dramatic poem “Brand”. The primary character is a forthright rural preacher who crosses the line into fananticism. His fanatic drive goes beyond any sort of compromise, and erases human warmth and sympathy. It’s an ultraconservative “all or nothing” attitude that turns him into a moralistic monstrosity. However, by poem’s end, the pastor is called upon to repudiate his oppressive opinions and finally discovers the god of love. Ibsen denounces extremist small-mindedness and glorifies the love that transcends that fault. The poem was a major success in Europe and Norway.

Immediately following “Brand” came Ibsen’s most famous dramatic poem, “Peer Gynt”. The critically important work features a self-centered, aimless, passive and unprincipled rapscallion who is never the less a beloved and loveable character. He is the moral opposite of “Brand” but is every bit as universal in nature.

Among the balance of Ibsen’s works is “A Doll’s House”. His modernity comes together albeit with controversy in the public who demanded a happy ending.  The central characters are banker Torvald Helmer and his spouse Nora. The outwardly normal family includes three small children. One outsider threatens to expose Nora who once comitted a fraud, unknown to Torvald.  It was a secretive loan needed to save her husband’s life.  When Torvald learns of the action, he reacts out of concern for his status and reputation then repudiates Nora.  Nora finally sees Torvald as a hollow phony, declares her independence of the family then leaves them all behind. The slamming of the door concludes the play.

With his string of later plays, Ibsen can be characterized as at one with other modernist writers like  Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Friedrich Nietzche. He gave his audiences real substance for the spirit and intellect.



The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Ibsen quote, “A forest bird never wants a cage.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.