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Plays and Problems 


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Plays and Problems 


Professor of the German Language and Literature in 

Washington University ; Author of " Studies 

in Modern German Literature " 



flEfte ftinerisi&e pre£g Cambridge 



Published June iqis 

" Je ne propose rien, je rC impose 
rien,y expose."— Joseph Dunoyer. 





The motto of this book, which has been adopted from 
Werner Sombart's brilliant work on Socialism, is meant 
to indicate at one and the same time the purpose of the 
great writer to whom it is devoted and, si parva componere 
magnis licet, the author's own unpresumptuous aim. 
The literature that has gathered round the name of 
Ibsen is doubtless deemed by many people to be more 
than sufficiently copious; and, taken as a whole, it 
represents a very respectable level of critical ability. 
Nevertheless, a new attempt at interpreting Ibsen for 
the English reader can probably justify itself. In the 
first place, by the poet's steadily increasing popularity 
and his growing importance as a factor of dramatic 
progress. In the second, by its obvious difference from 
similar treatises in the general point of view, a difference 
which naturally leads to a somewhat revised estimate of 
the various groups of dramas as regards their artistic and 
ethical importance. Whereas in practically all the other 
English books on the subject the romantic and historical 
plays are ranked highest and are given a correspondingly 
greater amount of space and attention, the present study 
is avowedly devoted more particularly to the social or 
problem plays, and that because of the author's convic- 
tion that these plays are more closely connected with our 
own private and social concerns. The Selected List of 
writings appended to the book enables the reader to sup- 


plement from other sources his information about such 
parts and aspects of Ibsen's work as are not discussed 
here with sufficient fullness to answer his purpose. 

It has been the author's endeavor to acknowledge his 
specific obligations to other writers. It will be noticed 
that, both in the text and in the notes, he has drawn quite 
freely upon the standard English translation of Ibsen, the 
Collected Works, edited by William Archer. From this 
edition most of the illustrative passages are derived ; 
likewise, the admirable introductions to the several 
volumes have yielded a large quantity of helpful material. 
The availability of such excellent translations and, be- 
sides, of handy editions of Ibsen's letters, speeches, and 
jottings, has made it possible to base this presentation 
step by step upon authentic documents and to ascertain 
the philosophical significance of views expressed by the 
characters in action by means of their incessant com- 
parison with the poet's own confidential expressions of 
opinion. In reading this or any other book on Ibsen the 
serious student would do well to keep the Works, Cor- 
respondence, Speeches and New Letters, and the "literary 
remains" constantly by his side. 

The author has, from practical considerations, fol- 
lowed Mr. Archer's method of transliterating the Nor- 
wegian names and titles. This has been done at the risk 
of sacrificing entire consistency. For this reason and be- 
cause of the somewhat problematical state of spelling in 
Dano-Norwegian itself, a word will occasionally appear in 
a twofold orthographical form, as indeed it does within 
one and the same original edition. 

It is hoped that the full index may materially enhance 


the usefulness of this study as a book of reference. The 
Selected List of writings recognizes under one of its sub- 
headings the unique importance of Ibsen for the progress 
of the woman cause. 

Acknowledgments are due to Dr. Lee M. Hollander, of 
the University of Wisconsin, and Professor George T. 
Flom, of the University of Illinois, for the contribution of 
several helpful data. The Index was prepared by Mrs. 
W. R. Mackenzie. During the printing of this book the 
author has had the invaluable assistance of his wife. 

Otto Heller. 

Washington University, 

St. Louis, June, 1912. 


Explanation of the Notes xiv 

Introduction xv 

I. Ibsen the Scandinavian 1 

II. Early Life and Works 16 

III. History and Romance 30 

IV. Brand — Peer Gynt 57 

V. The League of Youth 88 

VI. The Poet as Moralist 103 

VII. The New Bourgeois Tragedy — Pillars 

of Society Ill 

. VIII. The Woman Question — A Doll's 

House . ' 136 

IX. Ghosts 160 

X. , Ibsen and the New Drama \ . . .178 

XI. An Enemy of the People .... 192 

XII. The Wild Duck 205 


XIV. The Lady from the Sea 241 

— XV. Hedda Gabler 256 


XVI. The Master Builder 269 

XVII. Little Eyolf 287 

XVIII. John Gabriel Borkman 298 

XIX. When We Dead Awaken — Summary . 308 

Notes 323 

Selected List of Publications on Hen- 

rik Ibsen 339 

Index 349 


The principal abbreviations used in the references to Ibsen's writings 
are: — 

M = Henrik Ibsen. Samlede Vaerker. Mindeudgave. Kristiania og 
Kobenhavn: Gyldendalske Boghandel. Nordisk Forlag. 1906-07. 

CW = The Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen. Copyright edition. 
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1908. (11 volumes; vol. xn, added 
in 1911, contains Notes, Scenarios, and Drafts of the Modern Plays.) 

SW = Henrik Ibsens Samtliche Werke in deutscher Spraehe. Dureh- 
gesehen und eingeleitet von Georg Brandes, Julius Elias, Paul Schlen- 
ther. Vom Dichter autorisiert. Berlin: S. Fischer, Verlag. 
<, 'SIF 11 = the continuation (Zweite Reihe) of SW. Nachgelassene 
Schriften in vier Banden. Herausgegeben von Julius Elias und Halvdan 
Koht. Berlin: S. Fischer, Verlag. 1909 (used here in preference over vol. 
xn of CW, because of its greater completeness; and in preference over 
the Efterladte Skrifter on account of the unfamiliarity of most readers 
with the language of the original). 

C = The Correspondence of Henrik Ibsen. The translation edited by 
Mary Morison. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1905. Identical with: 
Letters of Henrik Ibsen. Translated by John Nilsen Laurvik and Mary 
Morison New York: Duffield and Company. 1908. 

SNL = Speeches and New Letters [of] Henrik Ibsen. Translated by 
Arne Kildal. With an Introduction by Lee M. Hollander and a Biblio- 
graphical Appendix. Boston: Richard G. Badger. 1910. 

References indicated by superior numbers are to Ibsen's writings, 
including his letters, speeches, etc., and generally, to material con- 
tained in the above publications; these references are placed at the foot 
of the page. Superior letters refer to notes at the end of the book. Notes 
referring to special parts of the plays, and also, as a rule, the quotations 
in English, are made on the basis of CW; in these, only volumes and 
pages are indicated, unless there is special need of repeating the title. 
Hence, for example, vol. n, p. 300, would stand for CW, vol. II, p. 300. 


The aim of showing the importance of Henrik Ibsen, 
both as a poet and a moral teacher, suggests at the outset 
a definite and emphatic assertion that he was a highly 
potent factor in modern life in both these spiritual func- 
tions. A score of years ago Ibsen was still universally 
the object of embittered contests and argument. But 
now he is already an historic personage and his great 
cultural significance is acknowledged in all parts of the 
civilized world. In this country the recognition of the 
great Scandinavian has been slower than elsewhere; 
but now here also a change from the reluctant attitude 
towards him is making itself rapidly felt. 

The reason for this tardiness in the acceptance of one 
of the greatest men of modern times may be worth point- 
ing out. It is due to our luckless democratic way of look- 
ing at all things through the childish eyes of the majority, 
the same habit to which we owe our national deprecation 
of art and our backwardness in so many phases of intel- 
lectual life. 

What does the "compact majority" expect of its 
intellectual leaders and masters? Merely that they con- 
form to its ruling tastes and desires. And so reasonable 
at first blush seems this demand, as to make us seriously 
doubt whether a writer may safely be counted among 
the great unless his thought and art are in harmony with 
at least a fairly representative number of his contem- 


poraries. If anything like a law could be claimed to have 
governed the evolution of art, it would in all likelihood 
be this, that, throughout the so-called golden ages, artists, 
with few exceptions, have in a rational degree subserved 
the preferences of their public. Of none of the arts may 
this be stated with fuller truth than of the drama. The 
Greek tragedy, with its slow-wound action, stately 
tirades, and long-breathed choral harangues, was fash- 
ioned to the taste of a people fond of philosophic expatia- 
tion, addicted to dignified leisure, accustomed to manage 
their life to the order of a pronounced aesthetic bias. So 
Shakespeare's drama, in its nervous, not infrequently 
jerky movement, its ornate phraseology, its vivid spec- 
tacular situations, was admirably adapted to the pomp- 
ous style of England during the later Renaissance, to 
audiences made up of courtiers and burgesses, armigerous 
both of them and amply inured to the tumults and atro- 
cities of militant politics. Moliere wrought for a public 
basking in the effulgence of the Roi Soleil, quick-witted, 
dignifiedly gay in external demeanor, and rather more 
refined in speech than sentiment. Their keen sense of 
humor, still plentifully lacking in delicacy, loved to be 
tickled by base ribaldry, yet was finical enough to make 
acknowledgment with smiles, not guffaws. 

Such is the ancestry of modern German drama, and 
so long as German dramatists rested content with the 
approbation of the upper castes or of the "intellectuals," 
the national sense, which as a rule resides rather in the 
plain people, was largely left unsatisfied. For aristocracy 
of any sort tends to an international, cosmopolitan form 
of culture. Even of Goethe, anchored though he was with 


his deepest roots in the ground of his nationality, it is 
true on the whole that he made his appeal to the "elect," 
not to the "people." Schiller was the first to ring a change 
on this state of things by addressing himself courageously 
to the entire population of his country in all its social 
strata at one time. He was the great popularizer of our 
theatre, and remained for almost a century the guiding 
spirit of the German drama of which Schiller's matchless 
tragedies are still by many people regarded as the sur- 
passing manifestoes. Schiller's position, while it demon- 
strates a whole people's gratitude to those who respond 
to its desires, does not however furnish a weapon of 
self-defense to the "popularizers" of drama, or rather its 
diluters. Schiller's case rather proves that the power of 
popular influence wrought upon a poet may be vastly 
inferior to the strength that radiates from his own per- 
sonality. Indeed, whereas the secret of ephemeral power 
is only too often found in paltriness or mediocrity, an 
influence of enduring force such as Schiller exerts on the 
Germans can only emanate from a strong and self- 
assertive character. No poet lives beyond his day who 
does not exceed the average in mental stature, or who, 
through a selfish sense of fear of the "general," allows 
himself to be ground down to the conventional size and 
shape. Schiller, no less than Ibsen, forced his moral 
demands tyrannically upon his contemporaries. And in 
the long run your moral despot, provided he be high- 
minded, vigorous, and able, has a better chance of fame 
than the pliant time-server. However, there is a great 
difference between the two cases. For quite apart from 
the striking dissimilarities between the poets themselves, 


the public, through the gradual growth of social organiza- 
tion, has become greatly altered. 

The modern dramatist, unless his lines are unhappily 
cast in the unpromising soil of the so-called Anglo-Saxon 
civilizations, where the only emotion which plays a part 
in the drama is that of love, deals with a public much less 
homogeneous in tastes and opinions than that of Schiller 
or Goethe, not to speak of Shakespeare and the ancients. 
His is a public with many minds, or, what comes to the 
same thing, a public with a wistfully troubled spirit and 
a mind not yet made up. Where our ancestors were so 
restfully sure about things, we are uncertain and skep- 
tical pending the arrival of fresh bulletins from science. 
We have become aroused to many a subject to which the 
"good old times" gave scarcely a perturbing thought. 
W T e are breaking into the consciousness of strange new 
meanings in life and nature. As a result, the excuse for 
a uniform standard of art has disappeared along with 
a ubiquitous code of moral opinion for the drama of 
continental Europe; whether temporarily or permanently, 
cannot be settled here. 

The enlightened modern public, then, makes to a 
moralizing dramatist this all-important concession that 
there need be no absolute and only way of facing the world. 
Nor are things always as they seem. A thing that seems 
astoundingly complicated to one person may strike an- 
other as extremely simple, or — more frequently — what 
appears quite simple to some may impress others as being 
defiantly intricate. Being independents and skeptics, 
we grant the poet the same privileges which we arrogate 
to ourselves, the right of holding personal views and 


original intentions; but we are not unthinking skeptics, 
hence we do not care to have him publish his views 
abroad unless they are convincing, or at least enlighten- 
ing and stimulating. With pedants, smatterers, and 
dabblers we are out of patience, whereas a forceful 
though never so heterodox personality finds a wider 
echo and a readier following in the intellectual centres 
of Europe to-day than was the case at any former period. 
Thus the worship of heroes has by no means died with 
our faith in authority. The world still recognizes that it 
cannot dispense with leaders. Yet there is a difference, 
according to various states of civilization. For instance, 
a crudely organized democracy will unhesitatingly reject 
leaders who, in regard to the major policies of public and 
private life, are not in accord with the mind of the mass 
or do not diplomatically pretend to be. Its "great" men 
are great only in the measure in which they catch and 
seemingly reflect the spirit of the throng. For example, 
if it is given to a man by virtue of his station and personal 
blandishments to emphasize and reinforce the people's 
natural impulse for civic righteousness, this most ele- 
mentary manifestation of good will and courage will be 
enough to magnify to the size of a hero a brave, well- 
meaning citizen, though intellectually he be never so 
commonplace. We may well speculate, in the light of this 
fact, on the popular apotheosis of such "good average" 
men as William Jennings Bryan or Theodore Roosevelt. 
The European order of society, for all its external 
restraints, makes larger allowances than does the Ameri- 
can order for the individualist and iconoclast, for the 
multifarious varieties of the studens return novarum, 



whose efforts somehow, in spite of conflicts and clashes, 
converge towards higher common ideals." Consequently 
that man in whose work the differentiating tendencies 
of the time are most completely embodied and exposed 
is bound sooner or later to come into his own, if a unique 
artistic power seconds his moral purpose. Ibsen was one 
of the comparatively rare writers who form an independ- 
ent estimate of moral views and personal problems, by 
their own light instead of reflecting in a pleasing mirror 
the "general view," which almost of necessity must be 
fallacious and obsolete. 6 In this or that respect he was 
unquestionably outranked by many of his contemporaries 
in Germany, France, Russia, Italy, and Belgium, but 
what other writer of the nineteenth century has become 
to the same extent a European influence? While still 
living, his historic importance was recognized, as the 
chief expositor of ideas which specifically distinguish our 
age from the past, and as the discoverer of a new vehicle 
for their expression. In this typical character he is to be 
discussed in the following pages; and that sine ira et 
studio ; since Ibsen's cause still requires to be brought 
fairly before the popular opinion of the English-speaking 
public, we must be scrupulously careful to distinguish 
between Ibsen the moralist and Ibsen the poet, between 
the subjective and the objective aspect of his utterance, 
that is to say, between opinions which he personally 
advocates and the characteristic views of his dramatis 

It is to a lack of this just discrimination that the delay 
of Ibsen's ascendancy among us is chiefly due. The per- 
plexing effect of such a writer on a public habituated to 


the moods, manners, and morals of the Anglo-Saxon 
stage-land is viewed by a recent witty writer as alto- 
gether natural. Theirs was not an attitude of hostility 
against the Norwegian playwright, but merely the revolt 
of conservatism against what is unfamiliar and the pro- 
test of playful optimism against the perversion of the 
drama to serious purposes. Such is the judicious opinion 
of Mr. Frank Moore Colby, who goes on to say: "No 
doubt the excellent gentlemen who were the most vitu- 
perative in the capacity as critics were the most enrap- 
tured as playgoers. For a gift like Ibsen's enlivens these 
jaded folk more than they are willing to admit. Deeply 
absorbed at the time in the doings of the disagreeable 
characters, they afterward define their sensation as one 
of loathing, and they include the playwright in their 
pious hatred, like newsboys at a melodrama pelting the 
man in the villain's part. It comes from the national habit 
of making optimism actually a matter of conscience, and 
denying the validity of any feeling unless it is a sleepy 
one. Now, of course, if a man's own wits are precisely on 
the level of the modern American and English stage, 
there can be no quarrel with him for disliking Ibsen. If 
there is no lurking discontent with our stage and its 
traditions, and with the very best plays of Anglo-Saxon 
origin produced in- this country during the last twenty 
years, an Ibsen play will surely seem a malicious inter- 
ruption. What in the world has a good, placid American 
audience to do with this half-mad old Scandinavian? 
He writes only for those who go to the theatre to be 
disturbed." c 
The cause of our playgoers' indignant dissatisfaction 


with Henrik Ibsen is simply the terrible moral earnestness 
of the man. He feels that certain things which the com- 
pact majority has silently conspired to keep quiet should 
be said, therefore he proceeds to say them. Dr. Stock- 
mann, the "Enemy of the People," represents best among 
his figures the author's frame of mind. When this doctor 
discovers that the reputed health resort over which he 
presides is in reality a pest-hole, he will not join in the 
proposed conspiracy of silence, but firmly, in loud voice, 
declares the truth, knowing full well that his utterance 
must cost him his place and living. This is precisely the 
case of Ibsen. What is it that makes such cases so excep- 
tional if not the universality of rank cowardice and hypo- 
crisy in large ranks of "good" society? Out of ordinary 
respect for human intelligence we must credit with an 
ability to tell the wrong and the evil an enormous number 
of persons who never, on any account, open their mouths 
against it. It is due to human nature to concede further 
that very many people are even aroused, by their fellow 
creatures' turpidity, to contempt and righteous wrath, 
yet even they, as a rule, refrain from speaking out. WTien 
pressed for reasons, these good people are apt to confess 
their aversion to polemics, — or they meekly decline to 
"pose as reformers," and with a tolerant smile inform the 
impatient advocate of probity that there does not seem 
much use in fighting against "human nature." 

They hold the Panglossian view, — that this is the 
best of all possible worlds, — and have made up their 
practical minds to make the best of it. They believe in 
making the best of things that are bad and always will be 
bad. And because of this unwreckable faith in the bad- 


ness of things, such people are known as — optimists. The 
determination to speak out the truth, observable in 
Ibsen as well as in many of his compatriots, is rather 
characteristic of countries where literature is young and 
unhackneyed, so that many things have a chance of being 
said for the first time, coming with warmth, vigor, and 
virgin freshness straight from the heart. Since out of the 
mouths of babes and sucklings has been ordained strength, 
we may in these days look without amazement upon the 
spectacle of great and mighty nations seeking increase in 
art and wisdom from the weaker and more undeveloped. 
Learned Germany and cultured France have been going 
to school to little Norway and barbaric Russia. My 
excuse for offering this new study of Henrik Ibsen to the 
English-speaking public is grounded in a conviction that 
England and the United States are also becoming 
" Ibsenreif," ready to listen to the message of the greatest 
dramatic poet of our age, and one of its foremost social 





That great Danish scholar, George Brandes, has com- 
miserated Henrik Ibsen — and, by indirection, himself, 
— for belonging to a minor nationality. Certainly the 
herculean task of converting the world to his views is 
rendered all the more difficult for a writer when but few 
can comprehend his medium of communication. There 
may, however, be pointed out some compensations for 
the disadvantage. In a small country, as a rule, the na- 
tional pride and national sense are strongly developed. 
The population of such a country is apt to be more homo- 
geneous in its character, and for this reason it is some- 
times easier for a masterful intellect to assert its claim to 
leadership. Besides, Ibsen addressed himself from the 
beginning to a larger audience than that of Norway. 
As a believer in Scandinavian union he used in his works 
the Dano-Norwegian literary speech — as did Bjornson, 
Lie, Kielland, Hamsun, and many others. At the time 
when Norway cut itself loose from Denmark (1814) there 
was no great difference between the two languages; since 
then they have been growing steadily apart. A movement 
for the reconstruction of a separate Norse language, based 


on the surviving peasant dialects, took its origin from 
the poet Henrik Wergeland's campaign, to which some 
reference will presently be made. An increasingly success- 
ful agitation for this artificial national language, named 
Landsmaal, has been carried on for upward of half a cen- 
tury, and the movement in its favor, under the name of 
Maalstraev, is still making headway. Ibsen, though he 
made free use of Norwegian idioms in this Schriftsprache, 
at no time aligned himself on the side of the linguistic 

Our initial consideration is due to the homeland of our 
poet. Norway, being practically the Ultima Thule of 
Western civilization and by her insular remoteness pre- 
vented from direct contact with central European culture, 
has had, till recent times, but a loose connection with the 
literary life of Europe, and has been slower even than her 
sister nations of Sweden and Denmark to claim a fair 
place among the culture-producing nations of the earth. 
The delay was not due to any lack of a national sense for 
letters. In the very remote past Norsemen took their 
part vigorously enough in laying the foundations of an 
imperishable world literature. By their faithful guardian- 
ship over a rich treasure of sagas both native and im- 
ported, by their proficiency in creating and transmuting 
the raw material of poetry, the world's store of artistic 
grandeur and romance has enormously profited. But 
about the middle period of its history Norway as a radi- 
ator of literary culture went, almost suddenly, into a long 
eclipse. Having lost her autonomy she was reduced, from 
1397 till 1814, to a virtual dependency of the Danish 
Crown. This long period was marked by such a lethargy 


of the spiritual activities that it is quite fittingly termed 
"the night of four centuries." Even the enlightening 
eighteenth century brought Norway hardly the faintest 
shimmer of a dawning day. It would not have been sur- 
prising had the last promise of a better future automat- 
ically perished in this total darkness. When at last Nor- 
way issued from her deathlike stupor, it required no deep 
sagacity to fathom the causes of her salvation. The rich 
racial strain of modern Norse literature is by no means 
accidental. It is a heritage preserved by the quiet, steady 
upkeeping of folk poetry throughout that almost inter- 
minable age of depression. By virtue of this basic condi- 
tion for a literary revival of national scope, some very 
difficult obstacles were quickly overcome, and Scandina- 
vian literature was able to build up in a short space of 
time such a tremendous international influence as to 
surpass the highest hopes of the patriots. 

In 1814 Norway reclaimed her lost independence. On 
May 17th of that year — the day is observed as the chief 
national holiday — she detached herself permanently 
from Denmark, formulated her own organic statutes, and 
joined with Sweden on equal terms in a new dual mon- 
archy. But the birthday of the new literature fell much 
later. The nineteenth century was more than half gone 
before Norway ceased to be a negligible factor in the cul- 
ture of Europe. The same is true, however, of Scandina- 
via as a whole. Her books were sealed to the English- 
speaking world by reason of their unfamiliar language, 
and her fame rested mainly on the achievements of her 
great discoverers, scientists, and artists: Tycho Brahe, 
Linnaeus, Berzelius, Thorwaldsen. Of her writers, Holberg, 


Tegner, and Andersen were about the only ones that were 
fairly appreciated. 

In Norway from about 1830 a new literature was form- 
ing along two divergent lines of development. It will tend 
to the better comprehension of Ibsen's earlier works to 
indicate these lines by pointing to the feud between the 
two factions of which Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) 
and Johan Sebastian Welhaven (1807-1873) were the ac- 
knowledged leaders. Wergeland's literary activity stood 
for nationalism, i.e., for the cultivation of specifically 
Norwegian traits. Although a theologian by education, 
Wergeland was a radical of decidedly revolutionary pro- 
clivities, a rationalist and adherent of eighteenth century 
deism. He was the author of odes and songs and a lyric- 
dramatic poem, entitled Skabelsen, Mennesket og Messias 
("Creation, Man, and the Messiah"), highly rhetorical 
products without a fine sense of form. The conflict 
between him and the symbolist Welhaven was not caused 
only by aesthetic antagonism ; rather, fundamentally, by 
the question in which of the two directions Norwegian 
culture was to be furthered. Welhaven was the leader of 
the so-called "Intellectuals." His party took the ground 
that the culture of Norway should develop from the 
premises that existed; its present state of culture had been 
evolved in the union with Denmark, and it would be 
more than folly to sacrifice, beside much further gain 
from the same source, the connection with general Euro- 
pean culture which the union with Denmark had opened 
up. In a beautiful set of sonnets, Norges Damring (1834), 
he scouted the onesidedness of the "patriots," contending 
that intellectual life cannot be made to spring from 


nothing. But this set of poems was received by the oppo- 
sition as a traitorous manifesto. One of Welhaven's 
nearest spiritual kinsmen was Andreas Munch (1811— 
1884). Undeniably, Ibsen was very strongly influenced 
by these tendencies. 

Certainly the " Ultra-Norwegianists " were then still 
lacking a sound basis for their separatistic endeavors. At 
any rate, a beginning was made about that time in laying 
a proper foundation for a national literature. Peter 
Christian Asbjornsen (1812-1885), a forester by profes- 
sion, and Bishop Jorgen Moe (1813-1882) performed for 
their country the same service that the brothers Grimm 
performed for Germany. By their intelligent persever- 
ance a great wealth of ancient tales and sagas was con- 
served without a perceptible loss of their popular tone 
and flavor. Asbjornsen's Nor she Huldre-eventyr og Folke- 
sagn became for Ibsen's early poetry a source and in- 
fluence of invaluable importance; the same was un- 
doubtedly true of other collections inspired by these two 
pioneers. Foremost to be named among such collectors 
of songs and folklore are Magnus Brostrup Landstad 
(1802-1880) and Sophus Elseus Bugge (1833-1867). 

The progress of the literary revival was at first rather 
slow. Here again the same is true of Scandinavia as a 
whole. For our own era Soren Aaby Kierkegaard (1813- 
1855), Denmark's greatest thinker, was the first Scandi- 
navian of some European importance. What enormous 
advance comes forcibly to one's mind as one thinks of the 
many Scandinavian names that must be included among 
the principal writers of the present! Beside Ibsen and 
Bjornson there suggest themselves at once spontaneously 


the names of Selma Lagerlof, Jonas Lie, J. P. Jacobsen, 
Alexander Strindberg, George and Edvard Brandes, 
Alexander Kielland, Arne Garborg, Hermann Bang, 
Knut Hamsun, and a host of others. It goes without 
saying that this memorable rise of the aesthetic faculties 
was coextensive with a general intellectual, social, and 
political growth. 6 So far as regards Norway in particular, 
her reconstitution as a separate wholly autonomous 
commonwealth under a self-chosen dynasty (1905), after 
an almost century-old union with Sweden, bespeaks 
irrefutably the vitality of her long-harbored political 
aspirations. Equally, the final world-wide recognition of 
Henrik Ibsen, being simultaneous with the national 
ascendancy, betokens the little country's valid claim to 
international prestige in the realm of thought and art. 
Out of their "night of four centuries," then, the Nor- 
wegians have apparently arisen a wide-awake people, 
well rested for the upbuilding work of the day. They are 
seen to display a sort of unfagged vigor in coping with the 
problems peculiar to our era. Ibsen applies to them, 
though in a derogatory sense, the sobriquet "Yankees of 
the Old World," and the name fits them more closely 
certainly than it fits the inhabitants of Prussia or even 
of Holland, on whom one hears it occasionally bestowed. 
For in Norway the free processes of opinion are not so 
much embarrassed as in those other lands by the force of 
memories; the break-up of traditions is not so much in- 
hibited by a sense of piety. Hence the people's surprising 
readiness to readjust by radical changes their social and 
civic machinery, as when early in the past century the 
titles and privileges of noble birth were at one stroke 


abolished. In one of the greatest issues of democracy, 
Norway has led the van by her consistent course of ex- 
tending the civic rights and liberties of the citizen and 
providing for a direct mode of all national and territorial 
elections. Norway has also been foremost to improve the 
civic status of woman, both before the civil law and 
through the enactment of female franchise. By the new 
statutes women take part in municipal elections under 
the same conditions of franchise as men. They are en- 
titled to a direct vote from the age of twenty-five;' in 
order to exercise her franchise a woman must only be 
paying an income tax on the trifling annual income of 
three hundred (in the larger cities four hundred) kroner, 
which, however, her husband may pay in her name if they 
have property in common. 

The Norwegians prove themselves in many other di- 
rections an energetic and progressive race. Since their 
intellectual life is unquestionably grounded with its main 
root in rationalism, theirs might be the danger of absorp- 
tion in utilitarian interests. Bat from such philistinism 
they are saved by intellectual ambition of an uncommon 
order. Their utilitarianism is strongly tempered with a 
keen spiritual inquisitiveness. Nor are they destitute of 
high moral aspirations. In this combination of practical 
sense with idealism and emotional capacity the Nor- 
wegians present perhaps one of the purest and most 
clear-cut types of Teutonic race character. 

However, the national physiognomy of the Norwegians 
is also beclouded by some rather shady features, and lest 
Ibsen's hostile attitude to his countrymen appear ab- 
surdly prejudiced, it should be r nembered that their 


energies were still in abeyance when he gained his first 
impressions. The national efficiency had not surged up 
to its proper level till some time after The League of Youth 
and Brand and Peer Gynt were written. The gradual steps 
of the inflexible policy of progress were not perceptible 
to the vision of the extremist. He saw only the detestable 
"Norwegian circumspection" which made him declare 
on one occasion that the object of these people was not to 
be men but — Englishmen ! So Ibsen, never blessed with 
great patience or leniency, under the sting of experiences 
from which he never quite recovered, dwelt overmuch on 
the darker traits of his countrymen. 

The attitudes of mind discerned by Ibsen as dominant 
in the Norwegian character are those depicted and 
satirized in Brand and Peer Gynt. They may be indicated 
as follows: In the first place, an overdevelopment of the 
critical faculties (as though this had not been Ibsen's 
own besetting fault !) . This predisposition to approach 
every object with a withering analytical skepticism is too 
likely to paralyze the will power. It leads to halfhearted- 
ness in action, intolerance for the acts of others, and a 
prying suspicion constantly on the rampage. No very 
great safeguard lies in the supposable compensation for 
this defect, the Norwegians' alleged love of truth. For 
its effect is neutralized by indiscretion, extremism, and a 
lacking sense of proportion; the torch of truth works 
mischief in the hands of cranks and fanatics. In the 
second place, Ibsen finds as an unexpected logical corol- 
lary of hypercriticism and fanatical veracity, and at the 
same time a saving antidote against these, the widespread 
existence of national self-satisfaction; that same smug, 


squat complacency, by the way, against which that other 
great Norwegian, Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910), 
raises his voice in The Fisher maiden. All traits and things 
Norwegian, be they never so undesirable or outright 
unworthy, are respected as though they were invaluable 
national assets. The self -infatuation is no doubt fostered 
by the geographical isolation of the country and the 
smallness of its towns, — although the phenomenon is not 
necessarily unknown in very large and populous countries. 
Finally, between the uncritical and ultra-critical, the 
uncompromising and complaisant attitudes, public life 
would seem to be thrown into a state of perpetual moral 
evasion. And it is this fundamental untruthfulness of the 
public life that serves as the background of Ibsen's earlier 

Henrik Ibsen, for his part, was placed by lineage as well 
as evolution beyond the limitations of the strictly na- 
tional Norwegian temper, be that whatever it may. His 
own statement regarding his expanding sense of ethno- 
logical relationship is to this effect: "I believe that 
national consciousness is on the point of dying out, and 
that it will be replaced by racial consciousness : I myself, 
at least, have passed through this evolution. I began by 
feeling myself a Norwegian; I developed into a Scandi- 
navian, and now I have arrived at Teutonism." 1 It is a 
declaration that will not startle anybody who has glanced 
at Ibsen's pedigree. The allegation that there flowed not 
a drop of pure Norwegian blood in Ibsen's veins may be 
left for experts in eugenics to settle to their satisfaction ; 
but that there were German, Scotch, and Danish strains 

1 C, p. 420. 


in his make-up, there can be no doubt; and the German 
element would seem to have predominated, since back of 
the parents we find, with but few exceptions, his forbears 
on both sides of the family to have been Germans . The 
enthusiastic acceptance of Ibsen by the Germans as a 
German seems therefore quite intelligible, and there is no 
need for the cry of "Auslanderei," i.e., predilection for 
things alien, which is still raised by provincially minded 
patriots against every recognition of foreign merit. A 
closer examination of records, in particular a study of the 
autobiographical material, reveals a fact not mentioned 
in that letter to Brandes, namely that Ibsen's pan- 
Scandinavian sympathies preceded, even as they fol- 
lowed, the narrower patriotic state of mind into which he 
fell for a brief spell under the influence of his friend 
Bjornson. We have it from Ibsen as well as from other 
great men, that love of country is only a transition stage 
in the progress of ethics. His Scandinavianism turned 
scornfully against Norway when she left Denmark un- 
aided in the clutches of the German foe. He could not 
bear the thought of living in his country after that. Pro- 
longed residence in Germany softened his strong anti- 
German feelings. Germany's heroic struggle for unity 
elicited his increasing admiration, and the solidification 
of many puny governments into a magnificent world- 
power made him take confidence in the historic mission 
of the Empire. The effect was not unlike that produced 
on the great Swiss novelist Konrad Ferdinand Meyer 
(1825-1898), who till 1870 wavered in his spiritual alle- 
giance between the French and the Germans. 

In 1872, when the first German translations of his 


works appeared, — The Pretenders, Brandy and The 
League of Youth all at once, — his change of mind towards 
Germany as a whole was completed; but Prussia he con- 
tinued to hate, for annexing Schleswig-Holstein. Even 
his attitude towards Germany as a whole underwent 
several relapses, as when in a stirring poem, Northern 
Signals ("Nordens Signaler," September, 1872), 1 he in- 
voked the spirits of the fallen Danes against Bjornson's 
pan-Germanic agitation. But in 1875 he wrote a poem 
celebrating the German union, and in 1876, in the preface 
to the German edition of The Vikings, Ibsen himself dis- 
cusses "unser gesamtgermanisches Leben," — our com- 
mon Germanic existence. His feeling was changed. "The 
universality of the Germanic nature and the Germanic 
mind predestines it to a future empire of the world. My 
having been allowed to take part in these currents I 
clearly and deeply feel that I owe to my having entered 
into the life of German society." 2 He was deeply im- 
pressed with the triumphant force of German discipline. 
To this large racial ideal he remained true without any 
slavish repression of his personal instincts and judg- 
ments. In his sympathies more than one people was em- 
braced. In fact he could not have made so amazing an 
appeal to the whole world, had he not become ultimately 
a citizen of the whole world. 

No patriot was he. Both for Church and State 
A fruitless tree. But there, on the upland ridge, 
In the small circle where he saw his calling, 
There he was great, because he was himself. 3 

1 M, vol. in, p. 136. 2 SNL, p. 114. 

8 Peer Gynt, vol. iv, p. 217. 


It is very noteworthy how convincingly, yet without 
detriment to its cosmopolitan bearing, Ibsen's work 
reflects and echoes the life of his own, to us quite 
unfamiliar, home-land. The donnees of his plays are 
invariably Norwegian. In no single instance are his 
figures homeless, phantoms from a dreamer's no-man's 
land, though in their personal appearance and in their 
ways they do impress us as exotic. Ibsen's art, far from 
giving "to airy nothing a local habitation," worked from 
the life model. Now, his models came with few exceptions 
from crabbed social surroundings. It may be put down 
as a limitation of his craft that in the delineation of minor 
characteristics Ibsen could never get away from these 
quaint provincial patterns. To their origin the "strange- 
ness" of his figures is chiefly due. Their peculiarity can- 
not be wholly accounted for except through what Mr. 
Arthur Balfour in his remarkable book Foundations of 
Belief calls the "psychologic climate." Ibsen had a keen 
sense of the importance of environment upon character, 
and since to the end of his days he sensed life under a 
local species, the fullest appreciation of such figures as 
Mortensgaard or Dr. Relling is hardly possible to those 
who do not know Norway. By the social background of 
his plays we are perpetually reminded that he came from 
a smallish country and that he had spent the formative 
portion of his life among men of small affairs in places 
where everybody knows everybody's business and respect 
for public opinion amounts mainly to fear of the neigh- 
bors' tongues. In this suburban atmosphere the social 
dramas of Ibsen are altogether steeped. In his book, 
Zur Kritik der Moderne, Hermann Bahr cleverly draws 


this distinction: Ibsen's intellect is European, but his 
senses are Norwegian. Hence arises the anomaly of gigan- 
tic thoughts being evolved by pygmies, and of great 
questions being debated by petty bourgeois to whom 
they must be alien. 

And just as this oppressive social environment with its 
petty interests, its local jealousies and envies, its bick- 
erings and backbitings, is essential to a satisfactory 
understanding of Ibsen's people, so again the strictly 
natural setting of the locality, the Norwegian landscape, 
is inseparable from their meaning. In lifelong exile he 
remained a " Heimatkiinstler." His works, fashioned in 
foreign lands and for Germans and Englishmen as much 
as for Scandinavians, are in outward seeming home-made 
and made for home consumption. The images of home 
were projected by the distance only the more vividly on 
his memory. Among the marble splendors of the ancient 
world, along the sunny stretches of the Roman Campagna, 
his inner eye wandered back over the wide expanse of the 
sea or over the bleak and icy mountains of the Northern 
land. Thus a cold but bracing air of regional reality blows 
through the structures reared by a detached cosmopoli- 
tan's fancy. A few of Ibsen's scenic directions may be 
set down to illustrate the point. In The Lady from the Sea, 
we have : Dr. Wangel's house, with a large veranda, on the 
left — a view of the fjords with high mountain ranges and 
peaks in the distance. In Little Eyolf : At the back a sheer 
cliff, an extensive view over the fjord. In When We Dead 
Awaken : At the back a view over the fjord, right out to 
sea, with headlands and small islands in the distance. In 
The Vikings at Helgeland : A rocky coast running precipi- 


tously down to the sea at the back . . . Far out to the 
right the sea dotted with reefs and skerries on which the 
surf is running high. A still better example is furnished 
by the entire fourth act of Peer Gynt. 

It is not without a biographical interest that Ibsen at 
one time longed to become a painter and that he wielded 
the brush rather insistently till about his thirtieth year. 
Records of these crude artistic efforts exist in the form 
of some rather hard and stiff landscapes composed in the 
"classic-romantic" method of that day. The Norwegian 
landscape also enters from the first into the obvious 
higher significance of his writings. Herein consists per- 
haps the most precious heritage to the poet from his 
country. From Paa Vidderne (1859-60), l the forerunner 
of Brand, to the Dramatic Epilogue, the highland sym- 
bolizes the heroic or sublime aspects of life, the alpine 
peaks its visions splendid, as the lowland represents the 
commonplace. In Love's Comedy, for instance, the poet 
saves himself from philistinism by flight to the mountains. 
The outward phenomenon of nature is with Ibsen a 
symbol of inner truth. Life on the heights is ordained to 
be lonesome and forbidding, yet withal free, spacious, 
and salutary. It is well to remember that the scenic 
motifs are never fortuitous with Ibsen, but of a fixed and 
easily discernible importance. And this symbolistic 
propensity, which was practiced from the start, helps the 
student the better to understand the main stages in the 
poet's evolution, above all his early romanticism, vague, 
florid, and remote, which, having receded for a long while 
in favor of a firmer, clearer, but also colder and drier 
1 M, vol. in, pp. 42-54. 


conception of life, was resumed later on so unmistakably 
with the lyric mood of his declining years. As early as 
1857, in his essay on the Kaempevise ("Hero-Song"), 1 Ib- 
sen had declared: "The romantic view of life concedes to 
rationalism its raison d'etre and its value, but alongside 
of it, beyond it, and clear through it passes the mystery, 
the puzzle, the miracle." The return to romanticism is 
clearly traceable in the technical changes of Ibsen's work. 
In the final stage of his career he was a devotee of sym- 
bolism surpassed among contemporaries only by his own 
disciple, Maurice Maeterlinck. 

1 SW, vol. i, pp. 337-60. 



The life of Henrik Ibsen offers small yield to biograph- 
ical hero-worship, for in its exterior aspects it was singu- 
larly uneventful, almost dull. The briefest and barest 
outline will have to suffice for our purposes. He was born 
on March 20, 1828, — in the same year with Tolstoy, — 
at Skien, a small town on the southeast coast of Norway, 
important only as a shipping-post for timber, and other- 
wise the very paradigm of a solemn, somnolent, and 
multifariously uninteresting country town; a typical 
home of all the mournful virtues of Philistia, and cor- 
respondingly replete with the meannesses and pretensions 
that are anatomized later on by the unsparing blade of 
Ibsen's satire. "Stockmanns Gaard," the house where 
little Henrik Johan gave his first shriek of indignation, 
was auspiciously surrounded by certain tenebrous insti- 
tutions for the improvement and protection of society: 
the church, the public pillory, the jail, the madhouse, the 
Latin High School, etc. Mr. Gosse warns the tourist 
that over this stern prospect he can no longer senti- 
mentalize, for the whole of this part of Skien was burned 
down in 1886, "to the poet's unbridled satisfaction." 
"The inhabitants of Skien," he said with grim humor, 
"were quite unworthy to possess my birthplace." 

Reared in the affluence of a patrician household, he 
suffered an evil fall from fortune at the age of eight, when 


his father lost nearly all of his property. From this time 
forth till he was well past the middle of his life he did not 
get out of the clutches of wretched, grinding poverty. 
His friend, Christopher Lorenz Due, gives the following 
picture of young Ibsen's destitute circumstances while at 
Grimstad: "He must have had an exceptionally strong 
constitution, for when his financial conditions compelled 
him to practice the most stringent economy, he tried to 
do without underclothing, and finally even without 
stockings. In these experiments he succeeded; and in 
winter he went without an overcoat." Embittered by 
his early struggle for existence, how could he escape a 
stern and sombre view of life? Vividly the grievous ex- 
perience entered into his youthful poetry. In one of his 
earliest poems mankind is divided into favored guests 
blithely seated at the banquet of life, and miserable out- 
siders freezing in the street, condemned to look on 
through the window. Yet candid references to his child- 
hood and adolescence, with their bitter disenchantments, 
are not in the manner of this taciturn poet. 

His own desire to be sent to an art school abroad was 
not realizable, and at fifteen he was apprenticed to an 
apothecary at Grimstad. Here his life was still more 
penned up than before. But as the apothecary's shop in 
such towns serves as a favorite resort for the numerous 
male gossips and busybodies of the stamp of Mr. Daniel 
Heire (The League of Youth), it afforded the lad, over his 
pills and pestle, abundant opportunity for watching 
people in their amusing variety of tricks and manners. 
He practiced his satirical gift in many spiteful epigrams 
and lampoons on the worthy burghers. To the end of his 


career he loved to spy out of a safe corner on the unwary, 
gloating over each unconscious self-revelation conveyed 
by speech and gesture, and hoarding it up in the iron safe 
of his memory for opportune use. The oft-drawn picture 
rises up, by force of association, of the aged dramatist 
seated with an air of impenetrable reserve and in per- 
petual silence in his chosen nook at the "Grand Cafe" 
in Christiania, his malicious little eyes, armored with 
gold-rimmed spectacles and masked behind an outspread 
news-sheet, leveled fixedly upon the tell-tale mirror on 
the opposite wall. As is the case with all great realists, he 
had an insatiable curiosity for trifles. This was abetted 
by extraordinary powers of observation. "He thought it 
amazing," so Mr. Gosse tells us, c "that people could go 
into a room and not notice the pattern of the carpet, the 
color of the curtains, the objects on the walls"; these 
being details which he could not help observing and re- 
taining in his memory. This trait comes out in his copious 
and minute stage-directions and in his well-known insist- 
ence on the details of the setting. For instance, at the 
first Munich performance of A DolVs House he criticized 
the wall-paper of Helmer's living-room because it inter- 
fered with the "Stimmung." But in course of artistic 
experience he learned to be equally observant of the 
recondite peculiarities of men. He had a microscopical 
eye for human character. The grosser seizure of super- 
ficial traits was aided in his case by a closeness and ac- 
curacy of mind-reading comparable to the clairvoyancy 
of the great Russian novelist Dostojevsky (1821-1881). 
The pharmaceutical occupation had been chosen 
because it afforded Ibsen the future possibility of the 


professional study of medicine. Arduous self-preparation 
for the university was resorted to in place of the regular 
schooling. In course of learning Latin, he was fired, by 
the reading of Cicero and Sallust, to a first creative effort ; 
this resulted in the tragedy of Catilina. He went to 
Christiania in 1850, but failed in the entrance examina- 
tion to the University. The raw pedagogical philosophy 
of the hour is free to point with grinning satisfaction to 
Ibsen's failure as an argument against the value of col- 
lege entrance examinations. A safer inference would be 
Ibsen's unfitness for the learned professions. He clung 
obstinately, to the end of his life, to an unbookishness 
singular in a man of letters, and remained stubbornly 
incognizant of the works even of his greatest contem- 
poraries, such as Tolstoy and Zola. In his intellectual 
interest everything else dwindled before the study of 
living human beings. 

In 1850 Ibsen's first play, Kaempehojen (" The War- 
rior's Hill "), was brought before the public. He had now 
drifted into the precarious existence of a literary man. 
He became co-editor of an ephemeral revolutionary sheet 
which never reached a round hundred of subscribers, and 
this connection almost brought him behind prison bars in 
the period of reaction after the turbulent year of 1848. 
Some writers have wondered why to such a mere tyro at 
the theatrical business, a youngster of twenty-three with- 
out experience and without any tangible and properly cer- 
tified attainments, there should have come all at once a 
call to leadership in a high and serious cause. Before the 
starveling Bohemian all at once the gates are flung open 
to a congenial career. Ole Bull calls him to the artistic 


directorship of the newly founded "National Theatre" 
at Bergen (1851). As a matter of fact, the "National 
Theatre," in spite of its high-sounding name, was an 
extremely modest concern. The annual salary of about 
two hundred and fifty dollars attached to Ibsen's position 
indicates plainly enough the limited sphere of his dram- 
aturgical activity. In Bergen he stayed till 1857. As a 
dramatic author he contributed to the national venture, 
besides The Warrior's Hill, the following works: in 1853, 
St. John's Eve ; in 1856, The Feast at Solhaug ; in 1857, a 
revised version of Olaf Liljekrans, this having been 
already sketched out in 1850. None of these juvenile 
exercises in playwriting is comparable to his first real 
drama, his parting gift to Bergen, Lady Inger of Ostraai 
(1855) . d 

Ibsen's one lucky strike at Bergen was his marriage 
(1858) to Susannah Daae Thoresen, daughter of the 
rector and rural dean at Bergen. Mrs. Ibsen deserves a 
front place among the capable and long-suffering wives 
of men of genius. 1 Simply to have endured for full half 
a century the company of this exacting and exasperat- 
ingly unsocial creature bespeaks the calm endurance of a 
saint. But not only did she contrive to bear with the 
bluntnesses and edges of his character, she learned to 
make him happy, and stranger still, to be happy herself 
in the security of his captured affection. 

From 1857 till 1862 Ibsen held successively at the two 
theatres of Christiania posts similar in responsibilities 

1 For a casual estimate by Ibsen of his wife ef. C, p. 199; also the 
poem To the Only One, of which a fine German translation by Ludwig 
Fulda is found in SW, vol. x, pp. 10-12. 


and privations to that at Bergen. Certainly in this 
prolonged managerial connection with the theatre lies 
the chief explanation of his masterful stage-craft. 8 

In 1864 Ibsen shook the dust of Norway from his feet. 
The reasons will later be touched upon. After spending 
one month in Copenhagen, he journeyed direct to Rome. 
He lived there for a while, and elsewhere in Italy, then 
took up his residence in Germany (1868), living for the 
most part in Dresden and Munich, with further visits to 
the South, and regular annual flights to his favorite 
summer haunts in the Tyrol. The self-imposed exile 
during which he knew no permanent home and lived, 
practically, with his trunk always packed, lasted, with 
two short breaks, till 1891. Ibsen is the sole instance 
known to me of a writer of the first magnitude the bulk 
of whose literary work was produced in foreign parts. 

The remainder of Ibsen's life was passed in the Nor- 
wegian capital, with the brief interruption of a journey in 
1898. He died on May 23, 1906, in his seventy-ninth 
year. The latter portion of his life had brought him, after 
long and hard struggles, the gratification of every con- 
ceivable ambition: wealth, distinctions, ease, celebrity 
as the world's recognized chief dramatist, the allegiance 
of a younger generation of writers, and the well-nigh 
frenzied gratitude of a whole nation unanimous in calling 
him its first citizen. But the final years were darkly 
clouded. For six years the poet, now mentally infirm, 
had to endure the tragic fate of Oswald Alving, the curse 
of enforced inactivity. 

Ibsen was a man of striking appearance notwithstand- 
ing his shortness of stature. On powerful shoulders rose 


his leonine head, with a mane of recalcitrant white locks 
that framed an impressively high and broad-arched 
brow/ The face with its straight, compressed lips and 
piercing eyes revealed the whole man. He was taciturn 
and reserved, except with intimates; yet on occasion frank 
to the point of harshness; anything but good-natured, in 
fact rather querulous and occasionally a bit petulant. 1 

A brief survey of Ibsen's earliest works may help us to 
reach the beginnings of his slow but amazing development 
as an artist, and as a social thinker and critic. The works 
here classed as juvenile are now long dead and forgotten ; 
their attempted resuscitation during the last decade was 
an act of piety on the part of enthusiasts, but they could 
not be redeemed for the stage. Still they are unquestion- 
ably of great interest for literary history, forming as they 
do a species of prelude of the lifework of a great poet. 
The most potent influence upon the conception and style 
of these dramas was that of the Danish poet Adam 
Ohlenschlager (1779-1850), leader of the romanticist 
movement in Scandinavia. Next to him the Norwegian 
prose writer Mauritz Ch. Hansen (1794-1842), also a 
romanticist, should be mentioned; 3 of foreign writers 
Schiller was the one most familiar to Ibsen at the earliest 
stage of his development. 

It is not quite clear that Ibsen became fully conscious 
in his youth of the extraordinary poetic gifts that dwelt 
within him. Certainly the "lyric cry" was not over- 
poweringly strong in him. He never excelled as a song 
writer. In the epic genre the metrical story of Terje Vigen 

1 He gave an amusing exhibition of this trait while a member of the 
Scandinavian Society of Rome. Cf. SJV", vol. i, pp. 179-83. 


(1860) * was his only noteworthy effort. His many pro- 
logues and other poems of occasion demonstrate, in the 
main, nothing more than an exceptional facility in the 
handling of verse and rime.' 1 

In the narrative field he was practically unproductive. 
Of the projected novel The Prisoner at Agershuus, a mere 
shred of a beginning reached fruition. 2 For Ibsen, poetical 
material turned spontaneously into drama, as he himself 
informs us. "The inorganic comes first, then the organic. 
First dead nature, then living. The same obtains in art. 
When a subject first rises up in my mind I always want 
to make a story of it, — but it manages to grow into a 
drama." 3 

It is with Ibsen's plays that we are most concerned. 
As regards the early works of that kind, there is a certain 
negative quality, quite astonishing in the light of later 
development, which they have in common. They cling 
to accepted patterns. Ibsen's technical originality was 
relatively slow to develop. Without a knowledge of the 
earlier specimens of his art we might well speculate on 
the reason why such aesthetic Jacobinism as his could have 
been endured for a dozen years by the decorous bourgeois 
of Bergen and Christiania. But the fact is, Ibsen was by 
no means widely out of line with the use and wont of the 
theatre at this time, and so he created for himself no 
difficulties in his position by balking the public sentiment. 
He had not yet stepped from the leading strings of the 
then acknowledged masters of the drama. A survey of 
the repertory of the Norwegian Theatre of Christiania 

1 M, vol. in (Digte), pp. 61-71; SW, vol. i, pp. 69-82. 

2 SW U , vol. i, pp. 149-54. 3 Ibid., p. 198. 


under Ibsen's management is given in his annual Direct- 
or's Report, for 1860-61. We gain an idea of the make-up 
of this repertory from the titles of the plays that were 
newly mounted during the period covered by the report: 
The Wood Nymph's Home, drama with song and dance; 
Sword and Pigtail ("Zopf und Schwert") by Gutzkow; He 
drinks, vaudeville; A Dangerous Letter, comedy; A Speech, 
vaudeville; Pernille's Brief Singleness, comedy; The Folk 
of Gudbrandsdal, drama, etc. 1 

Ibsen's first drama, Catilina, was never deemed worthy 
of actual performance. It was begun in the year of the 
great European uprising, 1848, finished in 1849, and 
published in 1850, 2 at the expense of a loyal friend and 
under the pen-name of "Brynjolf Bjarme"; the edition 
was eventually wasted, after a sale of some twenty copies 
more or less. The introduction to the second, greatly 
altered, edition (1875) reinforces the value of the work 
as a human document. Historical subjects were de rigeur, 
especially for budding dramatic geniuses. Ibsen's play is 
written for the most part in the conventional blank verse; 
the final portion is in rimes, each line running to from 
thirteen to fifteen syllables. The one thing at all remark- 
able in this crude treatment of a time-honored theme is 
the independent conception of the principal character. 
Ibsen wrote uninfluenced by and probably ignorant of his 
predecessors in the premises, from Ben Jonson to x\lex- 
andre Dumas fils, nor was he hampered by any attempt 
at unconditional adhesion to the "historical truth" of 
the story. 

1 SW", vol. i, pp. 175-79; cf. also SW, vol. I, p. 290/. 

2 The first version of Catilina is found in SW 11 , vol. i, pp. 231-316; 
the second version (1875) in SW, vol. i, pp. 537-628. 


Those who agree with the assertion that Ibsen, through- 
out his diversified literary career, was above all things a 
"poet of ideas," that is, had for his chief purpose the 
ventilation of moral views and theories, will find valuable 
confirmation of the belief in the introduction to the play. 
It is in essence an avowal of an excess of intellectual 
intention. The young dramatist thinks it fair to apologize 
for having tampered with the characters, and pleads in 
extenuation his desire of giving unrestrained play to the 
central animating idea. He explains that his Catiline was 
not meant for a hero in the popular sense, but for a 
personality, and therefore had to be presented as an 
incarnate mixture of noble and base qualities. In fact, 
Ibsen's Catiline is widely removed from the sly, ambitious 
desperado of Cicero's rolling periods. Much nearer does 
he approach the Sallustian view of his character, — an 
anarchist, but from no ignoble impulse and not without a 
high patriotic aim. Mr. Haldane Macfall eloquently 
sums up his case: "An heroic Catiline, a majestic and 
vigorous soul, burning with enthusiasm for the great 
heroic past, horrified at the rottenness of his age, raising 
a revolt at the corrupt state, but too steeped in that 
rottenness himself to be able to save the age." * Single- 
handed he resolves to clean out the Augean stable of 
society ; but his power for good is perverted by the insta- 
bility of his nature. His lack of equilibrium between will 
and capacity brings this figure into conspicuous kinship 
with many a wrecked Titan of earlier literature; yet 
closer still is his spiritual affinity with the half-baked 
overmen of innumerable recent German works, as Haupt- 
mann's Meister Heinrich, to instance only one. 


It is certainly noteworthy how early in his career Ibsen 
was fascinated by the virtue of self-reliance militantly 
advancing against the authority of state, church, and 
family. But at this stage he could not draw such charac- 
ters from life as when he came to compose An Enemy of 
the People or John Gabriel Borkman. The female charac- 
ters by their complete unrealness betray the novice hand, 
though they herald Ibsen's notorious division of his 
women into two distinct classes, namely, women con- 
trolled by their heart, and women controlled by their 
will. And here, too, at the very outset of Ibsen's dramat- 
ical career, we find his hero in the characteristic dilemma 
between two women of the different types. The same 
antithesis as here between the angelic Aurelia and the 
demonic Furia occurs with regularity in nearly all the 
later plays, as in Lady Inger, where Inger Gyldenlove and 
her daughter Eline, in The Vikings, where Hjordis and 
Dagny, in The Feast at Solhaug, where Margit and Sign© 
are placed in sharp juxtaposition. 

The youthful plays are strongly under historical influ- 
ence, but from Roman history the interest soon switches 
off to themes of a national Scandinavian provenience. 
The first which actually gained a momentary foothold on 
the stage was the one-act play entitled The Hero's Mound 
(" Kaempehbjen," 1851). It was the rifacimento of The 
Norsemen ("Normannerne"), written in 1849. Ibsen 
justly held this play in low opinion and would not consent to 
its being included in the complete edition of his works. 1 

1 After Ibsen's death, however, it was made accessible through the 
publication of the Efterladle Shifter , by Koht and Elias; cf. also SW, 
vol. n, pp. 1-33. 


Yet it shows a certain fitness for the theatre sadly 
absent in Catilina. The manuscript of this short dra- 
matic sketch having been irrecoverably lost, likewise the 
serial reprint of it in a newspaper of 1854, the prompt- 
ing copy preserved in the library of the theatre at Bergen 
has had to serve Ibsen's latest editors in lieu of a more 
authentic original. The playlet was written in blank 
verse, with several lyrics interspersed. Originally the 
scene was laid in Normandy, but later it was moved to 
Sicily. The time is shortly before the Christianization of 
the Norwegians. And the fundamental idea was to show 
how the civilization of the period moved up from the 
South to the North. The heroine, Blanka, in the restrain- 
ing influence exercised by her goodness and virtue on the 
barbarians, seems reminiscent of Goethe's Iphigenia. 
The tone is decidedly romantic, and both in the concep- 
tion and the phrasing there is to be observed along with a 
pronounced lack of individual style an almost slavish 
imitation of the manner of Adam Ohlenschlager. Obvi- 
ously Ibsen was now kindled with enthusiasm for the 
past of his native land. This is not the only time that an 
expedition of Vikings forms the theme of a drama by 
Ibsen. In order to understand the range of his images 
and ideas it should be borne in mind that modern Dano- 
Norwegian poetry derives its themes mainly from three 
sources, so far as it does not deal explicitly with con- 
temporary or with historical subjects. The sources are 
the Eddas and Sagas, the ancient folk-songs, and finally 
the works of the great Danish dramatist Ludwig Holberg 
(1684-1754). To the Bergen period belongs furthermore 
The Night of St. John ("Sankthansnatten"), a fairy 


play in three acts dating from 1852 (played 1853). l In 
craftsmanship it shows no material advance. On the stage 
it proved a flat failure, and but for the rescuing hands of 
the editors of the posthumous works it would have re- 
mained in the oblivion to which its author had consigned 
it. The story bears a popular character and is full of good 
ideas, but is clumsily executed. An outline of the plot 
will serve a use by pointing to the contrast between 
Ibsen's crude beginnings and his subsequent mastery. 
The content, it will be observed, is national, but the 
technique is palpably French, in accordance with the con- 
temporary fashion in drama. Ibsen's chief guiding star 
at Bergen and Christiania seems to have been Scribe, as 
appears especially from the technical construction of 
Love's Comedy. But his own independent manner is 
already discernible in certain features of The Night of St. 
John, notably in that favorite contrivance of his, the un- 
veiling of a past family secret for the denouement of the 
plot, used so effectively in Lady Inger, A Doll's House, 
Ghosts, Rosmersholm, etc. In later plays several of the 
dramatic concepts of The Night of St. John are repeated 
to better advantage. The resemblance of its fantastic 
romanticism to Peer Gynt is self-evident. The play in- 
troduces Mrs. Berg, her daughter Juliane, a son, and a 
stepdaughter Anne, a sweet poetic soul thought to be 
unbalanced because of her fantastic imagination and 
belief in elfs and trolls. Juliane is affianced to the im- 
pecunious student Johannes Birk, who falls in love with 
Anne. Young Berg brings his friend Paulsen home with 
him. The latter and Juliane fall promptly in love. On 

1 SIT 11 , vol. I, pp. 355-428. 


the festal night of St. John the young people stroll to a 
woody hill in order to enjoy the bonfires. A magic potion 
mixed with the holiday punch makes the region seem 
enchanted. The hillside bursts open and discloses to their 
view the Mountain King with his gnomes and sprites. But 
this and the ensuing witchery is experienced only by two 
of the young people, Johannes and Anne, thanks to their 
capacity for deeper feelings/ The young "poet" Paulsen 
and the sentimental doll Juliane see none of it. The ill- 
assorted couple Juliane and Johannes dissolve their en- 
gagement. In the final winding-up Birk marries Anne 
and Juliane takes the aesthetic poseur Paulsen, a fore- 
runner of Stensgaard in The League of Youth. The meagre 
little play, with its naive fable which belongs in a class 
with the White Grouse of Justedal, 1 harks back to an ear- 
lier inspiration perhaps than any other of Ibsen's works. 
For in the reminiscences of his school days, while speak- 
ing of the gay social doings of the little town, Ibsen dwells 
particularly on the joyous celebration of St. John's Night, 
when the general merriment was apt to grow boisterous, 
and good-natured pranks would be indulged in with a fair 
degree of impunity. 

1 SW 11 , vol. i, pp. 319-54. 



The first hint of extraordinary dramatic force is con- 
tained in his next play, Lady Inger of Ostraat (" Fru Inger 
til Ostraat," 1855). Work on this historical tragedy 
started at Bergen, in 1854; on January 2 of the following 
year it was performed there for the first time. A few cop- 
ies were printed in 1857, and a somewhat revised edition, 
with an interesting preface, came out in 1874. The influ- 
ence of German romanticism is quickly discovered in this 
tragedy; quite in line with it is the lavish use of balladistic 
notions and phrases. More than enough has perhaps been 
said about the mechanical adjustment of this play to the 
demands of the regnant school of the drama. But Lady 
Inger is just Ibsen's first "well-made" piece, not by any 
means his last or only one. Not till the beginning of his 
middle period does he free himself from that governing 
influence whose hold upon him is unquestioned up to the 
last act of A Doll's House. In all these plays, then, not 
merely in Lady Inger, must we expect to find and do 
in fact find superabundance of external incident, plots 
teeming with complications and surprises, and a pertina- 
cious use of "telling" entrances and effective curtains. In 
Lady Inger the intricacies are so great as to interfere with 
the intelligibility of the dramatic process; the mind of the 
spectator is hopelessly confused by the continual quid pro 
quos and cross-purposes which a mere reader of the play 


may reason out at his leisure. And surely it is our curios- 
ity and excitement that wax from scene to scene rather 
than our human sympathy, as should be the case in true 
drama. Even the vice of ranting might be charged here 
against a poet who in his later course abstained severely 
from rhetorical invective. To make full the measure of 
his sins against art, Ibsen manipulated the plot in a de- 
cidedly sensational manner. The intrigue is far-fetched, 
the catastrophe — a mother causing her own son to be 
slain, through ignorance of his identity — harrowing 
rather than tragical, because it lacks a sound psycholog- 
ical foundation. 

Yet with all these manifest imperfections we can date 
from Lady Inger of Ostraat a prophetic advance in one 
domain of dramaturgy, namely, in the art of character 
painting. Lady Inger is unquestionably Ibsen's first great 
tragedy of character, properly speaking. Two masterly 
figures, created by the poet's imagination, are shown in 
play and counterplay, each bent upon overmatching the 
other: Inger, the mother torn betwixt love for her child 
and her land, a woman of masculine temper and giant 
force of will; and Nils Lykke, the Danish knight, wily 
master of politics, ruthless and irresistible vanquisher of 
women. It is diamond cut diamond. Ibsen wove only the 
background of this drama from historical material, his 
object being to throw into strong relief a private, not a 
political, tragedy. He did his utmost, so he tells us, 1 to 
familiarize himself with the manners and customs, with 
the thoughts and feelings, and also the language of the 
men of those days. Against the hopeless national decay 

1 Vol. i, p. 189; SW, vol. n, pp. 152-53. 


at the beginning of the sixteenth century he makes his 
heroine stand forth, "the greatest personage of her day," 
in tragical moral grandeur far surpassing the historic 
Fru Inger Gyldenlove. The author's sentiment is frankly 
nationalistic, his argument pointed against Denmark. A 
woman can frighten that rotten state, and is only pre- 
vented from her patriotic purpose by the plight of her 
child in the hands of the enemy. The personal characters 
and fates make no pretense of being authentic. Personal- 
ities are freely transformed or invented, as for instance, 
Eline Gyldenlove, a fascinating girl, proud and self- 
possessed, yet capable of passionate self-abandonment. 
In their psychological foundations they are rightfully 
modernized, for what, indeed, could be a Hecuba to us in 
her stark historic impersonality? Thus Lady Inger har- 
bors a presage of the coming social tragedies, made more 
emphatic by the fact that this play, contrary to the tradi- 
tions and conventions, was composed in prose. 

Despite this foreshowing of a realistic tendency, Ibsen's 
genius continues to travel in the romantic direction. His 
next play was called The Feast at Solhaug (" Gildet paa 
Solhaug," 1856). It was written in the summer of 1855 and 
saw the footlights in 1856 on the second day of January, 
like all of Ibsen's Bergen plays, since on that day the 
founding of the theatre was commemorated. About the 
same time it was published and accorded a very warm re- 
ception both by the audiences and readers. It is far less 
gloomy than Lady Inger. It is even, on the whole, writ- 
ten in a genial mood, as cheerful as it ever lay in Ibsen's 
power to be. A comedy, however, it is not, — rather an at- 
tempt at a " Schauspiel " of a quasi-lyrical order. Either 


for this reason or perhaps because he found it more diffi- 
cult at this time to handle prose than verse in drama of 
the lighter genre, Ibsen returned to verse, but aside from 
a fairly normal recurrence of four beats to the line the 
metre is extremely varied and irregular. In artistic merit 
the new play dropped behind Lady Inger. In fact, The 
Feast at Solhaug was one of a few achievements of his 
"Lehrjahre" which Ibsen explicitly disowned, for a 
while at least, and which he never acknowledged to be 
in any degree representative of his ability. 

From the author's preface to the second edition (1883) 
may be gathered valuable information in regard to the 
genesis of this play and its import for the trend of Ibsen's 
artistic progress. His statement is here given with some 

In 1854 I had written Lady Inger of Ostraat. This was a task 
which had obliged me to devote much attention to the literature 
and history of Norway during the Middle Ages. . . .The period, 
however, does not present much material suitable for dramatic 
treatment. Consequently I soon deserted it for the saga period. 
But the sagas of the kings did not attract me greatly; at that 
time I was unable to put the quarrels between kings and chief- 
tains, parties and clans, to any dramatic purpose. This was to 
happen later. In the Icelandic "family" sagas, on the other 
hand, I found in abundance the human material required for the 
moods, conceptions, and thoughts which at that time occupied 
me, or were, at least, more or less distinctly present in my mind. 
... In the pages of these family chronicles, with their variety 
of scenes and of relations between man and man, between wo- 
man and woman, in short, between human beings, I met a per- 
sonal, eventful, really vital existence; and as the result of my in- 
tercourse with all these distinctly individual men and women, 
there presented themselves to my mind's eye the first rough, 


indistinct outlines of The Vikings at Helgeland. Various obsta- 
cles intervened. . . . My mood of the moment was more in 
harmony with the literary romanticism of the Middle Ages than 
with the deeds of the sagas, with poetical than with prose com- 
position, with the word-melody of the ballad than with the char- 
acterization of the saga. Thus it happened that the fermenting, 
formless design for the tragedy, The Vikings at Helgeland, trans- 
formed itself temporarily into the lyric drama, The Feast at Sol- 
haug. 1 

The shifting of his interest from the sagas to the ballads 
was quickened by the impression received from the study 
of M. B. Landstad's collection of Norwegian folksongs. 6 
Ibsen points out in the concluding paragraph of the pref- 
ace, how under those circumstances the female principals 
of the Viking tragedy, that was already maturing in his 
mind, spontaneously transformed themselves into the 
sisters Margit and Signe of the other nascent drama; how 
Sigurd, the seafaring hero, changed into the knightly 
minstrel Gudmund Alfson, whose relation to the two sis- 
ters is much the same as that of Sigurd to Hjordis and 
Dagny. The writer ends with the following emphatic 
declaration : — 

The play under consideration, The Feast at Solhaug, like all 
my other dramatic works, is an inevitable outcome of the tenor 
of my life at a certain period. It had its origin within and was 
not the result of any outward impression or influence. 

The resemblance of the plot to The Vikings springs into 
prominence upon a closer comparison than would here be 
in place. The dramatic conflict is brought on by the visit 
of Gudmund, after long absence, to the house of Bengt, to 
whom Margit is bound in unhappy marriage. Her love 

1 Vol. I, pp. 183-92. 


for the playmate of her youth is violently awakened, but 
his love now turns toward the younger sister. Margit's 
attempt against her husband is stayed by the hand of a 
gracious fate, which also sets her free by making her a 
widow. Signe and Gudmund join hands while Margit 
retires to a nunnery. 

In order of his works the satirical comedy Norma, or 
The Love of a Politician ("Norma, eller En Politikers 
Kjaerlighed ") l followed next. It is called a musical 
tragedy in three acts, but is in fact nothing more than 
a brief political skit in the guise of a libretto. 

Olaf Liljekrans (1857) had been roughly sketched in 
1850, under a different title, before Ibsen had completed his 
twenty-second year, but was not finished until six years 
afterward. It, too, was written in verse, imitating the 
measures of the ancient heroic ballads for whose rugged 
stride and swing Ibsen at this time cherished a great 
liking. It is, however, one of Ibsen's least successful 
dramas. The strong national-historic bent of the piece, 
whose ultimate version was called for the hero of one of 
the most famous of the Kaempeviser, was already indi- 
cated in the designation of "national drama" which Ibsen 
bestowed on the earlier version. This torso, lately pub- 
lished by the literary executors of the poet, bears the 
title The White Grouse of Justedal ("Justedalsrypa"). 2 It 
consists of about one act and a half, all that was written of 
the four acts intended. The dialogue is mixed of verse and 

1 Efterladte Shifter, vol. I, pp. 76-86; SWn, vol. I, pp. 21-31. 

* Rypen i Justedal, Efterl. Skr., vol. i, pp. 839 ff. In German: Das 
Schneehuhn in Justedalen. National-Schauspiel in vier Akten von Bryn- 
jolf Bjarme. 1850. SWn, vol. I, pp. 319-53. (The same pen-name was 
used in Catilina.) 


prose. But the theme was realized once more under the 
abridged title The Wild Bird ("Fjeldfuglen," 1859), "a 
romantic opera in three acts by Henrik Ibsen.". 1 Only a 
brief fragment of this libretto is preserved. The action of 
The White Grouse, as well as of Olaf Liljekrans, is out and 
out romantic in its conception. The hackneyed theme of 
the hostile brothers is utilized for the previous history 
of the characters. A masterful personality is introduced 
in the old yeoman Bengt, who is pursued by a guilt- 
laden conscience because he has evilly contrived the disin- 
heritance of his elder brother. The latter, with his wife, 
has gone into exile and passed out of the story. Bengt's 
son, Bjorn, by his father's wish is to marry Merete for her 
property, but she is in love with young farmer Einar. 
Bjorn for his part meets and loves a wonderful maiden 
named Alfhild, an orphan dwelling in solitude amidst the 
beauties of nature, on terms of wondrous familiarity with 
the flowers and creatures of the woods. But one human 
being has she seen since her parents died : an aged minstrel 
of wonderful skill. Woe to the house that does not bid 
him welcome. Alfhild, of course, is the daughter of the 
lost Alf. The winding-up of the story is easily divined. 

The Vikings in Helgeland (" Haermaendene paa Helge- 
land," 1858) was published after being rejected by lead- 
ing Scandinavian theatres. Under Ibsen's management 
it was given at Christiania, November 24, 1858. The lead- 
ing theatres in the Scandinavian countries first opened to 
this play in 1875, and only after Ibsen's social problem 

1 SW 11 , vol. ii, pp. 3-24. It was to be set to music by Udbye. In the 
list of dramatis persona! occurs Thorgejr, a minstrel who reappears in 
The Pretenders. 


plays had compelled international attention was this he- 
roic drama given an occasional trial abroad. In Berlin it 
was staged in 1890. Before that, the great Viennese trage- 
dienne, Charlotte Wolter, had triumphantly imperson- 
ated the part of Hjordis by virtue of her conquering vehe- 
mence of temper, whereas Ellen Terry appears to have 
scored barely a succes d'estime for her more moderated 
performance of the part. 

Critical opinion of the play runs the wide gamut from 
"sorry failure" to "superb achievement." Whether or no 
the latter estimate is extravagant, Mr. Archer's statement 
that The Vikings forms a cornerstone of modern Nor- 
wegian literature, along with Bjornson's peasant idyll 
Synnove Solbakken, is not to be gainsaid. Ibsen began his 
tragedy under the then reigning Helleno-romantic influ- 
ence; of course he started out in verse, in writing which he 
had by this time acquired an extraordinary facility. For- 
tunately he discerned very soon a far fitter vehicle for his 
poetical intentions in colloquial prose of old-time simplic- 
ity and quaintness, which aided the imagination in recon- 
structing the temporal environment of the plot. His dic- 
tion then readily took on the ancient flavor of the Icelandic 
family sagas that had suggested the theme. d The adop- 
tion of prose was by no means a meretricious device for 
smoother sailing and quicker arrival, as some foolish peo- 
ple have been misled into thinking. And here he takes the 
decisive turn to a new mode of dramatic expression, that 
realistic terseness of an unadorned, almost naked prose 
dialogue, which he eventually domiciled on the stage. The 
Vikings is a singular adaptation of the Sigfrid saga. Its 
substance derives from the Volsung saga, but, so Ibseji 


emphatically declares, only in part. He says, most signifi- 
cantly, "More essentially my poem may be said to be 
founded upon the various Icelandic family sagas (recorded 
in the thirteenth century), in which it often seems that 
the titanic conditions and occurrences of the Nibelungen- 
lied and the Volsung saga have simply been reduced to 
human dimensions." 1 To the form he had given much 
study, as is evidenced by his essay on the heroic ballad, 
mentioned before. He shared at this time, and much later 
too, the prevalent view about the indispensability of the 
lyric element in drama: "If the poet is to extract a dra- 
matic work from this epic material [meaning the sagas], 
he must necessarily bring into it a foreign, a lyrical ele- 
ment; for the drama is well known to be a higher blending 
of the lyric and the epic." 2 He swerved from the sagas 
to the ballad because in the latter the lyric material is 
present, whereas it has to be artificially imported in the 

I : " From the countless modern versions of the story of Sig- 
frid or Sigurd and the Nibelungs, The Vikings in Helge- 
land differs essentially in the treatment. The dramatic 
possibilities of the old epic were too obvious not to have 
been exploited often before. In Germany, Friedrich Heb- 
bel did most justice to the theme, some time after Ibsen. 
It was he who defined his task in dramatizing the Nibe- 
lungenlied as consisting simply in stripping the ancient 
epic of its nondramatic, i.e., specifically epic and lyric 6 ac- 
cessories. Hebbel, too, perceived with a true dramatist's 
insight that the mythological apparatus of the saga, no 
matter how great may be its intrinsic worth and value, is 
* Vol. n, pp. xi-xii. * Ibid., pp. ix-x. 


irrelevant to the tragic force of the purely human story; 
that consequently all the fabulous paraphernalia, dwarfs 
and dragons, magic hoods and rings and cinctures, can 
be spared without detriment to the dramatic effect. 
Nevertheless he was unwilling to abandon the fabulous 
elements for fear of losing touch with the fixed popular 
predilection for the theme; so the marvelous strains are 
saved, not in the ground melody, however, but in the 

Ibsen went much further. Like Hebbel, he descried in 
the ancient tale a most attractive subject for a drama; 
but he gave short shrift to all its extra-natural features, 
and reduced the tragedy to purely human terms. By the 
blending of material and additions of his own the story 
was altered almost beyond recognition. The result is vir- 
tually a new story, but with a striking inner resemblance 
to the old, due to a close analogy of motifs. Ibsen's experi- 
ment was an extremely daring one : he did not really dram- 
atize either the Nibelungenlied or the Scandinavian leg- 
ends about Sigurd the Volsung. His play bodies forth the 
fates and actions of mere men and women, not of demons 
and demigods. It expresses generally an emotional life 
much like our own, only a degree ruder, more elemental, 
in consonance with the character of early Teutonic exist- 
ence. The primitive flavor is religiously preserved. In its 
particulars the story had to be materially altered by piec- 
ing together matters originally disconnected, to account 
for everything by natural means. To illustrate the trans- 
formation: the legendary Sigurd breaks, by miraculous 
feats of valor, the ban put upon the Valkyrie Brynhild, and 
by means of magic deception wins her for King Gunther. 


In Ibsen's play Sigurd conquers Hjordis after slaying her 
sentinel, a bear of formidable strength, a deed repre- 
sented as extremely difficult, to be sure, yet entirely within 
the possibilities of exceptional valiancy; the ensuing de- 
ception of Hjordis is rendered feasible by the darkness of 
the night. All the wonders of the saga were excised, root 
and branch, with one sole exception, — when Hjordis 
hears the "Aasgardsreien," i.e., the ride of the battle- 
felled warriors to Valhal, and makes ready to join it, — 
and even for this a natural explanation could be invented 
at a pinch. Then, too, the social level of the play's persons 
is considerably lowered. Gunnar, unscrupulously divested 
of his royal dignity, appears in the character of a rich yeo- 
man. One almost wonders why he, as well as Sigurd, has 
been allowed to retain his name, whereas the female prin- 
cipals, Brynhild and Kriemhild (Guthrun), have been re- 
named Hjordis and Dagny. Ibsen may have held to 
those names in order to indicate the provenience of the 

Having resolutely deviated from the ancient story, the 
poet was free to go his own ways in the delineation of 
character. Yet, here, instead of fully availing himself of 
his freedom, he follows, in the main, the trail of tradition. 
Thus, in view of their rather fixed psychology, the actions 
of the persons do not always fit their changed conditions 
and circumstances. The entire tragic crisis and catastro- 
phe arise out of Sigurd's guilty act — the lie conspired 
between him and Gunnar. But in this rendering Sigurd's 
intercession for his friend is both unintelligible and unin- 
telligent, through the absence of any good reason, such as 
exists in the ancient versions, why Sigurd should not win 


the loved woman for himself. The significant thing, how- 
ever, is that at the root of the human tragedy we are 
shown by the poet here, for the first time, the lie as the 
destroyer of happiness. 

Throughout the action all the figures have a stationary 
aspect. They are not so much individuals as types, like 
roughly carved figures in a game of chess, each assessed 
with an immutable value. Hardly a trace is here revealed 
of the poet's amazing art of individualization. Neverthe- 
less he was going forward in the right path, in quest of a 
new style for the drama. Perhaps the diction is as crude 
and clumsy as is the drawing of the characters. Yet it 
struggles visibly, and not unsuccessfully, away from the 
sonorous and grandiloquent declamation in general use 
for the higher drama of the time. Ibsen had doubtless 
chastened his diction through his favorite reading, the 
Scripture and the sagas. Yet The Vikings marks only his 
first perceptible advance in the new direction; he did not 
definitely cast off the older rhetorical manner till after 
Pillars of Society. The principal advance in The Vikings 
is along constructive lines. In this respect the play leaves 
very little to be desired. The composition, indeed, is mas- 
terly. In a perfectly logical manner each act rears itself 
to a climax so spontaneous that, notwithstanding our 
foreknowledge of the occurrences, the interest is held in 
breathless suspense from start to finish. Also a certain 
proficiency in that laconic brevity in which Ibsen later on 
excelled is here noticeable for the first time. It is attained 
by an extremely dexterous proportioning between articu- 
late and smothered expression; that is, by winnowing out 
all unessential details without omitting anything that 


actually contributes to the comprehension of the source 
and course of the tragedy. 

In the management of the dramatic mechanism a still 
greater progress is to be noted in the play with which Ib- 
sen next began to occupy himself and in which the archa- 
istic style was again used. It is this play, The Pretenders, 
that launched Ibsen safely on the career of a world-poet, 
while yet his own compatriots were blinded by their dense 
suburbanism to the justice of his claims at home. As its 
completion, however, was preceded by that of Love's Com- 
edy ("Kaerlighedens Komedie," 1862), a chronologically 
ordered review has to record a temporary artistic retro- 
gression. This opinion is offered, however, in full recogni- 
tion of the symptomatical portent of the Comedy. For it 
is unquestionably the first of Ibsen's dramatic treatises on 
social philosophy. "Love's Comedy" says Ibsen, "is the 
forerunner of Brand ; for in it I have represented the con- 
trast in our state of society between the actual and the 
ideal in all that relates to love and marriage." 1 The com- 
parison with Brand, not at once discernible, is quite appo- 
site. For in this comedy Ibsen draws for the first time the 
extreme consequences of moral and intellectual consist- 
ency in its combat with the universal social sham. For 
the first time, too, he gives free rein to his characteristic- 
ally bellicose disposition. An earlier attempt of the theme 
was made in 1860 under the title Svanhild. 2 The idea of 
the play, undoubtedly inspired by Schopenhauer's be- 
lief that love is a delusion and his cynical assertion that 
nature throws it as a mere sop to mankind in order to 
secure her object, procreation, might be expressed in the 
1 C, pp. 123 and 237. 2 SW", vol. n, pp. 25-43. 


form of a cynical syllogism : Marriage, a social necessity, 
is sure death to love. Nothing is more grievous than dis- 
illusionment in love. Ergo, only a conventional marriage 
can be happy. And the double-barreled moral is this : If 
you are in love, do not marry; if you want to marry, be 
sure you are not moved by love. Consequently, if a poet 
would trace love's true course, he might do worse than go 
by the directions of his colleague, Falk, in Love's Comedy. 

You 're aware. 
No curtain falls but on a plighted pair. 
Thus with the Trilogy's First Part we've reckoned; 
The Comedy of Troth-plight, Part the Second, 
Thro' five insipid Acts he has to spin, 
And of that staple, finally, compose 
Part Third, — or Wedlock's Tragedy, in prose. 1 

The satire turns a direct shaft of white light on the ful- 
crum of the social apparatus. Ibsen finds that the trouble 
with marriage is fundamental levity, and has the courage 
to proclaim his discovery. The comedy, then, is at bot- 
tom very serious. Hence the outburst of indignation with 
which it was received. "The sting," says Professor C. H. 
Herf ord in introducing his translation, " lay in the unflat- 
tering veracity of the piece as a whole; in the merciless 
portrayal of the trivialities of persons, or classes, high in 
their own esteem; in the unexampled effrontery of bring- 
ing a clergyman upon the stage. " 2 

The unflagging idealist, Falk, in this play speaks 

frankly for the poet fired with a holy purpose. 

Right in the midst of men the Church is founded, 
Where Truth's appealing clarion must be sounded. 
We are not called, like demigods, to gaze on 
The battle from the far-off mountain crest, 

1 Vol. i, p. 328. 2 Ibid., p. xxxix. 


But in our hearts to bear our fiery blazon. 
An Olaf's cross upon a mailed breast, 
To look afar across the fields of flight, 
Tho' pent within the mazes of its might, 
Beyond the mirk descry one glimmer still 
Of glory — that's the call we must fulfill. 1 

To the fulfillment of this call to a noble mission marriage 
as a rule is antagonistic. A case in point is the divinity- 
student Lind, erstwhile dedicating his future to mission- 
ary labors in foreign parts, yet ready, so soon as he is 
betrothed, to nullify in a moment the higher ambition 
and to become a poky pedagogue at home, for the sake of 
bread and butter for two mouths and more. 

To fulfill the "call," the superior individual must per- 
force "break from men, stand free, alone"; it is aston- 
ishing how clearly the fugue of Ibsen's social ideas is 
fore-sounded in the comedy. 

My four- wall-chamber poetry is done; 
My verse shall live in forest and in field, 
I'll fight under the splendor of the sun, 
/ or the Lie — one of us two must yield. 2 

The greatest help to the man of heroic moral calibre 
comes ever from the obstinate courage of a woman like 
Svanhild : — 

If you make war on lies, I stand 
A trusty armor-bearer by your side. 3 

Of course, a danger lurks in chivalry — witness Don 
Quixote, — one may become a monomaniac on almost any 
subject ; truth may become an obsession instead of a cause. 
The intractable Falk goes his own inexorable way, but 

1 Vol. i, p. 404. ' 2 Ibid., p. 405. 3 Ibid., p. 404. 


with whom are we to sympathize when he meets Parson 
Strawman's objection : — 

Even though you crush another's happiness ? 

with smiling nonchalance : — 

I plant the flower of knowledge in its place. 1 

Involuntarily the thought wanders to Gregers Werle, the 
meddlesome peddler of truth, in The Wild Duck. Was 
Plato so very wrong in wanting to banish the poet from 
his republic? *~ 

Falk and Svanhild are two ideal natures attracted by a 
profounder, more unworldly love than is known to the 
Strawmans and Linds and Stivers, and drawn apart 
again by fear of their love being cheapened in the mart of 
experience. If Love is to conserve its uplifting power, it 
must first have paled into a memory. The seemingly para- 
doxical moral of Love's Comedy is that if you want to keep 
love alive it behooves you to sacrifice it at its culminating 

Falk. But — to sever thus ! 

Now, when the portals of the world stand wide, — 
When the blue spring is bending over us, 
On the same day that plighted thee my bride! 

Svanhild. Just therefore must we part. Our joys' torch-fire 
Will from this moment wane till it expire! 
And when at last our worldly days are spent, 
And face to face with our great Judge we stand, 
And, as a righteous God, he shall demand 
Of us the earthly treasure that he lent — 
Then, Falk, we cry, past power of Grace to save — 
"O Lord, we lost it going to the grave! " 

Falk (with strong resolve). Pluck off the ring! 

Svanhild (with fire). Wilt thou? 

1 Vol. i, p. 418. 


Falh. Now I divine! 
Thus and no otherwise canst thou be mine! 
As the grave opens into Life's Dawn-fire, 
So Love with Life may not espoused be 
Till, loosed from longing and from wild desire, 
It soars into the heaven of memory! 

Svanhild. Now for this earthly life I have foregone thee, — 
But for the life eternal I have won thee! 1 

To what extent the wrathful condemnation of Love's 
Comedy was merited it would be idle to discuss. So much 
is certain, that it was not prompted by artistic idiosyncra- 
sies, but was almost wholly due to bitter personal resent- 
ment. An author must not expect to fall foul of people's 
fixed notions and pet prejudices with impunity; least of 
all when not even a visible minority is ripe for enlight- 
ened views. So Ibsen had brought a hornet's nest about 
his ears. The Norwegian public was shocked beyond 
measure. Instanter whole handfuls of fingers of scorn 
were pointed at Ibsen's domestic affairs, — the play had 
been begun in the early period of his marriage, — which 
were misrepresented in such a light that if true they would 
have made any man turn pessimist. Are not even the 
illuminati apt to blur the nice distinction between a 
poet's personal and his vicarious experience ? 

A much-discerning Public hold 

The singer generally sings 

Of personal and private things, 

And prints and sells his past for gold/ 

The difference between "erleben" and "durchleben," in 

which for Ibsen consisted the very criterion of his poetic 

activity, 2 was utterly missed. Wholly impercipient of 

1 Vol. i, p. 451. All the above translations are by C. H. Herford. 
1 C, p. 190; but in the translation the point is not well brought out. 


the new literary values that ran in the trenchant lines of 
the comedy, the critics saw in it only a libelous infraction 
of the unquestioned all-rightness of the use and wont. 
Scandal, distress, and ostracism were the immediate and 
inevitable fruitage of the poet's labor. His social excom- 
munication was unavoidable, — exile or expatriation a 
mere question of time. In one of Mirza-Schaffy's sage 
epigrams we are told that he who thinks the truth must 
have his horse by the bridle, and he who speaks it must 
have wings instead of arms." Falk's predicament was sym- 
bolical for Ibsen's : — 

Like Israel at the Passover I stand, 
Loins girded for the desert, staff in hand. 1 

A more conciliatory author would have quitted the so- 
cial drama for good as a field in which his every appear- 
ance was bound to stir up strife and bitterness. True, the 
man of genius hopes and feels that the world, of whose rul- 
ing opinion and taste he is always in advance, will eventu- 
ally catch up with his position; but a man like Ibsen 
suspects that he will not be long marking time on the 
higher standpoint gained. He will ever keep a decade in 
advance of the rest, hence he and his public will never 
dwell at peace in the same resting-place. 2 His first social 
play had served Ibsen ill with his countrymen, and before 
the discouragements on every side he had to halt. Having 
shot his first bolt, he had to wait some time before he re- 
newed his attack, with far greater force than before, upon 
the castle of conservatism; before he again attempted a 
drastic seizure of reality in its everyday aspect. His next 
move would seem to indicate a return, be it permanent 

1 Vol. I, p. 409. * C, p. 370. 


or passing, to the earlier range of subjects for drama- 

The subject-matter, then, gave him trouble in plenty. 
Meanwhile it is almost pathetic to observe his heroic ef- 
forts to perfect his work in respect to its form. After The 
Vikings he could not fail to realize that prose was, to say 
the least, a perfectly feasible and legitimate vehicle of 
dramatic dialogue. The subject of Love's Comedy even 
seemed downright to call for treatment in prose. Yet 
though his loyalty to romantic views was wearing off, it 
was to cost him many pangs to break for good with rime 
and measure. The experiment with The Vikings had suc- 
ceeded : the archaic flavor of the colloquy saved the poetic 
quality. But now it was a question of couching in plain, 
ordinary language wit and gayety, suffused with senti- 
ment, in a dramatized event of yesterday or to-day. Ib- 
sen tried, and failed in the attempt. His powers were 
unequal to the task which required for its solution long 
and persistent experimentation; reluctantly he reverted 
to his past method and set about versifying the dialogue. 
Metrical speech came to him at all times with extraordi- 
nary ease and fluency. 

The Pretenders ("Kongs-Emnerne," 1864) was given 
at the Christiania Theatre, January 17, 1864, but was first 
made famous through the German productions, in 1875, 
by the excellent ensemble of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen's 
players. The play is to all appearance historical, built 
mainly of material contained in " Haakon Haakonsson's 
Saga." The frequent change of scene, coupled with the 
"chronicle style," reminds one strongly of Shakespeare's 
histories. The historic verities, in the main, are kept in- 


tact, yet the reconstructive tendency is perceptibly 
slighter than in The Vikings, particularly as regards the 
linguistic makeup. The reason of this comparative indif- 
ference to the temporal flavor is not far to seek. Under 
guise of the past, Ibsen's real concern is with things and 
ideas of his own day. The experience with Love's Comedy 
had made him wary of sending his opinions to the joust 
under their own arms and with visor open. The Pretend- 
ers, consequently, is the first of Ibsen's " Schliisseldramen," 
and in this capacity requires perhaps some "first aid" to 
the understanding. On the safe authority of George 
Brandes we have to identify Earl Skule with Ibsen him- 
self, while King Haakon represents Ibsen's more fortunate 
competitor for leadership, Bjornstjerne Bjornson. Al- 
though doubtless there exists this parallelism, it does not 
extend to all phases of the drama, for the contestants in 
the play have their historic function as well, and above all 
else a self -directing and self -consistent dramatic existence. 
Their similarity to the two writers lies mainly in the situ- 
ation, — two men of power contending for the leadership 
of Norway's people. In portraying their characters, Ibsen 
has been far more generous to his younger rival than to 
himself. Haakon figures as a brave and buoyant leader 
of men, confident of his righteous cause, just and energetic, 
secure in his kingship because he is endowed by birth and 
fortune with all kingly qualities. Skule, on the other 
hand, is a man wrecked in his private happiness and 
spoiled for chieftaincy by brooding distrust of others and 
himself. Tormenting doubt of his call was Ibsen's own 
frame of mind in his harassed and straitened circum- 
stances. He was losing confidence in his poetic vocation 


because he was not wholly firm in mind as to the truth of 
his own convictions. One passage in the drama especially 
throws light on this attitude. Jatgeir the Skald has as- 
serted that just as some men need sorrow to become sing- 
ers, so others there may be who need faith or joy — or 
doubt : — 

King Skule. Doubt as well? 

Jatgeir. Ay, but then must the doubter be strong and sound. 
King Skule. And whom do you call the unsound doubter? 
Jatgeir. Him who doubts of his own doubt. 1 

The office of Skule as a personification of the poet's own 
tortured state of mind is corroborated by a suite of son- 
nets, In the Picture Gallery ("I billedgaleriet," 1859). 2 
The poet's besetting enemy, Doubt, is pictured as a black 
elf prompting him with words of discouragement. Profes- 
sor Roman Woerner, perhaps the subtlest student of Ibsen, 
is, however, right in regarding the victory' of Haakon over 
Skule as the "description of a saving crisis in a mind that 
is full of vital energies." Whatever there was in the poet's 
nature of cowardly and abasing elements which had im- 
mediately made common cause against him with the ven- 
omous calumnies and insults from without, is overcome by 
the militant, triumphantly aspiring traits of his character, 
and forever expelled. 71 The personal allusion that lies in 
the play forms, however, merely an accessory interest. It 
does not touch its essential meaning, which lies open to all 
the world, not only to those initiated in Ibsen's private 
triumphs or grievances. Mr. Haldane Macfall seeks to 
epitomize that meaning by a clever contrast: "Here we 
have the tragedy of the man who steals the tlwught of an- 

1 Vol. n, p. 260. * SW 11 , vol. I, pp. 257-71. 


other — just as in The Vikings we have the tragedy of the 
man who steals the deed of another."* Stated in terms of 
motives rather than of acts, it is equally true that The 
Pretenders is one of the maturest dramatic treatments of 
overweening ambition ; the tragedy of a talent which falls 
short of the highest achievement because of its inherent 
inadequacy, but which still cannot find happiness on any 
lower level. At the same time the momentous chapter of 
the national history here reproduced has a more than 
individual significance. The drama reveals a prophetic 
understanding of Norwegian character and destiny. Ib- 
sen's higher intellect had been slowly maturing. With this 
work it proves itself to have come of age. 

Technically considered, also, The Pretenders marks a 
great stride on the way to perfection. Whereas in The Vi- 
kings the dramatis personce hardly deviate from the stereo- 
typed literary patterns of vice and virtue unadmixed, we 
find in The Pretenders light and shadow boldly juxtaposed 
in the abounding humanity of the characters. Magnifi- 
cently imagined here, too, are the women: Inga, for whom 
the poet's mother was the model, Margrete, Ingeborg, 
Ragnhild. Perhaps it is a technical flaw, however, that 
the interest encompasses two heroes in equal measure, 
and that a third character rivals both of them in spiritual 
fascination. For in the same category as one of the great 
character parts of the modern theatre is the figure of 
Bishop Nicholas Arnesson. Here we see Ibsen rise to his 
full stature as a master of portraiture. To the superficial 
view, Nicholas is merely a singular congeries of evil traits, 
a species of Shakespeare's Richard III or Schiller's Franz 
Moor. But on closer examination the complex character 


of the Bishop baffles a crude classification. He is a bound- 
less egotist, but of the "higher" type. His central trait 
is an unappeasable craving for power over others. His 
freedom from moral shackles of any sort in the pursuit of 
his own satisfactions reveals in the high-light of unin- 
tentional caricature a not ignoble philosophical lineage. 
In his veins runs the ichor of the superman, dwelling se- 
verely beyond the pale of the good and the evil from the 
day of Niccolo Machiavelli to that of Friedrich Nietzsche. 
Says he: "Fulfill your cravings and use your strength: so 
much right has every man. There is neither good nor evil, 
up nor down, high nor low." 1 When we read utterances 
like these, or " I am in the state of innocence : I know not 
good from evil," 2 it is perplexing to think that such words 
could be spoken before Nietzsche had yet arrived to con- 
coct his thrice-distilled homunculus, and before Mr. George 
Bernard Shaw had taken out a lucrative patent to dilute 
and acidulate the potent brew for the sober appetites of 
Anglo-Saxon stomachs. Indeed, this is the most common 
form of anachronism, genius ruthlessly plagiarizing its 
posterity. Bishop Nicholas, restating the Machiavellian 
maxim for absolutist princes in the following sentence, 
"Whatever is helpful to you is good — whatever lays 
stumbling-blocks in your path is evil," 3 was doubtless 
secure in his total ignorance of Stirner and Nietzsche 
and Pragmatism and its long-winded apostles. 

The excellent delineation of the Bishop's character 
would prove of still greater attractiveness to the best 
class of actors were it not for the grim post-mortem role 
that is forced upon him. After having for some time been 

1 Vol. ii, p. 1G7. 2 Ibid., p. 169. 3 Ibid., p. 167. 


disposed of in the flesh, he is reintroduced in the last act as 
a special envoy of the nether world, charged with the cap- 
ture of Skule's immortal soul. The indiscreet and sudden 
foisting of supernaturalism on the rational premises of 
the play is felt as wholly unwarranted. It is not an iso- 
lated instance in Ibsen of melodramatic encroachment on 
psychological territory. - 

Students of Ibsen are united in dating from The Pre- 
tenders his position as a front-rank poet of his country. 
Unfortunately this just claim was not immediately recog- 
nized; no enthusiasm worth speaking about was aroused 
by the piece. Ibsen now stood in the zenith of his years, 
and was still, despite the sporadic successes of his work, 
very far from a general recognition of his literary merits, 
and without provision for his material existence. His 
business affairs were in such a plight as to add greatly to 
his spiritual distress over his position. After his separa- 
tion from the ill-paid office at the Christiania Theatre, the 
little family of three was without any regular means of 
support. As a result of that hardy home thrust at Nor- 
wegian society in Love's Comedy, he was to all effect pro- 
scribed in his own country; so his thoughts and hopes 
turned abroad. Men of his prominence enjoyed, in con- 
sequence of a worthy custom, a national subsidy, "digter- 
gage," granted by act of the Storthing. The smallness of 
the country and paucity of readers and buyers of books, 
coupled with the unprotectedness of literary property, 
made these pensions really a national debt of honor 
toward important literary producers. Ibsen, who was 
placed in a particularly helpless condition by his inepti- 
tude for journalism and hack work, looked long in vain to 


the Government for relief; it was not till 1866 that he ob- 
tained from the Storthing the coveted allowance. In the 
meantime he was glad enough to get, at the solicitation of 
Bjornson and other faithful and influential friends, a 
traveling purse of four hundred specie dollars, which, eked 
out by generous private assistance, would enable him to 
live one year abroad in reasonable security from want. 

So in April, 1864, Henrik Ibsen, thirty-six years of age, 
exiled himself from Norway, and became almost for the 
whole remainder of his active life that pitiable object 
among men, a man without a country. Yet there was to 
come a time when under the still vivid smart of his expul- 
sion he could not suppress a singular feeling of gratitude 
for that chastening and bracing experience. In 1872 he 
sent home his Ode for the Millennial Celebration ("Ved 
Tusendaarfesten") of Norway's Union. 

My countrymen, who filled for me deep bowls 

Of wholesome bitter medicine, such as gave 

The poet, on the margin of his grave, 

Fresh force to fight where broken twilight rolls, — 

My countrymen, who sped me o'er the wave, 

An exile, with my griefs for pilgrim-soles, 

My fears for burdens, doubts for staff, to roam, — 

From the wide world I send you greeting home. 

I send you thanks for gifts that help and harden, 
Thanks for each hour of purifying pain, 
Each plant that springs in my poetic garden 
Is rooted where your harshness poured its rain; 
Each shoot in which it blooms and burgeons forth 
It owes to that gray weather from the North; 
The sun relaxes, but the fog secures! 
My country, thanks! My life's best gifts were yours. 1 

1 Digte, in M, vol. m, pp. 130-35; SW, vol. I, pp. 160-66. Cf. Gosse, 
p. 143, whence the translation is borrowed. 


Political events of a momentous nature had added to 
Ibsen's disgust with his compatriots and superinduced his 
resolution to quit the country. At the very close of 1863 
the so-called second Danish war had broken out on ac- 
count of the political status of Schleswig-Holstein. The 
Danes, clutched by the joint superior forces of Prussia 
and Austria, were ignominiously left in the lurch by their 
neighbors and brothers of Norway and Sweden. Ibsen 
never could forgive the Norwegians for not having has- 
tened to the aid of the consanguineous nation. The integ- 
rity of Schleswig as a part of Denmark had been a Scan- 
dinavian slogan up to the very time of the catastrophe. 
The breach of faith was the more grievous and inexcus- 
able, as it was not committed by royal incentive, but 
against the deceased King's wishes by the Storthing rep- 
resenting the people of Norway. "Just as The Pretenders 
appeared, Frederick VII died and the war began. I wrote 
the poem A Brother in Distress. 1 Of course it was without 
effect against the Norwegian Yankeedom which had 
beaten me at every point, and so I went into exile." This 
is Ibsen's own explanation of why he turned his back on 
his native country. But enough has been said to show that 
his divorce from Norway came as much from social and 
economic exigencies as from the clash of his patriotic ardor 
with the apathy of the people. 

Not that his patriotism was then to be doubted. In his 
works up to, and including, his first masterpiece, The Pre- 
tenders, the national Norwegian note is clearly, almost 
stridently, audible. And yet he was not cut out for a pop- 
ular favorite. In his political and social attitude from his 
1 Digte, in M, vol. ill, p. 82 ; SW, vol. r, pp. 61-63. 


first puerile outbursts in Catilina, Ibsen behaves not as a 
fiery reformer, rather as a malcontent, unable to bear the 
restraints imposed by association or to submit to the dis- 
cipline of a party. He thus failed to construct an effective 
background for his reformatory activity, the political as 
well as the social. One reason why Norway was not more 
deeply stirred by the efforts we have contemplated was 
that these manifestoes seemed to be lacking in the ingrati- 
ations of whole-souled enthusiasm. Was Ibsen perhaps 
too serious to be taken seriously by the masses ? People 
"felt" in his work a "lack of ideals and convictions." 
How so many came to think of him as only a critic of the 
destructive sort, too indolent and indifferent to the weal 
of humanity to lend a hand in the laying of hard and solid 
foundations for the higher up-stepping of society, is not 
easy to explain. Of a certainty the subsequent file of his 
work sdoes not permit a denial of his idealism. They are 
one and all emanations of noble idealism, albeit their first 
intent is to touch the vital necessities of our real existence. 



In curious contradiction to the common opinion that was 
held about him, Ibsen felt strongly within him the call to 
be a preacher and a leader of men. His works are of di- 
dactical origin, and in so far as they are imperfect*, their 
imperfections lie in that fact. The opposition to him has 
sought to make capital out of their " tendenciousness," — 
as though the art of letters stood and fell with Oscar 
Wilde's finical definition that the sole purpose and mean- 
ing of literature is distinction, charm, beauty, and imagi- 
native power. Are we not apt to forget, when deprecating 
the pBoblem drama of the present, that many great plays 
of a much earlier day were "Tendenzstucke," no less than 
Peer Gynt and Pillars of Society? Schiller's dramas were 
animated by the strongest ethical motives. No less is this 
true of Lessing. Nor was the habit ever confined to "ped- 
antic" Germany. Beaumarchais's Figaro, Corneille's Cid 
are "plays with a purpose" if ever there were any. Victor 
Hugo, and a host of younger dramatists before and after 
Au^ier and Sardou, would fall under the same aesthetic 
ban as Ibsen. He simply chanced to be the first poet to 
build dramas with our modern tendencies. 3 A "Tendenz- 
dichter," then, Ibsen was, and without a frank acknowl- 
edgment of his plays as instruments of social propaganda 
no discussion of them could be very profitable. They are 
not particularly concerned about a consistent theory of 


art, however admirable their technical construction. But 
as to the tenets of Ibsen's social ; — or should we say anti- 
social? — ethics, these are breathed forth from every page 
of his writings. As a moralist, Ibsen was militant, aggres- 
sive, contentious. A measure of impatience, nay intoler- 
ance, clearly in excess of practical utility for one who 
would be a reformer, supplied generous employment for 
his fine pugnacity; we may call it fine because it was put in 
action for noble causes. For all of Ibsen's work is inspired 
and guided, like that of his contemporary Tolstoy, by the 
principle of truthfulness. "Dare to be true" — that is 
his simple message; only the advice is not addressed to 
mankind at large, for Ibsen despises the great majority. 
His understanding of character is profound but cynical; 
even where he loves, his love is tainted with bitterness. 
To his thinking, like Nietzsche's, the throng is doomed 
to callousness and stupor; no use trying to improve 
and convert the mass; for, as Mr. Shaw avers, the mass 
is pure machinery and has no principles except prin- 
ciples of mechanics. A saner thing to do is to further and 
direct the needful revolt of the exalted that are worth sav- 
ing, against the Brummagem morality of the cud-chewing 
crowd. The nature of these few and select is essentially 
noble, though it has been misled to false standards through 
perverse education. As for the inferiority of the average 
fellowman, shut your eyes to it, and yours will surely be 
the fate of a Brand, a Stockmann, a Gregers Werle, accord- 
ing to the measure and quality of your individual folly. 
Brand (1866) came into being, says Ibsen, "as a result 
of something which I had not observed, but experienced." x 
1 C, p. 193; cf. also C, p. 190. 


He had wrought after the fashion of all true poets from an 
inward necessity, in order to disburden himself of a pain- 
ful experience. Since it is the main object of this book to 
interpret Ibsen's ideas > so as to facilitate his recognition 
as one of the shaping factors of modern culture, we cannot 
devote so much attention to the artistic aspects of his 
dramas. Were one speaking primarily of the master of the 
dramatic craft, there would indeed be very much to say. 
Not that there is any intention of entirely overlooking Ib- 
sen's technical service. Right here it is well to insist that 
his dramas, while replete with intellectual intention, are 
not tracts but works of art. To this a special reminder 
should be added anent Brand, that it is not to be appraised 
as a drama, even though it is such in name, but — much 
as Faust or some of Browning's best products — as a "dra- 
matic poem." Although it has eventually reached the 
theatre, it was not conceptually designed for the stage. 1 
It is the first work Ibsen created at a distance from 
home. He wrote it in 1865, for the most part at Ariccia, 
near Rome, in the summer months, during which it was 
his wont to cast his work into a final shape. It was writ- 
ten in riming lines, of four stresses each, changing irreg- 
ularly from the iambic to the trochaic genus of rhythm. 
The lilt and melody of the verse had not a little to do with 
the immense public response. So unexpectedly great was 
this that within less than four months three good-sized 
editions were exhausted. To this rousing success no small 
part was contributed by the circumstance that through 

1 In fact it was first conceived as an epic' The epic Brand fragments 
are to be found in SW U , vol. n, pp. 93-151; the very scholarly introduc- 
tion by Karl Larsen, pp. 47-91, throws much light on the composition. 


his friend Bjornson's intercession Ibsen's writings, be- 
ginning with Brand, were published by Frederik Hegel 
(Gyldendalske Bokhandel) of Copenhagen, justly called 
the Cotta of the North. 

Ibsen used to warn his visitors and correspondents 
against searching for specific "teachings" in his plays. 
But this does not alter the undeniable fact that a thesis 
or contention of some sort is expounded in each of his 
works, barring possibly the sole instance of Hedda Gabler. 
The hcecfabida docet is never absent from his satires. In 
this didactical temper of the poet lies also the explana- 
tion of his ineradicable bias for symbolism and allegory. 
The truth-seeking realist in Ibsen, however, always 
sends the sermonizer looking for his models in the prov- 
ince of the actual. Realistic, too, as a rule, is the back- 
ground in these pictures. In Brand, needless to repeat, 
that background is political or, better, historical; the 
fiery harangues of the hero have a barbed point for the 
Norwegian conscience, for they make the people recollect 
with what criminal indifference they had looked on the 
de-Scandinavization of Schleswig-Holstein after the vo- 
luminous rhetoric expended at their mass meetings. 

But who was the original Brand? With much likelihood 
of truth Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) 6 has been sug- 
gested; and in spite of Ibsen's express denial that remark- 
able man's life and doctrine, in particular his religious 
rigor which led to his violent separation from his church 
and to a tragic ending, left unquestionable marks of in- 
fluence in the great poem. 

In Kierkegaard theologian and philosopher were 
blended. He devoted his meditations almost entirely to 


the subject of religion, but his interest attached not to the 
details of dogma, but to the basic principle of Christian- 
ity. This he interpreted in a spirit different from that of 
other religious leaders in that he upheld with the utmost 
emphasis and consistency the "absolute ideal demand," 
resembling, in this respect, the contemporary German rad- 
ical thinker Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Yet the two 
thinkers arrive from similar premises at far-sundered poles 
of belief: Feuerbach renouncing Christianity, while Kier- 
kegaard embraced it with ever-growing fervor. In his con- 
ception the Christian religion is, objectively viewed, para- 
doxical and absurd, and repellent to the reason or the 
" common sense"; it attains reality and validity solely in 
the religious consciousness, and becomes an object of pas- 
sionate love for the believer. Life in the faith, he claims, 
is a contract between the Divinity and the individual. 
For congregational religious practice he has a pronounced 
distaste. The "official" Christianity of the churches was 
vehemently condemned by Kierkegaard on the ground of 
its aversion, nay outright opposition, to the imitation of 
Christ. Christianity as it exists to-day he maintained to 
be a partnership between Christ's teaching and a worldly 
doctrine, a partnership from which the nobler member is 
gradually pushed and crowded out. Real Christianity is 
equivalent to renunciation of the world. Hence the reli- 
gion of Christ should and must be a gospel of sorrow. 
Kierkegaard's powerful influence was due in large measure 
to his noble, uplifting diction and delivery. However, the 
personality of Brand is drawn in some of its essentials 
after one of Kierkegaard's disciples with whom Ibsen was 
acquainted at home aad afterwards in Dresden, the 


evangelist Gustav Adolph Lammers (1802-1878) ; so Ibsen 
stated to his biographer Henrik Jaeger. Lammers, who 
was a pastor in Ibsen's native town of Skien, played a 
prominent part in the revolt against the established 
church. His agitation reached a climax in 1855, the same 
year as Kierkegaard's, and led to his resignation from the 
pastorate. In 1856 he founded a free congregation that 
worshiped in the fields and on the hills under the open sky, 
— in Brand poetic use of the incident is made. But over 
and above these relations to other men, Brand is also a 
self-portrait of the poet, as are other leading figures in his 
plays, reflecting the deep impressions of spiritual experi- 
ences recently passed through. At all events, Brand must 
be classed as a composite portrait, not a strictly true copy 
from life. While upon the subject of resemblances, the 
similarity of Brand to Gerhart Hauptmann's fairy drama, 
The Sunken Bell (1897), may be pointed out. It extends 
beyond the central motif to many features of composition 
and characterization. Agnes, the wife, as well as Brand 
himself, and their philistine entourage, also entire scenes, 
like the exodus to the mountains, have their counterpart 
in the much later work of the German poet. 

George Brandes has aptly characterized Brand as the 
" tragedy of idealism." One might with equal justice 
call it the tragedy of the extremist. The incompatibility 
of the practical and the ideal had been revealed before, 
though more timorously, in Love's Comedy. In Brand the 
subject receives drastic treatment. Brusquely a chal- 
lenge was here hurled against the vapid pietism of the 
Norwegian people; their half-souled enthusiasm and re- 
luctance to follow their own ideals. To Ibsen, for the first 


time in the history of his land, fell the stern duty of the 
patriot to chastise and chasten his fatherland. There is 
perhaps no truer test of patriotism. 

He flouts the cardinal national faults under the simile 
of the three evil genii — 

Which wildest reel, which blindest grope, 
Which furthest roam from home and hope: — 
Light-heart, who, crown'd with leafage gay, 
Loves by the dizziest verge to play; — < 
Faint-heart, who marches slack and slow . ■ 
Because old wont will have it so; 
Wild-heart, who, borne on lawless wings. 
Sees fairness in the foulest things. 1 

But the application of the satire does not have to halt 
before the sixty-fifth degree of northern latitude. It 
would be extremely unfair for Europeans, or Americans 
for the matter of that, to read out of Brand an exclusive 
indictment of the brave little northern nation. On the 
issues raised, all nations are equally at sea, and nearly all 
in the same boat, and there is no country under this twen- 
tieth-century sun where it is made more difficult than with 
us for the "differenced" man, the " Adelejer" in the sense 
of Ibsen, to save his selfhood for the efficient perform- 
ance of a part in the economy of society. 

We stand on democratic ground, 
Where what the people think is right; 
Shall one against the mass propound 
His special views on black and white? 2 

Woe to the man who pushes his head above the common 
level! Democracy insists relentlessly on conformance to 

1 Vol. in, p. 36. The passages from Brand are given in the rendering 
by Professor C. H. Herford. Brand has also been translated by Wil- 
liam Archer. Both translations are preceded by valuable introductions. 

* Vol. in, p. 140. 


its ideals. So it makes for a dead level and insures the rale 
of the commonplace. It standardizes men, uniforms them 
sartorially, morally, and intellectually. According to the 
prevailing gospel of mediocrity the eleventh command- 
ment reads: Be like unto one another. Do not grow be- 
yond the average measure. 

Let each his own excrescence pare. 
Neither uplift him, nor protrude, 
But vanish in the multitude. 1 

and: — 

But all your angles must be rounded, 

Your gnarls and bosses scraped and pounded ! 

You must grow sleek as others do, 

All singularities eschew. 

If you would labor without let. 2 

What is unfailingly the result, if this principle is applied 
beyond a certain medium level of civilization? Ibsen an- 
swers for us: "The very praiseworthy attempt to make 
our people a democratic community has inadvertently 
gone a good way toward making us a plebeian commu- 
nity." 3 

The fear of being dissonant with the rest of the world 
causes men to seek refuge in the relinquishment of the cen- 
tral ego, and results ultimately in the loss of personality, 
the abandonment of the very essence of life. 

The Sexton. But yet you said that life was best? 

The Schoolmaster. By dean and deacon that's professed. 
And I too, say so, like the rest, — 
Provided, mind, the "life" in view 
Is that of the great Residue. 4 

The fight with fortune can be won only in alliance 
with public opinion: hence man is softened, to use an 
1 Vol. in, p. 307. 2 Ibid., p. 208. 3 C, p. 351. « Vol. in, p. 188. 


Emersonian phrase, into a "mush of concession." True 
manhood is effectually neutralized by the chief organs of 
the body politic. Church and State side with the mean- 
natured. The collision between the single will and the 
many-headed is most unequal. 

The Schoolmaster. We cannot fitly condescend 
To smirch ourselves in human slime. 
Let no man, says the Parson, dare 
To be two things at the same time; 
And with the best will, no one can 
Be an official and a man. 1 

In the terror of public opinion lies deeply rooted the 
universal evil of hypocrisy, the first concomitant of sordid 
selfishness. Ibsen, like his Brand, feels keenly that society 
works sinfully against its vital interest when it ruthlessly 
irons out the inherent human tendency to variation from 
the type. Two generations ago Darwin, endowing the 
world with a new organon in the science of evolution, 
taught the high bio-economic value of differentiation. 
Yet seemingly the truth has not even now percolated our 
dense social intelligence that, so far from being contrary 
to the law of nature, social differentiation is actually en- 
joined upon humankind. In his illuminating collection 
of lectures, The Bible of Nature, Professor J. Arthur 
Thomson points out a noteworthy lesson concerning the 
preciousness of individuality. 

Variations supply the raw material of progress, and varia- 
tions spell individuality. This is one of the biological common- 
places which in human affairs we persistently ignore. In the 
educational mill . . . and in our inexorable social criticism, 
how systematically we pick off the buds of individuality, — 

1 Vol. in, p. 186. 


idiosyncrasies and crankiness, we say, — spoiling how many 
flowers. It is said that we do this to prevent failures and crim- 
inals, but are we very successful in this prevention? How many 
of both do we make by repressing individuality? 

Modern opposition to the philistinism of society, its 
resemblance to a centrifugal dissipation of force notwith- 
standing, is ulteriorly the last remove from an anti-social 
crusade. It springs in reality from a scientific basis. The 
antidotes and cure-alls prescribed for the social disease of 
stagnancy are apt perhaps to be worse than the disease. 
Or how much comfort is there to be derived for the ills 
we bear from the thought of Nietzsche's "gorgeous blonde 
roving beast" amuck midst social chaos? Seldom have 
philosophical inferences been more conflicting than in the 
interpretation of Ibsen's social gospel. But no sympa- 
thetic student of Ibsen will refuse to join in the verdict 
that his social ideas and ideals do not exceed the bounds 
of reason and legitimate expectation of the future. At 
heart never a red-hot revolutionist, his at first excessive 
individualism passes step by step into a generous, yet 
prudent subjectivism which aims to vindicate full free- 
dom for the individual, without fatally ignoring, after the 
extremist's fashion, the eternal principles of justice and 
righteousness. Everybody should be encouraged to rise, 
even though but few will gain the crest of the mountain. 

Let us stop at this point of our study to inquire for 
Ibsen's social creed and doctrine at the time when with 
Brand he came prominently before the public. We must 
not forget, however, that his socio-critical tenets under- 
went, in the course of his moral and mental evolution, 
some extremely significant modifications. But since it 


so happens that Americans identify Ibsen's convictions 
mainly with the gist of his earlier works, let us for the 
present be content to indicate the general drift of his so- 
cial philosophy during what may be termed his anarchist- 
ical period. The relation of his theories to the spirit of 
the times, to which they are in sharp opposition, is per- 
fectly obvious. 

It was essentially an era of political reconstruction that 
preceded and followed the great Franco-Prussian War. 8 
The fast-growing popular consciousness demanded of the 
constituted authorities a bettering of material conditions 
and likewise an extension of liberties. The governments, 
at least those of Germany, feeling securer than ever in 
their greatly strengthened prestige, made no haste to ful- 
fill the liberal demands. From this resulted a strenuous 
activity among the Liberals to obtain relief through the 
one obviously legitimate channel. They set about in 
earnest to reform the organized institutions. To Ibsen, 
with his undemocratic, in fact outright anti-democratic 
notions, that idea was repugnant. To his view, the en- 
deavors of the political reformers had an altogether wrong 
aim. He frankly tells us that "changes in forms of gov- 
ernment are mere pettifogging affairs," denoting a degree 
less or a degree more of foolishness. Even total revolu- 
tions in the controlling agencies of society would be un- 
able to set the world right. Nothing can do that, thinks 
the author of Caiilina and Love's Comedy, save a radical 
self -effectuation of society along lines of unrestricted free- 
dom. Ibsen, then, dreams, like many a Utopian before 
him and after him, of a development of the individual so 
wonderful in its efficacy and reach that under enlightened 


anarchy mankind would attain an almost ideal state. We 
should note broadly at the outset that, inasmuch as his 
Utopia postulates the complete regeneration of man, it 
would be preposterous to call Ibsen a pessimist. 

What is there in the way of that happy re-birth? No 
smaller obstacle than society itself and its chief agent, the 
state. Ibsen in his early ardor did not scruple to enunci- 
ate the consequences. In letters to Brandes written in 
1870-1871, he exasperatedly inveighs against the state. 
"Away with the state," shouts he; "I will take part in 
that revolution." x He makes the bold assertion that the 
duty of the higher personality is to undermine every form 
of government. And this idea, with its dangerous corre- 
lates, becomes for a short while a veritable obsession with 
him. But the excesses of the French Commune opened 
his eyes and made him relinquish his faith in the un- 
mixed desirability of lawless blessedness. Finding himself 
forced to repudiate the gospel of lawlessness as a thing for 
which mankind is not quite ready, he nevertheless contin- 
ues radical in thought and attitude. He pleads now for 
relative liberty: since absolute freedom is impracticable, 
let the individual enjoy the largest amount of freedom 
that is possible. This might strike us but as a circuitous 
plea for the conservation of the existing order, if Ibsen did 
not continue to denounce the existing order and its regnant 
code of morals. The truth of the matter is, Ibsen cared 
next to nothing for liberty in the usual party sense of the 
Word. "Liberty," he once said, " is not the same thing as 
political liberty." The following might have come from 
the pen of Lessing, so strikingly alike is it in tone and 

> C, p. 208. 


feeling to that famous passage in the latter's reply to Head- 
Pastor Goeze: "The only thing I love about liberty is the 
struggle for it. I care nothing for the possession of it. He 
who possesses liberty otherwise than as an aspiration, 
possesses it dead and soulless." But Ibsen ends with a 
malicious thrust : " It is, however, exactly this dead main- 
tenance of a certain given standpoint of liberty that is 
characteristic of the communities which go by the name 
of states — and this is what I have called worthless." l 
Only an idealist could utter such words, and who could be 
farther removed from pessimism than an idealist with a 
faith in the progressive evolution of human ideals! At a 
banquet in 1887, Ibsen said: "I believe that the biologic 
theory of evolution is true also regarding spiritual phases 
of life. ... I have repeatedly been called a pessimist. 
And so I am, in so far as I disbelieve in the constancy of 
human ideals*. But I am likewise an optimist, in so far as 
I firmly believe in the self-procreation of ideals and in 
their capacity of development." 2 Ibsen is not a pessimist, 
for he does not think life an evil, but an optimist, because 
he thinks life too good to be wasted as we waste it. Both 
idealism and individualism enter into Ibsen's peremptory 
command: "Be yourself." The test of selfhood, however, 
lies in the willingness to suffer for one's ideals. I some- 
times wonder why those who in spite of everything insist 
on calling Ibsen a pessimist do not change the indictment 
and call him, on the contrary, "iiberspannt" or "verstie- 
gen . ' ' They would be excusable on the ground of his ideal- 
ism being incomprehensible to meaner natures. 

Ibsen's social panacea, we have said, is truthfulness. As 
1 C, p. 208. 2 SNL, p. 57. 


poet, thinker, and social critic he dedicates himself to 
the service of Truth. By truthfulness, he means loyalty 
and fidelity to one's self. Maintenance of selfhood is the 
foremost duty. Man should take no dictates from without. 
The measure and motive power of his conduct should pro- 
ceed from within. He should do what his will prompts 
him to do. Only in this case can he be called a personality. 
In Brand the thought is forcibly expressed in the temer- 
arious challenge : — 

Be passion's slave, be pleasure's thrall, — 

But be it utterly, all in all! 

Be not to-day, to-morrow one, 

Another when a year is gone. 

Be what you are with all your heart, 

And not by pieces and in part. 1 

To fulfill one's self — therein should man seek his mission, 

as it is his right. 

Room within the wide world's span 
Self completely to fulfill, 
That's a valid right of man, 
And no more than that I will. 2 

Ibsen's greatest dread, — we may say his one great 
dread, — and his most constant theme upon which he 
plays so many variations, is the lie. The conduct he sanc- 
tions consists negatively in abstention from every form 
of falsehood, positively in the vigorous assertion of true 
convictions and war of extermination waged regardless of 
consequences against all recognized wrongs and shams. 
Now, in a world ruled by cant and compromise, the 
hebdomadal bit of meek official admonishment from the 
pulpit can do no appreciable good. 

» Vol. in, p. 22. ■ Ibid., p. 61. 


See, child; of all men God makes one 
Demand : No coward compromise I 
Whose work 's half done or falsely done, , 
Condemn'd with God his whole word lies. 
We must give sanction to this teaching 
By living it and not by preaching. 1 

The moth-eaten Christian faith of the common Sunday 
variety has lost its wide sweep, its conduct-inspiring 
verity and all-embracing appeal. It has been debased 
to serve as a mild and harmless anodyne for our aching 
consciences. We indulge in two heterogeneous codes of 
conduct, both ready-made, the one for practical, the other 
for contemplative purposes. There is a set of rules for the 
human beast couchant and another, ruthless and strenu- 
ous, for the rampant brute in us. We call ourselves Christ- 
ians : that means, if it means anything, imitators of Christ. 
Yet full well we know that a letter-perfect or even a spirit- 
ually approximate imitation of Christ would land every 
mother's son of us in the poorhouse, jail, or insane asylum. 
The experiment has been worked out more than once, psy- 
chologically, by Tolstoy; Arne Garborg in Paulus has 
brought such a consistent follower of Christ, or better of 
Tolstoy, on the stage; and quite recently Gerhart Haupt- 
mann, in A Fool in Christ, Emanuel Quint, has traced 
convincingly the inevitable undoing of a Christlike char- 
acter by the forces of the world. Profession and practice 
have drifted too widely apart among us. Sophistical 
evasion has become our second nature, till in our own 
duplicity we conceive of God himself as the grand casu- 
ist on whose good-humored indulgence we may safely 

1 Vol. in, p. 85. 


Of course! the reasonable plan! 
For from of old they know their man, 
Since all his works the assurance breathe : 
Yon gray -beard may be haggled with! l 

Against an age seeking for its sinfulness and meanness 
an ultra-rational sanction in the doctrine of vicarious 
atonement, arises Brand, fulminant with a resurgence of 
genuine Christian zeal, ready to spend his vast energy in 
the onslaught against frivolity and cowardice. 

It is our age whose pining flesh 

Craves burial at these hands of mine. 

Ye will but laugh and love and play, 

A little doctrine take on trust, 

And all the bitter burden thrust 

On one who came, ye have been told, 

And from your shoulders took away 

Your great transgressions manifold. 

He bore for you the cross, the lance, — 

Ye therefore have full leave to dance: 

Dance, then, — but where your dancing ends 

Is quite another thing, my friends. 2 

He, Brand, rejects every form or suggestion of com- 
promise. Thought and life must be identical. Ideals must 
be actualized. "All or nothing" is his defiance. And 
although for him this war-cry has a far different, a loftier 
meaning than for King Skule 3 who shouted it before, still 
this is true, that in a reformer of his type the extreme of 
altruism is inseparably commingled with an ominous pas- 
sion for authority. Undeniably there is an inconsistency 
in Brand, a veritable break in his ethics; the fight 
against unfreedom of opinion and conduct is led by a 
stubborn absolutist. A man with a fixed idea becomes 

1 Vol. in, p. 93. 2 Ibid., pp. 21-22. 

8 The Pretenders; vol. n, p. 286. 


invariably an enemy of society, if he would force bis pur- 
pose, be it never so pure, upon an unready and unwilling 
community. Brand's fixed idea is the omnipotence of 
will-power in the true follower of Christ. 

It is will alone that matters, 
Will alone that mars or makes, 
Will, that no distraction scatters, 
And that no resistance breaks. 1 

The aspiration of man's will " should exceed his grasp." 

But help is idle for the man 

Who nothing wills but what he can. 2 

We will grant the apotheosis of will, with this qualification, 
that it is disciplined, not overwrought, will the world 
stands in need of. For will depends for its good or evil ef- 
fect in the world upon its inspiring source and final aim. 
Brand is the one man out of the millions to carry out his 
dogmas to the jot. It is doubly unfortunate for him that 
his variety of religion happens to be harsh and hard, an 
icy northern Puritanism whose revolting cruelty is fully 
brought out in the test. His fanatical over-righteousness 
carries blight and misery to his human destinies, and mar- 
tyrizes all that are near to him, his mother, his only child, 
and his self-sacrificing wife whom he has treated as a tool, 

— as a gauge, namely, of his own progress in saintly re- 
nunciation. " Brand dies a saint," says Bernard Shaw, in 
summing up his life, "having caused more intense suffer- 
ing by his saintliness than the most talented sinner could 
possibly have done with twice his opportunities." And yet, 

— to shrink with disgust from Brand's unholy sanctity, 
and dismiss his case as one of religious dementia, were to 

1 Vol. in, p. 75. 2 Ibid., p. 11. 


misconceive, with the help of insincerity, the poet's view 
of that character. The Quixotic over-righteousness of the 
fanatic, resolved at any cost or sacrifice to practice what 
he preaches, is at all events real with those vital qualities 
which we admire and honor in human nature; far more 
respectable in the ej^es of a man of religious temper than 
the conduct of the lukewarm conformists to whom religion 
can be nothing but " a charnel-house haunted with dead 
ideas and lifeless old beliefs." Brand loosens his wild 
idealism against the sleek officialdom of the village and the 
petty materialism of his flock. Their lethargic dullness 
does flare up for an instant in response to his fiery elo- 
quence; there awakes in them a desire to embrace the 
ideals he avows. But the vivification of the humdrum 
crowd is transient. How quickly in that symbolical climb 
to the higher planes their asthmatic enthusiasm breaks 
down ! How promptly they are dragged down from their 
aspirations by the first paltry temptation which comes in 
their path — the promise of a good catch of herring! Very 
much as in An Enemy of the People Dr. Stockmann is left 
at the end with a single sympathizer, a fellow hopelessly 
befuddled with liquor, — so Brand at last drags his slow 
course upward, "a warrior off to fight," his whole army 
consisting in a half-witted gypsy girl " that lags far in the 
rear." The Dean hits off the truth : — 

When he has still 'd his losing whim, 
This is the epitaph for him: 
"Here lieth Brand; his tale's a sad one, 
One soul he saved, — and that a mad one." l 

Brand is disheartened and demoralized by the fruitless- 
ness of his endeavors and the desertion of his flock. Unlike 

1 Vol. in, p. 243. 


Stockmann, who maintains that "the strongest man is he 
who fights alone," Brand, in the course of events, bursts 
out twice in the despairing cry : — 

Hopeless is he that fights alone! * 

The play ends properly with Brand's utter desolation, 
agony, and death. Yet Ibsen half evaded the dispensation 
of poetic justice by means of a mystical finale picturing 
the assumption of Brand in a manner resembling the final 
scene in Faust. Under the guidance of the Eternally Fem- 
inine he is converted from his stern religion. The ice- 
fetters break away from his heart. At last he can weep. 
And as the avalanche swallows him up, his query : — 

Shall they wholly miss thy Light 
Who unto man's utmost might 
Will'd — ? 

is answered, through the crashing thunder: 

He is the God of Love. 2 

This conclusion would in itself suffice to disprove the 
foolish allegation that in Brand the religious feeling is 
assailed or vilified. It is only the pseudo-religious cant of 
the mob and the withering fanaticism of the zealot that 
are condemned. Brand's life was a total failure because 
he, a priest, had not acknowledged the God of Love. He 
failed and perished because of his Old Testament belief 
that the Lord is a wrathful and jealous God, and his idio- 
syncrasy that voluntary martyrdom is the sole divine 
test of Faith. 3 

Any unprejudiced student of the poem must realize 

1 Vol. in, pp. 109 and 197: Yes, hopeless he that fights alone! 

2 Ibid., p. 262. J Ibid., p. 89. 


that the poet's sympathy in course of the drama has con- 
siderably shifted. Although Brand is portrayed in such a 
way as to imply the poet's original assent to his view of 
life, he is in the end not any longer represented as being 
morally in the right. A would-be builder-up, he is per- 
verted by a certain defect in his nature into a nihilistic 
destroyer of happiness: his intolerance is a phase of the 
national Norwegian state of mind, the critical idiosyn- 
crasy. At first, he proclaims: "Be thyself , whoever thou 
art. Have the courage to be what nature made you." Yet 
in defiance of his own blatant proclamation of individual- 
ism, Brand twists his ideal demand into a general order, 
issued to all men, to be like unto Brand's notion of a real 
man, that is, like himself. First he is a subjectivist, last a 
dogmatist. So there is left the impression of an irreconcil- 
able contradiction. For the background of this tragedy is 
unquestionably a satire on the soulless despotism of the 
unfree crowd. Brand was to impersonate a plea for lib- 
erty, but under the tyranny of his Puritanism he turns 
out neither to be free himself nor to allow others to be 

Our poet's habit of ruminating on vital questions, of 
looking at things from every coin of vantage, of peering 
into their hidden recesses, coupled with his inborn incre- 
dulity, — Brandes says somewhere that " Mistrust was 
Ibsen's Muse," — leads to the repeated resumption of the 
same theme. Ibsen never stops at seeing one side when 
all human affairs that are of any consequence seem to 
have more than one side to them. Peer Gynt undoubtedly 
is a species of continuation of Brand, or, let us say more 
accurately, a continuation of the sermon on human 


WiIL 1 Viewed in their intimate concatenation with many- 
plays that were to follow, the two poems treat of two oppo- 
site phases of idealism run mad; other aspects of the same 
philosophical concept are shown in the social and symbol- 
ical series, having already been hinted in The Pretenders, 
Love's Comedy, etc. The philosophy of Ibsen's works plays 
about the comprehensive idea of self-realization. This, 
as gradually understood by him, is not a synonym of 
sheer subjectivism or egoism; rather self-realization is 
raised to a high level of social morality, since to Ibsen 
it simply means the realization for each man of what is 
best in his nature. 

In Brand the passion for truth, served by a surfeit of 
will, leads to the overthrow of reason and the develop- 
ment of incurable megalomania. For, as is said in Peer 
Gynt, — 

Truth, when carried to excess, 
Ends in wisdom written backwards. 2 

Peer Gynt is Brand's veriest antitype; over against the 
latter's superabundance of character he shows an almost 
total want of it. He, too, is an idealist, but one utterly 
devoid of Brand's capacity for sustained endeavor. A 
self-seeking, self-satisfied, light-hearted good-for-nothing; 
a species of cousin Norwegian to the amiable and happy- 
go-lucky Rip Van Winkle. 

He lives by impulse, without initiative, energy, aim. 
As Brand's soul feeds on self-denial, so Peer vegetates on 
self-indulgence. It is the contrast between the stern 

1 The first reference to Peer Gynt occurs in a letter to the publisher 
Hegel, in 1867. C, pp. 134-35. 

2 Vol. rv, p. 160. 


Puritan and the inconsequent worldling. Yet we have 
said, Peer is an idealist after his own fashion, and this is 
also true. As in Brand Will is incarnate, so is Fantasy 
incarnate in Gynt. He is the victim of an imagination 
that knows neither curb nor rudder. It fights for him, 
battles with monsters and mountain sprites, it even erects 
imperial thrones for him, yet cannot help him to an honest 
living. Peer is a towering giant in the art of dreaming, 
wishing, nay, even "willing"; — he can do anything but 
do. In Brand we have the unbroken, in Gynt the crum- 
bling personality, — crumbling because it is not held to- 
gether by some kind of moral sense. Into our estimate of 
him, the consideration of heredity and early environment 
should enter. He is the true son of a careless, freehanded, 
riotous father who was once very rich and ended life as a 
peddler. With such a drunken spendthrift for his father, 
and nurtured by a half-crazy mother on fairy tales and 
adventures, his mendacity is constitutional, pathological. 
He has to lie, because he is not fitted for the truth; it is a 
case of Pseudologia Phantastica. For instance, his hunting 
adventures are made out of whole cloth. The substratum 
for this character was given in Norwegian folklore. The 
self-deceiving, romancing Peer is related to the good- 
natured braggarts, dreamers, and liars, the Traumer- 
hannes, Miinchhausens, and other "Aufschneider" and 
Gascognards of older literature, as well as to our more 
recent acquaintance, Daudet's immortal alp-climber and 
lion-hunter Tartarin. Of literary patterns Jaeger mentions 
Frederik Paludan-Mueller's (1809-1876) Adam Homo 
and Byron's Don Juan. 

Ibsen is said to have used living models also. There has 


been prominent mention especially of a certain young 
Dane, a blithe specimen of conceited humanity posing as 
a poet, whom Ibsen knew while summering at Capri and 
Ischia. Aasmund Olafson Vinje (1818-1870), one of 
Ibsen's Christiania friends, has been wrongly connected 
with the character. But Vinje comes into the play only in 
a subsidiary part; he is the original "Huhu," in whom the 
Maalstraevers are ridiculed.' 1 That personal experiences 
have left their marks on the poem in a variety of ways, 
goes perhaps without saying: "My own mother," Ibsen 
avows, "served as the model of Aase, with the necessary 
exaggeration." 1 In the description of the revels at the 
house of Jon Gynt, he had the environment of his own 
childhood clearly in mind. By his author's decree Peer 
Gynt was to have a representative function. Peer Gynt 
typifies the Norwegian nation in all its faults and shams 
squeezed into a single skin. Brand and Peer Gynt, though 
grown on foreign soil, are nevertheless true children of 
Norway. As Reich puts it, Ibsen the man had migrated 
from the North to the South; the poet traveled in an op- 
posite direction. The distance had lent to the people of 
his native land not indeed a new enchantment, but per- 
spective and — since according to Ibsen all poets are 
farsighted — greater sharpness and clearness of outline. 
Again we see his patriotism taking a polemic form. In 
our poem Ibsen accuses his compatriots of being liars 
from sheer exuberance of imagination ; but the final acts 
of Peer Gynt would go to show that shrewd, grasping 
opportunism and sordid materialism can well coexist with 
a temperamental dread of decision in the larger affairs of 

1 C, p. 200. 


individual and national life. The fantast, when finding 
himself outmatched in his folly by prisoned maniacs, 
suddenly veers round to the opposite of his own character 
and becomes the shrewd, dry, unscrupling man of busi- 

Peer is the man who does not find the way to an object 
right through its obstacles, but skirts forever roundabout, 
being a worshiper of the Great Boyg, the god of the ways 
that are crooked. The "Be thyself " of Brand is seemingly 
also Peer's ruling principle, — 

What should a man be? 
Himself, is my concise reply. 
He should regard himself and his. 1 

But what then is the Gyntish self? Gynt's answer 
reveals the full difference between his invertebrate ego- 
tism and the rigid self-assertiveness of Brand : — 

The Gyntish Self — it is the host 

Of wishes, appetites, desires, — 

The Gyntish Self, it is the sea 

Of fancies, exigencies, claims, 

All that, in short, makes my breast heave. 

And whereby I, as I, exist. 2 

Imagine, if you can, a more compressed yet complete 
caricature of the "superman" than this "Emperor of 
Himself." It is a far, far cry from Brand's impassioned 
plea for "Selvejer Adlen," self-owning nobility, to Gynt's 
self -pampering egocentric theory of life, "To thyself be 
enough," which "severs the whole race of men from the 
troll-folk." Gynt lacks the strength to do, the strength to 
renounce, the strength to sin; in fine, the strength to be. 
He is neither good nor bad, because to be either requires 

* Vol. iv, p. 122. 2 Ibid., p. 133. 


character. When his course is run, he is fitted nor for 
heaven nor hell. At most he can be turned to account as 
junk, since the Master is "thrifty" and — 

Flings nothing away as entirely worthless, 
That can be made use of as raw material. 1 

The Button-Moulder, i.e., Death, informs him : — 

Now, you were designed for a shining button 

On the vest of the world; but your loop gave way; 

So into the waste-box you needs must go, 

And then, as they phrase it, be merged in the mass. 2 , 

Gynt has not enough collectivism in his nature to realize 
the social teleology of such institutions as heaven and hell 
and the casting-ladle, too, and is blind to the justice of his 

Peer. I'm sure I deserve better treatment than this; 
I'm not nearly so bad as perhaps you think, — 
Indeed I've done more or less good in the world; — 
At worst you may call me a sort of a bungler, — 
But certainly not an exceptional sinner. 

The Button-Moulder. Why, that is precisely the rub, my man; 
You're no sinner at all in the higher sense; 
That 's why you 're excused all the torture-pangs. 
And, like others, land in the casting-ladle: * 

You're nor one thing nor t'other, then, only so so. 

A sinner of really grandiose style 

Is nowadays not to be met on the highways. 

It wants much more than merely to wallow in mire; 

For both vigor and earnestness go to a sin. 4 

As Gynt, so fares the majority. 

Peer. The race has improved so remarkably. 
The Lean One. No, just the reverse; it's sunk shamefully low; — 
The majority end in the casting-ladle. 6 

1 Vol. iv, p. 238. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid., p. 236. 

* Ibid., pp. 236-37. 6 Ibid., p. 258. 


The hideous truth at last dawns on the self-deluding old 
wretch as he contemplates the slag of his burned-out life. 
I fear I was dead long before I died. 1 
Ibsen has not failed in impartial justice also to the 
redeeming side of Peer, the abounding good-nature flow- 
ing initially from that deep well of love within him which 
was eventually drained and dried up by selfishness. 
Peer's character is given a poetic lift by his touching 
tenderness towards his mother — forming a striking con- 
trast to Brand's cruel rigor in the same relation; whereas 
the implacable priest denies his dying mother's prayer for 
consolation because she would not fulfill unto the letter 
his command of complete renunciation of the world, Peer 
makes his mother's last moments happy, making her soul 
ride heavenward on the wings of his loving fancy. In 
considering the melodramatic ending where Peer, much as 
Brand by Agnes, is guided heavenward by the deathless 
devotion of the ill-used and forsaken Solveig, one even 
feels as if the poet's spontaneous affection for his washrag 
of a hero had tempered justice almost too strongly with 
mercy. There would seem to be a logical inconsistency 
between the end in the casting-ladle and the plainly 
hinted prospect of heaven. The poet resorts to an expla- 
nation on the ground of Peer's "split personality." The 
actual Peer is but the shadow of his real self. He does not 
understand the law of his own nature. The true, the 
potential Peer Gynt dwelt as an ideal in the bosom of 
a loving woman. 

Peer. Then tell me what thou knowest! 
Where was I, as myself, as the whole man, the true man ? 

1 Vol. iv, p. 266. 


Where was I, with God 's sigil upon my brow ? 
Solveig. In my faith, in my hope, and in my love. 1 

One feels, besides, like protesting, on the score of jus- 
tice, shall not the chances of humanity be lessened if the 
best ingredients are separated and saved out of the scrap 
metal of which a future race is to be cast? It is something 
of a puzzle, and we can only look forward, with the Button- 
Moulder: — 

At the last cross-road we will meet again, Peer; 

And then we '11 see whether — I say no more. 2 

Until then we must be sustained by faith in the all- 
redeeming power of love. 

Strictly considered, Peer Gynt is not a drama. Judged 
as one, it fails from lack of design. It was not intended for 
the stage, although it did make its way there in the long 
run. Again, as in Brand, the more convenient, far less 
exacting form of a dramatic poem suited the poet better. 
The dialogue flows with blithe cadence jingling through 
richly diversified measures. No less than seven varieties 
of verse are used, but the complexity of the metrical 
scheme is mitigated by the simple, almost conversational 
tone of the language. The vehicle of bitter satire, the 
piece is born none the less of a lighter, airier mood and 
pulsates with a romantic love of life. With this the bet- 
tered material circumstances of the poet, at last enjoying 
his "digter-gage" (since 1866), had doubtless something 
to do. Of Ibsen's riper works Peer Gynt, with the sole pos- 
sible exception of The League of Youth, is the most light- 

1 Vol. IV, p. 270. Peer's exclamation, "God, here was mykaiserdom!" 
(p. 230), brings to mind Sudermann's fairy- tale play Die drei Reiher- 

» Ibid., p. 271. 


hearted, if such a term may be applied to such a sombre 
poet's creations. Even farcical incidents are not lacking, 
as in the scene at the lunatic asylum. The director Begrif- 
fenfeldt (originally named Phrasenfeldt), crazy himself, 
locks his patients into cages and throws the key into a 
well. When one of the lunatics asks for a knife wherewith 
to kill himself, the director politely hands him one, and as 
the madman proceeds to cut his own throat, he is ad- 
monished to be neat about it and not to squirt. 

The subject-matter was in so far thankless as most of 
the folklore utilized was familiar to but a portion of the 
Norwegian public, and must perforce be wholly lost on the 
foreigner. In a measure the same disadvantage affects 
the conception of the principal figure, but him at least the 
poet succeeded in thoroughly vivifying. As for the rest, 
Ibsen was far from straining after a realistic consistency 
which would have been at discord with the half -mythical, 
wholly fantastic imagery, and even went to some lengths 
to guard the reader's sense of the unreality of the events. 
Lest the audience, by stretch of their own Gyntian imagi- 
nation, be too firmly domiciled in fairy-land, the poet 
once almost brutally rouses them by a fine bit of romantic 
irony : — 

Peer. Avaunt thee, bugbear! Man, begone! 
I will not die! I must ashore! 

The Passenger. Oh, as for that, be reassured; — 
One dies not midmost of Act Five. 1 

While Brand and Peer Gynt were both, in a sense, 
written in defiance of romanticism, they are themselves 
incorrigibly romantic. The romantic category to which 

1 Vol. iv, p. 213. 


Peer Gynt belongs is the "Marchendrama"; a species of 
play to which in the nineteenth century Franz Grillparzer 
and Ferdinand Raimund have made noble contributions, 
and, among earlier masters of the drama, notably Cal- 
deron de la Barca and Goethe. In recent times the popu- 
larity of this genre has revived not only under the hands of 
Simon-pure romanticists like Maeterlinck, but "natural- 
ists" have also essayed it, particularly in order to pen- 
etrate through the revelations of dream life to the true 
inwardness of human character. In Peer Gynt, too, as in 
Hauptmann's Hannele, the imaginings of the hero are 
visualized. Inasmuch as in the fairy tale, whether recited 
or enacted, the operation of natural laws and therewith 
the ordered processes of thoughts and events are sus- 
pended, the author enjoys full license of invention in 
furthering his psychological purpose. Accordingly the 
" Marchendrama " flings the door wide open to symbolism 
and allegory. For example, Ibsen himself is authority for 
the interpretation of Solveig's lullaby as a symbol of 
death.* Yet in the large Peer Gynt has to be viewed as a 
vivid phantasmagory rather than fleshless allegory. In 
effect a fairy play has a realness all its own, and is an 
artistic protest against the persistent and sometimes 
narrow-minded attempts at identifying the drama with 
the sober realities of every day. All the same, this species 
has not escaped the influence of greater artistic ve- 
racity in our day. It, too, has profited from the general 
technical improvements by the importation of greater 
verisimilitude which, far from interfering with the spirit- 
ual message, helps to formulate it all the more convinc- 
ingly. We know from the pictures of Arnold Boecklin, 


Franz Stuck, and many other painters, how greatly a cer- 
tain realistic humor is apt to humanize the denizens of the 
world of fancy. For fairy comedy the Viennese school of 
writers had early in the nineteenth century set a style and 
method to which the most eminent masters of that sort of 
play have been indebted. The method is so familiar to the 
present generation that a mere mention of the names Lud- 
wig Fulda (Der Talisman, 1892, Der Sohn des Khalifen, 
1896), Ernst Rosmer (pseudonym for Elsa Bernstein, 
KonigsJcinder, 1895), Adelheid Wette (Hansel und Gretel, 
1893), will be sufficient to recall it. In German books the 
modern resuscitation of the" Marchendrama " is usually 
credited to Ibsen's contemporary, the Danish poet Holger 
Drachmann (Es war einmal, 1886), but it seems to me that 
for the naturalization of this variety of drama in our gen- 
eration, Ibsen with Peer Gynt was the first eloquent spon- 
sor, and that consequently he must be named prominently 
among the influences that have made modern art a syn- 
thesis of romanticism and naturalism/ The exquisite 
music by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), ! seconding so con- 
genially Ibsen's poetic intentions, has greatly popularized 
this play in spite of the difficulty inherent in its material, 
. in spite, too, of its sundry serious shortcomings and the 
irremediable sense of tedium evoked by the drawn-out 
mystifications of the fourth act. The first three acts con- 
stitute in effect a tragi-comedy — or como-tragedy — in it- 
self complete; the last act seems slightly inorganic. Grieg's 
music has certainly much to do with the fact that so many 
people have come to regard Peer Gynt as the national 

1 For Ibsen's interesting instructions in regard to the musical ar- 
rangement cf. C, p. 269. 


drama of the Norwegians much as Faust is considered the 
national drama of the Germans. On the whole, I cannot 
fall in with the critical consensus which extols Peer Gynt 
as Ibsen's master-work ; in fact I cannot help regarding it 
as one of his minor efforts, created with the poetic energy 
buoyant, yet somehow slackened. That it failed at first to 
arouse anything like the enthusiasm occasioned by Brand 
impresses me as not at all surprising. Its rejection, how- 
ever, on the particular grounds taken by the leading 
Scandinavian critic, Clemens Petersen (1834-1906), that 
the new work failed to conform to the accepted rules of 
aesthetics, was answered in its utter futility in Ibsen's 
famous letter to his great compatriot, Bjornson: "My 
book is poetry ; and if it is not, then it will be. The con- 
ception of poetry in our country, in Norway, shall be 
made to conform to the book." 1 In this prophecy per- 
haps he was slightly in error. For soon he himself faced 
away from this conception of poetry. On the other hand, 
the new conception to which he turned instead was indeed 
not slow to conquer the resistance of Scandinavia, Europe, 
eventually the whole world. It has revolutionized the art 
of the actor as well as of the dramatist. Far more than 
this, it has been one of the prime levers of the social 
revolution which is still sweeping over us. 

1 C, p. 145; cf. for Clemens Petersen's article in Fcedrelandet the foot- 
note, ibid. Ibsen had gone out of his way to commend Brand and Peer 
Gynt to the good graces of that well-known critic. Cf. SNL, pp. 69-74. 
He accused Bjbrnson of lukewarmness in defending him against the 
strictures put upon his work by Petersen and others. Cf . C, pp. 144, /., 
and this led to an estrangement between the two old friends. 




The third part of what to all purposes constitutes 
Ibsen's trilogy on Human Will was a fruit of the Roman 
sojourn (1864-1868). This was the dramatized story of 
Emperor Julian the Apostate. The composition was long 
deferred, however, because of the enormous amount of pre- 
paratory studies involved in the task. In the interval the 
poet's attention was sidetracked from the paths of his- 
tory and philosophy to that of home politics. The League 
of Youth ("De Unges Forbund," 1869), 1 Ibsen's first 
open venture in realistic comedy, was a slashing attack on 
political hypocrisy. Always keenly interested in politics, 
Ibsen was not at any time "in regular standing" with a 
political party. With his independent spirit he could not 
have endured to have his finer feelings of self-esteem con- 
tinuously jarred and wounded by "party discipline." For 
any man there may exist concerns of still greater conse- 
quence than active care for the affairs of state. To Ibsen 
the fulfillment of the ego's call was the highest command, 
and certainly a prolonged participation in practical poli- 
tics harbors a danger to the moral and intellectual integ- 

1 The League of Youth was composed in 1868-69, partly in Berchtes- 
gaden and partly in Dresden; published and first performed in 1869. 
But the beginnings go back to a much earlier period. Its embryonic 
form is Svanhild (1860), an unfinished comedy in prose. Cf. SW U , vol. 
H, pp. 25-43, and the sketch of 1868, ibid., pp. 207-37. 


rity, the peril of creeping paralysis to a man's power of 
self-determination. A square look at the distributing 
agencies of public opinion makes one suspect that while 
the coarser forces rule it might be safer to keep out of the 
fuss and wrangle of politics, for the preservation of one's 
courage, conscience, and convictions. At heart Ibsen sided 
with political freedom as with freedom of conscience in 
any form, and therefore joined in many of the demands 
of the Liberals. Indeed, his writings breathe forth the 
very air of liberty; but as he did not give full-hearted 
acquiescence to all the views and policies of the Liberal 
Party, that party arrayed itself against him. So Ibsen 
stood stigmatized as a conservative by the radicals, while 
to conservatives he seemed — and, in another sense, really 
was — a radical of the deepest dye. The truth of the 
matter is, the Norwegian Liberals disgusted Ibsen by their 
invertebrate enthusiasm and fertility in flashing phrase 
as much as by their Gyntian indecision and the tangle 
of insincerities by which the movement was surrounded. 
The impression should therefore be corrected that The 
League was an attack on Liberalism. It attacks not the 
Liberal views, but the Liberal phrase. To be sure Iron- 
master Bratsberg is represented as a kind and philan- 
thropic employer and as an enemy of sordid greed. But 
the Conservative Party in its chief representative Lunde- 
stad is handled without any more delicacy than is Lawyer 
Stensgaard, the Liberal pro tern. When Ibsen relieves him- 
self in an outburst like, "The Liberals are the worst ene- 
mies of freedom," l or lets Thomas Stockmann declare, 
in An Enemy of the People, that the Liberals are the 

1 C, p. 233. 


most treacherous enemies of free men l he refers to the tyr- 
anny of "liberals" in intellectual things. There is more 
than a grain of truth in his assertion that spiritual and 
intellectual freedom thrives best under an absolutistic 
order of government. The arraignment was meant for 
the sham reformers whose short-ranged vision is a greater 
obstacle to progress than a reasoned and principled con- 

All the same, The League of Youth was widely miscon- 
strued as a slashing satire upon the person of Bjornstjerne 
Bjornson, the acknowledged leader of the Liberals. Ibsen 
promptly contradicted the rumor; 2 that is, he denied hav- 
ing caricatured Bjornson in the character of Stensgaard. 
On the other hand, he frankly admitted having used 
for models "Bjornson's pernicious, lie-steeped clique." 
Like most great leaders, Bjornson was surrounded by a 
bodyguard of obsequious politicians for whom a frank na- 
ture like Ibsen's could not profess anything but a blast- 
ing contempt. That living models had been in Ibsen's 
mind, it would have been useless for him to deny. In ef- 
fect, the artistic value of the comedy is greatly enhanced 
by the reality of the characters; human factors shine 
everywhere through the political interests. It would be 
base slander to seek to establish the identity of a wind- 
bag and fraud like Lawyer Stensgaard with the noble 
figure of Ibsen's generous friend. What lent color of 
truth to the rumor was the fact that Stensgaard was actu- 
ally invested with some of Bjornson's personal character- 

1 Vol. Yin, p. 133. 

5 C, p. 179. Yet Mr. Moses, with others, takes the identity for 
granted; cf. Eenrik Ibsen, The Man and Efis Plays, p. 245. 


istics. For the poet plainly intended that the worthless 
fellow, too, should have his redeeming traits. At all events, 
there resulted a rupture between Norway's two greatest 
sons. It was patched up for the time being, but soon 
after that Ibsen gave genuine ground for offense by refer- 
ring to Bjornson in a mordant poem entitled Nordens 
Signaler ("The Northern Signals," 1872) l as a political 
weather-cock, because B j ornson had urged Denmark to for- 
get about Schleswig and reconcile herself with Germany. 3 
Stensgaard, the central butt of the satire, is a soul 
steeped in the Gyntian sort of mendacity; the kind that 
intoxicates himself with his own vaporings and transiently 
swindles himself into believing his own phrenetic decla- 
mations, like Armado in Love's Labor 's Lost, a man 

That hath a mint of phrases in his brain; 
One whom the music of his own vain tongue 
Doth ravish like enchanting harmony. 

Not such a very bad fellow fundamentally, but thoroughly 
spoiled for good honest work by his spouting eloquence, 
among other causes. He possesses that elusive quality of 
"magnetism," which in only too many cases issues from 
brazen and rock-ribbed self-assurance. On this intangi- 
ble asset he stakes his claim to a public career, and be- 
comes, like hundreds of other ambitious orators, a cheap, 
hollow charlatan and political trimmer. One moment the 
ferocious demagogue, the next moment the champion of 
the established order. One moment the big brother of the 
poor, the next moment the little brother of the rich. " Woe 
to him," once exclaimed Henrik Ibsen, " who has to think 
of his parents with aversion!" Stensgaard bears a hered- 
1 SW, vol. I, pp. 276-78. 


itary taint, albeit of a different order from that of Dr. 
Rank, Brand, Gynt, Oswald, Rebecca, etc. His is a ser- 
vile and venal nature, to be had for any sop thrown to his 
ambition. A dinner invitation from the local magnate 
overthrows his radical convictions. His life, even in its 
most sacred privacies, is to be ordered with a single eye to 
profit and preferment ; marriage is to serve him as a lever 
to wealth, station, and influence; accordingly a single 
glance into a luxurious household determines him to 
marry the daughter. By the irony of fate, and not per- 
chance by the eternal fitness of things, the ardent pre- 
tender to popularity and favor manages to fall down mid- 
ways between the several chairs of ease which he has put 
in place for himself. His pitiable undoing is not meant as 
a blazing judgment against unrighteousness, but simply 
goes to show that Stensgaard is as yet too green to beat 
in the game of politics. Many an aspiring politician felt 
himself hit by the reverberating shot Ibsen had fired. A 
tempest of indignation and ill-will broke over the perform- 
ance of the play in Christiania. And so this capital com- 
edy, which by its dash and go and irresistible merriment 
completely refutes the inveterate superstition that Ibsen 
lacked humor (as though without this precious posses- 
sion he could have had so much sympathy with the 
wrongs and foibles of men!) missed its highly deserved 
success. But even had the response been different, Ibsen 
would not have been influenced in the choice of his 
further course. The sphere of strictly political comedy 
would in any case have proved too narrow for his genius, 
already bound for the much wider sphere of the social 


The League of Youth is technically far in advance of its 
author's previous efforts. So far as the structural qualities 
go, the almost inextricable tangle of mistakes, misunder- 
standings, and surprises attests the still prevalent influ- 
ence of Scribe. By marked contrast to the more or less 
conventional comicry of the situations the originality of 
the coming technique announces itself. The realistic 
method of presentment evolved by conscientious experi- 
ment is now for the first time in Ibsen's grasp. The action 
is managed without monologues and without a single 
occurrence of the "aside" and the "stage-whisper." The 
dialogue is in prose and follows much the natural mode of 
conversation. To us, such features in drama offer not 
the least matter for surprise; but upon the audience of 
1869, sufficiently enraged by the satirical intent of the 
play, the daring formal innovation produced an effect like 
an extra insult thrown in with the injury. 

After an uncommonly prolonged incubation, the 
"world-tragedy" Emperor and Galilean ("Kejser og Gal- 
ilseer," 1873) was finished. 1 The theme, as has been men- 
tioned, had stirred the poet ever since his arrival in Italy , c 
Already in 1864 he prepared to write a tragedy on the 
Apostate. 2 The subject was taken up again in 1866, casu- 
ally, and more vigorously once more in 1870, while Ibsen 
resided at Dresden. It was planned (till 1872) to be a tril- 
ogy 3 consisting of (1) Julian and the Philosophers (in three 
acts), (2) Julian's Apostasy (in three acts), (3) Julian on 
the Imperial Throne (in five acts). Eventually the bulky 

1 On the genesis and completion of Emperor and Galilean, cf. C, pp. 
117, 121, 185, 206, 215, 222, 236, 239, 245, 249-50, 267, 269, 280. 

2 C. p. 78. s C, pp. 236 and particularly 243. 


material was compressed into two parts of five acts each, 
Part First, Ccesar's Apostasy ("Csesars Frafald"), Part 
Second, The Emperor Julian ("Kejser Julian"). 

In Ibsen's own estimation — yet great men are fallible 
in appraising their own achievements — this was the great- 
est of all his works. By it he meant to confute those critics 
who denied to him a "positive" world-view, as many are 
doing with too much emphasis to this day. For this pur- 
pose the drama was to body forth a doctrine. A drama- 
tist's right to externalize his philosophy in any fit form 
may pass unchallenged. Yet there is no getting beyond 
the critical questions, Is the philosophy wholly inwoven in 
the action, incarnate in the persons? Does it shine forth 
from the characters, or does it only shimmer and flicker 
through them from an outer source of light? Ibsen speaks 
with fair assurance on the subject. "There is in the char- 
acter of Julian, as in most that I have written during my 
riper years, more of my own spiritual experience than I 
care to acknowledge to the public. But it is at the same 
time an entirely realistic piece of work. The figures stood 
solidly before my eyes in the light of their time — and I 
hope they will so stand before the reader's eyes." * 

Intent on putting the greatest possible amount of 
truthfulness into the portrayal of Grseco-Roman life, 
he expended for once a vast deal of painstaking, minute 
study. Nevertheless the great drama cannot be said to 
be historically truthful, save as to exteriors and inci- 
dentals. The figure of the protagonist is decidedly mis- 
drawn. Ibsen would have done well to abide by the 
verdict of the historian Negri, who pronounced Julian 

1 C, p. 255. 


"a Puritan in the purple, morally too Christian to be 
a Christian of the fourth century church." Ibsen treated 
the character of Julian with willful injustice, portraying 
him as a monstrously conceited degenerate, without 
sense, balance, or even the semblance of royal dignity. 
This raving Csesaro-maniac seems more fit for a Punch 
and Judy show than for a "world-tragedy," as Ibsen 
termed his drama. An oddly compounded dilettante 1 
is this Julian, seemingly playing a burlesque on the 
historic emperor. 2 The* latter perished as the victim of 
the final contest between two moral constitutions bat- 
tling in his soul for the dominion of the future. That, too, 
was Ibsen's view of his hero, but what he brought forth 
was the sheer miscarriage of a grand poetical conception. 
To tell the truth, the play wright had undertaken what lay 
outside the province of his craft. As a rule his persons are 
firmly established in their character. Brandes says rightly 
that the action only serves to test and prove the immu- 
tability of the dramatis persona. (Only it should be added 
to this estimate that we do not see all their potentialities 
at the first glance.) Now in Emperor and Galilean the at- 
tempt is made to trace the gradual transformation of the 
entire character of the hero : an attempt that ended in dis- 
mal failure. For the charaeter does not progress and de- 
velop, but perpetually flutters and flounders. Julian is ut- 
terly without a directing self -consciousness. Everlastingly 
boggling over the freedom of his will, he is withal grossly 
superstitious. Caught in the mesh of events, he would 

1 Especially in his philosophical divagations throughout both parts 
of the tragedy. ■ 
8 Notably in Part n, Act n, Sc. 1. 


propitiate the gods, pray and sacrifice to them. "To what 
gods? I wall sacrifice to this God and that God — one or 
the other must surely hear me. I must call on something 
without me and above me." 1 In his habitual state of con- 
fusion he becomes a chronic client of the oracles. When 
they withhold their counsel, he becomes despondent and 
whines: "To stand so entirely alone!" Like Peer Gynt he 
strives after his own satisfaction, seeks to be "enough to 
himself." Since in drama there can be no hero without 
the potentiality of deeds, Julian is utterly unsuited to his 
task. He excites our curiosity and pity, but even the out- 
cry wrung from him at his final collapse, that historic ad- 
mission, "Thou hast conquered, Galilean," comes too late 
to save him our respect. 

Emperor and Galilean stands in a patent dialectic rela- 
tion to Brand and Peer Gynt. Together they form a spe- 
cies of psychological trilogy. Unavoidably we are driven 
to employ the Hegelian notation in pointing out this inner 
connectedness. Brand, then, stands for the "thesis," here 
carried to the point of self-contradiction which any single 
idea will reach if pursued to its fullest lengths. In Peer 
Gynt the antithesis is sharply stated; in Emperor and Gal- 
ilean the opposition of the positive and the negative poles 
of truth is succeeded by the higher synthesis of truth. This 
process of reasoning, Hegel designates as the " Tricho- 
tomy." Characteristically for Ibsen's philosophical alle- 
giance the tripartite logic pervades also Emperor and 
Galilean by itself, outside of any association with other 
plays. This drama, Ibsen confessed, was not the first he 
had written in Germany, but indeed the first he wrote 

1 Vol. v, p. 458. 


under the influence of German intellectual life. 1 The 
special philosophical theme of Emperor and Galilean, as 
over against Brand and Peer Gynt, to put it with extreme 
conciseness, is the freedom of will. In all probability Ibsen 
culled the main conceptions from Schopenhauer, but he 
lent them new emotional values. 

The philosophical foundation of Ibsen's "world-drama " 
is, moreover, almost identical with the metaphysics under- 
lying the work of his great predecessor in the practical 
reform of the drama, Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863). Both 
poets postulate the regnancy supreme and absolute of a 
" Weltwille," a will inherent in the universe. On the phil- 
osophical plane of Emperor and Galilean, Ibsen, like Heb- 
bel, attributes to the world an intelligent self-direction. 
Judged, then, from a posited consciousness of our union 
with the world-will, events must be regarded by us not as 
the haphazards of blind fate, but rather as volitional 
acts of the universal Ego. But the volitional freedom of 
the world's self-consciousness, translated into individual 
conduct, spells necessity. Now, inasmuch as the progress 
and betterment of the world is achieved through the in- 
strumentality of men with a strong "will," — both Hebbel 
and Ibsen, the latter in particular, are hero-worshipers, — 
this philosophy would seem to lead into a dilemma : we are 
unfree, as to our will, yet freedom of will is our criterion 
of worth. The contradiction here in the conception of the 
heroic personality as a man of action, yet not a free agent, 
is, of course, not confined to drama, but founded in life 
itself. The only escape from the dilemma lies in the belief 
that nature implants the power of will in men in order to 
1 C, p. 413; SNL, p. 109. 


bend it to her own, often recondite, means. An individual 
rebelling against the will of the world is none the less ful- 
filling an assigned task. He does not choose to do but 
what a superior power compels him to choose. Mr. Shaw, 
in his Quintessence of Ibsenism, obfuscates what has been 
called the " Pantragism " of this philosophy d by the follow- 
ing comment: "It was something for Julian to have seen 
that the power which he found stronger than his individ- 
ual will was itself will ; but inasmuch as he conceived it, 
not as the whole of which his will was but a part, but 
as a rival will, he was not the man to found the Third 
Empire. " 

"What is the way of freedom?" asks the eager Julian. 1 
"The God-Emperor or Emperor-God," declares Maximus 
the Sage, "comes into being in the manw/to wills himself." 2 
He who wills, conquers. Yet the parting words are, " To 
will is to have to will," 3 and, " I believe in free necessity." 
Nature makes us will precisely what she wants of us. Ac- 
cordingly, the tragic hero is invariably in the right, world- 
philosophically considered. And the beyond-good-and- 
evil position is reached from a totally different intellectual 
springboard from that from which Nietzsche took the leap; 
as when Maximus declares, "Sin lies only in thy sense of 
sinfulness." 4 Here we have another proof, if one were 
needed, that the Overman was born into the world of 
thought a long time before the hermit of Sils-Maria pro- 
claimed him. In Ibsen he is prefigured almost from the 
earliest dramatic attempts. 5 This, however, it is worth 
while to remember: Ibsen's "Third Empire," of which 

1 Vol. v, p. 112. 2 Ibid., p. 374. 3 Ibid., p. 479. 4 Ibid., p. 108. 
B Cf. the comment on Bishop Nicholas Arnesson, pp. 51-52, 


there is so much question in Emperor and Galilean, is, es- 
sentially a collectivism not individualist, Utopia. 

Hebbel used a very telling phrase for the infinitely re- 
curring, self -wrecking revolt of the individual against the 
will of the world; viewing the spectacle as a progressive 
experiment in education per contra, he describes it as the 
" Selbstkorrektur " of the world, meaning its continuous 
experimental self-improvement. This concept is also 
wrought into Nietzsche's philosophy. In his famous the- 
ory of the " Wiederkunft des Gleichen " (" Eternal Recur- 
rence") 6 there reemerges the same notion which we find 
stated in the second part of Emperor and Galilean by the 
philosopher Maximus: " There is one who ever reappears 
at certain intervals, in the course of human history. He is 
like a rider taming a wild horse in the arena. Again and 
yet again it throws him. A moment, and he is in the sad- 
dle again, each time more secure and more expert; but 
off he has had to go, in all his varying incarnations, until 
this day. Off he had to go as the God-created man in 
Eden's grove ; off he had to go as the founder of the world- 
empire; off he must go as the prince of the empire of God. 
Who knows how often he has wandered among us when 
none have recognized him? How know you, Julian, that 
you were not in him whom you now persecute? " x * Heb- 
bel and Ibsen coincide in the opinion that the march of 
civilization is regulated by the needs of the times and the 
preparedness of the people. Yet the levers of progress are 
the great personalities. Without them we have either 
stagnation or a stunted, one-sided civilization. 
. There is no help for our dwelling still further on the 

1 Vol. v, p. 393. 



philosophical thought of the double drama, but fortu- 
nately it is possible to indicate its drift by uncommented 

Thus speaks Julian among the philosophers : " You know 
only two streets in Athens, the street to the schools, and 
the street to the Church; of the third street, toward Eleu- 
sis and further, you know naught." 1 In this metaphor, 
the street to the schools signifies paganism, the street to 
the Church, Christianity. What is meant by the "street 
toward Eleusis " ? The philosopher Maximus, who kindles 
in Julian's soul the conflict between the worship of God 
and self-deification, prophesies a golden age. He confi- 
dently predicts the crumbling of the two empires that 
have gone before ; the classic and the romantic world-con- 
ception, as we may call them, will be superseded by a new 
world-ruling religion which shall rear its nobler structure 
on the ruins of both the old. Three empires were to have 
sway in their turn. "First that empire which was founded 
on the tree of knowledge; then that which was founded on 
the tree of the cross. The third is the empire of the great 
mystery; that empire which shall be founded on the tree 
of knowledge and the tree of the cross together, be- 
cause it hates and loves them both, and because it has 
its living sources under Adam's grove and under Gol- 
gotha." 2 Again, Stirner's and Nietzsche's "gay science" 
is forestalled: "Where is God? In Olympus? On the 
cross?" Maximus answers, "No: in my own self . The 
third empire belongs to him who wills." Clearly the poet 
agreed with Lessing's estimate of the "revealed" religions 
as so many instruments for the gradual "Education of 
1 Vol. v, pp. 106-07. 3 Ibid., p. 114. 


the Human Race," each being in keeping with its require- 
ments for the time being. The "Third Empire" can be 
ushered in only by a race developed beyond the present 
status of humanity. Only then can the contrast between 
pagan Beauty and Christian Truth be resolved in a 
higher unity. Neither Julian nor his generation was ripe 
for this final synthesis of Truth and Beauty. Julian's pal- 
pable mission was to regenerate Christianity as he found 
it. He permitted, instead, his deep disappointment in the 
Church to grow into hatred of the religion. Then step by 
step he advanced in the belief that he himself, not the 
Galilean, was God. His relapse from Christianity is con- 
ceived as a crime against humanity, whose natural pro- 
gress was greatly retarded by such retrogression. His was 
the power and opportunity of ushering in the "Third 
Empire"; — he spurned and repudiated his mission and 
wrought tragic mischief in the world. This explains why 
Ibsen attributed a world-historic importance to Julian's 
apostasy from the Faith. In this spirit Maximus chides 
the Apostate. "You have striven to make the youth a 
child again. The empire of the flesh is swallowed up in the 
empire of the spirit. But the empire of the spirit is not 
final, any more than the youth is. You have striven to 
hinder the growth of youth — to hinder him from becom- 
ing a man. Oh, fool, who have drawn your sword against 
that which is to be — against the third empire, in which 
the twin-natured shall reign." 1 

Emperor and Galilean met with no enthusiastic recep- 
tion either from the critics or the public. 9 Ibsen's opus 
maximum, as he believed it to be, it certainly is not. In 

1 Vol. v, p. 372. 


project it was his most ambitious enterprise, in execution 
it is perhaps the weakest among all the works of his rip- 
ened experience. Its obvious faults are these: It is too 
long-drawn-out, especially in the second part. The poet 
himself, as a consequence, betrayed his weariness of the 
task. It appeals mainly to the intellect, and yet its mean- 
ing dives frequently into obscurity. And the characters 
are not sufficiently vitalized, so that we are taken aback 
both by their inconsistencies and their self-contradictions. 
Most serious of all, a cloud of mysticism hangs over the 
events, — reality is constantly melting into allegory, as 
was already the case to a minor degree in Brand and Peer 
Gynt. In a technical respect also the play is unsuited to 
the stage. In the second part there occur no less than 
eighteen scenic changes, many of which are uncalled for. 
But with all its shortcomings and blemishes, Emperor and 
Galilean is a solid and noble component in the structure 
of the modern drama on which the master builder was 
energetically at work. By this time the foundations were 
laid, and the walls of the building were rising. Already 
it was possible to estimate the area covered, but the 
future height of the edifice could not easily be guessed. 



A new phase of artistic growth and development con- 
fronts us now as we pass from the romantic-historical dra- 
mas of Ibsen to the stately series of his sociological plays, 
— we may fitly call them so, — opening with Pillars of 

After Brand, Ibsen's literary position was firmly 
grounded, so far as Scandinavia was concerned. At that 
time, however, there was no thought of his subsequent 
significance for the social, moral, and artistic progress of 
his age. The period up to his removal from Norway ap- 
pears in retrospect as one of initiation and apprenticeship. 
The theatres of Bergen and Christiania were the work- 
shops where he obtained facility in wielding the tools of 
his craft. The following dozen years developed his art to 
its full maturity. 

His fame was spreading through Europe. George 
Brandes had probably been the first critic to devote a 
whole essay to Ibsen's work. England and Germany 
made his acquaintance in the same year, 1872. Mr. Ed- 
mund Gosse introduced him to the English, through the 
offices of the Spectator. In Germany a commercial trav- 
eler named P. F. Siebold did his best, through articles and 
translations, to make Ibsen widely known. Adolf Strodt- 
mann (1829-1879) translated The Pretenders and The 
League of Youth (both in 1872). The first play done into 


English was Emperor and Galilean (1876), by Katherine 
Ray. In the same year the celebrated players of the Duke 
of Saxe-Meiningen produced The Pretenders and The 
Vikings. Yet these conquests were small, foreshowing in 
nothing the prodigious influence and vogue of Ibsen in 
Germany, which dates from the year 1877. In that year 
he launched a practically new form of drama, which met 
with instant recognition from many progressive-minded 
persons, especially from the brilliant trio, Julius Hoffory, 
a Dane by birth, lecturer in the University of Berlin, and 
Otto Brahm and Paul Schlenther, conspicuous leaders 
then and to-day in the reform of the drama. They be- 
came sponsors for Ibsen in Germany just as the actor- 
manager, Lugn6-Poe (husband of the great actress Su- 
zanne Despres), Count Moriz Prozor, and Mr. Andr6 
Antoine, organizer of the Theatre Libre, made him popu- 
lar in France. From this time on he advanced step by 
step, through the most conscientious exercise of his gifts, 
to the undisputed position of the chief dramatist of his age 
and one of the greatest of all time. Beside the plays which 
he produced from 1877 to about 1900, most of the earlier 
plays dwindle into obscure insignificance. Ibsen illustrates 
as few other poets do the practical value of hard study. 

We must remember that the social problem plays were 
begun when the poet was nearing his fiftieth year. His 
genius began its highest climb at an age when all other 
great dramatists had passed their summit of excellence. 
He brought to the task not only the ripeness of experience, 
force, and power, but an astonishing capacity for further 
growth. In an address made September 10, 1874, to an 
audience of enthusiastic university students, he delivered 


the lesson of his prolonged apprenticeship by dealing thus 
with the crucial question, What is Poetry? "Not till 
late in life have my eyes been opened to the fact that to 
be a poet means as much as to be a seer; but, mark well, 
to see in such a way that the things seen are shown to the 
public as the poet has seen them. Now it is a fact that 
only those things can be thus seen and assimilated which 
are a part of our experience. And this experience is the 
secret of modern poetry. All I have written during the 
past decade is part of my spiritual experience." l And 
this further observation explains perhaps adequately his 
ultimate conquest of public favor: "No writer makes his 
experience alone. Whatever he has perceived in life, his 
countrymen have likewise perceived." 2 By these words 
Ibsen's priority in many of the opinions whose author he 
is reputed to have been is inferentially disclaimed. A 
great writer need not be an "original" thinker. His pri- 
mary social service and intellectual mission is to articulate 
the thought and spirit of his time, not necessarily to 
evolve it. Perhaps none of the ideas promulgated in the 
works of Henrik Ibsen are, strictly speaking, original with 
him. They are the floating notions of an age, caught while 
yet invisible or indistinct to the mass of men, and made 
palpable by a creative touch. In Ibsen the leading ten- 
dencies of the new age became collectively conscious of 
themselves. He had the rare courage to state their mean- 
ing with fullest force. Such constitutes the social impor- 
tance of Henrik Ibsen's writings. 

Does it not seem incongruous that this hardened re- 
cluse, who used to frighten away bold visitors with a 
1 SW, vol. i, p. 522; SNL, pp. 49-50. i Ibid. 


harsh request for " Arbeitsruhe " (Ibsen resembled Scho- 
penhauer as much in the rudeness of his temper as he 
resembled him physiognomically) ; this eremitical old 
grumbler who, much like a hedge-hog, was forever turning 
a spiky panoply of self-defense against the surrounding 
amenities, — that he, of all men, should have been ab- 
sorbed so deeply in the cause of social betterment? Or 
what other than a philanthropic purpose could he have 
had in dealing in such a homiletic strain with major 
problems of life? True, Ibsen confined himself to criti- 
cism. He did not undertake to solve the great problems; 
he was content to state them. He realized that in our 
social canon the rules have been more or less upset. The 
old principles have gone into decay. New principles are 
wanted. But before these can be clearly and cleanly crys- 
tallized out of the confusion of conflicting interests, an 
accurate analysis of our situation is requisite. 

Ibsen wisely refrains from submitting an elaborate plan 
for the reform of society. For him it suffices to show up, 
by a set of striking illustrations from life, the extant mal- 
adjustments, and the generally unconfessed impotence 
of our long-existent and somewhat worn religious, polit- 
ical, and social ideals. In the frank acknowledgment of 
their nonefficacy resides the first condition of a whole- 
somer state. The reorganization, however, calls for a 
radical moral change which can come but slowly, with 
generations. Ibsen was of the firm belief that "the ideals 
of our time as they pass away are tending to that which 
in my drama of Emperor and Galilean I have designated 
as the Third Empire." ! 

1 SW, vol. i, p. 528; SNL, p. 57. 


The fact that Ibsen would write no general recipe for 
our multitude of ills has been fatuously interpreted as a 
demonstration of ignorance or ill-will. He simply would 
not descend to the paltry wisdom of the quack. Earnest 
moralist that he was and scorner of popularity, he dis- 
pensed and advertised no soothing platitudes. How can 
human standards be raised? When a man holds the 
crowd cheap, and, besides, is a believer in heredity, he 
cannot conscientiously extol the infallible virtue of un- 
limited multiplication. 

Is there, indeed, any hope of our reclamation? Were 
Ibsen a pessimist, he would straightway say no, for he 
recognizes the evil as ancient, deep-seated, and general. 
Yet to his intrinsically optimistic outlook the evil is not 
ineradicable. Hence he answers yes; not with an 
optimistic yell, but by resolutely shouldering a heavy 
share in the work. Why is it, now, asks he, that human 
society is not yet spiritually energized by the prescript 
and example of all these centuries during which a very 
large portion of mankind has willingly subscribed to one 
and the same moral code? 

As a mere "working hypothesis" let us throw out the 
suggestion that perhaps that very ancientness and ubi- 
quity militates against the value of our so-called ideals. 
Our moral energy is in a measure paralyzed by dead for- 
mulas. They were for the most part made for the use of 
a long since defunct order of society. Laws are the heir- 
looms of the race. Though their pragmatic value may be 
gone, we keep on wearing them like jewels of splendid 
antique uselessness. Brilliantly reset and furbished up, 
they add much lustre to the wearer at a very small incon- 


venience. Their obsolescence is disguised and they are 
made to look as good as new, unless, indeed, their very 
antiqueness adds to their value in the market another 
element, like threadbare places in an Oriental rug. All 
moral commandments, not excepting a fraction of the 
very Decalogue, have thus been tinkered and tampered 
with. Doctrines are attenuated by sophistry. As a re- 
sult they are rendered conveniently ambiguous and 
much less binding, since rules of conduct that are not 
perfectly intelligible either need not or actually cannot be 
practiced.' In consequence of this, society is left without 
any firm ethical guidance. The old coins have lost their 
faces, and are no better than mere "counters" in the 
game. We discredit the old appraisements, yet continue 
to dole out the worn coinage instead of paying out our 
own created values. The question is, Does the metal then 
still ring true or are our ideals no better than currency 
debased, or counterfeit? Ibsen, properly understood, 
finds our gold is still genuine. That gold is the truth 
within us, which must be dug up from under the rubbish 
of hypocrisy. We need to be regenerated from within. 
Without that, liberative measures, be they even revolu- 
tions, are of no avail. 

Meanwhile, the world has become accustomed to com- 
pound with its conscience. Let us instance the casus 
conscientice in its widest occurrence. We talk as much as 
ever, and as glibly and sentimentally, about the saving 
grace of brotherly love; and after a fashion we do practice 
the commandment that we should love our neighbor. But 
will any self-respecting business man hold up his head and 
declare, of a week day and in business hours, that his 


affairs are being conducted without shifts and evasions on 
this or any other undilutedly Christian principle? Rea- 
soned belief in principles is uncommon amongst us. Our 
fathers, in the words of a witty cynic, have exhausted the 
faith-faculty of the species. All the same, we continue to 
enjoin the scriptural mandates upon others equal unto 
ourselves in unbelief. To every honest mind the question 
must suggest itself: If you do not really believe in the 
Biblical counsels to the full extent of their terms, — and 
you really do not, — is it not your duty to decide and 
declare what principles you are willing to live up to with- 
out gloss or quibble? Mrs. Alving, in Ghosts, states a 
constitutional difficulty. "We all are ghosts," she avers. 
"Not only are our souls haunted by those things which we 
have inherited from father and mother, we are haunted 
also by all conceivable old and dead opinions and all sorts 
of old dead doctrine, and so forth. These things do not 
live within us, but just the same they have settled in us 
and we cannot rid ourselves of them." * These reve- 
nants of the past, in other words, our accumulated race 
and family experience, obstruct our mental and moral 
independence. Now the chief employment of Ibsen's 
genius is an abateless effort to bring about a greater soli- 
darity of practice and profession. In our time the feeling 
has been growing among the thoughtful that to save 
idealism from the danger of inanition it is needful to inject 
into it some real, actual, practical beliefs. Our hope lies in 
the evolution of new ideas and energies. Certainly the 
self-stultification of the professional champion of the 
"eternal verities" could not go farther than it does in 
1 Vol. vii, p. 225. The simile occurs already in an early draft of Pil- 
lars of Society. Cf. SW n , vol. in, p. 37. 


Ghosts when a minister of the established church proudly 
emphasizes the diametrical opposition of his official 
ideals to the requirements of truth. This happens when 
Mrs. Alving's question, "But what about the truth?" 
is clinched by Pastor Manders's well-meaning rejoinder: 
"But what about the ideals?" 1 

Ibsen believes in the inseparableness and ultimate 
identity of truth and the ideals. Hence he is par excellence 
the poet of truthfulness, and the most vehement, consist- 
ent, and formidable denunciator of the "conventional 
lie"; in this condemnation he is at one with his most 
ferocious, and blindest, enemy, Max Nordau. d 

The social philosophy of Ibsen is expressed in the 
dramas which we are about to discuss; its leading tenets 
reveal themselves spontaneously as we follow from play 
to play, step by step, Ibsen's ethical development through 
the three phases of growth made visible in his works. He 
began with a general attack all along the line, — the 
State, the Church, all social organization should be 
broken up. The second stage was devoted to the en- 
thronement of the Individual, the apotheosis of the 
Egotist, the cult of the Superman. In his final phase, 
however, Ibsen sets his hope on the socialization of the 
developed individual. It is well to remember that in a 
general way the socio-ethical code of Ibsen derives its 
inspiration from the teaching of Charles Darwin, with 
whose Origin of Species and Descent of Man he had been 
familiar since the early seventies. 6 Pillars of Society is the 
overture to Ibsen's social criticism. Here may be discerned 
virtually all the motifs worked out in the later dramas. 

1 Vol. vii. p. 222. 



When Pillars of Society was first produced on the stage, it 
was felt to be a bold innovation, 3 and it is hardly too 
much to say of this now superannuated piece that, for 
Germany at least, it proved a most important point of 
departure in the regeneration of the drama. In order to 
appreciate this historic importance it seems advisable 
to go briefly into the past history of the special genre 
to which Pillars of Society, together with most of the 
plays that followed, belongs, namely, the drama of 
middle-class life. 

The bourgeois tragedy sprang up in various countries in 
the course of the eighteenth century, partly in protest 
against the "classical" or "heroic" type of drama, which 
had firmly established its monopoly of the serious stage 
through the prestige of its ancestry in the "golden ages" 
of Greece, England, and France. In the three principal 
countries concerned, it was given a good start by George 
Lillo (1693-1739; George Barnwell, 1731), Denis Diderot 
(1713-1784; Le Perede Famille, published 1758), and G. E. 
Lessing (1729-1781), but not much came of these aus- 
picious beginnings. Leastways in Germany, where after 
writing Miss Sara Sampson (1755) Lessing again deserted 
the cause. Schiller (1759-1805) made a significant new 
start with Kabale und Liebe (1784), yet later he subjected 
the middle-class drama to ridicule. From the bourgeois 


play in prose he swerved to historical drama in verse. 6 
This was not really strange, considering what had hap- 
pened to the new genre at the hands of its principal culti- 
vators, A. W. Iffland (1759-1814) and Aug. von Kotzebue 
(1761-1819). It had become an object of mechanical 
exploitation. The next dramatist of great stature to 
renew the efforts in behalf of bourgeois tragedy was 
Friedrich Hebbel; but his art, too, did not dwell long in 
those precincts. Maybe his apostasy was due to the 
obsession under which he labored, namely, that the 
tragedy of middle-class life consists mainly in the limita- 
tions peculiar to the narrowing existence of ordinary 
people, or, as he puts it, that the tragedy in common 
circles springs "from the rigid exclusiveness with which 
the individuals, wholly incapable of dialectics, stand op- 
posed to one another in the limited sphere, and from their 
consequent terrible enslavement to a partial existence." c 
Nine years after Maria Magdalene (1844) at least one 
forceful dramatist had the courage to follow in Hebbel's 
footsteps. This was Otto Ludwig (1813-1865), in his 
Erbforster (1853). Numerous other attempts followed — 
e.g., Gustav Freytag's (1816-1895) Die Valentine (1847) 
and Graf Waldemar (1848), but none of them were of 
sufficient strength and weight to make more than a pass- 
ing impression in the evolution of modern drama. The 
tragic conflicts in the plays of that earlier period (say 
1840-1870) echoed, as a rule, — and that a rule almost 
without exception, — the antagonism between separated 
classes of society and their religious, political, and na- 
tional strifes and struggles. The tragedy in fact consisted 
in the entrance of these outside conflicts into the precincts 


of domestic life. But the year 1870 created a new social 
basis for German literature. As a result of the gradual 
growth of social organization, the olden theme, "Sie 
konnten zusammen nicht kommen," the obstacles to the 
intermarriage of people belonging to different social 
strata have ceased to play the dominant role, as formerly 
in Kabale und Liebe. New social questions, affecting 
under diverse aspects all classes of society alike, and 
presaging the natural transition from one established 
order of things to another, took hold of the people and 
were only waiting for authoritative spokesmen. Such a 
part was now assumed all at once by Henrik Ibsen. And 
he was daring enough to move those questions out of their 
platonic vagueness to the threshold of action, and to 
deepen, as Edgar Steiger has it, questions of the hour into 
questions of life. Brandes, pointing out that in our age 
political conflicts have been largely superseded by social 
questions, undertakes to group Ibsen's motifs along with 
the problems of modern life, as follows: (1) Problems 
relating to religion ; (2) the clash between Past and Pres- 
ent; (3) social life; rich a>nd poor, dependents and inde- 
pendents; (4) the sexes in their social and erotic relation, 
woman's emancipation. d 

Undoubtedly one reason for Ibsen's adherence to the 
Norwegian milieu, even long after he could look to the 
theatre of all Europe and had become really more inti- 
mate with social conditions in Germany than in Norway, 
was the constitution of society in his country, where a 
comparative freedom from class complications facilitated 
the writer's concentration upon essential problems. 
Ibsen is, to my knowledge, the only great writer in history 


who entirely dispensed with heroes in armor or uniform, 
and managed the feat, apparently so impossible for Eng- 
lish literary workers, of doing dramatic business without 
the decorative assistance of tufts and titles. In the ab- 
sence of a titled aristocracy in his native land, this was a 
merit only in so far as he might have easily domiciled his 
plots elsewhere, had his aim been to please a snobbish 

Ibsen, as a true bourgeois tragedian, views and judges 
society neither from below nor from above, but from the 
same level. Instead of studying the sins of the proletariat, 
as certain great contemporary dramatists, notably of 
Germany and Russia, or arraigning the vices and false- 
hoods of high life, as now and then even an English play- 
wright will venture to do, he addresses his moral inquiries 
and accusations to the very broad stratum of upper mid- 
dle-class society. Lawyers, doctors, ministers, merchants, 
officials, teachers, artists, landed proprietors, shipowners, 
tradesmen, manufacturers, — these, and persons of still 
other callings, people the social world of Ibsen's dramas 
on terms of entire equality before their creator. A survey 
of this mixtum compositum does not reveal any resem- 
blance to the stereotyped figures of stage-land to which 
in this country we are still so desperately accustomed. 
The characters are rarely "charged"; each has a sharply 
stamped personality, and the "type," so far as it is ex- 
tant, is apt to be concealed under a profusion of purely in- 
dividual features and peculiarities. Nevertheless a certain 
correspondence is perceptible between their moral com- 
plexions and the vocations they follow, and Ibsen's sym- 
pathies and prejudices betray themselves in his different 


attitudes towards representatives of this or that occupa- 
tion. This may be shown inductively, without particu- 
larizing too far. 

Among the so-called liberal professions, the medical 
receives at Ibsen's hand the most favorable certificate. 
Dr. Wangel (The Lady from the Sea), the only physician 
found near the foreground of a plot, is one of his noblest 
conceptions of male character. Dr. Herdal (The Master 
Builder), in a minor part, has also the full approval of the 
poet, and so has Dr. Fieldbo (The League of Youth); 
the pathetic Dr. Rank (A Doll's House) does not forfeit 
our respect in a very ticklish situation, and even the 
shipwrecked, drifting Dr. Relling (The Wild Duck) is em- 
ployed humanely, according to his lights. 

The schoolmasters and scholars constitute a more 
mixed company. On the one hand, the even-tempered, 
reliable Arnholm (The Lady from the Sea); the well-mean- 
ing and, on the whole, well-balanced Alfred Allmers 
(Little Eyolf) . On the other hand, the pedantic, pettily 
useful George Tesman (Hedda Gabler); "Adjunkt" Ror- 
lund (Pillars of Society) and still more Rector Kroll 
(Rosmersholm) stand for the pinched narrowness of official 
schoolmasterdom ; the same is true of the schoolmaster in 
Peer Gynt (the dissolute geniuses Lovborg (Hedda Gabler) 
and Brendel (Rosmersholm) are disqualified for inclusion 
in this or any class of workers). Women teachers are 
treated with distinct favor: Martha Bernick (Pillars of 
Society), Petra Stockmann (An Enemy of the People), 
Asta Allmers (Little Eyolf) . 

For lawyers Ibsen shows an unconcealed dislike. Only 
a few of them actually enter his plots in person, — Torvald 


Helmer (A DolVs House), attorney -general for the social 
correctitudes, the hollow-hearted sensualist Brack (Hedda 
Gabler), and the unprincipled ambitionist Stensgaard 
(Love's Comedy); conjecturally the whole tribe are 
branded as anti-idealists. Ibsen holds that the law breeds 
casuists and sophists. 

The clergy conies off even worse. Of all professions 
theirs is the only one the members of which approximate 
in the manner of their portraiture a preconceived type, 
on Ibsen's stage. Nearly all of them are spokesmen of a 
narrow-minded, inflexible morality. Pastor Strawman 
(Love's Comedy) is the all-too-familiar shepherd of souls 
whose eye is forever riveted on his daily bread-and-butter. 
His colleague in Peer Gynt is not much better. Pastor 
Manders (Ghosts) is an astonishing old child with a blun- 
dering ignorance of the very rudiments of human nature. 
(According to Ibsen, the study of theology is injurious to 
the higher intellect.) 1 The drunkard Molvik (The Wild 
Duck) shows up the minister in a state of degeneracy. 
Lastly, Brand is surely a devout idealist, but his fanatical 
worship of pain neutralizes his powers for righteousness, 
and his sincerity becomes his worst vice. It would seem 
as though the average minister were not classed by Ibsen 
as a useful member of society. 

Politicians and journalists are held in still lower esteem. 
They are represented as self-seeking, shifty opportunists, 
e.g., Mortensgaard (Love's Comedy, Rosmershohn) . Apart 
from Love's Comedy, the flippant "musical tragedy" 
Norma expresses most unequivocally Ibsen's opinion of 
politicians. 2 What he thought of the average newspaper- 
1 C, p. 349. 2 SW n , vol, I. pp. 21-31. 


man is plainly hinted in the following bit of acrimonious 
pleasantry, a propos of the subject of vivisection: "Sci- 
entists should not be allowed to torture animals to death. 
Let the physicians experiment upon newspapermen and 
politicians." l 

At least two other social groups sort themselves out 
among the personnel of Ibsen's dramas. There are, on the 
one hand, the existences ratees, men like the vagabond 
philosopher Ulrik Brendel (Rosmersholm) , who have been 
thrown out of the swim and are helplessly drifting down 
the stream of life. This intellectual proletariat attracts 
representatives from many different callings and social 
connections. Dr. Relling (The Wild Duck) belongs to it, 
as do at least two of his "patients," the "demonic" 
Molvik and Ekdal Senior. Among these moral bankrupts 
are to be included the branded outcasts who have paid 
the legal penalty for their own or another culprit's infrac- 
tion of the law : old Lieutenant Ekdal and Nils Krogstad 
are conspicuous specimens of the class. As a remote con- 
gener of these "lame ducks" that flap idly about in their 
puddles one might name the Jack-of-all-trades Ballested 
(The Lady from the Sea), whose range of talent enables 
him to paint signs or portraits with the same skill and 
satisfaction. On the other hand, we have the achievers 
of practical success. While they may be taken from the 
professional class (Helmer) or the world of art (Solness, 
Rubek), the completest expression of the type is the 
powerful man of business, the "Captain of Industry." 
Peer Gynt in one of his transformations, Bernick, above 
all John Gabriel Borkman, occur at once as the best 

1 SW n , vol. i, p. 206. 


examples. Rich men, with Ibsen, are seldom honest men, 
but grasping, unscrupulous egoists. "Men of might" are 
as a rule mere self-seekers who make the public, so far 
as is necessary or politic, a limited partner in their suc- 
cess, and who delude the world — occasionally themselves 
also — into believing they are moved solely by a desire 
for "the power to create human happiness in wide, wide 
circles around them," — as John Gabriel Borkman rep- 
resentatively puts it. 

Ibsen's attitude to these various classes of people ac- 
counts in no small measure for the common exception 
taken to his plays. In the words of a keen American 
critic of society, "There is no doubt whatever from the 
point of view of the best families, the solid citizens, those 
'whom the nation delights to honor,' and the 'backbone 
of this republic,' that the spirit of an Ibsen play is im- 
moral, indecent, perverse, and morbid. It was his purpose 
to have it so. Indeed, people are not nearly so uncom- 
fortable as he meant them to be." e 

Pillars of Society ("Samfundets Stotter," 1877) has a 
satirical sting in its very title. Society is viewed under the 
likeness of a rickety structure resting on props that 
are hollow with decay. It is a theme full of intense 
actuality. Ibsen's interest is switched off from the By- 
ronic or romantic sort of hero — like Brand — to one of a 
completely modern stamp/ Consul Bernick in our drama 
has reached his eminence by a fairly complete assortment 
of commending qualities. He presents himself as an enter- 
prising but strictly honorable man of business, a public- 
spirited citizen, a pious churchman, and of course a 
blameless husband and exemplary father, in short, a per- 


feet model of respectability, fairly redolent of civic and 
private virtues. Is there a place where merits like his go 
unrewarded, unless they be shyly hidden from the world? 
Skien or Bergen is not that place. Karsten Bernick has 
made a thorough success of his life. He is rich, respected, 
influential, in fact the "first citizen" of the town and 
surrounding country, — a mainstay forsooth of the social 
order. Yet this so splendidly environed existence of the 
local man of might is utterly hollow because all its 
achievements are erected on a foundation of lies. Bernick 
owes his elevation to hypocrisy, which, according to 
Rochefoucauld, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. 
By the slow, tremendously effective workings of the 
analytical method the sacerdotal robes of this high priest 
of the social religion are stripped one by one till at last he 
is dragged forth to the public gaze in his cold and naked 
wolfishness. The shortest way to material success, as 
illustrated by Bernick's case, is ruthlessness, the moralist 
to the contrary notwithstanding. His is the capitalistic 
secret of making the public interest his own. A railroad 
is to be built in the district; Bernick works up a sentiment 
in opposition to the project. A year after that he pro- 
motes the same object with ardor, because in the mean 
time he has bought up the land abutting on this railway. 
A man who has climbed to his position in the public esteem 
over the prostrate lives and fortunes of his best friends; 
who has not scrupled to besmirch and wreck the reputa- 
tion of a self-sacrificing benefactor; a man who has coolly 
bartered away the happiness of three human beings in 
order to give himself a lift; and who by a steady loss of 
character sinks actually to the baseness of plotting a 


multiple murder, must doubtless be a very fair actor to 
go undetected in a community made by experience — if 
Ibsen's knowledge of his country be trustworthy — some- 
what vigilant in regard to deception. In Bernick, Ibsen 
created the sharpest conceivable antithesis between the 
appearance and the essence of character. Things must 
have been decidedly rotten in that state, once part of 
Denmark, to have even remotely suggested the notion of 
a prominent merchant sending a leaky ship, well covered 
by insurance of course, out to sea, in the reasonable ex- 
pectation of a disaster that would put out of the way the 
chief witness to his villainy. In this, Bernick's motive 
was originally pure greed. He salved his conscience by 
giving orders to repair the hulk, yet knew that it could 
not be put into seaworthy condition within the absurdly 
brief time allowed to the foreman of the shipyard; nor 
does he hesitate to corrupt the conscience of his sub- 
ordinate in order to attain his nefarious purpose.* 

Since in drama the measure of character is not only a 
baseness actually committed, but equally the resolution 
to commit it, Karsten Bernick is to all dramatical pur- 
poses a murderous rogue, even though the hand of fate 
shoots miraculously out of the machine to stay the con- 
summation of his villainy and turn the impending col- 
lapse of all fortunes into an occasion for general rejoicing 
and thanksgiving. By this unlooked-for, and likewise 
uncalled-for, intervention of fate the questionable truth 
of the old saws that "honesty is ever the best policy" and 
"better late than never" was plainly brought home 
without too rude a shock to the delicate sensibilities of 
theatrical audiences. The poet had not yet reached the 


stage of non-consideration for the feelings of the public 
which he first displayed in the last act of A DolVs House. 
The outcome of Pillars of Society is highly satisfactory to 
all parties concerned. 1 

It is the lie, we are told, that "has gone near to poison- 
ing every fibre" in Bernick's character. Still, he is not 
incurable. The antidote is administered with vigor, a 
species of moral emetic that purges the system, and the 
patient emerges from the action with a clean bill of moral 
health such as he has never enjoyed since the days of his 
blessed babyhood. An American or English audience, in 
its childlike sesthetical unsophistication, will be the last to 
object that our hero, with a practiced eye for scenic effect, 
turns from sinner to saint with a swiftness that exceeds 
the usual speed limit of moral regeneration. Still less will 
they find fault with the mise-en-scene of his confession, 
which somehow suggests the spectacularity of Mr. Hall 
Caine's heroic reprobates spurred on by penitence to a 
high resolve and, in the colored language of their author, 
"delirious with a wild desire to face the consequences of 
their conduct." 3 To persons with some education in the 
drama the culmination of Pillars of Society will seem too 
theatrical to be dramatic. It is quite a different shudder 
that grips the soul when, in Tolstoy's peasant tragedy 
The Power of Darkness, the peasant Nikita, fighting his 
way to spiritual peace, lays bare his crime-stained con- 
science as he stutters out, without any premeditation, his 
deeds of infamy. There all the conditions are artistically 
combined to make the scene quite natural. 

The principal fault of Pillars of Society is that some of 
its events do not depend upon anything the characters do, 


but merely on an artificial conflux of circumstances. The 
satirical sting, turned against the acknowledged adorers 
of that abstract trinity, the Good, the Beautiful, and the 
True, sinks still deeper as the reflection is forced upon 
us that the tottering hero is propped and steadied, not by 
any of the model members of society, but by its declared 
"black sheep," a man and a woman outlawed by all con- 
stituted guardians of the conventions, he as a victim of 
unjust suspicions, and she apparently for no demon- 
strable sin in particular, probably just for being a head- 
strong, eccentric person, or, not to put too fine a point 
upon it, a frowzy old maid in short hair and a mon- 
strously unbecoming "reform" dress. Did the poet in his 
temerity wish to demonstrate that of such metal consist 
perhaps the real anchors of our social safety? It would 
seem so, for, besides these two personalities of settled 
moral worth, Johan Tonnesen and Lona Hessel, who 
cannot thrive in the cabined air of a provincial town, only 
one other in the play, Dina Dorf, has the complete ap- 
proval of the master; and she, too, the foundling child 
of a vagrant actress, is without the pale of strict social 
respectability. In an earlier version Dina runs off with 
Johan, — without benefit of clergy, — whereat Bernick 
makes this heterodox comment, "And yet I say, I place 
this marriage higher than many of ours at which all the 
formalities have been observed." * 

As has already been mentioned, Pillars of Society gives 
an indication of Ibsen's later works, both as to the themes 
and the mood in which they are treated. Deliberately he 
proceeds to satirize his age through the leading types of 

1 SW n , vol. in. P . 70. 


social and individual hypocrisy and personal and collec- 
tive selfishness. It is only natural that among the mutual 
benefit contrivances of modern society matrimony should 
be subjected to the closest examination. After Love's 
Comedy and The League of Youth we are not unprepared 
for the depressing information that the most formidable 
stronghold of the all-pervading social lie is the domestic 
hearth. Hypocrisy begins at home. Mrs. Bernick is one 
of those angelically meek souls who are born to usefulness 
and forbearance and uninteresting rectitude; not being 
self-luminous, they shine only with light reflected from 
the nearest fixed luminary. In orthodox marriage this 
source of light is the personality of the husband. What if 
the light flicker and wane? The Bernick marriage, so 
typical of its kind, is anything but a perfect partnership; 
virtually, Betty is a negligible quantity for Bernick, and 
the critical moment brings her nothingness home to her 
through Bernick's unmistakable opinion of her worth: — 

Bernick. And there is n't a soul here that I can confide in, or 
that can give me any support. 

Mrs. Bernick. No one at all, Karsten? 
Bernick. No; you know there is not. 1 

More drastically still is her nullity attested in the pre- 
liminary sketch. When Mrs. Bernick inquires about the 
proposed railway: "But, Karsten, what are the facts 
about that matter?" Bernick replies, "Ah, Betty dear, 
how can that be of any interest to you?" 2 Now, it is 
extremely unlikely that this particular woman, composed 
wholly of the certified milk of human kindness, would, 
even under greatly altered circumstances, have been much 
1 Vol. vi, p. 277. * SW 11 , vol. in, p. 52. 


more than an obedient organ of masculine authority; and 
yet the blame for Bernick's domestic solitude falls on his 
own shoulders. At least it is put there by the queer but 
breezy Lona Hessel, who explains, with power of attorney 
from the poet, why Betty has not been at all the woman 
whom Karsten Bernick required as a mate: because be 
has never shared his life-work with her; because he never 
placed her in a free and true relation with himself. This 
Lona Hessel, said to have been suggested by Miss Aasta 
Hansteen, a well-known artist and woman's rights advo- 
cate, is, dramatically considered, a hybrid between the 
"new woman" and the "emancipated woman" of nine- 
teenth-century literature. At any rate, this character 
proves that Ibsen was already concerned with the woman 
question, and this interest reveals itself even more 
strongly in the original sketches than in the finished 
play. It is not as though his sympathies had not been 
from all beginning with the mind-strong and self-assert- 
ing type of womanhood, the sort that is meant by Margit 
(The Feast at Solhaug): "Aye, those women . .. . they 
are not weak as we are; they do not fear to pass from 
thought to deed," 1 or by Hjordis (The Vikings): "The 
strong women that did not drag out their lives tamely 
like thee and me." 2 

Betty Bernick, the stock pattern of defenseless and 
thoroughly domesticated femininity, is offset by the en- 
ergetic, independent Lona Hessel, along with whom are 
placed two other women of different yet similarly vital 
character, Bernick's sister Martha and Dina Dorf . Mar- 
tha is inwardly resigned and outwardly submissive, yet 
1 Vol. i, p. 231. 2 Vol. ii, p. 46. 


resolute and full of capability; withal a tender, lovable, 
and loving woman. We meet with her kind in every fol- 
lowing play; there is, for instance, Thea Elvsted in Hedda 
Gabler. In Dina Dorf the "new woman" comes into full 
life in modern literature : a girl who seems to have strayed 
from the old-time sane and safe pattern of womanhood, 
because she has an ear for the stirring call of a wider life; 
in love with the upright Tonnesen, she yet puts off her 
marriage to him till through the discipline of hard work 
she shall make something of herself and "be somebody." 
Pillars of Society, while drenched with the "quintes- 
sence of Ibsenism," and in many ways typical of Ibsen's 
manner as well as his morals, is no longer acceptable to 
those dramatic standards to which the great playwright 
himself, by his superb rejection of custom and tradition, 
has educated us. Its value is curtailed by its acquies- 
cence, whether willing or reluctant, in too many of the 
ruling dramatic devices. Ibsen, though struggling for ar- 
tistic freedom, still seemed wedded to certain false idols 
of the stage, notably the haunting spectre of "poetic jus- 
tice," that is, the distribution of rewards and punishments 
at the close of the action. Critical modern audiences 
will be apt to disclaim in the very name of Ibsen the elab- 
orate climax, the spectacular grande scene with its tearful 
pathos, and above all other things the audacious im- 
probabilities that bring about quite unexpectedly an all's- 
well-that-ends-well conclusion not in the course of nature, 
as it were, but by the fiat of an indulgent poet. We have 
grown more fastidious and exacting. As it is put by a crit- 
ical writer in a different connection, " We no longer be- 
lieve as of old in compensations or retribution, and in a 


work of art we demand, not morals, but causes and effects, 
linked together in a relation as inevitable as in nature 
itself. Inevitable, not merited, is now the word." * Its 
"preachiness" also detracts from the effect of the piece 
upon cultivated audiences of to-day. As yet Ibsen did not 
possess a dramatist's last secret — the power of conveying 
all his meaning through characters and events, instead of 
through set speeches of his own. Pillars of Society repre- 
sents only a transitional type of play, a fact which unques- 
tionably promoted its success. The theatricalities, after 
the manner of Scribe, Augier, Dumas fils, ingratiated 
this essentially revolutionary piece with the general pub- 
lic. The audiences never realized till too late that their 
preciously comfortable habits of thought had been ruth- 
lessly upset. 

In this country Pillars of Society was one of the first 
among Ibsen's plays to be opened up to the public's intel- 
lectual curiosity so solicitously bridled by the moral 
watchfulness of our Theatrical Trust. The recent en- 
largement of our allowance of modern thought cannot, 
however, be called illiberal for a public that clings so con- 
servatively to some of the most barbaric views regarding 
the purposes of drama; for audiences accustomed to stroll 
to their seats after the rise of the curtain, addicted to 
"rag-time" between the acts, and tolerant towards the 
abomination of "soft music" meretriciously invoked for 
the sentimentalization of what with the playmongers 
passes under the name of "heart interest." The other 
plays of Ibsen, unless they are forced upon the heavy in- 
ertia of our public by foreign stars, cannot compete with 
Pillars of Society, simply because they depend for their 


success too much upon collaboration from the audience. 
Without closest and most concentrated attention, the 
anterior plot, say of Rosmersholm or John Gabriel Bork- 
man, so indispensable to the profounder comprehension 
of such plays, cannot possibly be caught. Ibsen created 
his works for educated and attentive lovers of the drama, 
capable of deriving enjoyment from its higher forms, and 
not for people whose disposition toward art is described 
in Brand in words that read as though they might have 
been specially intended for transoceanic exportation : — 

A little poetry pleases me, 
And all our folks, in their degree; 
But — moderation everywhere ! 
In life it never must have share, — 
Except at night, when folks have leisure, 
Between the hours of seven and ten, 
When baths of elevating pleasure 
May fit the mood of weary men. 1 

The unreadiness of the American public for the higher 
drama can easily be demonstrated in a variety of ways. 
The reluctant attitude towards Ibsen is only one of them, 
but one of the most characteristic. To illustrate it, in its 
.contrast with the attitude of other countries, let us take, 
wholly at random, The Master Builder, esteemed, rightly 
or wrongly, to be one of Ibsen's three or four greatest 
works. It was published in December, 1892, and per- 
formed in German (at the Lessing-Theater, Berlin) in 
January, 1893. The following month, a performance in 
English was given (at the Trafalgar Square Theatre, Lon- 
don). Then followed, in order of chronology, the perform- 
ances of the original, in March of the same year, both at 

1 Vol. in, p. 104. 


Christiania and Copenhagen. Stockholm came immedi- 
ately after. One year later, in April, 1894, Solness le Con- 
structeur passed over the boards of the Theatre L'CEuvre. 
Wide-awake America saw the premiere at a private -per- 
formance in January, 1900 (Carnegie Lyceum). Yet, when 
all is said, one could wish we w r ere only seven years behind 
Europe in those things that make for aesthetic education ! 
Mr. William Archer puts the case very strongly, and in 
my opinion with fair accuracy, in saying: "A thoroughly 
well-mounted and well-acted revival [of Pillars of Soci- 
ety] might now appeal to that large class of playgoers 
which stands on very much the same intellectual level on 
which the German public stood in the eigh teen-eighties. 
It exactly suited the German public of the eighties; it 
was exactly on a level with their theatrical intelligence. 
But it was above the intelligence of the Anglo-American 
public." 1 P r illars of Society was produced in 1877. In 
1878 it was given by five different theatres in the city 
of Berlin within a single fortnight. The first American 
performance in English took place in New York, in 

W 7 hile in point of pure artistic merit Pillars of Society 
is immeasurably inferior to Ghosts or Hedda Gabler, yet 
it intimates the artistic as well as the intellectual sig- 
nificance of Ibsen's future dramas. Already he excels in 
drastic seizure of the workaday life with its tragic mes- 
sage. Nor will a certain structural grandeur be denied to 
this play, while in the delineation of the figures the author 
proves himself a draftsman of superior power and surety. 
These outstanding merits are enhanced by the mastery 
1 Vol. vi, pp. xviii and xix. 


now gained in wielding the dialogue. Ibsen's innovation 
in this art calls for some comment. 

It will be remembered that Ibsen began literary life as 
a writer of verse. Of the older romantic plays, two are in 
verse, four in prose, and in the remaining two, prose and 
verse are intermingled. Of the sixteen "modern" plays, 
three are in verse, and thirteen in prose. His lyrics were 
few in number. In 1871 twenty-five were gathered into a 
slender volume, Digte ("Poems")." 1 During the quarter- 
century that followed, only a few poems were added to 
that collection. Still, his verse dramas were instinct with 
the finest qualities of lyric poetry. But he did not long 
adhere to the conventional metrics. Already in The Feast 
at Solhaug and in Olaf Liljekrans he abandoned the regu- 
lar dramatic metres for the freer rhythms of the ballad and 
the epic. After Peer Gynt he discarded versified dialogue 
altogether. His ambition was now to be a master of dra- 
matic prose. And he made no idle boast when he declared 
that in changing from verse to prose he had embraced the 
far more difficult art of composing poetry in the plain, 
truthful language of reality. 1 

The most striking quality to be noted about Ibsen's 
dramatic dialogue is its artistic unconstraint; so extremely 
plain and natural is the language of the dramatis persona? 
that at first blush its simplicity might easily be mistaken 
for scantiness of vocabulary. But this economy must not 
be regarded as poverty. The wonder is that Ibsen can 
make his wholly unembellished speeches the adequate 

1 To the actress Lucie Wolf, by way of justifying his refusal to write 
a prologue for her use. C, p. 367; cf . also C, p. 269 (to Edmund Gosse), 
explaining his preference for prose in Emperor and Galilean. 


vehicle, especially in his later works, of the subtlest 
thoughts and sublimest feelings; moreover his dialogue 
possesses to a rare degree the power of denoting and 
revealing human character. 

While the nervous, incisive energy of the dialogue is 
undoubtedly due in considerable measure to the rugged 
force inherent in the medium, yet it also owes much to 
Ibsen's rediscovery of a patent linguistic fact. In nearly 
all languages, and particularly in German, there has 
arisen a wide difference between the everyday, or "collo- 
quial," and the "literary" style of expression. Since for 
all the actual purposes of life we manage satisfactorily 
with "ordinary " language, the realistic drama of modern 
times has shown a strong tendency to reduce, if not en- 
tirely to abolish, that artificial difference. Of all literary 
forms, the social drama stood most in need of the change. 

Ibsen, as we have seen, experimented for a long while 
before he succeeded, in The League of Youth, in replacing 
the exaltations of the conventional language of poetry 
with that unaffected, non-declamatory utterance which 
brings a play so much nearer to reality, and furthermore 
gives means and scope for distincter characterization. 
Through the powerful example of Ibsen, modern drama 
was able to rid itself of its hackneyed and stereotyped 
phraseology; the articulation of thought was henceforth 
accomplished without that continuous translation from 
the habitual manner of speaking into the so-called literary 
style. Ibsen established the important principle that the 
diction of a play must conform to the degree of its reality 
or ideality. In Pillars of Society the imitation of natural 
conversation may not be quite so successful as in The 


League of Youth, because its employment in serious drama 
was encompassed with greater difficulties for the novice. 
But lest we undervalue his attainment by comparing it 
with the efforts of the "naturalists," we must bear in mind 
that Ibsen did not start from the same premises as they. 

Ibsen skipped somehow the physiological stage of nat- 
uralism and started at the psychological stage, to which 
his contemporaries and successors were to find their way 
considerably later. He was a real Teuton in that the mat- 
ter meant much more to him than the manner. Therefore 
his dialogue is not spiced with vulgarities; nor is it 
crammed with bad grammar and vacant jabber. Its pro- 
gress is not irrelevant or saltatory, but always follows 
steadily the close path of succinct argumentation. In con- 
tradistinction to the prolixity of orthodox naturalism the 
dialogue in Ibsen's plays is restricted to the bare necessi- 
ties. Hence the laconic brevity of the sentences, the strict 
avoidance of redundancies, the scanty use of adjectives, — 
no other writer has managed with so few. Unnecessary 
details are dispensed with on the principle that veritatis 
simplex oratio est. We are never bored by recitals spun out 
needlessly beyond their natural length. The intelligent 
follower of the psychological drama, be it remembered, is 
somewhat a psychologist himself. He does not care to 
have the playwright debar him from some auxiliary cere- 
bral activity of his own. We accept a psychological de- 
monstration much more willingly if it is not too explicit. 
We can take a hint; a gesture may have as much to say 
to us as a speech. 

The dialogue of Ibsen is saved from triteness by its in- 
variable relevancy; provided, of course, the acting be intel- 


ligent enough to convey the full charge of suggestions con- 
tained in the lines : the more reticent a dramatic poet, the 
more does he depend on the complementary service of the 
impersonators, on their competent and discreet exercise 
of that rare combination of the expressive faculties which 
go to the making of the mimic art. By his rigid and novel 
demands Ibsen inaugurated a new school of acting. Its 
summa regula is the elimination of the spectatorial ele- 
ments. The older technique of acting, where it is still 
practiced, is unequal to the task of performing his plays 
worthily; hence the comparative infrequency of Ibsen 
performances in such places. It is credibly asserted that 
Otto Brahm originated the true style of producing an 
Ibsen drama. 

The utmost care was bestowed by Ibsen on the diction 
of his plays, in fact on every phase of their workmanship. 
This accounts for the fact that in spite of his industry and 
great powers of concentration he required on the average 
two years to make a drama. We are singularly fortunate 
in having been admitted to his workshop, as it were, 
through the publication of his " literary remains." Much 
valuable information about his working methods is stored 
up in these posthumous volumes. 71 They consist for the 
greater part of the preliminary sketches and cast-off ver- 
sions of most of the plays. Even mere shreds are preserved, 
since Ibsen was in the habit of jotting down a good line at 
once. The fundamental ideas of the dramas were also 
frequently fixed on paper in the form of striking observa- 
tions. Each scene was practically completed before it was 
written down. In course of his long walks and during 
almost any time when his mind was unoccupied, for in- 


stance, while he was dressing, the dialogue was being 
worked out, to the very phrasing. Once a play had taken 
form in his imagination, he constantly lived in the com- 
pany of the figures. Not infrequently the minor charac- 
ters were transposed from one play to another at this pre- 
paratory stage (e.g., the Wangel sisters from Rosmers- 
holm to The Lady from the Sea, or Stockmann's, originally 
Bernick's, father-in-law, nicknamed the "Badger," from 
Pillars of Society to An Enemy of the People). 1 Even the 
names of the persons were much experimented with. Ib- 
sen regarded them by no means as unimportant. In Little 
Eyolf the belief is set forth that names express the nature 
and character of a family. 2 Gregers Werle attributes a 
fatal quality to his name. 3 Lona Hessel (Pillars of Soci- 
ety) was at first called Abelona; in Rosmersholm, Brendel's 
original name was Hetman, that of Kroll, Gylling. Dr. 
Rank was at first named Hank, etc. 4 

The stage of creative work was preceded by very care- 
fully drafted scenarios. AtChristianiainl895 a young man 
begged Ibsen to examine his play. ' First show me your 
plan," quoth Ibsen. To the budding dramatist pleading 
that he had not written out a plan, having been guided 
"by inspiration," the old poet replied that a playwright 
who did not first construct a plan was ignorant of the 
A B C of his trade and incapable of writing for the stage. 
Occasionally, a piece would be dashed off at a single 
stroke, but perhaps An Enemy of the People is the only 

1 SW 11 , vol. in, p. 27. 2 Vol. xi, pp. 72 and 78. 

• Vol. viii, p. 267. 

4 For these and many other examples consult the sketches in vol. ill 
of the SW 11 . 


well-authenticated instance of that. As a rule, each play 
was re-written several times. To the last, Ibsen would 
seek to improve the composition by means of abridgment, 
transpositions, verbal changes, etc. 

During earlier years he attended the rehearsals of his 
plays whenever it was possible for him to do so. He was 
helpful, appreciative, and kind to the actors, but grad- 
ually interested himself less and less in the stage produc- 
tion, and in later days took no part whatever in this final 
phase of dramatic work. His loss of interest may have 
been due principally to the discrepancy a performance 
must invariably have brought out between the figures as 
they existed in his vivid imagination and their imper- 
sonation by the actors. To externalize all the singularities 
with which Ibsen has outfitted his characters is indeed a 
task difficult enough to defy the art of the actor; it is 
incomparably easier for a player to vitalize a "normal" 
person deporting himself by rule and line than a "crank" 
with all his tricks of habit. Moreover, Ibsen intentionally 
denied to some of his figures an absolute definiteness and 

After Pillars of Society Ibsen's international position 
was made. His audience was swelled to enormous pro- 
portions over that of the average Scandinavian author 
whose whole country offers a potential audience smaller 
in numbers than the population of New York City, His 
work was recognized as epochal by leading critics, and 
henceforth he was sure of intelligent attention for the 
ideas expounded in his dramas. In Pillars of Society the 
range of these ideas was indicated, and so was Ibsen's* 
critical attitude and temper. And yet this play is of far 


less ethical consequence than those that follow. After all, 
the moral disorders in Pillars of Society arise, on a closer 
inspection, simply out of the turpitude of a particular 
man or at most a set of people, — they are not necessarily 
an outgrowth of the organic corruption of society. Other- 
wise stated, Pillars of Society strikes at what might be 
but a solitary instance puffed up and generalized. 
* It is in A DolVs House and in Ghosts that our wrongs 
are for the first time presented as structural rather than 
incidental in our society. Instead of the exception, the 
rule is now impeached. p The tragical strain in these plays 
consists in a struggle of the spirit of subjective liberty 
against the objective limitations established by the body 
politic. A readjustment of even the most unquestioningly 
accepted social arrangements looms up as an extremely 
likely demand. 



The foundations of the social structure rest, according to 
Ibsen's unshakable conviction, on the mutual relations of 
the sexes. This explains why among his themes, although 
the erotic passion plays such a small part, yet the sex 
question occupies a dominant role. And the sex question 
is nor more nor less than the woman question. Therefore 
the woman question, in its social, economic, and above all 
its spiritual bearings, springs into extraordinary promi- 
nence in Ibsen's works. It is perhaps the one subject on 
which the notorious mental interrogation mark with 
which he loves to conclude his plays straightens itself 
frankly into an emphatic exclamation point. 

Personally, a writer could not well be farther from 
feminism than Ibsen was. A temperamental predilection 
for the feminine point of view is assuredly not one of his 
natural idiosyncrasies, and yet he became the most pro- 
nounced woman emancipator of the age. His indorsement 
of feminine claims is simply an act of unswerving alle- 
giance to the force of logic. In many of his dramas a 
woman is the principal figure: Fru Inger, Helen Alving, 
Nora Helmer, etc., and in all his works such a prominent 
position is assigned to women that he has been universally 
applauded by the women's rights advocates. Yet when 
the Women's Rights League of Norway, at a general 
convention in 1898, extolled the poet's merits as a cham- 


pion of their cause, he made the following characteristic 

reply: — 

I am not a member of the Women's Rights League. Whatever 
I have written has been without any conscious thought of mak- 
ing propaganda. I have been more poet and less social philos- 
opher than people generally seem inclined to believe. My work 
has been the description of humanity. The task always before 
my mind has been to advance our country and give the people 
a higher standard. To obtain this, two factors are of impor- 
tance. It is for the mothers by strenuous and sustained effort to 
awaken a conscious feeling of culture and discipline. This feeling 
must be created before it will be possible to lift the people to a 
higher plane. It is the women who are to solve the social prob- 
lem. As mothers they are to do it. And only as such can they do 
it. Here lies a great task for woman. My thanks; and success 
to the Women's Rights League! l 

It deserves passing notice, that in the " Scandinavian 
Union" at Rome Ibsen was active in procuring the ballot 
for women members. On February 27, 1879, he made a 
forceful argument before the general meeting. 2 

It is impossible to survey the gallery of female effigies 
painted by Ibsen, from the Vestal Furia in Catilina, the 
virago Hjordis in The Vikings, past the more firmly out- 
lined modern portraits: Selma Bratsberg, Lona Hessel, 
Nora Helmer, Rebecca West, Hedda Gabler, and so on, 
to the symbolically drawn Ellida Wangel, Hilda Wangel 
and the almost pre-raphaelitic Irene in the Epilogue, 
without realizing that he was indeed profoundly con- 
cerned in the W T oman Question. It had interested him 
absorbingly since 1870. Throughout his career he 
dreamed of the reorganization of society through woman. 

1 S$L, p. 65 /. 

2 SJV", vol. i. pp. 211-23, and ibid., vol. rv, p. 291. 


Addressing the workingmen of Trondhjem, June 14, 1885, 
he said : — 

The reshaping of social conditions, which is now under way 
out there in Europe, is chiefly concerned with the future position 
of the workingman and of woman. This transformation it is 
that I am awaiting, and for it I will and shall work with all my 
power as long as I live. 1 

(It is perhaps curious that Ibsen, who in his early manhood 
was inflamed by the labor movement, failed to let at least 
one of his plots centre about this interest, as have some of 
his contemporaries. The reason may have lain in his 
conviction that any reform in the outer organization of 
society is a mere makeshift. He preferred to deal with the 
fundamental trouble and its radical cure. 2 Nevertheless 
he has long been regarded by workingmen as a forceful 
ally in their struggle for economic and social betterment.) 
Men, including the so-called "liberals," are still open 
to Lona Hessel's charge that they live — with their inter- 
ests and ambitions, that is — in a bachelor world, "and 
that they have no eyes for womankind." 3 "Modern 
society is no human society ; it is merely a masculine so- 
ciety." 4 "A woman cannot be herself in modern society," 
says Ibsen, "which is a society exclusively masculine, 
having laws written by men and judges who pronounce 
upon women's conduct from the masculine point of 
view." 5 In a sketch for A DolVs House, Nora says: "The 
Law is unjust, Christine; one can notice clearly that it is 

1 SNL, p. 54. 

2 C, p. 425, he explains thathe never had anything to do with the labor 
movement as such. Cf. a brief article on his relations to social democ- 
racy, .SIT", vol. i. p. 510; also, C, p. 415 and pp. 430-31. 

8 Vol. vi, p. 408. * SW n , vol. i, p. 206. 5 Ibid., vol. m, p. 77. 


made by men." 1 The thousands and thousands of women 
who have applauded Mr. Theodore Roosevelt's diatribes 
on the prime function of their sex have totally failed to 
grasp the corollary of his argument, namely, that, as some 
one has put it, in modern society a woman ought to die, 
like certain insects, as soon as she has done her part 
toward propagating the species. Else would they not in 
a spirit of revolt ask with one of our newest poets, — 

Mothering, mothering, mothering. 

Cannot we find our lives except that way ? a 

The tremendous excitement aroused by A DolVs House 
("Et Dukkehjem," 1879) 2 was due to a habitual confu- 
sion. The criticism of marriage in the concrete was taken 
as equivalent to an attack upon the institution of mar- 
riage and a plea for its abrogation; no wonder men's 
minds were staggered. Was it not rather true that, as an 
ardent believer in the sacredness of marriage, Henrik 
Ibsen viewed with a sense of alarm the prevailing mis- 
conception of its meaning? He believed in the possibility 
of noble union between husband and wife, because he 
believed in woman. The congenital ambition of a true 
and normal woman is to kindle her life with the higher 
flame of self-renunciation and to give of herself to such as 
have need of her. It is touching to see how among Ibsen's 
women those that have been cheated out of the joys and 
sorrows of physical motherhood bestow motherly care 
upon some grown-up child. As instance, Lona Hessel 
cheerfully slaving for Johan, or Ella Rentheim (When 

1 SW U , vol. in, p. 131. 

* The earliest draft is contained in STf ni . vol. in, pp. 75-173. It wa3 

previously published in German in Dieneue Rundschau, December, 1906. 


We Dead Awaken) planning for Erhart, or Thea Elvsted 
(Hedda Gabler), perhaps the most self-sacrificing of them, 
raising up the sunken Eilert Lovborg at the expense of her 
peace and good name. Significantly all the men in Ibsen's 
plays who amount to anything require, in order to realize 
themselves, the helpful comradeship of a woman. No 
merely comely and gracious women are found among his 
heroines. In The Vikings, Sigurd pronounces ex voce 
j)oetoe Ibsen's ideal of womanhood and wifehood : — 

The warrior needs a high-souled wife. She whom I choose 
must not rest content with a humble lot; no honor must seem 
too high for her to strive for; gladly must she follow me a-viking; 
war- weed must she wear; she must egg me on to the strife, and 
never blink her eyes where sword-blades lighten; for if she be 
fainthearted, scant honor will befall me. 1 

Thea Elvsted, Hilda Wangel, Rebecca West, like many 
other women characters in Ibsen's plays, are the guides 
and inspiritors of the men they love. Ella and Irene lead 
their lovers upwards — toward the top of symbolical 

And yet the average masculine notion of a happy mar- 
riage and a perfect wife, at the time when A DolVs House 
was written, sadly discountenanced the requirement of 
spiritual companionship. Petty domestic tyranny was 
still in full blast. The Nora of the first part of the play, 
still more the Nora of the anterior plot, fairly represents 
the unspecified type of femininity then in demand for the 
purpose of marriage. Women themselves hardly ever 
called in question the sanctity, let alone the moral legality, 
of marriage between persons spiritually unrelated. They 

1 Vol. ii, p. 79. 


were not a little startled to see the marriage problem ele- 
vated to the foremost theme of dramaturgy by Ibsen, and 
to hear it reiterated, from A DolVs House to the Epilogue, 
that marriage can only be happy when it rests on the basis 
of common ideals; that only when a man and a woman 
have the will and strength to give and to take with equal 
measure may they merge their lives and be entitled to 
equip a new generation with the gift of life. In an age 
of enlightenment true wedlock should differentiate itself 
from illicit or ephemeral union of the sexes, in that the 
husband looks upon the wife as his peer and partner, 
entitled to share his anxieties and troubles as well as his 

While in A DolVs House this thought is greatly em- 
phasized and elaborated, it had been given expression in 
an earlier work. In effect it is from all beginning one of 
Ibsen's ethical Leitmotifs. In The League of Youth, Selma 
Bratsberg complains in the fourth act that she has been 
kept like a doll ; and bursts forth into this strain of rebuke 
against the rich and prominent family of her husband: — 

Selma. Oh, how cruel you have been tome! Shamefully — all 
of you ! It was my part always to accept — never to give. I 
have been like a pauper among you. You never came and de- 
manded a sacrifice of me; I was not fit to bear anything. I hate 
you! I loathe you! 

Erik. What can this mean? 

The Chamberlain. She is ill; she is out of her mind. 

Selma. How I have thirsted for a single drop of your troubles, 
your anxieties ! But when I begged for it you only laughed me 
off. You have dressed me up like a doll; you have played with 
me as you would play with a child. Oh, what a joy it would have 
been to me to take my share in your burdens! How I longed, 


how I yearned, for a large, and high, and strenuous part in life! 
Now you come to me, Erik, now that you have nothing else left. 
But I will not be treated simply as a last resource. I will have 
nothing to do with your troubles now, I won't stay with you ! I 
will rather play and sing in the streets! Let me be! Let me be! x 

In this case, the husband's offer of companionship, his 
demand that they bear the blow together, comes too much 
ex abrupto. Selma feels herself unfit for her rightful place 
after so many years of coddling and pampering. 

Unquestionably that speech of Selma's contains the 
germ of A DolVs House, yet Selma's predicament was al- 
ready prefigured by that of Anitra in Peer Gynt. The re- 
lation of Nora to Helmer, with its analogies in many later 
works, may thus be traced back at least as far as The 
League of Youth. In 1869 George Brandes remarked that 
the figure of Selma required more room and separate treat- 
ment; ten years after that A DoWs House made its appear- 
ance. Being aware of the serial continuity of Ibsen's 
dramas, we can easily imagine him pondering the fates in 
store for a Selma Bratsberg or Dina Dorf under circum- 
stances of a definitely different sort. Imagine a young and 
yearning creature, fairly willful and of stormy temper, 
grown up without the discipline of work and responsibili- 
ties, without as much as a single confrontation with any of 
the serious sides of life, and having basked perpetually in 
the fulsome adoration of parents and other admirers, — 
imagine her all of a sudden married. Married moreover to 
a man of sterling but chilly uprightness, whose heart is a 
walled fortress of the proprieties, whose ambition knows 
no goal beyond that of being a "mainstay of society," and 

1 Vol. vi, p. 130. 


whose highest satisfaction consists in the good opinion of 
the neighbors. How would such a woman bear herself in 
the crisis? Will her spirit emerge unshaken from the 
supreme battle for her liberty, against a form of oppres- 
sion all the more dangerous for its remoteness from any 
outer baseness and brutality? For in A DolVs House we 
have to do with a type of egoist far more insidious in his 
virtuous serenity than was the criminally minded Consul 
Bernick. When Nora has disclosed her unalterable decision 
to part from her husband, she makes a memorable retort 
to his desperate plea. 

Eelmer. This is monstrous! Can you forsake your holiest 
duties in this way? 

Nora. What do you consider my holiest duties? 

Helmer. Do I need to tell you that? Your duties to your 
husband and your children. 

Nora. I have other duties equally sacred. 

Helmer. Before all else you are a wife and a mother. 

Nora. That I no longer believe. I believe that before all else 
I am a human being, just as much as you are — or at least that I 
should try to become one. 1 

How does Ibsen arrive at such a startling formulation 
of a world-old problem? In the posthumous writings the 
short notice on A DolVs House shows precisely how for 
him a problem springs into actuality. In the first sen- 
tence a poetic theme is stated, so to speak, sub specie 
ceterni; Ibsen speaks of the eternal tragical antagonism 
between the masculine and feminine modes of life and 
thought. In the second paragraph the problem is nar- 
rowed down to the domestic sphere, and in the third the 
woman question as it is to-day is touched. 2 

" Vol. vii, pp. 147-48. * SW U , vol. m, p. 77. 


By wresting speeches like the above from the context it 
was a simple matter for prudery, whether attired in petti- 
coats or in trousers, to distort and misstate Ibsen's main 
argument. Nora's declaration of independence, when un- 
intelligently garbled out of every logical coherence, cannot 
but go counter to the religious interpretation of woman's 
duty, likewise to the well-nigh universal sentiment of 
husbands. A great hullabaloo was raised about the poet's 
ears by the Amalgamated Defenders of the Hearth and 
Home. Even in Germany, where already in 1880 the play 
had immense vogue, the theatre-going public would not 
put up with the "revolting" conclusion. The bewilder- 
ment of audiences had to be allayed by the attenuation 
and dispersion of the tragic theme. Ibsen himself finally 
preferred to furnish a happy ending rather than leave the 
makeshift to the clumsy hands of hired mechanics. 1 
Fortunately the necessity of yielding to the childish 
demand soon passed away. A DoWs House, therefore, 
must not be counted with Great Expectations, Der Griine 
Heinrich, The Light that Failed, and the other double- 
enders of nineteenth-century literature, because its 
author definitely repudiated the reversible ending at the 
earliest opportunity. 

The charge that Ibsen wrote A Doll's House as an 
attempt not to reform but to break up the institution of 
marriage is too utterly ridiculous for refutation. And the 
virtuous disgust with the course of the action, in particu- 
lar with Nora for wantonly breaking the holiest of home 
ties to gratify a sublimated species of selfishness, strongly 
recalls the impression produced by Antony and Cleopatra 
1 C, pp. 325-27 and 436-37. 


on a British matron, who regretfully referred to the con- 
duct of Shakespeare's heroine as "so different from the 
home life of our own dear Queen." It goes without saying 
that Ibsen believed in the institution. But he was not pri- 
marily interested in institutions, but in human beings. 
Without any conscious design, as we have seen, he was 
drawn into the woman movement. To him more than to 
any other individual factor the gradual crystallizing of 
public opinion on its issues is due. In the seventies of the 
past century he was already in advance of the position so 
faintheartedly taken now by the average ladylike male 
champion of woman's rights. Instead of dallying with the 
old debating-club questions, Shall woman study? — vote? 
— practice a profession? — Ibsen hoists into the light the 
main consideration, Shall woman truly live?" To live, in 
Ibsen's sense, is to be an individual. And individuality 
requires freedom. His natural dislike for womankind is 
at once overwhelmed by his entire moral and mental 

Most men, of course, would deny that women are un- 
free or unhappy in their lot. In the words of Mr. Bernard 
Shaw, they have come to think that the nursery and the 
kitchen are the natural sphere of a woman, exactly as 
English children come to think that a cage is the natural 
sphere of a parrot. But if men are sincere in their desire 
that love of the higher personal liberty be wrought into 
the fibre of the nation, so that, in Walt Whitman's phrase, 
the world may be peopled by "a larger, saner brood"; if 
they have faith in the recipe, " Produce great persons, the 
rest follows," — then how, in the name of common sense, 
can they perpetuate their squatter's claim to the exclusive 


right of personality? Ibsen believes with John Stuart Mill 
in extending that right to women. But if, then, you grant 
to woman the status of personality, you must not restrain 
her from its exercise. Ibsen's working thesis, so to speak, 
is this : a person's responsibility to herself should prevail 
over other responsibilities with which it may come into 
collision. Evidently, then, the woman question is closely 
bound up with the marriage question, and in fact Ibsen's 
dramas deal with the conjugal fates of women, not with 
their virginal romances. 

r— According to Ibsen's social code, matrimony should 
mot be the end of freedom. That is no true family where 
the husband counts for everything and the wife for no- 
rthing. Children reared in such a home are very apt to 
^develop into tyrants if boys, and, if girls, into drudges or 
— dolls. And that such, indeed, is the preponderant state 
of domestic life in continental Europe is the common 
opinion among us. English novelists of the last two or 
three generations have given us warrant to think similarly 
about English life. That fascinating blackguard, Count 
Fosco, in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, lauds 
English women for their especial submissiveness : — 

What is the secret of Madame Fosco's unhesitating devotion 
of herself to the fulfillment of my boldest wishes, to the further- 
ance of my deepest plans? ... I remember that I am writing 
in England ; I remember that I was married in England — and I 
ask, if a woman's marriage obligations in this country provide 
for her private opinion of her husband's principles? No! They 
charge her unreservedly to love, honor, and obey him. That is 
exactly what my wife has done, . . . and I loftily assert her 
accurate performance of her conjugal duties. Silence, Calumny! 
Your sympathy, wives of England, for Madame Fosco. d 


But when we have taken a complacent look at the mote in 
our transoceanic neighbors' eyes, let us feel transiently 
for the homegrown beam and ask ourselves whether our 
American family life is better ordered for the moral 
advantage of society under conditions which enslave the 
fathers in soulless money-getting and the mothers in 
systematized triflings, leaving the exercise of liberty, in 
good truth more than a plenty of it, to the monopoly 
of their children. 

To particularize a bit, with reference to the play under 
discussion. So far as the social condition of the American 
woman is concerned, more especially in the upper strata 
of society, suspicion occurs that much of the superficial 
charm of our women is just a bit like the flat frivolity of 
the dancing, rollicking, sweet-toothed Nora, and that, on 
the other hand, the vaunted chivalry of the American 
man may also be not without a disagreeable resemblance 
to the behavior and mental habits of Torvald Helmer. 
If the premises were changed to suit the case, how would 
the average American family measure up to the test ap- 
plied in A DolVs House ? Since Ibsen's play has remained 
to this time the most impressive literary document insti- 
gated by the woman question, one must not shrink, in 
attempting an answer, from entering somewhat upon the 
dangerous premises of that burning question. 

America is the acknowledged home of woman-worship; 
thick-skinned cynics say, of woman fetishism. Nowhere 
on earth are women treated with so much real regard as in 
these United States; chivalrous consideration for them is 
observed at every grade of the increasingly composite 
order of our society; it is the chief, not to say the only, 


contribution of America to the higher culture of the age. 
Viewed externally, the opportunities of women in this 
country equal those of the men. Their legal status is 
devised to accord a satisfactory degree of protection. 
They are freely allowed to pursue their education. For 
the wage-earning woman, and for the spinster in any 
social condition whatsoever, America is, by comparison 
with most if not all other countries, a veritable paradise : 
and if the assumption were fair that the ultimate goal of 
feminine ambition is well placed this side of the essentials 
of a true humanity, in other words, if it could be held 
unscanned that her imagination limits woman to lower 
ideals than a man's, then indeed any demand for still 
further extension of her rights might in this imperfect 
world be classed among the purely visionary desiderata. 

But when, from admitting that our type of civilization 
is more generally philogynous than are all other types, we 
proceed to the embarrassing query whether women in 
America are allotted a more influential share than else- 
where in the common life, the answer cannot as yet but 
be negative. The national sentiment, despite all appear- 
ances to the contrary, is still distinctly unfriendly to 
higher feminine aspirations, and refuses stubbornly to 
apportion between the sexes the responsibility for the 
nation's important concerns. It is asserted that women 
are freely admitted to the practice of the professions ; yet 
the assertion is set awry by the fact that the deep-rooted 
prejudice against women practitioners, notably in the 
law, still renders them, after these many years of theoreti- 
cal admission, rather sporadic phenomena. Even rarer 
are the instances of women occupying the pulpit — out- 


side, that is, of the patented feministic cult that passes by 
the name of "Christian Science." But what of women 
teachers? True, they are numerous as the sands of the 
sea, yet even in the co-educational colleges they are sel- 
dom installed in professorial chairs; nay, the very strong- 
holds of the woman cause in education, the women's 
colleges, prefer as a rule, wherever they are not debarred 
by briefs and charters, to appoint men to the more promi- 
nent positions. It seems we are not dangerously advanced 
on the path of "emancipation," as the movement used to 
be called in the earlier days. When we come to the surest 
criterion of the national attitude, do we not find masculine 
opinion, in the main, still stoutly opposed to the politi- 
cal demands of the "suffragette"? There is, of course, 
another side to all this. Such apparent solidarity of 
masculine opinion were hardly possible had woman not 
shown herself wanting somewhat in the qualities most 
prized in an andromorphously structured world, and had 
she not failed to bring her abilities to bear strongly on the 
national life, in despite of all obstructions. In no province 
of the public life, however, has there appeared in this 
country an unmistakably great personality among women, 
a genius of compelling power in art, science, letters, or 
in any other division of human service. But after all, it is 
not an easy thing to distinguish clearly between cause and 
effect in the given state of affairs. For who will undertake 
to specify to what extent feminine mediocrity might be 
the mere consequence of that disparaging attitude of the 
party in power, and the result of inferior standards bred 
by enforced imparity? 

At all events, the woman cult of the American man is 


limited and qualified. His sheltering gallantry is capable 
of nearly every sacrifice, but stops absolutely short of the 
concession of equality. The American regards himself 
willingly and proudly as the ordained protector of woman, 
and regards woman as a precious and in many respects 
superior being, delightful as a companion of his leisure, 
but unfortunately incompetent, by decree of nature, to 
participate in his own supreme interest in life, namely, the 
stern, single-minded pursuit of business. It is really not 
such a fearfully far cry from the average relation of the 
sexes in wedlock to the domestic order pictured in A 
DolVs House, against which Americans more than any 
other people protest so loudly. 

A quite pessimistic view of the American woman's con- 
dition is taken, in the London Times, by a visitor to this 
country, who observes : — 

In America, before marriage, the man and the girl are excel- 
lent friends and comrades, enjoying much freedom in their 
intercourse. After marriage the two seem to lead separate lives. 
The man is wholly wrapt up in his business, and the woman, 
when her work in the house is over, devotes most of her energies 
to the pursuit of social pleasures. In fact, they cannot really be 
said to lead a common life. . . . When all is said and done, the 
American woman, with all her independence, is the most de- 
pendent of women. ... It is more than probable that the large 
number of divorces in America are due to the unconscious desire 
on the part of the woman to find a real partner and comrade in 
life instead of the mere financial agent that the average Ameri- 
can man is contented to be. e 

The acquiescence of the average woman of the upper 
classes in her exclusion from her husband's intellectual 
interests, her felicity in material comforts, and her child- 



ish enjoyment of the banalities that crowd her days, in- 
dicate, so it would seem, a spiritual kinship with the 
pampered, frivolous, and, so far as she knows, completely 
happy mistress of the Doll's House. Will she also, sooner 
or later, rise in revolt and strike out for freedom — free- 
dom at whatever cost? 

For note that Nora Helmer in Ibsen's drama, the' - 
"squirrel," the "butterfly," who has never had any 
opinions of her own, determines of a sudden to think and 
act for herself: — 

Henceforth I can't be satisfied with what most people say, 
and what is in books. I must think things out for myself, and 
try to get clear about them. 1 

Her tragic awakening to her actual position is precip- 
itated by her discovery of her husband's inability to iden- 
tify himself with her romantic conception of his character. 

Recollect that she had committed a punishable act, 
though in ignorance of the law, in order to save the life of 
her husband who had to be taken away to rebuild his shat- . 
tered health. He being without means, it was a case df"<p~ 
borrow or die, but Nora realized that Helmer would rather 
face death than debt, so the money, obtained from a 
lender, must appear as a gift from Nora's father, then 
lying at death's door. The lender insists on the father's 
indorsement, for better security. The sick man, however, 
must not be worried with such a transaction, so Nora 

1 Vol. vii, p. 148. Similarly, Rita in Little Eyolf is animated by a will 
to raise herself to a higher function of existence. When told by Alfred 
that she is unfit to improve the natures of proletarian children, she plac- 
idly replies: "Then I shall have to educate myself to it, perfect myself, 
practice." Vol. xi, p. 146. 


Hghtheartedly attaches his signature to the paper, as a 
matter of course. After that all things go exceedingly well 
with the Helmers till Nora of a sudden is threatened with 
exposure. Krogstad, the holder of the forged note, has 
been discharged from his modest position in the bank of 
which Helmer has just been appointed director, and he 
uses his power over Nora to extort her intercession with 
her husband. Nora, to whom her deed now appears in the 
light of its possible consequences, is in despair, because she 
never doubts for a moment what Helmer will do when 
the secret comes out: to save her honor, he will speak a 
heroic lie, shoulder the guilt himself, and thus wreck his 
brilliant career. Too little is apt to be made of this very 
important point by actresses and audiences. It suffices 
by itself to explain Nora's sudden revulsion of feeling 
when under the even polish of his virtues this pattern of 
masculine righteousness comes forth in his rank egoism. 
After the truth is revealed, and Nora is about to leave 
Helmer, he demands to know: — 

And can you also make clear to me how I have forfeited your 

Nora. Yes, I can. It was this evening, when the miracle 
did not happen; for then I saw you were not the man I had 
imagined. 1 

* :~Helmer's chief concern, on learning the distressing truth, 
is with the danger of his situation. The fear of social and 
even legal penalty makes him behave as a coward ; he is 
ready to hush the matter up on the blackmailer's own 
conditions. To the motives of Nora's act her idolized 
champion is utterly blind and requites that proof of self- 

1 Vol. vii, p. 150. 


effacing love with resentful condemnation. Thus her 
affection suddenly loses its object; Helmer becomes like 
a stranger to her. Nora is right in feeling that it would 
require the miracle of miracles to change both their na- 
tures so that after this their living together should be a 
marriage. Helmer's shallow-souled hope at the last mo- 
ment, that this miracle of miracles will happen, is vain._ 
Nora must leave her husband, — as Selma in The League 
of Youth would leave hers, because living nominally as 
wife with a man who is either too far above or too far be- 
low her in character and intellect is, for a self-respecting 
woman, suggestive of moral and physical bondage/ 

The tragedy of the disillusioned woman was not written 
by Ibsen for the first time. If Macbeth is understood as 
the tragedy of thwarted ambition, the ambition is that 
of a woman capable of any deed for the aggrandizement 
of the man she loves, a woman to whom tragical retribu- 
tion comes through the discrepancy between her hero's 
actual worth and his mirrored image in her soul. Way 
back in antiquity, Euripides had treated the motive in 
his Medea even more convincingly; in this tragedy the 
contrast between the two principals, as their characters 
develop and disintegrate in ways quite opposite, is made 
psychologically clearer. Of the many who followed 
Euripides, Franz Grillparzer was most nearly equal to 
the grandeur of the theme. For in his trilogy, Das gol- 
dene Vliess, the monstrous deed of the Kolchian princess 
is explained for the first time as one humanly possible, 
and, speaking from the ground of aesthetics, rational and 
inevitable. With unexcelled skill the deepest seat of its 
motives is bared to our comprehension, so that in this 


respect the plot may be said to have been fully modern- 
ized. Yet it was reserved for Henrik Ibsen finally to 
shift that tragedy into the everyday sphere where disillu- 
sion in love and marriage is a by no means uncommon 

Dogmatic criticism has branded A DolVs House as a 
challenge hurled from the open gates of anarchism. The 
character of Nora herself has been condemned by facile 
"idealists," on two principal counts: in the first place, she 
is untrue and dishonest in things little and great; secondly, 
she is without the most primitive of virtues, found even 
among savages and brutes, for she forsakes her children 
as well as her husband, therefore she can have no true 
maternal instinct. Were Nora in reality the heartless, 
soulless wretch pictured by Ibsen's adversaries, it might 
be enough to point out once more that a poet and his plays, 
even in darker ages than this, have not been censured 
and suppressed because of the moral unworthiness of the 
dramatis yersona. Or must we revise the characters 
of Othello, Shylock, Richard III, Phedre, Franz Moor, 
e tutti quanti up to the "ideal demands" of the cheerful 
optimist? The themes of great dramas are not moral 
theories and beliefs, but men and women, whether good 
or evil. As a matter of fact, however, Nora is not a bad 
woman at all, save in the eyes of purblind inquisitors. So 
far as her forgery is concerned, Nora's act is no more crim- 
inal by intent than is the act for which Victor Hugo's Jean 
Valjean goes first to prison. But even if, clearly against 
the judgment of the poet, she should be adjudged guilty 
of forgery, how on earth can the other charge be sus- 
tained? Nora's case cannot be argued more effectually 


than by Mr. Bernard Shaw, from whose Quintessence of 
Ibsenism the following keen analysis is quoted : — 

It is her husband's own contemptuous denunciation of a 
forgery, formerly committed by the money-lender himself, that 
destroys her self-satisfaction and opens her eyes to her ignorance 
of the serious business of the world to which her husband be- 
longs — the world outside the home he shares with her. When 
he goes on to tell her that commercial dishonesty is generally to 
be traced to the influence of bad mothers, she begins to perceive 
that the happy way in which she plays with the children, and the 
care she takes to dress them nicely, are not sufficient to con- 
stitute her a fit person to train them. In order to redeem the 
forged bill, she resolves to borrow the balance due upon it from 
a friend of the family. She has learnt to coax her husband into 
giving her what she asks by appealing to his affection for her: 
that is, by playing all sorts of pretty tricks until he is wheedled 
into an amorous humor. This plan she has adopted without 
thinking about it, instinctively taking the line of least resistance 
with him. And now she naturally takes the same line with her 
husband's friend. An unexpected declaration of love from him 
is the result; and it at once explains to her the real nature of the 
domestic influence she has been so proud of. All her illusions 
about herself are now shattered; she sees herself as an ignorant 
and silly woman, a dangerous mother, and a wife kept for her 
husband's pleasure merely; but she only clings the harder to her 
delusion about him: he is still the ideal husband who would 
make any sacrifice to rescue her from ruin. She resolves to kill 
herself rather than allow him to destroy his own career by taking 
the forgery on himself to save her reputation. The final disillu- 
sion comes when he, instead of at once proposing to pursue this 
ideal line of conduct when he hears of the forgery, naturally 
enough flies into a vulgar rage and heaps invectives on her for 
disgracing him. Then she sees that their whole family life has 
been a fiction — their home a mere doll's house in which they 
have been playing at ideal husband and father, wife and mother. 


So she leaves him then and there, in order to find out the reality 
of tilings for herself, and to gain some position not fundamen- 
tally false, refusing to see her children again until she is fit to be 
in charge of them, or to live with him until she and he become 
capable of a more honorable relation to one another than that in 
which they have hitherto stood. He at first cannot understand 
what has happened, and flourishes the shattered ideals over her 
as if they were as potent as ever. He presents the course most 
agreeable to him — that of her staying at home and avoiding a 
scandal — as her duty to her husband, to her children, and to 
her religion; but the magic of these disguises is gone, and at last 
even he understands what has really happened, and sits down 
alone to wonder whether that more honorable relation can ever 
come to pass between them. 3 

Meanwhile the separation in this typical case, prompted 
though it is by egocentric motives, is exacted no less, in 
the opinion of Ibsen, by the interest of society at large. 
The poet was not deceived in regard to what would ac- 
tually have happened in real life. Nora's love of her chil- 
dren, her unintellectualized mother instinct, would surely 
have risen superior to all selfish reasons; she would have 
remained. But, thus we hear the poet questioning him- 
self, — could the continuance of those false relations be- 
tween wife and husband have conduced to the moral bene- 
fit of the children? Suppose the dread of eclat — divorce 
was still abhorrent in the eyes of respectable folk — caused 
that ill-assorted pair to continue living together, or even 
if they were moved to do so by consideration for their 
children, might not the result be expected to give the 
lie flatly to the pretty sentiment that home ties should 
under no circumstances ever be broken? Ibsen divined 
a causal nexus against which Philistia had shut its mind. 
"These women of to-day — maltreated as daughters, sis- 


ters, and wives, denied all education suited to their apti- 
tudes, held aloof from their vocation, cheated out of their 
heritage, and embittered at heart — become mothers of 
the rising generation. What will be the consequence? " * 
Suppose the avoidance of a matrimonial rupture should 
involve the ruin of the family, — the moral and, under 
conceivable circumstances, even physical blight of the 
progeny, — what a fearful price to pay for the good 
opinion of unthinking, prejudiced defenders of the stock 
virtues ! By a series of hypothetical questions such as the 
foregoing the works of Ibsen are severally instigated and 
linked together. The reply to the query this time is the 
most harrowing tragedy of modern times, Ghosts! 1 

A word is still due the technical qualities of A Doll's 
House. In Ghosts Ibsen, after having long wavered in his 
adherence to "the well-made" play, reached a point past 
the parting of the ways. Into the new, even to him un- 
familiar, road he had struck out in the latter part of A 
Doll's House, with the result that this drama contains a 
mixture of two quite heterogeneous styles of dramatic pre- 
sentment. The earlier part of the play is still strongly 
marked by the then prevailing French craftsmanship, 
with its sudden arrivals of the unexpected and notorious 
overproduction of drastic antitheses. At the instant when 
Nora exclaims, and that with repetitional emphasis, "Oh, 
what a wonderful thing it is to live and to be happy," 
Krogstad's ominous ring sounds at the hall door; more 
sinister still is his appearance, in the same act, as Nora is 
romping with her children. Perhaps the clearest evidence 
that more attention has been paid to the machinery than 
1 SW", vol. in, pp. 177-78. 


to the motive power is presented by the Christmas holi- 
day trip suddenly taken by Krogstad for no other appar- 
ent purpose than that of expediting the progress of the 
plot. The same fault may be further instanced by the 
improbability of Nora's relations with Mrs. Linden, who 
drops quite suddenly and unaccountably into her position 
of bosom friend and confidante. Subsequently, Ibsen 
avoided more carefully the use of mere thickening ingre- 
dients for the plot. A Doll's House contains, besides, 
several pieces of out-and-out theatricality; especially 
must the conclusion of Act II be adjudged a rank piece of 
staginess by playgoers who are at all fastidious. With all 
due allowance for the dramatist's manifest privilege of 
working his scenes up to a climax, the well-known Taran- 
tella incident is a coup de theatre of the flimsiest descrip- 
tion, clearly borrowed from the department of melodrama. 
It is almost as though the playwright had purposely 
chosen a supreme exhibition of gaudery for his farewell 
performance in that line of work, so as to justify himself 
all the better for renouncing the old ways. For to the 
final act of A Doll's House we must indeed assign, with 
Mr. Archer, a pivotal importance for the technique not 
alone of Ibsen's dramaturgy in its perfection, but of mod- 
ern drama in general. Of course the change in Nora may 
be deemed too sudden; the poet's intellectual intent has 
broken through the restraints of the proper dramatic 
formalities. Once the transition be granted, however, we 
are rejoiced to see Ibsen shedding forever the hackneyed 
outer devices, casting his fate solely with the inner truth 
of the argument, and launching a new dramatic art on its 
victorious course. In the great explanation between hus- 


band and wife, in the latter part of this act, in which Nora 
claims and gains her personal freedom, the poet himself 
achieves freedom, namely, the liberation of his art from 
the trammels of dead theatrical traditions. And what 
more gratifying testimony could there be adduced for our 
own artistic advance than the conversion of the public's 
taste from the sensationalism of the earlier acts to the 
sober impressiveness of the final scene? The great Danish 
actress, Mrs. Hennings, who created the part of Nora as 
well as a number of other leading r61es in Ibsen's plays, 
spoke, in an interview shortly after the poet's death, of 
the delight she had formerly taken in embodying the part 
of Nora through the first two acts. The impersonation of 
the "lark," the "squirrel," the irresponsible "butterfly," 
had then thrilled her audiences, as well as herself. "When 
I now play the part," she went on, "the first acts leave 
me indifferent. Not until the third act do I become really 
interested; after that, intensely so." l 

To A DolVs House Ibsen owes his celebrity in England 
and America, just as Pillars of Society gave him a definite 
standing in Germany. The part of Nora has proved ex- 
ceptionally attractive to nearly all our tragediennes of the 
last twenty years.' 

1 Vol. vii, p. xvi. ,' 



Ghosts (" Gengangere," 1881)° is the sternest of Ibsen's 
arraignments of our social laws and customs, and possibly 
the justest, since it is inspired by a conviction, however 
depressing, of the unfailing and pervading effects of un- 
alterable natural laws. We have seen that the optimistic 
coloring rendered the ending of Pillars of Society quite ac- 
ceptable to the general public. In A DolVs House, on the 
other hand, that coloring faded before the neutral con- 
templation of unvarnished facts. Yet even though in the 
last-named play the issue was joined sharply enough, the 
outcome was left in a manner indeterminate, so that to 
the intransigent optimist there was at least left the con- 
soling possibility of a happy denouement in the future. 6 
In Ghosts the poor dear optimist is robbed even of this 
paltry alternative. 

Again, the dialectic departure takes place from a pre- 
mise with which we have just been made familiar. Ghosts 
is the harrowing after-story of a mismarriage. "To marry 
for external reasons, even if they be religious or moral, 
brings Nemesis upon the progeny." 1 Ibsen established his 
point by assuming a peculiarly aggravated, yet unfortu- 
nately not impossible, case. This time the woman, a per- 
fectly "normal," womanly girl, an honor to her sex in 
every socially accredited way, and brought up in a strictly 

1 SW U , vol. m, p. 177. 


orthodox fashion, had obediently permitted her parents 
to yoke her to a husband, not, as Helmer, good enough 
with the average albeit lacking in true fibre, but a 
slave of evil habits, an abject and vicious voluptuary, and 
a poisoner of his own house both in a figurative, moral, 
and a literal, pathological sense. After one year the wife's 
disgust conquers her scruples, she gathers courage to 
brave the opinion of society, and flies to the protection of 
a clergyman with whom she was formerly in love. "Here 
I am, take me." But Pastor Manders, although he returns 
her love, persuades her to return to her husband. No mat- 
ter how unworthy the man, says the Church, the wife's 
place is beside him; and Society spoke to the same effect 
in Ibsen's sternly Lutheran land. Anything in this world 
rather than a scandal. Nearly thirty years afterward the 
reverend gentleman still thinks of the episode with a shud- 
der: "It was inconsiderate of you to an unheard-of degree 
to have sought refuge with me." Yet he refers to it as the 
greatest victory of his life. Helen answers him: "It was 
a crime against us both." l This notion, that to choke off 
the imperative call of a deep affection is an unpardonable 
spiritual crime, a sort of double murder, bound to draw 
vengeance upon the perpetrator, is one of Ibsen's fixed 
convictions. In John Gabriel Borkman the idea is stated 
more emphatically than in Ghosts, and in When We Dead 
Awaken it pervades the entire action as its ethical mes- 
sage. In Ibsen's writings a motive is always sounded 
softly at first, like a secondary incidental strain, and after 
that it gradually swells till it reaches a thematic impor- 
tance. The rest of Helen Alving's story is doubtless 

1 Vol. vii. p. 226. 


remembered, as Ibsen's plots are never complicated. 
Helen's courage had failed her when the expected helper 
proved himself a slave to the "ghosts" of social prejudice 
she was about to exorcise from her soul; so she slipped 
back into her marital life of shame. Her submission at 
first sprang not from cowardice, rather from piety toward 
the orthodox ideas of duty to which Pastor Manders had 
recalled her. Having once for all committed the heinous 
blunder of appealing to the minister when she ought to 
have consulted the doctor and the lawyer, she must bear 
the fruit of her sin against herself. That fruit is her son 
Oswald. So it looks as if an undercurrent of tragic guilt 
were not absent from Helen's appalling destiny. Though 
she soon found out that her perpetual sacrifice was worse 
than in vain, yet she did not brace herself to another act 
of open mutiny, but continued her self-immolation upon 
the altar of domestic duty. She separates from her child, 
lest he grow up in the polluted atmosphere of his home, 
where things are going from bad to worse. With the silent 
agony of a martyr she continues to pay her alleged obliga- 
tions to the despotic law of Society. She connives at the 
husband's drunken carousals to the point of almost par- 
ticipating in his dissipations, and winces mutely under 
insupportable affronts. At last, shortly after pausing, 
from sheer exhaustion, in his turbulent excesses, the riot- 
ous soul, having been converted in the nick of time, de- 
parts to cease from troubling. Helen Alving is free. 

Up to this point her behavior might be made wholly in- 
telligible by certain charitable assumptions. Her submis- 
sion could easily pass for Christian meekness, were she, in 
religious matters, in agreement with the orthodoxy of a 


Pastor Manders. For Ibsen maintains that Christianity 
has a paralyzing effect on the " will to live." l It would 
accordingly behoove the student of Mrs. Alving's charac- 
ter to seek evidence of her intense religiousness. An oppo- 
site state of mind, namely, the lack of controlling convic- 
tions in regard to the ultimates of life, would serve almost 
as well to explain her rigid attitude of non-resistance. For 
men and women, in the absence of religious or philosophical 
standards of their own, do well to look beyond their own 
instincts or consciences for guidance and sanction. Now 
what puzzles us is that Helen's recoil from baleful conven- 
tions should be so carefully disguised even after Captain 
Alving's death, that she should make all pretense about 
holding the old sinner's memory dear, should scheme to 
make his career look meritorious to the outside world, 
and by tricks and lies strive to deepen the boy's reverence 
for the sanctified memory of the unspeakable old scamp. 
To be sure, the deceased chamberlain's after-fame is not 
the only end she has in mind in founding the orphanage. 
It is a good enterprise in itself, and is to rid Oswald of 
his curse-laden patrimony. "From after to-morrow it 
shall be for me as if the departed had never lived in this 
house. Nobody shall be here but my son and his mother." 2 
To repeat, this conduct puzzles us, although any child can 
see, of course, that all the hypocrisy is practiced for a 
good purpose. None the less, it is hypocrisy, and here we 
have touched what, by the standards of uncompromising 
truth, must be adjudged a grave dereliction. Mrs. Alving 
reveals herself in the progress of the drama as one pos- 
sessed of firm views of life to which her actions run coun- 
1 SW", vol. i, p. 208. « Vol. vn, p. 213. 


ter. Hence her conduct of life, however sanctified by its 
pathetic appeal to our compassion, must be viewed from 
Ibsen's idealistic premises as fundamentally and destruc- 
tively dishonest. Outwardly she conforms to all the social 
ordinances, no matter how mendacious and unjust. In- 
wardly she is bitterly disposed towards them and holds 
them in utter contempt. The spiritual revolution started 
when her first great self-conquest had proved vain. It was 
after the return from her flight. "It was then that I be- 
gan to look into the seams of your doctrines. I wanted to 
undo but a single knot; but when I had got that undone, 
the whole thing ravelled out. And then I understood that 
it was all machine-sewn." 1 From this realization she pro- 
gresses step by step in inward rebellion to the position of 
absolute nihilism. To his friend, the critic Sophius 
Schandorph, the poet explains: "Just because she is a 
woman she will go to the extremest limits once she has 
begun." 2 Helen Alving is the most inveterate agnostic, 
and perhaps anarchist, whom Ibsen has portrayed. On 
one occasion she bursts out: "Oh, that everlasting law 
and order! I often think that does all the mischief in 
the world." 3 She is right, in so far as there may be, and 
always have been, laws that are contrary to nature and 
have sprung only from the unintelligence of authorized 
law-makers; she is wrong, so far as good laws are con- 
cerned, based on the nature of men and things. Her own 
life is blameless beyond a shadow of doubt, but her belief 
in the necessity of morals is wholly undermined. Indeed, 
her unscrupulousness goes beyond belief. When Oswald 
sees his only hope of salvation in a marriage with Regine, 
1 Vol. vii, p. 226. * C, p. 352. ! Vol. vn, p. 220. 



whom Mrs. Alving knows to be his half-sister, the mo- 
ther allays her natural repugnance with the frightful 
thought that such marriages are not against the order of 
nature, nor can they be prevented so long as men lead 
polygamous lives. (Ibsen, nevertheless, evaded the re- 
sponsibility of a direct reply to the question whether Mrs. 
Alving would actually have permitted Oswald and Regine 
to marry.) And this same over-woman, who has set her 
inner existence free from all the trammels and restrictions 
by which civilized men and women consider themselves 
bound, has not had the audacity to brave public opinion 
to the extent of deserting her husband. Raised by her in- 
tellect high above the child-wife of Torvald Helmer, she 
lacked Nora's courage to defy the views and prejudices of 
her social environment. Too late comes her resolve: "I 
must have done with all this constraint and insincerity. 
I can endure it no longer. I must work my way out to 
freedom." l Herein lies the source of the tragedy. 

Ghosts has appropriately been termed by Paul Schlen- 
ther 2 the tragedy of the mater dolorosa. It makes us wit- 
ness the shuddering spectacle of a mother vicariously 
tortured by the cruel fate that descends on her child. 
It is wrong to regard Oswald as the principal figure in this 
play. That part, beyond a perad venture, belongs to 
Helen Alving, the greatest woman character created by 
Ibsen. Her tragic function is not only to typify the sad- 
ness and uselessness of much of the sacrifice that comes 
into the life of a dutiful wife and mother; to him who looks 
deeper there is also revealed her share in the responsibil- 
ity for the catastrophe. For in this tragedy the play- 
1 Vol. vii, p. 220. 2 SW, vol. vii, p. x. 


wright strikes an effective blow at the proverbial and 
therefore questionable truth, suae .quisque faber jortunae. 
Oswald is no more the author of his own fate than is 
(Edipus. Ghosts would be a fate tragedy pure and simple 
if Oswald were to be regarded as the hero. His destinies 
are all predetermined by evil hereditary influence. In his 
worm-eaten existence the sins of his profligate father are 
led to expiation. He can say with the poet Maurice 
Barres, " Je ne puis vivre que selon mes morts." It was 
Dr. Rank in A DoWs House, who complained that his poor 
spinal marrow had to suffer for the peccadilloes of his 
father; note again how the submediant tone of an earlier 
theme swells here with the burden of a larger dramatic 
significance. Yet in spite of that, Oswald is not to be 
thought of as the hero of Ghosts. Or can his piteous end, 
as the night of idiocy settles upon him, be compared for 
an instant in tragical grandeur to the stupendous situa- 
tion of a mother preparing to take with her own hands the 
life that she has brought into the world? 
p That the tremendous and incredibly subtle psychologi- 
cal invention, whereby a mother is confronted with child- 
murder as her solemn and sacred duty, raised up a perfect 
fury of indignation will be readily understood by any one 
at all familiar with the ordinary maudlin way in which 
the painful experiences of mothers are exploited for the 
sentimental delectation of Anglo-Saxon men and ma- 
trons. If we will descend for a moment from the sublime 
to the ridiculous, we shall mark quickly the contrast 
between Ibsen's stern presentment and the saccharine 
morality of the so-called "clean play," which by its rigid 
exclusion of the disagreeable enjoys in this country the 


uncritical championship of myriads of otherwise intelli- 
gent persons. I follow a competent critic's account of 
the performance of such a clean play : — 

There was recently produced in Chicago a play by Jules 
Goodman, called "Mother," one of those plays technically 
described as possessing "heart interest." A mother is shown 
making all possible sacrifices for her erring offspring, who lie, 
forge, and insult her. But mother shoulders all trials and all 
blame, even for the forgery. You are obviously expected to 
admire as well as to pity her, to regard her as a noble embodi- 
ment of "mother love." Actually, the speech and conduct of her 
children show that she was but ill fitted for the duties of mother- 
hood, and in so far quite the opposite of admirable. Here is a 
play of the type known as "wholesome," and intended to impart 
a great moral uplift. Actually, while it makes susceptible female 
auditors weep and have a perfectly lovely time, it is based on 
immorality, on that terrible and often innocent immorality of 
incompetent parenthood. Had the author sincerely thought 
out the meaning of his play, had he reasoned down to first 
principles, he would have made this mother's acts not those of 
moral heroism, but of belated atonement. 

The most furious onslaught ever made against any play 
was led against Ghosts. The excited champions of morality 
hurried to the front of the attack, because, as we know, 
"all art is immoral for the inartistic." The critics, with- 
out looking deeply into the facts of the matter, proceeded 
to put willful miscontructions upon the intentions of the 
drama. All the world seemed to rise with one accord to 
cry anathema and maranatha forever against this unsa- 
vory Northerner, who, like Homer's doleful seer, spoke al- 
ways of ill. Ibsen was excoriated as a corrupting influence; 
made example of as a writer devoting the stage to analy- 
ses of whatever is repugnant and depraved; an individual 


who was most comfortable and happy when wallowing in 
mean sties. For fine moral indignation at real art and vir- 
tuous vituperation of great artists there is no land on 
earth like England, our own country always excepted. 
After the performance of Ghosts the name of Henrik Ibsen 
became for the Anglo-Saxon public a synonym for every- 
thing that is base and disgusting. In this grand general 
assault gentle and fervid souls like Sir Edwin Arnold and 
Mr. Clement Scott, the renowned dramatic critic, did not 
scruple to wield the weapons of common scolds. In the 
ardent defense of public decency these gentlemen felt con- 
strained to use language so strident and violent and ven- 
omous and foul that the iniquitous and repelling object 
of the attack would have been wholly at a loss to match 
their billingsgate out of his entire vocabulary . d We owe 
the preservation of the choice dictionary of abuse to Mr. 
William Archer's Ghosts and Gibberings e and to Shaw's 
Quintessence of Ibsenism/ "Bestial," "poisonous," 
"sickly," "indecent," "loathsome," "fetid" are some of 
the epithets used. The work of Ibsen is described as "liter- 
ary carrion." To this day there are would-be critics who, 
with the dangerous fatuity of generalization, classify 
Ibsen as an apostle of pruriency and hideousness because 
he would not gloze the vital matters. No charge could be 
more insecurely founded. In fact, Ibsen's make and man- 
ner, artistic as well as personal, were distinguished by 
purity of an almost exceptional degree. He was not a 
"muck-raker" but a truth-seeker, and never selected a sub- 
ject because of its intrinsic loathsomeness. His subject- 
matter was life, and since he resolved to couch it in terms 
of breathing humanity, experience and imagination con- 


jointly led him to dramatize one of the newest and fore- 
most scientific acquisitions of his age. He held that in our 
time every poetical work has the mission to stake out a 
widened area of knowledge. 1 Being the first to apply 
with luminous vision the law of heredity in drama, — as 
Flaubert and Balzac had already done in the novel and 
Zola was then continuing to do, — Ibsen did not care to 
blind either himself or his audience to the pathological 
aspects that are inwrought with the very texture of hu- 
man life. In order to make people understand a human 
tragedy, the poet has to expose its facts. And since the 
conflicts and sufferings of life dramatized themselves in 
Ibsen's imagination spontaneously and with imperative 
urgency, it became unavoidable for him to admit physical 
and moral corruption into the presence of his audience- 
He did this, however, with great delicacy and restraint. 
We need only to think of the noteworthy discretion shown 
in the handling of such a terrible and revolting subject 
as that of Rebecca West's antecedents in Rosmersholm or 
the ticklish situation between Alfred and Asta in Little 
Eyolf. In no case did he indulge in the untempered pre- 
sentment of horrible things otherwise than when com- 
pelled to do so by the exigencies of his art, that is, in order N 
to clear up the necessary assumptions for his plots. He 
dwells, legitimately, on disease in so far as it has a shaping 
influence on the fates of his persons. He never described 
a disease for its own sake, after the fashion of certain nat- 
uralists. It is untrue that his plays are pervaded by "hos- 
pital air." It is entirely true, on the other hand, that he 
did not shrink from presenting pathological characters 

1 SW", vol. i, p. 205. 


whenever this became an artistic necessity. Abnormal 
individuals, with a psychic taint, are found in too large 
number, seemingly ; but it must not be forgotten that sta- 
tistically it has been demonstrated that the Norwegians 
are strongly predisposed to mental disorders; moreover, 
that there is a large margin of uncertainty in the dramas, 
as there is in real life, concerning the question of sanity. 
Earl Skule, in The Pretenders, has been pronounced un- 
balanced by one of the foremost interpreters of Ibsen. 
Emperor Julian is a full-fledged paranoiac Gerd, in Peer 
Gynt, is downright insane, whereas the Ratwife in Little 
Eyolf may pass for merely eccentric. Hilmar Tonnesen, 
in Pillars of Society, is a typical neurasthenic, morbidly 
fearsome, and incapable of the concentration requisite for 
any definite work; his nerves are set on edge by loud 
voices; the notes of a clarionet are enough to upset him; 
he "enjoys poor health" and loves to descant on his suf- 
ferings, much like the insufferable malade imaginaire, Mr. 
Fairlie, in Wilkie Collins's Woman in White,v?hom in some 
respects he vividly calls to one's mind. 

Whereas most of Ibsen's patients are of secondary or 
merely episodical importance, as for instance the mori- 
bund Dr. Rank in A Doll's House, whose case, medically 
far from unobjectionable, has been defined as congeni- 
tal tabes dorsalis, Oswald Alving's fatal infirmity is, of 
course, of prime significance for the course of the tragedy. 
But even against Ghosts the charge of loathsomeness is 
untenable. The use of the ugly in tragedy has been ably 
defended before the nineteenth century in the theoretical 
writings of Lessing and Schiller, the very dramatists who 
are still ignorantly cited against Ibsen; and the theme in 


Ghosts, though repulsive enough by its very nature, seems 
dainty by the side of ancient tragedies like the QZdipus, 
the Philoctetes, or the Ajax Mainomenos. For Ibsen, who 
never had the least use for the sort of realism a la Zola, 
could refrain from uncovering the foul sores and festering 
wounds of his sufferers, because he had the advantage 
over the great Grecian tragedians that his analytical 
method permitted him to attenuate all horrors through 
indirect and gradual exposure. Undeniably, the play is 
dreadful enough for all that, dreadful as a whole and in 
many details; but not in a single respect is it disgusting 
to the feelings of serious-minded people. And let object- 
ors be reminded once for all that tragedy is not meant 
for weaklings, triflers, and prudes. It is meant for serious 
minds and valiant nerves. That is perhaps why Heinrich 
von Kleist in his day would have debarred women from 
the theatre, and why no women were admitted to the 
plays of iEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides as performed 
in the Theatre of Dionysos, excepting alone the Priestess 
of Demeter. 

Another charge against Ibsen, supported among others 
by the celebrated neuro-pathologist, Auguste Forel, is 
that the pathognomic aspects of Ibsen's characters are 
sometimes falsified. Ibsen is disavowed by the medical 
profession as a compounder of artificial diseases. And as 
regards the inherited malady of Oswald Alving in particu- 
lar, it is pointed out that the theory underlying Ibsen's 
views on the subject has been revised and modified in re- 
cent times. (Oswald's case may be defined as progressive 
paralysis caused by prenatal luetic infection. It is ob- 
jected that the outbreak of the disease in him could 


hardly occur so late in life.) That the artistic or ethical 
force of Ghosts has been in the least affected by the ad- 
vance of science, I for one do not believe, despite the dic- 
tum of many critics. Ibsen wisely confined himself, with 
his necessarily limited knowledge of a new science, to 
what appeared to him and his generation as the main 
fact; and I cannot think that the thrill which this play 
unfailingly communicates to the public is in any way less- 
ened by whatever doubt may be put upon the accuracy of 
the scientific assumption in all its details. On the stage it 
is the total impression which decides, and minutiae need 
not by any means be slavishly copied from reality; that 
is impossible anyway, even in naturalistic drama. And 
granting, as we must, that the Biblical and biological 
lesson that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the 
children is overstrained, it is not too much to claim for 
the social service rendered by Ghosts, that this play has 
done more to disseminate a popular interest in eugenics 
and possibly in social prophylaxis than any other single 
effort has been able to do. (Christian "Science," to be 
sure, rises superior to such methods of reform. Miss Lord, 
in the introduction to her translation of Ghosts, would 
have averted the fatal issue and reclaimed Oswald from 
idiocy by means of "scientific" treatment. Imagine Mrs. 
Alving attending the "Mother Church"!) Medical au- 
thorities may silence their objections to the play if they 
will consider that as a wholesome deterrent from loose 
living it goes toward balancing the influence of some 
recent scientific skepticism. 

Whether true or false, accurate or exaggerated, such a 
play as Ghosts could not escape the prohibitory index of 


the powers that ruled the theatre. Suppose it were all 
true, said Ibsen's adversaries, suppose society were the 
pestiferous bog which it is here represented as being, what 
good can come of stirring it up? People do not come to 
the theatre for that; — the ancient, irrefutable argument, 
which goes to show that in the year 1881 Continental 
Europeans still clung to their cherished share of that 
crass ignorance in things pertaining to the drama 
which since that time seems to have passed into the 
undisputed and exclusive custody of the Anglo-Saxon 

« The principal opposition to the play derived, however, 
not from aesthetic and scientific objections, but from mis- 
taken notions concerning its moral intentions. Ghosts 
was believed to carry in it the seeds of blank anarchism. 
The conclusion was drawn that the poet must be a dan- 
gerous enemy of the people. Mrs. Alving's words were 
taken to express the author's own lawless convictions; 
^Pastor Manders was viewed as a scornful caricature of the 
clergy. Ibsen's own explanation of the general outcry 
against him is exceedingly instructive, though hardly 
adequate. On January 3, 1882, he wrote to George 
Brandes : — 

... In that country [Norway] a great many of the critics are 
theologians, more or less disguised; and these gentlemen are, as a 
rule, quite unable to write rationally about creative literature. 
That enfeeblement of judgment which, at least in the case of the 
average man, is an inevitable consequence of prolonged occupa- 
tion with theological studies, betrays itself more especially in 
the judging of human character, human actions, and human 
motives. 1 

1 C, p. 319. 


A few days later he complains to another Danish sympa- 
thizer of the "unquestionable talent" of the reviewers for 
misunderstanding and misinterpreting. He strenuously 
denies having hurled forth into the world his own violent 
shafts from under the shields of his dramatis personce. 
With some exaggeration, probably, he says: — 

There is in the whole book not a single opinion, a single utter- 
ance, which can be laid to the account of the author. I took 
good care to avoid this. The very method, the order of tech- 
nique which imposes its form upon the play, forbids the author 
to appear in the speeches of his characters. My object was to 
make the reader feel that he was going through a piece of real 
experience; and nothing could more effectually prevent such an 
impression than the intrusion of the author's private opinions 
into the dialogue. ... In no other play that I have written is 
the author so external to the action, so entirely absent from it, 
as in this last. 1 

Near the close of his life he issued to one of his French 
expositors, M. Ossip-Louri6, a wholesale warning against 
confounding the author with the characters, which again 
is undoubtedly somewhat over-emphatic : — 

I am much obliged to you for kindly offering to publish some 
thoughts extracted from my works, and with great pleasure 
grant the desired approval. I only ask you to remember that the 
thoughts expressed in my dramas belong to my dramatic char- 
acters, who express them, and are not directly from me either in 
form or content. 8 

Mingled with the hubbub of indignation was heard a 

modicum of not altogether judicious partisan praise which 

only helped to damage still further the reputation of the 

drama and its author; as when Mr. Bernard Shaw broke 

« C, p. 352. * SNL, p. 120. 


into the concord of the harmonious critics with the cool 
assertion, made in the Saturday Review, that Ibsen was 
superior to Shakespeare. In spite of the brilliant and cour- 
ageous championship of the two greatest Scandinavian 
men of letters, Bjornson 1 and Brandes, the play was ex- 
tremely slow to gain open admittance to the stage. Apart 
from sporadic private performances, the theatres of the 
Scandinavian countries barred their doors against Ghosts, 
either at the behest of the official censor or in deference 
to the squeamishness of public opinion, for more than 
twenty years. Still, in Germany it has been a fixture in 
the repertory since 1894. In the same year a timorous 
attempt was even made to smuggle Ghosts into the United 
States; a performance, by the way, characterized by Mr. 
W. D. Howells as the very greatest theatrical event of his 
life's experience. The first American "run" dates from 
1899, when Miss Mary Shaw "starred" as Mrs. Alving 
continuously for thirty-seven weeks. She deserves credit 
as the first American actress bold enough to bring an 
Ibsen play before the general public. In England a young 
Dutchman, named J. T. Grein, had already had the cour- 
age to give Ghosts in his "Independent Theatre" for a 
private audience (March 13, 1891). Slowly the great drama 
forged its way against the formidable antagonism to the 
respectful attention of every serious playgoer in Europe. By 
1906 at last, — a quarter of a century after its birth, — 
the embargo on Ibsen's masterpiece had been raised every- 
where except in England, where, however, at last reports 

1 Bjornson's manful defense of Ghosts elicited Ibsen's warmest grati- 
tude; cf. C, p. 354. To Brandes also he expressed his thanks; cf. C, 
p. 349. 


the rigid quarantine against Ghosts and new ideas in gen- 
eral is desperately imperiled. Unquestionably, Ghosts has 
exerted an incalculably greater influence upon the younger 
generation of playwrights than any other drama of the 
period. It is no mere coincidence, but an event full of 
meaning, that the "Freie Biihne" of Berlin, that cradle 
of modern German drama, opened its first campaign 
(1889) with Gespenster. Events have thus refuted critical 
arrogance like that of the thundering, blundering Mr. La- 
bouchere, who waved Ibsen aside with the stupid hyper- 
bole: ."Outside a silly clique, there is not the slightest 
interest in the Scandinavian humbug or all his works." 
This utterance of Truth has been given the lie by every 
known test of literary history and criticism; critical per- 
spective has only enhanced the admiration for Ibsen; and 
Ghosts stands forth to-day as one of the great tragedies in 
the world's literature. 

I have advisedly named Ghosts a masterpiece, and am 
constrained for once to differ entirely from Mr. Archer 
when, by an astonishing whim of his excellent critical in- 
sight, he would exclude this drama from the select half- 
dozen of Ibsen's greatest works. The distinguished critic 
and editor supports his position by citing a number of 
flaws and weaknesses, some real, some fancied. It,is, for 
instance, true that Pastor Manders is too "typical"; 
whereas the emphasis laid on the question of insuring the 
memorial building in the conversation between Manders 
and Mrs. Alving 1 is not, in my opinion, open to the 
charge of unclearness. At all events, these are minor 
blemishes. Mr. Archer might have pointed out a few 

1 Vol. vii, p. 182/. / 


more serious dramatic offenses that have apparently es- 
caped most critics. There is a flagrant contradiction be- 
tween two very important premises of the plot. In Act 
II Oswald asserts with unquestioned earnestness that he 
has never led a dissipated life — never, in any respect. 
And yet he blames himself, almost in the same breath, for 
having thrown away, "shamefully, thoughtlessly, reck- 
lessly," his own happiness, health, everything in the 
world, — his future, his very life, — by taking part with 
his comrades in "that light-hearted, glorious life" of 
theirs. " It had been too much for my strength. So I had 
brought it upon myself." i Maybe we are led into this 
perplexing contradiction by that Paris doctor with his 
blunt and highly improbable diagnosis of Oswald's case 
and his cocksure prediction that the next attack would 
be fatal. We are really left in the dark as to Oswald's past 
conduct of life. All we know of a certainty is that he has 
had a disgracefully dissipated father. But what are these 
slight blemishes beside the surpassing artistic beauty of 
the play? We should, of course, admit that the ultimate 
approbation of Ghosts was due to the remarkable power 
of the convictions voiced. Still, even considered as a 
stage play pure and simple, the tragedy is none the less 

1 Vol. vn, p. 248/. 



Ghosts unquestionably marked an era in the history of 
the theatre, both because of its technical innovations and 
because of its revised conception of the spirit of tragedy. 
It seems advisable to digress somewhat from our main 
consideration in order to devote some attention to these 
aspects of Ibsen's plays. 

In Ghosts the most effective lever of ancient tragedy is 
adapted to modern purposes. The Greek belief in a blind 
all-ruling Fate is revived in a form to correspond with our 
present beliefs. It was not a buried superstition raised 
out of its grave, like the fate idea in Schiller's The Bride 
of Messina and in the notorious "fate" tragedies of 
Miillner, Werner, and Houwald; the Nemesis of the 
Greeks could not be revived : that was proved conclusively 
by the experience of those dramatists and their disciples. 
A more modern view of destiny was pronounced in Schil- 
ler's Wallenstein, by the heroic thesis, "'In deiner Brust 
sind deines Schicksals Sterne " (In thy own bosom lie the 
stars of thy destiny). Wallenstein's Nemesis is his con- 
science. The heroes of the classic German drama either 
conquer through the superior power of their will, or they 
perish in the clash with other wills stronger than theirs. 
This conception of poetic justice was formed during the 
Reformation, and Shakespeare was its greatest herald 
before Schiller. The older notion of an omnipotent, 


external Fatum meting out its gifts to mortals without 
any regard to their deserts had long been obsolete when 
our own age matured a new theory of life which event- 
ually restored to drama that tremendous concept of an 
overwhelmingly powerful fate whose absolute fixity is 
compatible with our empirical beliefs. Science has per- 
sistently and consistently hammered into our conscious- 
ness the law of nature by which the Past is responsible for 
the Present. "Heredity is Nemesis without her mask; the 
last of the Fates, and the most terrible." a And the know- 
ledge of that great law, far from paralyzing our will and 
our conscience, has operated to stimulate them to an 
extraordinary degree. Ibsen, with a keen presentiment 
of the wholesome effect of this fresh departure of human 
thought, installed and firmly domiciled the regime of 
Evolution in the domain of the drama. 

Since in its plan and all details of its construction 
Ghosts is a very marvel of that novel workmanship for 
which the poet had striven through so many years, we 
may well pause for a brief consideration of Ibsen's 

In Ghosts we remark a total absence of non-dramatical 
features. There are no monologues, no "asides," no extra 
partem comments designed for the exclusive enlighten- 
ment of the auditors, nor flowing "narrative" portions to 
interrupt the eddying current of the action. The author 
leaves his characters strictly alone, never intruding his 
own person on their company in some thin disguise or 
other. There is no copious speech-making. Thoughts and 
emotions are expressed solely through character and 
actions. The premises of the action are skillfully scattered 


over the whole plot, instead of being massed at the begin- 
ning according to the old-fashioned idea about "exposi- 
tion." We are led in medias res, into a portentous situa- 
tion, with the crisis impending. The events whose influ- 
ences now conspire to the tragical working-out belong to 
the long ago; our eyes are gradually and in a natural 
manner opened to the past history, which is skillfully 
resolved into dialogue. 

Playwrights of modern ways of thinking have quite 
accustomed us to this species of drama, termed very 
appropriately by Richard M. Meyer, "Drama des reifen 
Zustandes" (drama of the ripened situation), and by 
Hermann Schlag 6 the drama with a recessive action 
(" rlicklaufige Handlung"); but as a matter of fact this 
method, sometimes described as "Auswirkung" (expli- 
cation), because the fabric is finished at the outset and the 
main purpose of the action is to disentangle the strands so 
as to show how the texture was made, is as old as tragedy 
itself. It is used to some extent in practically every play 
that has ever been written, for nearly always some ante- 
cedents have to be accounted for. In the nature of 
things, most dramas must combine two types of action: 
the "synthetic," which develops within the play, and the 
"analytic," which is already completed, but first comes to 
light in the course of the play. Shakespeare, Goethe, and 
Schiller favored on the whole the synthetic style of drama- 
turgy. The ancients practiced an eclectic method, but as 
a rule synthesis predominated with them ; yet Sophocles's 
King CEdipus is pronouncedly analytical all the way 
through. Analysis had been applied by moderns before 
Ibsen more in comedy and farce than in the solemn genres; 


Heinrich von Kleist's Der zerbrochene Krug is the paragon 
of analytical comedy. Ibsen in his earlier plays followed 
the synthetic fashion {Love's Comedy, The Pretenders, 
Brand, Peer Gynt, Emperor and Galilean) , and also in one 
of the later plays, An Enemy of the People. In Pillars of 
Society, A DolVs House, The Lady from the Sea, and still 
other dramas of the middle period the two types are 
blended or combined. In Ghosts the analytical mode, 
which was partly used already in Lady Inger and The 
Vikings, completely rules the action. The same is true of 
Rosmersholm, The Wild Duck, John Gabriel Borkman. c 

Even though in drama of the analytical sort the tragic 
interest is fixedly directed upon the past, a tense and well- 
governed present action is nevertheless necessary. In the 
CEdipus this indispensable factor of actuality is supplied 
by the King's determination to clear up the secret of his 
own past; an energy almost amounting to violence pushes 
the action from phase to phase amid our breathless ex- 
citement; in Kleist's great comedy, on the contrary, the 
present action is retardative, consisting in the stubborn 
resistance of Justice Adam to his oncoming fiasco and in 
his frantic efforts to prevent exposure. In Schiller's 
opinion, as expressed in a letter to Goethe, a very great 
advantage of the recessive procedure was to be derived 
from the fact that a past event, being unalterable, is 
thereby rendered more hopelessly terrifying; also, 
Schiller thought, the mind is more deeply stirred by the 
fear that something may have happened than by any fear 
of its happening in the future. 

It must not be imagined that able dramatists re- 
veal the antecedent history of their plots by set and 


uniform rules. There are, indeed, some stereotyped con- 
trivances for the purpose, but Ibsen preferred to steer 
clear of their manifest dangers. He skillfully managed to 
evade the hackneyed forms of "solo" d recitation and to 
free all prolonged rehearsals of the past from their usual 
dryness and stiffness. The recipients of the report are 
always persons strongly interested; frequently the hesi- 
tancy of the speaker, his reluctance to tell his story, is 
made an effective auxiliary factor: Gina (The Wild Duck), 
Rebecca (Rosmersholm) , or Ellida (The Lady from the Sea) 
are cases in point. 6 Then, too, Ibsen is unexcelled in the 
skill with which the past is introduced into the story. The 
usual device is to bring together persons who had long 
been separated and now, in a perfectly natural manner, 
enlighten each other in regard to what has occurred since 
their last meeting. f 

Frequently the "erregende Moment" (inciting mo- 
ment) is supplied by the unexpected entrance of some one 
involved in the past plot. Occasionally Ibsen does not 
shrink from a plain coup de theatre, in bringing about a 
sudden appearance. As instance, the ominous significance 
of Krogstad's appearances in Nora's house, mentioned be- 
fore. Here the surprise amounts to an ironical anticlimax, 
and the same is true in Pillars of Society when Bernick 
asks indulgence for those foreigners, whose conduct 
"cannot affect us," at which very moment enters Lona 
Hessel; l and in The Wild Duck when Hjalmar expresses 
his domestic contentment: "With all my heart I say: here 
dwells my happiness," whereat Gregers Werle makes his 
entrance. 2 Most striking of all is an incident in The 
1 Vol. vi, p. 267. ■ Vol. vin, p. 248. 


Master Builder. Solness predicts that "some fine day the 
young era will come along and knock at the door . . . 
then it is all up with Solness the Builder"; at that very 
moment Hilda Wangel knocks at the door. 1 

The number of Ibsen's dramatis persona? was variable 
within wide limits. He was quite competent to "handle a 
mob" on the scene, as is seen in the earlier plays, notably 
Brand, Peer Gynt, The Pretenders, and Emperor and 
Galilean. In the social plays the ensemble is reduced to 
about six or eight characters; but these are studied with 
minutest care. 

In spiritual portraiture Ibsen is not one of those drama- 
tists whose prime concern is to show human character in 
the making; with certain notable exceptions the persons 
are presented in a state of maturity and completion. The 
object of the play is, then, to show them for what they 
are, in action and reaction, and to explain them, in a way, 
by lifting gradually the curtain from over their past his- 
tory. In this endeavor the characterization is occasion- 
ally carried so far as to impede the action. In the social 
plays a rather novel though quite legitimate employment 
is given to the factor of suspense. The audience, namely, 
is permitted at first to misjudge the principal characters 
— just as in real life characters are seldom read aright by 
the observer, for character, both in life and in drama, is 
complex, and the observer, as a rule, is simple. In Ibsen's 
dramas, the final revelation is sometimes extremely sur- 
prising, but always, aesthetically speaking, supremely 
satisfying, since no trickery is employed, and every char- 
acteristic act well motived; also, let us add, in passing, 

i Vol. x, p. 224. 


that Ibsen's characters improve on closer acquaintance in 
their moral worth; at least they come out better in our 
estimation in the long run than was to have been expected 
from first impressions: a sign, again, that points to any- 
thing but confirmed misanthropy in the author. 

Ibsen's characters, it cannot be asserted too often, are 
men and women, not types. It is curious how even lucid 
critics, through their contemplation of Ibsen's figures as 
"visualized abstractions," may arrive at a total miscon- 
ception of their supposed symbolical essence. Professor 
Paul H. Grummann, for example, after defining the 
"new" symbolism in such manner as to make it practi- 
cally identical with the old-fashioned type-delineation 
still practiced by clumsy playwrights, comes to the fol- 
lowing oblique characterizations: — 

In Nora, we see the type of the woman of strong individuality; 
in Mrs. Alving, the well-intentioned opportunist who makes the 
best of a bad situation; in Dr. Stockmann, the scientific idealist; 
in Hedda Gabler, the strong-willed, self-respecting aristocrat; 
in Borkman, the constructive promoter; in Solness, the con- 
ceited promoter who does not learn his profession, but uses 
spurious and unprincipled means to bolster up his deficiencies." 

This critic, neglecting Goethe's immortal lesson on this 
ancient question, has unintentionally taken symbolism 
in its traditional sense, the very thing against which at 
the outset of his otherwise able article he warns us, the 
sense, namely, "according to which a special significance 
is arbitrarily attached to stated things." With Ibsen each 
character stands for his own ideas or principles or con- 
victions, which are not necessarily representative of social 
groups and classes. 


The subsidiary characters serve mainly to reinforce, 
either by analogy or by contrast, the ideas made prom- 
inent by the principals. To illustrate: In Ghosts, the pas- 
tor blames the bibulous joiner Engstrand for having mar- 
ried a fallen woman for the sake of a few hundred thalers. 
"And what have you to say about me," Mrs. Alving 
rejoins, "who went and married a fallen man?" 1 Simi- 
larly, Dr. Rank serves as a pendant to Nora, inasmuch 
as it is his wretched existence that opens her mind to her 
moral responsibility for her children's future. Again, 
Krogstad foreshadows to her the social consequences 
of her transgression. In The Lady from the Sea, Bal- 
lested, with his unfailing talent for "acclimatization," is 
an effective foil for Ellida, who feels in her environment 
like a fish out of water. In Hedda Gabler we have the con- 
trasting figures of the heroine, whose life is void of aim and 
purpose and without use to anybody, and Juliana Tes- 
man, who cannot exist save for the sake of others. In 
John Gabriel Borkman old Foldal has made a failure of his 
life like John Gabriel ; his self-effacement before the man 
who has beggared him, and to whom he is the sole com- 
forter in his forsakenness, is the other extreme from the 
insensate self-importance of the ex-captain of industry. 

Ibsen adhered in most of his plays to the "unities." It 
has been wrongly supposed that in this he paid homage to 
stale and much falsified dramaturgical conventions which 
even by their inventors were more honored in the breach 
than in the observance. Ibsen had no reverence whatever 
for the spatial and temporal unities 'per se. He adhered 
to them for the sole reason that they thoroughly suited 

1 Vol. vii, p. 219. 


his artistic intention; he strove by means of them for the 
all-important unity of tone or mood. It is in the nature 
of his plots that as a rule their actions proceed with great 
speed. Reich computes for Ghosts a length of about six- 
teen hours, for Lady Inger about five. In other plays the 
action is less condensed, yet never scattered over wide 
reaches of time. A Doll's House runs through about two 
days and a half, Pillars of Society and The Lady from the 
Sea approximate the same length, Rosmersholm fifty-two 
hours, The Wild Duck forty, and Little Eyolf thirty-six. 
But a proof that Ibsen was not committed to the " unities ' ' 
lies in the fact that in the Epilogue the scene changes 
from act to act, and that between Acts I and II the 
principals have made a long journey. A stickler for tech- 
nicalities might even raise a doubt whether the continuity 
of the action in John Gabriel Borkman is not so strict as in 
a measure to defeat its own purpose, seeing that under 
ordinary stage management a pause actually elapses 
between each two acts to allow for resetting the stage, 
whereas constructively the progress of the action in that 
drama is unbroken. (The difficulty, insurmountable in 
our theatres, can be readily overcome on the revolving 
stage that has been in use for many years past at numer- 
ous German playhouses.) 

As for the dialogue in Ghosts, its perfection is of one 
piece with the rest of the technical qualities. Ibsen had 
revised his style of colloquy still further downward from 
the high-flown declamation characteristic of previous 
and contemporary schools of dramatists. 1 His language 
now tends still more uncompromisingly towards utmost 

1 Cf. pp. 129//., supra. 


conciseness and plainness; like the action itself, it seems 
compacted into its essentials, a process calculated to 
enhance by much the force of a tragedy if only the 
theme be great. For only by strict abstention from all 
pious poetical fraud may the modern playwright convince 
us with ease that life is indeed stranger and unfortunately 
also more, far more, tragic than fiction. 

Lastly, we may touch upon Ibsen's growing use of 
phrases that comprise the gist of personal philosophies; 
by these pet expressions his own intellectual trend is eas- 
ily marked. In Emperor and Galilean there is much talk 
about the "third empire"; in A Doll's House about the 
"miracle"; in Ghosts there is the recurring phrase about 
the "joy of living"; in An Enemy of the People we hear 
about the "compact majority"; in The League of Youth 
about the "local situation"; and in The Wild Duck about 
the "ideal demand"; in Rosmersholm the guiding princi- 
ple is compressed into the formula of the "happy noble 
men"; in The Lady from the Sea the maxims expounded 
are "in freedom of will" and "on one's own responsibil- 
ity;" in Little Eyolf the words used as a guide through the 
thought of the action are " human responsibility " and " the 
law of change." There are many other such cue- words; 
for example, in The Pretenders, " the kingly thought"; in 
Brand, "All or naught"; in Peer Gynt, the command, " be 
true to thyself," contrasted with the advice, "be sufficient 
unto thyself" and "go round about." There is "the ban- 
ner of the idea" (Pillars of Society); "acclimatization" 
(The Lady from the Sea); the "life-giving lie" (The Wild 
Duck); "vine-leaves in the hair" and "dying in beauty" 
(Hedda Gabler); "homes that bear a steeple" (The Mas- 


ter Builder); "the great mortal sin" {John Gabriel Bork- 
man), etc. Thus, in spite of his frequent scoffing at the 
imputation of "ideas" and " tendencies, " Ibsen was the 
one to introduce in drama something closely akin to 
the musical leitmotif in Wagnerian opera. Yet the device 
is practiced with fair moderation, and rarely driven too 

In Ghosts the manner of Ibsen in invention and elabora- 
tion is permanently attained. It is a manner strikingly 
Ibsen's own. No artificialities of style connect this work 
with the ruling conventions, save perhaps the slightly 
melodramatic endings of the acts, Act I in particular, — 
the indelible mark of Ibsen's earlier training and his one 
spontaneous concession to the tastes of the public. 

To his self-evolved style the poet remained lastingly 
true, unmoved by the excesses of a militant school of writ- 
ers who owed to him perhaps the most powerful weapons 
in their armory. Never a great reader of books, he was 
almost totally ignorant of the theories and practices of the 
naturalists; even with Zola he had hardly more than a 
newspaper acquaintance. Critical incompetence can go 
no further than to classify Henrik Ibsen with the cele- 
brated proclaimer of "la verite vraie"; and then to im- 
peach his veracious veracity on such grave counts as that 
Nora Helmer is still undecided on the twenty-fourth of 
December about the costume she will wear on the twenty- 
sixth! or, better still, that in The Wild Duck a herring 
salad is prepared inside of fifteen minutes, contrary to 
every law of nature! 

Ibsen did not theorize much about his art and therefore 
was not in the least worried by his conscience about such 


trifles. Nor even was he troubled about a seeming incon- 
sistency of far greater consequence, namely, that be- 
tween the severe outer simplicity of his plays and the 
lurking symbolism which everywhere deepens their mean- 
ing. On the contrary, it is worth noting that in each suc- 
cessive play the symbolism appears to be carried a little 
further. Ghosts may fairly be called a symbolical play. 
The title Gengangere is meant to suggest the idea that even 
the most freethinking amongst us are haunted by dead 
beliefs and superstitions. At the same time it refers to a 
certain ghastly habit life has of repeating itself. Through- 
out the action we are struck by meaningful coincidences: 
Oswald's resemblance to his father in looks, gesture, car- 
riage, speech, the hideous revival through Oswald and 
Regine of that amorous scene between his father and her 
mother in the long ago. The parallelism is carried into 
detail. Mrs. Alving relates: "I heard my own servant 
maid whisper : ' Let me be, sir ! Leave me alone ! ' " A little 
later in the scene a woman's voice is heard from the same 
dining-room: "Oswald! Take care! Are you out of your 
mind? Let me be!" 1 All the occurrences are accom- 
panied by a sort of poetical sign-language; take, for ex- 
ample, the burning of the just completed orphanage by 
which Helen's intended final settlement with the past is 
frustrated. The method is deftly extended to the con- 
current phenomena of nature: as when dusk begins to 
fall at the very moment when Oswald begins his confes- 
sion 2 or when the sun bursts out at the very last as soon as 
the worst has come and our sense of creeping tenseness is 
relieved. More than that, the play is enveloped from 
1 Vol. vn, pp. 20G and 213. 2 Ibid., p. 243. 


start to finish in an atmosphere of weirdness and mystery. 
The shroud that veils the outside world from the beholder 
clothes portentous and incomprehensible forewarnings of 
destiny. The scene and the weather are partners in the 
action. A nervous depression is conveyed by the unceas- 
ingly falling rain. The mist that lies heavy over the land- 
scape settles on our souls, the gloom of life descends upon 
the characters and the looker-on of their sad destinies. 

This cheerless ground-quality of the play, as much per- 
haps as its imputed "immorality," called forth that sav- 
age roar of disapproval. Society in all its classes felt out- 
raged as though by an unpardonable insult. Was Ghosts 
indeed a gross libel on society, or did perhaps its crime 
consist merely in an infringement of the general social 
" conspiracy of silence"? It is not easy to answer this to 
everybody's satisfaction. But suppose we were convinced 
with Henrik Ibsen that society is a pestiferous morass, 
what, then, should we do? Drain the filthy bog, or learn to 
step lightly and to deaden our sense of smell? At the time 
the compact majority was opposed to sanitation. And if 
our communal conscience now fosters somewhat different 
ideals of social hygiene, no small portion of the thanks is 
due to the much-maligned dramatist from Norway. His 
relation to our present-day development proves the wise 
words of Herbert Spencer: — 

Whoever hesitates to utter that which he thinks the highest 
truth lest it should be too much in advance of the time, may 
reassure himself by looking at his acts from an impersonal point 
of view. Let him only realize the fact that opinion is the agency 
through which character adapts external arrangements to itself, 
— that his opinion rightly forms part of this agency, is a unit 


of force, constituting, with other such units, the general power 
which works out social changes, — and he will perceive that he 
'may properly give full utterance to his innermost conviction, 
leaving it to produce what effect it may. 

The equally stupid and ferocious denunciation of 
Ghosts left Ibsen fairly cold. He had not refrained from 
speaking out plainly, although he knew what was coming. 
Once for all he had stopped meddling with compromise 
and halfway measures, and was living up to his convic- 
tions and ready to take the consequences. All the same, 
he was unwilling to let the case of "The People versus 
Henrik Ibsen" go against the defendant by default. He 
would make an exertion to set himself right. Yet even if 
public opinion refused to reverse itself, his criticism of 
society would be continued, in the teeth of general pro- 
test. That the self-defense assumed the form of a new 
drama, goes without saying. 1 But this drama differs from 
the others in that the personal element comes strongly to 
the fore. It is a dramatized oratio pro domo. 

1 On the authority of a recently published letter the assumed date of 
the completion of An Enemy of the People must be rectified. The play 
was finished at Rome, June 20, 1882. Cf . SNL, p. 98. 



For once it may be charged that, contrary to his self- 
imposed rule of non-interference, in An Enemy of the 
People ("En Folkefiende," 1882) Ibsen did mount the 
stage in person and take its very centre; still Dr. Thomas 
Stockmann is not quite Henrik Ibsen, but rather a kindly 
auto-persiflage. The very name is significant, for it brings 
to mind the " Stockmannsgaard " at Skien wherein Ibsen 
spent his earliest youth. "I have made my studies and 
observations during the storm. Dr. Stockmann and I got 
on so excellently together. We harmonize in many re- 
spects"; yet, lest we identify too closely, he adds: "but 
the Doctor is a more muddle-headed man than I." 1 From 
a purely dramatic point of view, the invasion of personal 
polemics does not redound to the advantage of the play. 
It nullifies, among other things, the greatest technical 
achievement of the poet, namely, his skill in gradually 
exposing the past history of the dramatis persona?. Nor 
can it be said of this drama, that it is made up only of a 
fifth act, as is true of the other plays from Pillars of Society 
onward, for it proceeds in an old-fashioned progression 
of events to the catastrophe ; and it differs from its pre- 
decessors also in the heightened sonancy of its preach- 
ment. On the other hand, it is excellently built up, — 
with the exception of Act IV, where the progress is halted 

1 C, p. 359. "? 


by lengthy digressions, and with the further exception, 
possibly, of the ending which leaves everything and every- 
body in statu quo. Of Ibsen's serious dramas An Enemy of 
the People may safely be designated as the briskest and 
breeziest in movement. It was not hurriedly composed, 
but much more quickly than was the poet's wont; under 
the emotional stimulus of the provocation a few months 
sufficed to mature the work. Its story, to the shame of 
human nature must it be said, is not as far-fetched as it 
seems ; observant persons cannot be at a loss to parallel it 
from their own experience; — or have we never heard of 
people to whom the size of a city's population and its 
volume of business are a more impressive measure of civic 
worth than is its enlightenment? — or of "syndicated" 
advertisers vetoing the publication of mortality reports 
during an incipient epidemic? Only a few months ago 
there came from the Austrian town of Riedau news of 
the tragic end of a conscientious young physician who 
was hounded to his death by resentful tradesmen and 
publicans because in his official capacity he had reported a 
case of typhoid fever and the town in consequence was 
put under quarantine during the lucrative period of the 
military manoeuvres. a 

In the dramatized parable of the tainted Spa, Ibsen 
delves again into a familiar problem. His views, with 
which we are already well acquainted, are now given a 
still more far-reaching expression. The whole state of 
society is broadly reviewed. In Ibsen's opinion, as it 
shimmers forth through the transparent symbolism of 
An Enemy of the People, the present social system is sub- 
versive of the social good. The health resort, meaning the 


social institutions, is infected, a veritable pest-hole, — how 
shall those that know the facts deal with them? Must 
they advertise them, cost what it will, or should they keep 
their discovery quiet, lest the business interests be dis- 
turbed? Now, for a man of Ibsen's texture, to whose 
thinking untruthfulness is the source of all the evil on 
earth, it is an axiom that a truth as soon as recognized 
must be frankly and publicly uttered. Therefore his 
locum tenens on the boards that signify the world hesitates 
not a single moment. With him, the all too common sac- 
rifice of conviction to expediency is a constitutional im- 
possibility. With a far more than Ibsenite fervency of 
passion and a somewhat Bernickian love of strong effect 
he strikes at an important and immediate communal 
interest for the sake of a far more vital but also more 
remote one. In this wise he becomes an "Enemy of the 
People." Society, with its hand-to-mouth policy, rallies 
instinctively round the standard of its threatened pros- 
perity. At first, a few people side with the doctor, mainly 
out of spite and envy against the ruling party, but they 
turn against him as soon as they realize that his scheme of 
change would involve a personal expense to them. So the 
reformer finds himself in the hopeless minority of one 
against the compact array of the "stagnationists." No, 
not even the cold comfort of total isolation is left him; one 
solitary citizen is stirred by his appeal, and he — the tragi- 
comic portent of the incident is unmistakable — one 
densely befuddled with liquor. But when Stockmann 
finds himself deserted by all the world he holds his head 
still higher than before and cleaves even more strongly to 
his purpose. "The strongest man in the world is he who 


stands most alone," he exclaims, in almost the identical 
phrase of Wilhelm Tell: "der Starke ist am machtigsten 
allein." It sounds like an anti-social doctrine; but perhaps 
it is only meant to emphasize the well-known biologic 
value of isolation. The real personality needs solitude, so 
that his heart and soul may dwell wholly within him. 
The obligations imposed upon a ^wov iroXntKov lead in- 
evitably to the curtailment of personality. "Success " in 
the world is gained mainly through moral compromises, 
in other words, through defection from strict justice and 
comprehended principles. 

With every man's hand against him, who is right, we 
ask : Stockmann, or the People? the Individual or Society? 
Ibsen or his critics? This is the question debated in the 
play. The answer is direct to the point of brusque- 
ness. In the words of another iconoclast, albeit of a quite 
different sort, "Public opinion is an attempt to organize 
the ignorance of the community and to elevate it to the 
dignity of physical force." 6 The mob holds its terrible 
power through its enormous inertia, and there is but one 
sure way of delivery for the individual from the incubus 
of the collective consciousness, the way shown by Stock- 
mann in his exit from society into solitude. Inasmuch as 
Stockmann's extreme subjectivity voices unquestionably 
the author's own true conviction, it pronounces the latter 
utterly opposed to the leveling sociability so characteristic 
of our civilization. Democracy itself is stamped in this 
play as a fallacy and superstition; whoever supposes, 
with Stockmann, the fools to outnumber the sages, and 
the iniquitous the righteous, cannot think otherwise than 
that in a democracy justice and wisdom are most likely 


to be overruled. What fate, then, may the practical 
idealist, otherwise the reformer, expect at the present 
democratic juncture in our civilization? The Mayor of 
New York asked, almost naively, after that attempt on 
his life: "Why is it that just as soon as you undertake to 
do what is right, you become unpopular? " But he at the 
same time gave voice to the same conviction by which 
Dr. Stockmann's conduct is impelled : that we have to 
order our decisions not in the hope that they will make 
us popular, but solely because they are just and right 
and necessary. A true idealist is not deterred from his 
purpose by what Faust bitterly declares to be the uni- 
versal experience of men who came nearer the truth 
than their fellows and would not keep their discoveries 
to themselves. 

"The few who thereof something really learned, 
Unwisely frank, with hearts that spurned concealing, 
And to the mob laid bare each thought and feeling, 
Have evermore been crucified and burned." 

For it is of the nature of idealism not to learn from the 
experience of others; that is why the Stockmann family 
never dies out. 

Such are the reflections to which we are led by the con- 
sideration of Stockmann as a direct representative of 
Ibsen. Yet the play, although it is the most polemical 
among all of Ibsen's social manifestoes, should not be 
viewed too one-sidedly as having arisen only out of per- 
sonal animosities. We need to remind ourselves once 
more that Stockmann and Ibsen are by no means wholly 
identical. The fiery eloquence of this tribune of the people 
is too dissimilar to the crabbed taciturnity of Ibsen him- 


self to make their identity plausible for a single moment. 
The poet purposely used other models in order to point 
away from himself. Once, by a casual remark, he pointed 
to George Brandes as Stockmann's prototype, but here 
again the concrete resemblance is too slight. The search 
for the real model brought forth numerous suggestions. 
Bjornson and Jonas Lie have each been named as the 
original Stockmann. Professor Alfred Klaar discovered 
an interesting analogue to Stockmann in the person of 
Dr. Meissner, a physician at the famous Bohemian 
health-resort of Teplitz and the father of the well-known 
writer, Alfred Meissner. During the eighteen-thirties 
this man had frightened away the visitors by predicting a 
cholera epidemic. The season's prospective business was 
ruined by this scare, and the excited rabble came near 
stoning the doctor to death. Since now, however, 
Stockmann's real archetype has been made definitely 
known l it seems best to give the substance of the facts, 
as showing how diligently Ibsen utilized outside material 
even though he never failed to impregnate it with his own 
spiritual experience. 

In Christiania there lived till 1881 a pharmacist, Harald 
Thaulow by name (the father of the celebrated land- 
scapist, Fritz Thaulow) ; a man of much knowledge, en- 
ergy, and civic spirit, but known to friend and foe as a 
troublesome grumbler. In the early seventies this iras- 
cible controversialist started a war against a certain char- 
itable association. In a number of peppery pamphlets he 
sought to show that the administration of the concern was 

1 Julius Elias, Die neue Rundschau, December, 1906, p. 1961; and 
SW 11 , vol. iv, p. 310/. 


unsound. One of these pamphlets, printed in 1880, bears 
the malicious title : The Pillars of Society in Prose. Already 
in 1874 Thaulow had caused a scandalous scene at the 
annual meeting. But of particular interest is the report 
in the daily Aftenposten of the annual meeting in 1881, 
which was held but two weeks before the querulous old 
gentleman's death. At that meeting he wildly denounced 
certain transactions of the board of directors as arrant 
fraud. For full three quarters of an hour he continued to 
heap rebukes and abuse upon the management, when 
finally the chairman was asked to give him the quietus. 
But Thaulow would not be choked off. What followed is 
here reproduced from the newspaper account which, con- 
veniently enough, was given in dialogue form after the 
stenographic report : — 

Thaulow. I will not have my mouth stopped. (Continues his 

Consul Heftye. Make Mr. Thaulow stop! 

(Thaulow continues to read. Several persons manifest their 
indignation by demonstratively walking about in the hall. The 
chairman asks the assembly whether they recognize his right to 
withdraw from Mr. Thaulow the privilege of the floor. Unani- 
mous "Aye"). 

The chairman again requests Mr. Thaulow to stop. 

Thaulow. I will not have my mouth gagged. 

Chairman. In that case I proceed with — 

Thaulow. I'll make it quite short. (Continues to read.) 

Heftye. Is he permitted to read on? 

Thaulow (continuing): The glorious results of this Society 
... I'm done in a minute. 

Heftye. At this rate this general meeting will be broken up. 

Chairman. I regret to have to interrupt Mr. Thaulow. Your 
remarks — 


Thaulow goes on reading. 

Heftye. Silence — or you will have to leave the room. 

Thaulow. All right. (Sits down, exhausted.) 

The chairman thereupon resumes the reading of the board's 
official report. Thaulow accompanies the reading with grunts 
and tries several times to obtain another hearing. At last, the 
opposition having grown too strong, he gives up the fight and 
leaves the hall with these words: "Now I'll have nothing more 
to do with you. I am tired of casting pearls before swine. It's 
an infernal abuse that is being dealt to a free people in a free 
country. So — and now good-bye . . . and shame to you. 1 

The suggestiveness of this report is readily seen, and 
Ibsen has put it to good use in the meeting scene of his 
play. Thus we see again how he fashioned his characters 
from within, yet lost no opportunity to study from the 
model, ever biding the moment when life should proffer 
the convincing forms for his ideas. It is this method 
makes this play in particular so vivid: the symbolical or 
parabolical meaning is borne in on a wave of fresh, swift- 
moving life, detached by virtue of its actuality from any 
straight-lined program the playwright might have set 
out with. Every real drama possesses a measure of inde- 
pendence of its maker. A true dramatist, in his often sub- 
conscious care to humanize his figures, may end by trans- 
forming the original concept as the result of the progres- 
sive clarification of his own mind during the work. 4 

Whether or no Stockmann is to be regarded as Ibsen's 
alter ego, the energetic doctor is at all events his manliest 
character, the one quite free from that softness peculiar to 

1 SW 11 , vol. iv, p. 311. While we thus have a clue to the genesis of 
An Enemy of the People, no sketches or jottings of any sort have been 
preserved, as they have for all the other social plays. 


Ibsen's other heroes. But the poet saw, on closer inspec- 
tion, that this representative of his views was not alto- 
gether in the right, and so, for the reader, too, there ap- 
pears a wrong side as well as a right, to the character of 
Dr. Stockmann. Swayed though we are by the force and 
fire of his righteous pleading, the effect is not of perma- 
nent duration, for as soon as we are outside the spell of 
his wild and splendid eloquence, cool reflection shows a 
goodly share of our sympathy to have been merely 
aroused a contrario by contempt for the flat-brained 
time-servers on the other side of the dispute. Stockmann 
escapes a measure of condemnation at our hands mainly 
for the reason that almost anything seems less intolerable 
to the patience of enlightened persons than the rockbuilt 
solidarity of the mean and the stupid. (Dramatically 
considered, this fundamental presupposition of the action, 
according to which the entire population of a fair-sized 
town is made up of fools and rascals, cannot be deemed 
very realistic.) In the dialectics of the drama Stock- 
mann's idealism is pretty well overhauled, so that we can 
hardly shut our eyes to his " muddle-headedness," and 
finally come to view his ejection from society as by no 
means wholly unmerited. 1 Considered in the concrete, his 
Quixotism would spell ruin to almost any useful enter- 
prise. Really we have to fall back on the symbolical con- 
notations of the plot in order to condone with a fairly clear 
conscience the headlong imprudence of the man. For all 
his splendid qualities he presents a classic case of blunder- 

1 For Stockmann's reputation as an unreasonable man and for his 
demonstration of unreasonableness, cf. especially vol. vni, pp. 9, 14, 16, 
64, 66, 78, 84, 128. 


ing eccentricity. For remark: The medical officer of a 
place that owes its prosperity to the restorative virtues of 
its waters discovers one day that the waters are polluted. 
What course of action a man in his place would follow 
if favored with a cool mind and a steady view, is perfectly 
plain. If at first he encountered opposition, he would un- 
doubtedly push his cause as far as possible through offi- 
cial channels before revolting openly against the authori- 
ties. Unfortunately our doctor is not so favored. It is 
a convenient opportunity for his implacable idealism to 
take the bit between its teeth and with closed eyes to 
run away with his not over-developed reasoning powers. 
The fact must be published regardless of whatever in- 
jury may come from it to the immediate interests of the 
place; that is the quickest way of securing an abatement 
of the evil conditions. The only thing needed to sub- 
stantiate his charges is the confirmation of his opinion 
by high authority. Like any fanatical reformer, Stock- 
mann rejoices in having his fatal diagnosis corrobo- 
rated. He informs the editors of the local newspaper 
even before he has broached the matter officially! 
When the chairman of his board tries to tie his hands, he 
forthwith abandons the official course and rushes into the 
newspapers and mass meetings. So obsessed is he with 
the one purpose that all counter-considerations are brushed 
away with feverish excitement; neither the grave perils to 
the community nor his own and his family's certain ruin, 
sure results of the precipitous publication of his discovery, 
find a way to his reason. It is fair to ask: What good can 
come from the clash of such a bootless idealist as this Dr. 
Stockmann, impulsive, indiscreet, and overstrained, with 


the "compact majority" of sordid philistines arrayed 
solidly against him? Idealism should go with a goodly 
measure of common sense. No true and lasting benefit 
comes to the world through the most enthusiastic re- 
former when his power for good is so largely neutralized 
by his social ineptness. 

We seem, then, to have indicated two opposite ethical 
interpretations of An Enemy of the People, but in reality 
they do not stand in a basic contradiction. On the con- 
trary, they will appear quite consistent with each other if 
Ibsen's penetrating power of sight is remembered in con- 
junction /with the fact that primarily he is neither the 
faithful recorder of his own life and character nor the 
willful caricaturist of himself or others. He is primarily an 
artist; the people of his dramas, accordingly, are suffi- 
ciently alive to assert their own traits and whimsies. 
Nevertheless, for a just appreciation of Ibsen it cannot be 
irrelevant whether the principal character has the full 
personal sympathy of the author, or whether we discern 
in this play an undercurrent of self-mockery or even a 
subtle strain of apology for past attitudes and opinions. 
At all events, it is clear that the defendant, be his name 
Stockmann or Ibsen, is bound to lose his case. The justice 
or injustice of his appeal would matter but little in the 
end, for a tribunal like that will condemn an idealist on 
general principles every time, — with or without a hear- 
ing. But will the idealist acquiesce in the verdict? He 
might do so only on the pessimist's ground that if idealism 
is an out-moded virtue, unesteemed and without prac- 
tical employment in a world constituted like ours, there 
is no fcse burning out one's life in the fight for light and 


truth. In such a case, why not exit Ibsen with Stockmann ? 
Why trouble any further about giving people what they 
do not enjoy nor understand? 

Now Ibsen does not stand on the ground of the pessi- 
mist and as yet the hopeless thought of deserting his cause 
does not enter his soul. He takes Stockmann's case under 
careful review; it certainly has aspects that extenuate the 
adverse decision. The main question he broaches is this: 
Why does society ignore the idealist, if not actually turn 
against him? It would seem the most natural thing for 
the higher intellect to sway the masses by the irresistible 
power of a lofty purpose. Then, why is idealism in its ag- 
gressive manifestations almost impotent before the ele- 
phantine inertia of the public will? Again the glimmer of 
a suspicion arises that there might be something wrong 
with idealism itself or at least with some of its methods. 
In a world that is sick with untruth is it inconceivable 
that the contagion may have touched the idealist himself? 
In earlier dramas, we have made acquaintance with in- 
dividuals like the invertebrate Peer Gynt and the lacka- 
daisical Hilmar Tonnesen, representatives for certain of 
a far from uncommon pseudo-idealism. And besides the 
question of intrinsic worth there is yet further matter for 
doubt. The idealist may hurt a cause from a trop de zele as 
much as through insincerity : he may undo his own work 
by an ominous lack of the necessary moderation. 

Lastly, the idealist may be working injury to himself 
and his mission through a temperamental want of dis- 
cernment and sense of proportion. The general run of 
people are evidently not willing to listen to his unadul- 
terated gospel. Is it, then, necessary or wise to tell the full 


truth to ordinary men? Stockmann's experience points 
emphatically to the contrary. And so we see again how 
with Ibsen one issue invariably begets another, each play 
supplying the psychological ferment for another play. 
The erstwhile side-issue, by a no less characteristic shift, 
is raised in a subsequent treatment to the place of first 
importance. In this manner An Enemy of the People 
becomes the prerequisite for a full comprehension of 
Ibsen's next tragedy. 

From Stockmann's bitter experience we are led to infer, 
tentatively, a sad admission from the uncompromising 
champion of truth, and for ourselves the logical conclu- 
sion that we should keep our cherished truths to ourselves 
and allow our fellow men to guard theirs likewise. 



Is Truth indeed a panacea for all the ills that human- 
kind is heir to, or is it perhaps merely a "pragmatic" 
entity, without fixed and sempiternal standards? In the 
latter case, may not that which for some people is an un- 
mitigated lie turn out for others a beneficial truth? That 
which a man really needs, which fits him for his life, is his 
truth, declares Dr. Relling in The Wild Duck thirty years 
before Professor William James spread the same assertion 
over three hundred pages. Relling's claim is that there is 
no such thing as general truth. "Take away from your 
average man his life illusion, and you are taking away his 
happiness at the same stroke," 1 and the happenings in this 
drama go far to justify his theory about the "necessary 
life-supporting lie." Professor James and his co-pragma- 
tists have hardly done much more than to descant more 
or less interestingly on the theory of far older philosophers. 
Nietzsche and his inspiritor Stirner, not to go back too 
far beyond our time, are very explicit on the pragmatic 
score. Take this bit of reflection from Stirner 's Der Ein- 
zige und sein Eigentum : "Truth is dead, a letter, a word, 
a material which I can use up. All Truth per se is dead, a 
corpse. It is alive only as my tongue is alive, that is to the 
degree of my own aliveness. Truths are materials like 
herbs and weeds. Between herb and weed it is for me to 

1 Vol. vin, p. 372. 


decide. . . . Truths are only phrases, forms of expression, 

The "life-saving lie" need not, therefore, be infused 
from without, as in the case of the theologian Molvik and 
his ilk. In The Master Builder, John Gabriel Borkman, and 
the Epilogue the persons, as has been noticed by George 
Brandes, a are disposed boldly to posit truths in them- 
selves more or less doubtful. Hilda, discussing Solness 
and Kaja with Ragnar, insists on her reason "why he kept 
hold of her": "No, but 't is so! It must be so! I want — 
I want it to be so." l Rubek in the Epilogue asserts 
concerning the value of his work: "It shall, shall, shall 
be valued as a master-work." 2 

The Wild Duck ("Vildanden," 1884) 3 is advertised by 
its title as another dramatic parable. In this piece the in- 
quiry concerning the practical utility of ideal endeavors 
is continued. The conclusion seems to be negative, since 
the rule of absolute truthfulness, postulated hitherto as 
an irremissible condition of moral health, becomes here 
itself a species of plague. Yet if a cynical denial of ideal- 
ism were the cheap and easy lesson of this great tragi- 
comedy, if The Wild Duck had to be read only as a sat- 
ire on its author's once cherished, now abandoned, theory 
that Truth and Liberty are our social saviors, then it 
would amount to a despondent man's declaration of moral 
bankruptcy, and a proof of his conversion to the bread- 
and-butter policy of life. Indeed, he would have fallen 
far below this point, since the "pragmatic" truth em- 

1 Vol. x, p. 843. * Vol. xi, p. 336. 

■ The work was kept up from April to September, 1884. C. p. S84. 
The Scandinavian pjcmiires took place in January and February, 1885. 


bedded in the surface of this play would redound to the 
discredit of all the higher illusions, and to the commenda- 
tion of a general regime of swindle. But how could the 
poet's prime purpose be to make light of idealism, when 
idealism vindicates itself so triumphantly in the ultimate 
event, — when, after first being urged to doubt the value 
of truthfulness, we are taught by the matchless nobility 
of a human soul to criticize our own skepticism as se- 
verely as we do the beliefs which we have come to doubt? 
Far juster is it to seek the lesson in the disclosure of cer- 
tain perilous antinomies which lurk beneath the demands 
of absolute truth. The theme was struck vigorously be- 


fore, and in An Enemy of the People it was first introduced 
into the sphere of ordinary life. 

Significantly enough, the particular exponent of truth, 
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, who in the new 
play carries the war against deceit into the sanctum of 
family life, is ostensibly a person of very inferior mental 
stature as compared with the former apostles of veracity. 
If already Stockmann's uncompromising and just a bit 
loud-mouthed rectitude verged here and there on the 
ridiculous, his imperfect judgment would seem to have 
foreshadowed the ineffably greater unreasonableness of 
his successor Gregers Werle. The latter, too, is a victim 
of his own uprightness; only he stupidly carries virtue to 
such excess that he forfeits the smallest chance of healthy 
sympathy. Although he is meant for the principal of the 
plot, our interest goes out not to him, but to the minor 
characters. True, the modern drama does not require 
heroes, but it cannot do without men, and sympathetic 
men at that. Gregers Werle is in fact what Stockmann 


was only in name, an enemy of society, or, in bald prose, 
a private danger and a public nuisanceta living proof of 
the lamentable fact that in this queer world of ours a fool, 
or blockhead, or bigot, or virtuous eccentric, in short, 
any one with a conscience that is not enlightened and 
guided by intellect, may do quite as much irremediable 
mischief as an unscrupulous self-seeker or an astute and 
self-controlled villain^ A monomaniac ceases to be harm- 
less the moment he determines to make people happy 
against their will by the potent spell of his particular 
panacea. Now, young Werle's sole and sure antidote 
against the stale poison of untruthfulness is the quicken- 
ing virtue of the absolute truth. So far, so well; but 
Werle's self-conceit magnifies his own two-candle intel- 
lect into a powerful arc light that is to dissipate all dark- 
ness out of its hidings. As a matter of fact, the officiously 
persistent dispenser of light is far too incompetent, too 
cowardly and inert, to put his foot into dangerous places 
and start an energetic campaign for his ideals, like Stock- 
mann. About Stockmann there was undeniably a poetic 
halo; Gregers is hopelessly ordinary, a sluggard and 
bungler by nature, well worthy of Faust's rebuke to 
Mephisto: — 

"Thou canst not compass general ruin, 
And hast on smallest scale begun." 

For he contents himself with burrowing into every sus- 
pected corner; he noses for hidden skulls and skeletons in 
the family closets of his dearest friends; so soon as found 
they must have the feeble gleam of his intellect shed on 
them. The quizzical Dr. Relling, who has made a mess 
of his medical career, yet is at bottom a person of sound 


knowledge and some character, diagnoses Gregers's case 
sharply as acute "Rechtschaffenheitsfieber." It might be 
translated "acute rectitudinitis." The surest symptom of 
this disease is a variety of conscience which forbids the 
patient to keep out of other people's concerns. The victim 
loses the muscular control, so to speak, over an impulse to 
speak unpleasant truths to his friends. From the sum 
total of his qualities Werle's passion for truth emerges as 
an unconquerable disposition to meddle in the affairs of 
other folks. This busybody never suspects that the reveal- 
ment of truth might sometimes be superfluous and even 
undesirable. Some people hate to have their illusions 
tampered with; need happiness be ruthlessly destroyed 
when it is built out of a fancy? Nor does the dangerous 
meddler have a thought of that other very large class of 
people who are left by nature and upbringing incapable 
both of living in dreams and of fulfilling the stern postu- 
lates of highest morality : commonplace, material-minded 
creatures who yet, with all their shortcomings, have their 
place in the economy of society, and fill it well. Life for 
such people would be quite tolerable, in the words of Dr. 
Relling, if they could only get rid of the confounded duns 
that keep on pestering them in their poverty with the 
claims of the ideal. An example in the present case is 
Gina,the wife of Hjalmar Ekdal. Not a bad woman at all, 
in spite of her lack of grammar and her unsavory past, she 
acquits herself of all her practical duties to the entire sat- 
isfaction of her domestic circle, and is worth half a dozen 
Hjalmars, even at his professional work. Morally, too, 
she is far and away his superior. The father of Gregers 
Werle had her as his mistress before she was married : but 


that liaison had been forced upon her against her will, by 
her own mother, and she did not lose her self-respect with 
her virtue. There is nothing feigned about her indignation 
when she is treated as though she were not respectable. 
Actresses who represent her as a superannuated prosti- 
tute are poor psychologists. Her motherly and wifely 
qualities should count for much. Her tender words over 
little Hedvig's dead body are truly womanly and stand in 
grateful contrast with the profuse repentance and theatri- 
cal self-accusations of Hjalmar, to whom, as Dr. Relling 
says, little Hedvig, in less than a year's time, will be 
nothing but a pretty theme for declamation. 1 

It is a fine instance of tragic, or tragi-comic, irony that 
Gregers is bent on benefiting Hjalmar by causing a rup- 
ture with the one person in the world who is equal to the 
difficult task of keeping him from going utterly to the dogs. 
Seemingly Ibsen, with his thought forever working up the 
by-products of former experiments, and seeking to utilize 
the very sweepings of his workshop, reverts here to a mo- 
tif in A DolVs House. When Dr. Relling faces Gregers with 
the question, "Is it rude to ask what you really want in 
this house? " the answer is given, "To lay the foundations 
of a true marriage." 2 Mrs. Linden, in forcing that expla- 
nation between Nora and her husband, had a similar 
thought, but it did not develop, with her, into a mania. 

Other figures and ideas in The Wild Duck also go back 
to earlier plays. First to be named is that burly neuras- 
thenic, Hjalmar Ekdal, in whom the admiring Gregers 
sees a "real, genuine man," and in whose rescue from the 
"swamp" where he is living Gregers seeks his greatest 
1 Vol. viii, p. 399. * Ibid., p. 834. 


mission. This utterly hollow phraseologist calls to remem- 
brance that wide-mouthed herald of civic ideals, Stens- 
gaard, although his ambition is directed far less toward 
social and political prominence; but his lineal ancestor 
among Ibsen's characters is that neurotic drone Hilmar 
Tonnesen (Pillars of Society). There was, of course, a 
living model, too; probably a third-rate painter named 
Magnus Bagge. 1 Without question Hjalmar's mental 
state should be considered unhealthy. The distinguished 
neuropathologist Wilhelm Weygandt 2 pronounces the 
case a "heboid form of Dementia Proecox, complicated 
by a slight paranoiac tendency"; and, by the way, diag- 
noses in such competent quarters go to show that, whether 
Ibsen did or did not succeed in reproducing "typical" and 
clinically accurate cases, he was artist and observer 
enough to produce consistent and possible cases. 

Handicapped as he finds himself for the race of life, 
Hjalmar Ekdal is evidently pursuing a steady and un- 
troubled course of idleness. His pretended ambition is a 
huge, transparent lie. He poses as an inventor and claims 
to be on the eve of a phenomenal success. "Have you 
heard of my invention, I wonder?" is with him, in all 
probability, a stock question. But when you ask him 
about the nature of his invention, he will surely answer 
you as he answers Gregers: "Oh, my dear fellow, you 
must not ask for such details yet — that takes time." 3 
Childish dreams are his only inventions. A true congener 
in this regard of Peer Gynt, he is quite contented to loll 
about, doing nothing, as long as he is fed and admired and 
satisfied in his petty vanities. Not being aggressively 

1 C, p. 425. * Cf. chapter ix, note g. 8 Vol. vm, p. 296. 


unscrupulous like Stensgaard, he does not betray his mean 
and sordid egoism so quickly. He is not without bon- 
homie, in fact quite an amiable good fellow as long as you 
do not ask him to do any work. His attachment to his 
family is selfish and superficial. The same man who once 
refers to himself as a pater familias starving for his kin 
forgets the promise given his little girl to bring her a lot 
of good things from a dinner party, and consoles her in his 
large-hearted way with the menu ! " Sit down at the table 
and read the bill of fare, and then I '11 describe to you how 
the dishes taste." l His fondness for the child does not 
prevent him from exploiting her labor. She retouches 
photographs for him to the certain ruin of her weak eyes. 
Knowing full well the inevitable result, he salves his con- 
science by asking her to be careful ! The poor girl is going 
blind, but is she not alone responsible for her misfortune? 
Demonstrative and spectacular is Hjalmar Ekdal. For 
any crisis he has a grand geste ready. A deed of gift 
arrives from Merchant Werle for his ancient scapegoat, 
old Lieutenant Ekdal, and little Hedvig. The generous 
provision made for the child, together with the thought 
that the donor, like the beneficiary, is growing blind, con- 
vinces Hjalmar that Werle is Hedvig's real father. With 
a grand display of wounded pride he tears the document 
in two. His poor child he repudiates, and almost kills her 
with insult. Fortunately Hjalmar's sensitiveness is bal- 
anced by a great recuperative power. Time at last heals his 
wounded honor, — but it takes nearly twenty-four hours, 
— and the haughty cavalier picks up the pieces of the 
torn paper to paste them humbly together again, with this 

1 Vol. vin, p. 243. 


touching sentiment, "Far be it from me to lay hands 
upon what is not my own — and least of all upon what be- 
longs to a destitute old man — and to the other as well." 1 
Even his modest hankering for animal comforts is 
made to certify against the poor uncharactered wretch. 
Hedvig offers to fetch his flute in order to assuage his can- 
tankerous temper. Hjalmar sulks in reply, "No, no flute 
for me; I want no pleasures in this world." Then, pacing 
about as he whines out his woes, he actually threatens to 
work, — beginning to-morrow. 

You shall see if I don't. You may be sure I shall work as long 
as my strength holds out. 

Gina. But, my dear good Ekdal, I did n't mean it in that way. 

Hedvig. Father, mayn't I bring in a bottle of beer? 

Hjalmar. No, certainly not. I require nothing, nothing — 
{comes to a standstill). Beer? Was it beer you were talking 

Hedvig. Yes, father; beautiful fresh beer. 

Hjalmar. Well — since you insist upon it, you may bring in a 
bottle. 2 

Plainly the way to this man's heart is through his stom- 
ach. He returns to his abandoned home just for a little 
nourishment; and the practical Gina staunchly conquers 
his dark resolutions and anchors him safely to his fire- 
place with a trayful of homely viands. 3 In spite of his 
pleasanter traits our judgment concerning this thoroughly 
worthless and self-centred character is not kept very long 
in suspense; and it is greatly to be doubted whether Pro- 
fessor Woerner can convert many students of Ibsen to his 
opinion that in Hjalmar Ekdal it is after all the lovable 
characteristics that prevail. 
1 Vol. vni, p. 385. ■ Ibid., p. 246. « Ibid., p. 378/. 


The elder Werle resembles in character both Consul 
Bernick and Chamberlain Alving. He combines a record 
of past libertinage with the ruthless greed of the local man 
of might. Married twice, both times for material advan- 
tages, he did not manage his home life in a manner to in- 
still in a young lad the moral nutriment of domestic hap- 
piness. The quickest road to wealth for him was not 
the straightest. And just as in Pillars of Society Johan 
Tonnesen was made a scapegoat for Bernick's malefac- 
tions, so here old Ekdal had to go to prison for the subiti 
guadagni of his highly respectable partner in business. 
After his release a sop was thrown the broken old man in 
the shape of a petty clerkship; ruined in body, mind, and 
reputation, he is part of that human wreckage we con- 
stantly encounter in Ibsen — the flotsam and jetsam of 
vessels grounded on the shoals of life. (Of this class of 
people Krogstad in the Pillars of Society, Brendel in Ros- 
mersholm, and Foldal in John Gabriel Borkman are classic 
specimens.) l The disgraced old man bears his tragic iso- 
lation by the aid of a childish illusion. Preserving in his 
imagination a recollection of his favorite pleasure, he 
amuses himself by pretending to hunt game among the 
toy trees of his attic. Should not Gregers Werle in the 
holy name of Truth cure the delusion? Dr. Relling, we 
have seen, thinks otherwise. He, too, is one of life's mis- 
fits, possessed like Ulrik Brendel or Eilert Lovborg of a 
measure of genius, but too unsteady in his habits for the 
purposes of practical life. Still another social bankrupt 
must be named, that crapulous theologian, Molvik. Rel- 
ling calls him the "poor, dear pig," and braces him up 

1 Cf. p. 217. 


with the fiction that he has a "demonic" nature which 
feeds on alcohol. All these characters are conceived and 
delineated with a rich sense of humor; but it is not the 
species of humor that makes human frailty lovable, as it 
is apt to become under the hands of a Lessing, a Dickens, 
or a Fritz Reuter; rather it partakes of Moliere's corrosive 
wit, or the critical aloofness of George Meredith. 

The figures in this genuine tragi-comedy or, more 
precisely speaking, como-tragedy, impress us as more or 
less grotesque deviations from the common averages of 
life. And in this no exception need be made for the little 
heroine of the play, inasmuch as her conduct, too, is at 
wide variance with the temper and actions of the average 
young girl. To be sure, her abnormality is the veriest op- 
posite of the self-indulgence and weakness of will observ- 
able in Hjalmar or Molvik. Altogether a child still in the 
strength and purity of her affections, yet emotionally up- 
wrought at her critical age, she enacts, in the midst of her 
commonplace company, the moral dictate as she under- 
stands it, with saintly obedience and blind devotion. 
Gregers's suggestion that she sacrifice her most treasured 
possession to prove her love for her father is not original, 
for it smacks of that well-known anecdote in Herodotus 
about Polycrates and his ring, which Schiller wrought into 
his famous poem. But innocent little Hedvig accepts the 
suggestion like a command of holy gospel, and with a 
tremulous heart makes ready to purchase her father's 
peace of mind with the sacrifice of the lame wild duck that 
has been safe from the old gunner because it was her pet; 
and when she overhears Hjalmar brutally asking the im- 
pious question: "If I then asked her: Hedvig, are you 


willing to renounce that life for me?" and hears his scorn- 
ful laugh as he continues, "No, thank you, you would 
soon hear what answer I should get," 1 she is stung to the 
quick and allays his blatant want of faith. In the drama 
we have no safe means of knowing whether Hedvig's sui- 
cide was premeditated ; but in the early sketches her reso- 
lution is hinted by the threat, "Oh, I am not going to get 
any older." 2 My opinion is that Hedvig takes her life 
partly from grief over her father's sudden revulsion from 
her, but partly from a subconscious wish to save him 
from the loss of his last moral support. Her self- 
sacrifice, she feels, — sancta simplicitas! — must re- 
vivify his faith in human nature. What a distinct adum- 
bration we have here of the tragedy of Johannes Rosmer 
and Rebecca West ! In the figure of the noble young ideal- 
ist Ibsen has immortalized his beloved only sister of the 
like name, his favorite among the family — indeed the 
only member of it with whom he maintained an enduring 
intimacy and to whom he felt himself permanently tied 
by a bond of mutual understanding. 6 He made of little 
Hedvig Ekdal a pure embodiment of other-love and self- 
immolation, not unlike that pure virgin in the Golden 
Legend who would raptly lay down her life for the salva- 
tion of a suffering soul. Hedvig is the one real idealist 
in the drama, for the true test of idealism is under all 
circumstances the capacity for devotion. 

The symbolical name of the play and the symbolism of 

its external apparel make us look for covert significances. 

Did Ibsen perhaps mean to point out, since both Gregers 

and Hedvig end by suicide, that idealism, be it sane or 

1 Vol. vm, p. 391. * SW n , vol. m, p. 241. 


crazy, petty or sublime, ends in its own destruction? Or 
in order to plunge us into the depth of pessimism, did he 
point morosely to little Hedvig's moral splendor as if to 
say : " Behold, this is what some of us are like before the 
ugly mill of life puts us through its dirty grind and inevi- 
tably dulls the glitter of our souls"? And did he mean to 
fix for us the attainable limits of truthfulness and devo- 
tion by the concrete example of the marriage of two peo- 
ple "with a past," declining in years and health, namely, 
the wealthy merchant and his housekeeper ? Even if that 
may have been his purpose at the time, we may trust him 
at some future opportunity to view the question through 
another facet, and perhaps he may then succeed in re- 
building his shattered faith and ours. Once grant that 
there is a constructive idealism at work in our world, and 
it cannot any longer be alleged with justice that all man- 
kind is bestialized by the uncleanly process of living, and 
finally sorted off into the two grand divisions, the cud- 
chewers and the cormorants. 

It is far from the poet's thought to preach the contempt 
of all that can make life lovable. Although The Wild Duck 
is pervaded by sadness, it does not breathe pessimism, . 
and we are not finally dismissed with a note of bitterness,^ 
— rather with a consoling strain of puzzling mockery, as if 
a piece of music were to cease on the dominant seventh 
unresolved; the final cadence that is withheld, we either 
must strike ourselves, or wait for the performer to finish. 

In discussing the dramatis persona? we must not over- 
look one whom Ibsen left to enact its not inconsequential 
role off the scene, — which is quite the proper place 
for feathered bipeds, the French creator of barnyard 


drama to the contrary notwithstanding. The play of The 
Wild Duck cannot well be reviewed without taking ac- 
count of the disabled fowl that gives it its name and some 
of its more recondite meaning. The dramatic importance 
of the duck is alluded to indirectly in Ibsen's letter to his 
publisher: "In some ways this new play occupies a posi- 
tion by itself among my dramatic works; in its method it 
differs in several respects from my former ones. But I 
shall say no more on this subject at present. I hope that 
my critics will discover the points alluded to, — they will, 
at any rate, find several things to squabble about and 
several things to interpret. I also think that The Wild 
Duck may very probably entice some of our young drama- 
tists into new paths; and this I consider a result to be 
desired." l The poet's hopes and expectations have 
come true. Hence some attention must be paid by us, in 
passing, to this new method which Ibsen desired to see 
imitated by the rising generation of playwrights. 

Why is it that this play offers far greater obstacles to 
a thorough understanding than those that preceded? 
The reason, it seems to me, is that we are expected to look 
at things and persons at a distance to which our unaided 
sight cannot accommodate itself quickly enough; or, per- 
haps more accurately, that we are asked to bring them 
into a double focus. At the natural distance their outlines 
are distinct and definite. The persons seem strictly life- 
sized, and impress us with the force and truthfulness of 
their drawing. With the intelligent student they are 
bound to fare as they did with their creator. He writes: 
"Long, daily association with the persons in this play has 

1 C,p. 


endeared them to me, in spite of their manifold failings; 
but I am in hopes that they will likewise make good, well- 
disposed friends among the great reading public and not 
least among the actor-folk, for all of them, without ex- 
ception, offer grateful parts. But the study and presenta- 
tion of these people will not be easy, etc." l Now at the 
other, the artificial distance, these same men and their 
conflicts are made to appear to our gaze in a different, and 
that a thickly obnubilated, perspective. The straining 
eye is forced to call imagination to its aid in order to com- 
bine the illusion of actual life with the illusions of an un- 
real world; and imagination is the very quality in which 
minds most differ. The new method to which Ibsen 
indubitably alludes is that of symbolism. Not the kind 
which Goethe has in mind in his famous statement that 
symbolism springs up whenever a poet unconsciously 
descries the general category in the separate phenomenon 
("im Besonderen das Allgemeine schaut") and conveys 
both to the reader at one and the same time. We are not 
speaking of this sort of symbolism, which is unconsciously 
practiced by every real poet; it is the intentional sort of 
symbolism — parabolism it might be named — that is in 
question. It had been a settled feature of Ibsen's tech- 
nique before The Wild Duck. The esoteric strain was 
already strongly marked in An Enemy of the People. 
Throughout Ghosts the illusionist method was enlisted for 
the purpose of superinducing a depressing atmosphere and 
an apprehensive mood; in this endeavor a specific sym- 
bolical use was made of natural phenomena, and of the 
ominous analogy of events, in order to heighten the spir- 

1 Cf. C, p. 383/. 


itual passions. The leaning towards symbolism an- 
nounced itself sardonically in the very naming of the 
plays: Pillars of Society, A DolVs House, Ghosts. Yet in 
The Wild Duck and in the later dramas, the esoteric con- 
notation of the entire action becomes for the first time its 
own aim and purpose, to which the whole apparatus of the 
play tends to conform. Whereas in those other plays such 
objects as were already at hand as integral parts of the 
machinery would be raised to a higher potency of mean- 
ing, in The Wild Duck the symbolistic requisites are pur- 
posely imported into the action. A case in point is the 
"Titelheldin." Upon the precise significance of the duck 
I am not foolhardy enough to pronounce. The old poet's 
malicious prediction is amply realized, and the critics are 
still squabbling about the meaning of the wounded bird 
and the concepts crystallized about this famous symbol. 
Surely some of them must have hit wide of the mark, else 
their interpretations could not be so contradictory. While 
one group perceives in the wild duck an analogy to the 
wing-clipped idealist, Gregers Werle, or a general simile 
for all lamed enthusiasms of mankind, another regards it 
as a sort of self -persiflage of Ibsen; a third group finds a 
resemblance to Ekdal father, a fourth to Ekdal son. The 
last-named comparison has decidedly something in its 
favor, since it was drawn by the author in a signal passage 
of the original sketch, where Gregers is made to say: 
"Listen, Hjalmar, there 's something of the wild duck in 
you. You were wounded once, and then you dove under, 
and down there on the bottom you have bitten yourself 
fast in the sea-grass." l Professor Woerner accepts the 

1 CW, vol. xni, p. 333. 


crippled duck as a syrabolization of the surrogate happi- 
ness by which people console themselves after an artificial 
fashion for their defeat in the contests of life, as when soli- 
tary persons shower their love on pet animals; and he 
declares t in all seriousness that in The Wild Duck Ibsen 
was the first to dramatize the curious consolatory office 
filled by, say, a cat for a lonely old woman, or a dog for a 
blind man, and by this he discovered a new form of ro- 
manticism for the drama ! Without gainsaying any of the 
numerous explanations, I prefer to interpret the wild duck 
still otherwise, and, as seems to me, more simply. To me 
the duck is not the incarnation of any other ideas than 
those conveyed, without it, by the characters in action. 
It stands for the latter as their descriptive sign; the 
wounded duck serves as a heraldic animal, so to speak, 
for the conscious or unconscious misery of this battered 
company of left-behinds of whom old Ekdal is the typical 
representative. If this explanation be rejected by symbol- 
hunters on account of its too great simplicity, we shall 
be led into a cluster of difficulties by Gregers Werle'9 
would-be philosophical dalliance with this and related 
similes. For the dog that dives for the bird and brings it 
to the surface we might accept Gregers's explanation. 1 
But his ingenuity cannot satisfy us on the score of certain 
other things suspected slightly or strongly of a hidden 
meaning. What might be the deeper significance of the 
useless old gun which is dismounted and cleaned and put 
together and taken to pieces again; 2 and why does the 
"venerable man in the silver locks," as he is dubbed by 

1 Vol. vin, pp. 268, and 300; SW 11 , vol. in, p. 219. 

2 Ibid., p. 293. 


his phraseologist of a son, wear traditionally a fox- 
colored wig? 1 The poet himself arms the hands of the 
seasoned pursuer of symbols and puts him on the scent, 
when he makes Gregers suggest to Hedvig that the garret 
where old Ekdal indulges his sporting propensity might 
conceivably be identical with the depths of the sea. We 
read : — 

Hedvig. It sounds so strange to me when other people speak 
of the depths of the sea. 

Gregers. Why so? Tell me why. 

Hedvig. No, I won't; it's so stupid. 

Gregers. Oh, no, I am sure it's not Do tell me why you 

Hedvig. Well, this is the reason : whenever I come to realize 
suddenly — in a flash — what is in there, it always seems to me 
that the whole room and everything in it should be called "the 
depths of the sea." But that is so stupid. 

Gregers. You must n't say that. 

Hedvig. Oh, yes, for you know it is only a garret. 

Gregers (looks fixedly at her). Are you so sure of that? 

Hedvig (astonished). That it's a garret? 

Gregers. Are you quite certain of it? 

(Hedvig is silent, and looks at him open-mouthed.)* 

Yet this incident may be taken otherwise than as a gen- 
eral warning to the reader to be on the lookout for sym- 
bolistic man-traps and spring-guns scattered all over the 
grounds. For it may be simply a withering bit of charac- 
terization, since Gregers is no favorite of Ibsen's; 3 or it 
may be a shaft of romantic irony directed against Gregers 
or, for the matter of that, against the fad of hunting for 

1 Vol. vin, p. 296, also pp. 237 and 271. Cf. on these matters B. Litz- 
mann, Ibsens Dramen, p. 88. 

» Vol. vin, p. 289. » Ibid., p. 269. 


mysteries in every work of art. Ibsen sometimes grew 
wholly out of patience with the profound exegesis ad- 
vanced by his admirers. For instance, in the opening 
scene of A Doll's House Nora gives a generous tip to a 
public messenger who has carried her bundles home for 
her. This, by certain people, was construed as a proof 
that Ibsen was a socialist! Occasionally he would say, 
with reference to some passage in a new play of his: 
"Well, some commentator or other will come along and 
tell me what I really meant by that." 

Altogether, he might well be impatient with the aver- 
age quality of reader and playgoer, for somehow the pub- 
lic still failed to realize the special purport and message 
of his art. He had now reached the perfection of that 
individual style for which he had been seen to strive so 
arduously from the beginning of his modern plays. A long 
experience of the stage in his earlier formative period had 
yielded to his inborn dramatic genius all the mechanical 
secrets of his craft. From Pillars of Society, produced at 
the age of forty -nine, he conquered with rapid strides his 
artistic independence, and along with his own progress 
moved the modern conception of the form and purpose 
of the drama. 



Ibsen was now fifty-six years old, and by nature's unal- 
terable decree had reached the summit of his artistic 
development. In a dramaturgic respect, Ghosts and The 
Wild Duck mark the highest level, with this reservation, 
however, that the first act of The Wild Duck is almost 
superfluous. Ibsen's style, to be sure, underwent modifi- 
cations and in minor details still further improvement 
after that; but the excellence of the succeeding plays was 
marred by a too scrupulous avoidance of the external 
effect and by a certain diminution of lucidity, which was 
the result of the fastening hold of the symbolistic method 
upon his art. 

On the other hand, though the ripened art of these 
master works of stagecraft was never to be surpassed, and 
indeed the attained level of excellence was gradually 
lowered through the natural decline of the creative im- 
pulse, the spiritual growth of Ibsen was not conterminous 
with the artistic, and the works that followed registered 
its further progress. In the course of a lifelong process of 
self-education some of the extremes of his radicalism were 
revised or toned down. No longer do we see the revolu- 
tionary hurrying with averted glance past the brighter 
sides of the social spectacle. Also, in these later works a 
greater hopefulness asserts itself, albeit by indirection. 
Their philosophy shapes itself to a gentler and serener 

. - 



disposition towards the extant world, at the same time 
assuming greater strength and a larger outlook into the 
future, — partaking even of an unwonted willingness to 
bridge and conciliate the harsh contrasts that beset our 
social life; in fine, showing a lessened horror of compro- 
mise. The altered disposition, it must be acknowledged, 
was not wholly due to moral causes. The poet's rigor, to 
be candid, did not resist the softening effect of the good 
things of life that were now at last assured to him after 
being so long withheld: a care-free existence, world-wide 
celebrity, influence, and a secure leadership with the on- 
coming generation, such possessions rarely fail to extend 
the limits of a man's social sympathy. Withal the tru- 
est explanation of the change has to be sought in Ibsen's 
advancing inner soundness. 

While peripherically a man's change of principles will 
always be interpreted as a sign of weakness or temporiz- 
ing, it may in deepest truth testify to a higher form of 
courage and loyalty than does the obstinate clinging to 
old opinions and sentiments. But in Ibsen's case need we 
speak of inconsistency at all ? Let us clearly define his 
position, in order to arrive at an unprejudiced estimate. 
From the beginning we have seen that his individualism, 
to state it in a mild paradox, was only collectivism of an 
ideal sort. He held that the individual who developed to 
the utmost his most precious gift, namely, his inner free- 
dom, would eventually be the one of greatest value to 
society. With Emerson he thought, "The best political 
economy is the care and culture of men." Ibsen really 
never sympathized with the coarser conception of indi- 
vidualism pure and simple. His ultimate ideal was a 


social ideal : the vision of human society reconstructed on 
a higher plane by the consensus of individual interests. 
For, as Herbert Spencer puts it, a necessary relation exists 
between the structure of a society and the nature of its 
citizens." For the well-being of individuals, whether as 
units or in the aggregate, the maintenance of order is 
paramount. "The ideal of civilization must be perfect 
anarchy," says one of our college presidents who is not 
at all notorious for a democratic conduct of his office — 
"order maintained from within, not order imposed from 
without"; then wisely puts the brake on his runaway train 
of thought: "But in the crude civilization of to-day there 
is no place for anarchy." b 

Ibsen's philosophy, being a synthesis of individualism 
and socialism, of need ended not in anarchy, but in a 
loftier form of aristocracy. He looks forward to a regen- 
eration of the race different from what can be effected by 
legislation and jurisdiction; to a time when human minds 
and hearts shall be beyond the necessity of external 
supervision and control; when the observance of the 
moral law shall be intuitive rather than mandatory. The 
difference between this Utopia and that of Nietzsche has 
been fitly stated by some one in the chiastic formula that 
Nietzsche preaches "den Willen zur Macht," Ibsen, "die 
Macht zum Willen." Undeniably he was at first totally 
unreserved in championing the individual against a society 
whose aggregate opinions he bluntly contemned, but al- 
most from his artistic start he emphasized the dangers of 
eccentric and of false individualism. Against the vagaries 
of distempered nihilism, against the cormorant rapacity 
of the egoist he had sounded his earnest warnings. Great 


as was his contempt for the canting morality of the com- 
mon crowd, he execrated even more the erratic world- 
improver and the self- worship of any seeker after his own 
exclusive advantage. He had come to realize that in our 
world "order is even more important than freedom." c 

The play in which the ripened philosophy of Ibsen 
became articulate was Rosmersholm (1886), d considered by 
many the greatest among Ibsen's later plays. It is also, 
unquestionably, one of the most difficult to understand. 
In outer seeming, at least as regards its background, Ros- 
mersholm is political. That came as a natural result of the 
poet's second visit to his native land (in 1885), when, 
after the recent victory of the Liberals under the leader- 
ship of Johan Sverdrup, the whole country was still in the 
after-throes of the keen and rancorous struggle between 
the two principal parties. Ibsen was most unpleasantly 
impressed with what he saw of political doings while at 
home. As we well know, he despised "practical" poli- 
ticians and attached to their work little hope for the 
people's furtherance in enlightened happiness. According 
to Ibsen himself, one motive of Rosmersholm was to call 
the whole nation to work. 1 In a brief but very charac- 
teristic address at a workingmen's meeting at Trondhjem 
on the fourteenth of June, 1885, he expressed his aspira- 
tions for his country in these now almost hackneyed 
words: "There remains much to be done before we can 
be said to have attained real liberty. But I fear that 
our present democracy will not be equal to the task. An 
element of nobility must be introduced into our national 
life, into our parliament, and into our press. Of course 

1 C, p. 412. 


it is not nobility of birth that I am thinking of, nor of 
money, nor yet of knowledge, nor even of ability and 
talent. I am thinking of nobility of character, of will, of 
soul." » 

Ibsen prided himself on occupying a position outside 
and above the political parties. Living as he did away 
from the seat of dissensions, the maintenance of neutrality 
between the recognized political persuasions was com- 
paratively easy for him. In his essential tendencies he 
was and remained a radical. With the Liberals, however, 
his sincerity of opinion failed to pass unchallenged. They 
regarded him as a blue-black reactionary, and conse- 
quently treated him as their sworn enemy. Not without a 
show of justification: his aversion to the Liberal Party 
was strongly grounded in his love of independence; he had 
a natural dislike for any doctrine that smacked even 
remotely of socialism. To this dislike a strong aesthetic 
partiality, an unconquerable odi profanum, contributed 
its share; aristocratic minds are very apt to think of the 
rank and file as mere " Kanonenf utter " in the war of civ- 
ilization. Ibsen was never far from the belief that the 
people are the mob: ignorant, foolish, reckless, and easily 
led astray by their passions. The crude and vulgar con- 
comitants of democracy appeared to Ibsen as a bad ex- 
change for the evils of government by settled authority. 
Democracy without these defects seemed an idle dream, 
and between the two possible extremes of oligarchy and 
mobocracy he preferred the former. To Brandes he wrote: 
"The Liberals are the worst enemies of freedom. . . . 
Freedom of thought and spirit thrives best under abso- 
1 SNL, p. 53; cf. also SW U , vol. I, p. 208. 


lutism; France showed this, then Germany, and now 
Russia." ! Thus we see one, who by instinct and intellect 
was something akin to an anarchist, transiently drawn 
by his finer sensibilities to the support of a moribund 
and in many respects preposterous political order. By 
those words addressed to the workmen of Trondhjem 
he plainly hinted that the experiment of popular self- 
government could only then be tolerated if the enfran- 
chised mass showed itself capable of rising to higher 
planes, not only in its civic and material, but also in its 
private and spiritual existence. Without that, democracy 
could not but prove a bane and a blight to the finer gains 
of civilization, and there would be truth and justice in the 
charge made by that arch-tory, Rector Kroll: "For my 
part, it seems to me we are all in a fair way to be dragged 
down into the mire, where hitherto only the mob have 
been able to thrive." 2 

No doubt Ibsen's political profession of faith is pro- 
mulgated in Rosmersholm, yet the political movement in 
this drama, being neither novel nor profound, has no 
great and independent importance of its own; it merely 
helps to set off Ibsen's social ideal which in the other plays 
reveals itself negatively, through analysis, and is here pos- 
itively revealed through logical tendencies. So Johannes 
Rosmer, like Thomas Stockmann, is closely identified 
with Ibsen's inmost thoughts and feelings. Of course the 
identity should be sought not in any outer coincidence of 
deed or circumstance but in his inward experiences. As 
for the factual basis of the play, that was furnished by a 

1 C, p. 233; cf. also vol. vm, p. 133. 
1 Vol. ix, p. 41; cf. also C, p. 351. 


scandal in Swedish high life. A prominent diplomatist 
who later became a close friend of Ibsen's fell deeply in 
love with his own cousin. He being a married man, the 
outraged moral sense of the gossips and the newspapers 
took care to denounce him to the wife. The lovers left the 
country, not long after which the deserted wife died; the 
physicians named pulmonary consumption as the cause of 
her death, but the post-mortem of public opinion was that 
the countess died of a broken heart. The blame for her 
death was laid on the surviving husband and his second 

• The story is repeated here in its dull matter-of-factness 
merely to demonstrate that no matter where the incidents 
of a drama may come from, its dynamic effect is mainly 
due to the rationale that is supplied by the poet. The 
transformation of raw material into a great drama in- 
volves structural alterations which a master alone can 
make. The art of weaving from the coarse stuff of banal 
news items the fabric of an immortal tragedy is one of the 
undivulged secrets of genius. It may well be believed that 
there is some effective difference between the imagination 
of a poet and that of a reporter. 

Rosmersholm, despite its outward political and sociolog- 
ical bearings, is at bottom a private tragedy: two com- 
pletely differentiated individuals are dramatically nerved 
to a decisive struggle in a common crisis of their fates. 
The last stages of an inexorable course of destiny are 
shown, yet the issue depends on no outer circumstances. 
It is determined wholly by the mutual reactions of the 
two characters. 

Again a woman with a powerful will stands in the heat 


of the battle between the conjunctive and disjunctive 
tendencies of the mind. Ibsen was of the belief that 
women are more apt to differentiate themselves from 
gregarious standards than men, because of their greater 
social detachedness under our economic state, although 
numerous agencies inhibit the feminine instinct for self- 
maintenance and much of it is wasted through atrophy. 
Now in Rosmersholm we have a heroine whose will power 
is strong enough to have set her nature entirely off from 
her social environment. In freedom from moral prepos- 
sessions she resembles the mother of Oswald Alving; but 
she is immeasurably separated from her by her upbringing 
and the vampirism of her nature. Rebecca Gamvick was 
formed into a freethinker and radical by Dr. West, a man 
of massive intellectual force, but almost inconceivably 
bestial, wholly destitute of moral sense, and governing 
his conduct solely in response to his animal cravings. 
That this man, who corrupted her in every sense of the 
word, was her own father, Rebecca learns at a late stage 
of the action. Rebecca, like her father, is vigorous and 
able, but also depraved. At least her moral sense is 
" above " making any distinctions between the good and 
the evil, and self-interest is the only test of her faith and 
doctrine. One hesitates to repeat again that much over- 
worked term "Ubermensch" which Goethe and Nietzsche 
stamped each with such a different value, yet no equally 
fitting designation occurs for her sovereign egotism that 
overleaps all accepted moral barriers. The character of this 
Rebecca, with her intellectual grip, uncanny perspicacity, 
and fierce instinct for self-preservation and tenacity of 
selfish purpose, recalls in some ways her namesake in 


Thackeray's Vanity Fair; but her egoism transcends that 
of Becky Sharp in kind as well as in degree. She is a demon 
in human shape both by right of descent and through the 
cast of an experience so monstrous as to stagger the belief; 
and her ferocious passion enters into league with all the 
wiles and blandishments of womanhood to give her what- 
ever she wills, no matter whether it is some object of 
material comfort or the winning of a human soul at the 
cost of a life or two. 

Such at least was her state of mind when, after an agi- 
tated past, she found a timely haven of rest in the home of 
Johannes Rosmer. Here at once the master of the house 
becomes the object of her violent desires, she makes up 
her mind to have him, and coolly decrees the death of the 
wife from whom he has already drifted apart. Beate, a 
commonplace and sickly person, is methodically tortured 
to death by the cumulative force of hypnotic suggestion; 
she is made to think that she stands in the way of Ros- 
mer's happiness; Rebecca even pretends to be Rosmer's 
mistress and makes Beate believe that the ancient name is 
threatened with disgrace. Beate feels she must put herself 
out of the way for the good of Johannes and the family 
name. She writes to the editor of the radical paper, en- 
treating him not to put credence in any evil rumors 
about her husband's treatment of her. Then she commits 
suicide. The true reason is guessed by everybody except 
the widower, who in his complete blamelessness believes 
that Beate's act was due to mental derangement. If at 
any time he was enamoured of the adventuress, he has 
never realized or even suspected it. 

Now over against the immoralism of the unchained 


instincts of the proletarian there stands embodied in the 
figure of Johannes what he terms "the instinct of moral- 
ity"; the inherited nobleness of the natural temper, com- 
bined with a careful education and the discipline of the 
clerical profession. However, the effect of heredity and 
environment upon Johannes shows also in his limitations. 
Conservatively predisposed by his birth and religious call- 
ing, this true idealist is unfortunately too sensitive, too sad 
and lethargic, too spiritually-minded, in fine, not robust 
enough to make a successful man of action. He knows 
and admits his lack of energy, complaining that it is not 
his destiny to participate in the strenuous struggles of 
life. 1 Rebecca establishes an absolute mastery over the 
self-tormenting recluse. Prompted by her selfish ambi- 
tion, she succeeds in firing him with a sense of duty to the 
common life. Gradually his conservative mind is con- 
verted to her radical ways of thinking. Interesting in this 
connection is the exchange of opinion on a new book be- 
tween Johannes and Rebecca in an early sketch of Act I. 
The book in question cannot be any other than Henry 
George's Progress and Poverty. There is little doubt, by 
the way, about Ibsen having shared the views of that 
great economist on the subject of taxation. In that 
sketch of Rosmersholm Hetman ( = Brendel) is a fiery apos- 
tle of the single tax. " I only wished to state that we all 
agree on this: that air and water of our planet are the 
common property of all. But when it's a question of the 
solid earth, of the ground under our feet which nobody can 
do without, ah, c'est autre chose I No one dares say boo to 
it that the land of our globe is in the hands of a relatively 
1 Vol. ix, pp. 21-22; cf. also SW n , vol. m, pp. 276 and 278. 


small band of robbers who have been exploiting it for 
centuries." 1 

Now in the fancy-haunted, melancholy peace of Ros- 
mersholm a wonderful change has come over Rebecca. As 
Rosmer's will and spirit have been set free by her, so in 
return her savage individualism has been touched and 
exalted by the association with Rosmer. As by a miracle, 
the glow that she has kindled radiates back upon her, and 
by its light her being becomes again clean and luminous. 
Before his serene spirituality, too, her reckless sensuality 
is tranquilized. An ideal comradeship binds their two 
souls closely together. They stand in the relation of 
helpmeets, and a marriage between them would come 
near realizing Ibsen's ideal of what marriage should be. 
Rebecca feels this taming of her savage instincts as a 
moral boon, yet at the same time as an irretrievable loss, 
for she knows that the power of her will for lawless self- 
assertion, and with it her joy in living, is now hopelessly 
broken. She confesses to Rosmer : — 

It was love that was born in me. The great self-denying love 
that is content with life as we two have lived it together . . . 

Rosmer. How do you account for what has happened to you? 

Rebecca. It is the Rosmer view of life — or your view of life 
at any rate — that has infected my will. 

Rosmer. Infected? 

Rebecca. And made it sick, enslaved it to laws that had no 
power over me before. You — life with you — has ennobled 
my mind. 2 

We foresee that in the clash between social and exces- 
sively individualistic ideals the higher social code will this 

1 SW 11 , vol. in, pp. 310-11. 2 Vol. rx, p. 146. 


time come off triumphant — mainly because its repre- 
sentative is here chosen from a sphere widely removed 
from the dull and ignoble generality. Nevertheless the 
central figure of the play is not Johannes, but Rebecca; 
she occupies that place by the obvious evolution of her 
moral nature. The arrival at the goal of her desires and 
ambitions brings to Rebecca a tragical mixture of defeat 
and victory, since that supreme moment when Rosmer 
asks her to be his wife finds her inwardly altered and mor- 
ally risen far above her former self. She refuses to marry 
him. For her humanized conscience the path to a union 
with Rosmer is forever blocked by the spectre of her 
victim. The vital truth has entered her soul, the truth 
which Rosmer would implant in the coming generation of 
happy and noble men, that innocence alone is the source of 
peace and happiness. He blames himself now for Beate's 
death, and only Rebecca can restore him to the self-confi- 
dence that comes of an innocent conscience. She confesses 
all, revealing every motive, but to Rosmer alone. It is 
significant how her ennoblement contradicts Rosmer's 
disbelief in the practicability of his ideals. When she re- 
minds him of his abandoned principles, he answers de- 
jectedly: "Oh, don't remind me of that, it was a vulgar 
abortive dream, Rebecca, an immature idea which I my- 
self no longer believe. Oh, no, we cannot be ennobled 
from without, Rebecca." l 

And now, remembering that Rosmer's faith in the edu- 
cability of mankind up to his aristocratic ideals has been 
so greatly weakened by experience with man's worse 
nature, we understand how in his soul's tumult over the 

1 Vol. ix, p. 148. 


final disclosure of Rebecca'a secret all his faith in his 
ideals is shattered. Rosmer shows himself a weakling. 
His convictions are too flimsy to offer resistance to the 
first assaults of experience; showing they were not really 
his own, but borrowed from the far stronger Rebecca. 
Even before that he had reached the pessimistic convic- 
tion that it is practically impossible to diffuse a new en- 
ergy through retarded and immature consciences and in- 
tellects. "They have made it clear to me that the work 
of ennobling the minds of men is not for me. And besides, 
it is hopeless in itself, Rebecca; I shall let it alone." 1 Such 
is the end of his dream of raising men to a higher type of 
self-consciousness, a dream he shared with Dr. Stock- 
mann, — and with Friedrich Nietzsche. But when his 
hope and confidence in human nature has thus suffered 
a total shipwreck, then his pessimism is rebuked and con- 
quered by an incontrovertible proof that ennoblement by 
precept and example is a possible thing and that his own 
character has demonstrated that power. That miracle for 
which Nora Helmer longed in vain happens here again, as 
it happened when little Hedvig Ekdal by her death dis- 
proved her father's shallow misanthropy. But whereas 
Hedvig made the sacrifice unreflectingly, on the impulse 
of a moment, it is here offered up with deliberate thought 
in the full consciousness of ripe reasoning. Rebecca 
West is ready to die so that Johannes Rosmer may be 
cured of despair and recapture his faith in men, in his 
mission, in himself. For if he has made one human soul 
capable of such sacrifice, he cannot doubt his power to en- 
noble men. The idea from The Wild Duck is now amplified. 

1 Vol. ix, p. 139. 


As there, so here the death-warrant is pronounced by the 
most beloved being, this time not casually or impul- 
sively, but advisedly, with mature judgment. The test 
of faith is sacrifice. 1 The "ideal demand" is actualized 
in Rosmersholm ; no surrogate happiness is accepted by 
such as Rebecca and Rosmer. Rosmer cannot believe in 
Rebecca's sincerity, nor in the nobleness of human be- 
ings, nor in the practicability of any of his ideals, unless 
Rebecca render proof absolute of their potential exist- 

Rosmer. Have you the courage, have you the will, — for my 
sake, — to-night, — gladly, — to go the same way that Beate 
went? . . . Yes; Rebecca, that is the question that will forever 
haunt me — when you are gone. Every hour in the day it will 
return upon me. Oh, I seem to see you before my very eyes. 
You are standing out on the footbridge — right in the middle. 
Now you are bending forward over the railing — drawn dizzily 
downwards, downwards towards the rushing water! No — you 
recoil. You have not the heart to do what she dared. 

Rebecca. But if I had the heart to do it? And the will to do 
it gladly? What then? 

Rosmer. I should have to believe you then. I should recover 
my faith in my mission. Faith in my power to ennoble human 
souls. Faith in the human soul's power to attain nobility. 2 

Rebecca, like Hedvig, is ready for the supreme test. 
She slowly takes up her shawl and puts it over her head ; 
then she says with composure : "You shall have your faith 

Socially speaking, there can be no warrant for Rosmer 
to exact and actually accept so heroic a proof of devotion. 

1 Cf. SW 11 , vol. in, p. 326. 

* Vol. ix, p. 159. Cf. Little Eyolf, CW, xi, p. 97. 


This will ever be felt as an ethical weakness of the play. 
That he is willing to share death with her is not enough 
for our feelings. For the solution of the tragedy, however, 
his conduct is more satisfying under a psychological 
analysis than any other imaginable ending of the drama 
would be. Rebecca has destroyed his faith in himself, and 
in his mission. She alone can return that faith to him, and 
she must do it by deed, not words. A mere separation of 
Johannes and Rebecca is as much out of the question as 
their marriage would be. It goes without saying that 
Rosmer shares the judgment he pronounces over Rebecca. 
The stern resolve of death sets a seal of solemnity on their 
indissoluble union. "The husband shall go with his wife, 
as the wife with her husband. . . . For now we two are 
one." x Judged by their own tests and Ibsen's, Rosmer 
and Rebecca die in the faith idealistic. But what of the 
future of their ideals? To whom does the future belong? 
After the untoward fate of Dr. Stockmann, with the un- 
readiness of the generality of men for a loftier existence 
demonstrated there as in The Wild Duck, Ibsen in Rosmers- 
holm begins to look away permanently from an earlier 
goal of endeavor. The psychological analysis of individ- 
ual character becomes his almost exclusive object. The 
throng has crowded itself wholly out of his interest. 
Ibsen's plays may fitly be divided into three groups, — 
plays dealing with the past, plays dealing with the pres- 
ent, and finally those relating to the future. Rosmers- 
holm closes the second of those cycles, while connecting 
it at the same time with the third and final set of dramas, 
in which the individual enjoys the poet's exclusive consid- 

1 Vol. rx, p. 163. 


eration. It belongs, therefore, to a mixed genre, partaking 
as it does both of the social and the purely individual 
problems. Ibsen's one hope, now to bring it once more 
to remembrance, is to improve humanity from within 
through the growth and improvement of the ideal nature 
in the individual. But from the inner argument of Ros- 
mersholm it would proceed that the price of ennoblement 
is the personal happiness. The spirit of the Rosmers en- 
nobles, says Rebecca, — but it kills happiness. 1 More- 
over, the fact of Rosmer's going to his death with his 
work and longings unachieved would seem to bespeak, 
apart from the unfitness of the particular agent, a meas- 
ure of hopelessness for the cause itself, and it is a fact 
that Ibsen entertains no exorbitant hope with reference 
to the immediate future. Our present civilization moves 
in channels of material progress, and there is unfortu- 
nately no reasonable denying the sad truth that ideals 
are something of a hindrance in the quest of power, 
wealth, and influence. Says that ill-regulated genius, 
Ulrik Brendel : — 

Peter Mortensgaard has the secret of omnipotence. He can 
do whatever he will. 

Rosmer. Oh, don't believe that. 

Brendel. Yes, my boy! For Peter Mortensgaard never wills 
more than he can do. Peter Mortensgaard is capable of living 
his life without ideals. And that, — do you see, — that is just 
the mighty secret of action and of victory. It's the sum of the 
whole world's wisdom. Basta! 2 

Rosmersholm is probably the most subtle of all of Ib- 
sen's psychological syntheses of character. Loud colors 

1 Vol. ix, p. 146. * Ibid., p. 153. 


and disturbing sounds are carefully avoided; it is like a 
picture in pastel notes or the soft music of muted strings. 
Again, as in Ghosts, the atmosphere is pregnant with a 
gloom that nerves the beholder to a tense expectancy of 
sorrow. The symbolistic method takes a deeper root. A 
free though not indiscreet use is made of "Stimmungs- 
mittel." The children of Rosmersholm do not cry when 
they are young, nor ever laugh as they grow older. A 
death in the family is foreboded by the reappearance of 
the spectral horses. Behind the objects lurk mysteries, 
behind indifferent remarks lie deeper meanings. Already 
we perceive a touch of that infatuation with things occult 
which becomes so characteristic of Ibsen's artistry in its 
final stage. Henceforward also the potency of unknown 
mental influences is brought prominently into the struc- 
ture of the dramas. 



All these features are still more markedly present in The 
Lady from the Sea ("Fruen fra Ha vet," 1888) . a With this 
drama Ibsen's creative work enters upon its third and 
final phase. When on Ibsen's seventieth birthday his 
publisher presented the world with the complete edition 
of his works, the poet accompanied the gift with the ad- 
monition that these works should be treated as a coherent 
entirety — otherwise the reader could not gain a correct 
impression of the single parts. And certainly we have ob- 
served in our study of the plays to this point that, taken 
in their totality, they present an unbroken progress and 
clarification of ideas. Ibsen fared, and all true poets do, 
like Goethe, who said to Eckermann (December 6, 1829): 
"It is with me as with one who in his youth has a great 
quantity of small silver and copper money which in the 
course of his life he exchanges for more valuable coin, so 
that at the last he sees his early possessions in the form of 
pure golden coin." The connective continuity of any two 
successive plays is perfectly plain to him who knows how 
to look for their inner meaning. Similar human problems 
are treated under altered objective, likewise under altered 
subjective, aspects; that is to say, a familiar problem re- 
appears in the guise of a new environment, and is viewed 
each time through a more enriched and matured philoso- 
phy. Consequently, the primary figures of the plays are 


closely allied in some of their essential traits. The poet 
seems to be experimenting with a character by sending 
him forth successively into greatly differing sets of cir- 
cumstances. Yet we are not merely to see various sides 
of one and the same personality, or one and the same side 
under different lights and aspects; for we witness simul- 
taneously the extraordinary fertility of a poet's creative 
imagination. Ibsen is extremely rich in ideas, and also 
very facile in the invention of human characters to con- 
vey them. So his figures are much like reincarnations, 
each increased over its predecessors in moral stature, 
width of grasp, and beauty of significance. It may be 
truly said of them, in respect of their ethical import, that 
they rise to better things on stepping-stones of their dead 
selves. Ibsen's procedure reminds us of Adolf Wil- 
brandt's mystical drama, Der Meister von Palmyra, in the 
several acts of which the principal character returns in a 
sequence of genealogical reincarnations. Nevertheless, 
the plots and the people are quite distinct. They differen- 
tiate themselves spontaneously, inasmuch as each prob- 
lem treated begets another problem. In this way Ibsen's 
dramas, taken as a whole, read like a fairly exhaustive 
case-book of modern social conditions and relations. 

While, thus, in intellectual content the dramas of 
Ibsen's final period are superior if anything to his earlier 
works, and still more poetical, — in that they possess more 
of a subtle quality of suggestion, — it must be confessed 
that from this point on the dramatic imagery grows more 
unsubstantial; at times the figures are almost shadowy, 
and rarely do they stand out with the plastic sharpness of 
outline to which we were formerly accustomed. Possibly, 


a further refinement has also taken place in the language, 
especially through the most cunning balance between 
word and epithet, but herein, too, a certain loss has to be 
registered; the speech has lost some of its wonderful 
naturalness and now and then is almost mannerized. 

For the leading part in The Lady from the Sea, Ibsen 
had two models in mind: Camilla Collett and the step- 
mother of his wife, the well-known authoress, Anna 
Magdalena Thoresen. 6 Ellida Wangel is a young woman 
full of an aimless and unbridled yearning. Over her 
imagination a romantic lure exerts its strange power. The 
dangers and mysteries of the unknown, the far-away, 
preoccupy her adventurous spirit. Thus in this drama the 
lure of the mystical occurs as a tragic strain much as in 
the earlier parts of Franz Grillparzer's great trilogy, Das 
Goldene Vliess. Ellida's is a nature outwardly lethargic, 
inwardly quivering with perpetual unrest, a nature torn 
away from its anchors by deep and violent perturbations. 
Her existence is overcast by a thick cloud of melancholia, 
which hides from her the pleasures and obligations of 
daily life. She has no appreciation for the blessings of 
a home, and no understanding of her appointed duties 
in it. Husband and children are neglected. Even the 
routine of housekeeping is left to one of the two step- 
daughters. c It is a house threatened with disruption by 
her inexcusable indifference. The "mermaid," as she 
calls herself, cannot be happy or make others happy, 
because she is out of her element. The painter Ballested 
is inspired by her fate and behavior to represent her as a 
mermaid dying in a sultry cove. She is a stranger to the 
village on the fjord, coming from a country where, as 


Dr. Wangel picturesquely declares, there is flow and ebb 
in the souls of the people. Her usefulness is wholly sub- 
merged in overwrought fancies, in dreams of a romantic 
and altogether impalpable existence. It would not be a 
difficult matter to find several obvious resemblances 
between Ellida Wangel and Rebecca West. Even the 
figurative name "mermaid" is once applied to the lat- 
ter by that old castaway, Ulrik Brendel. And a parallel 
might also be drawn between Ellida and Nora, or between 
the former and Dina Dorf . d But it seems to me that our 
more truly relevant task is an independent comprehen- 
sion of Ellida's character in her own situation. This situ- 
ation involves some past guilt of Ellida, for without an 
assumption of some sort of tragic blame the dramatic 
transaction would not be much better than a ghost story. 
Briefly stated, Ellida's crime is that she has been untrue 
to herself by contracting a marriage of reason. The old 
favorite problem of Ibsen, the marriage question, is 
stirred up again; after the fashion of nearly all the French 
dramatists of his century Ibsen dealt as a rule with love 
problems only as they present themselves in the lives of 
married people. For her unhappiness Ellida blames 
herself no less than her husband. 

Ellida. The truth — the sheer, unvarnished truth is this : 
You came out there and — bought me. 

Wangel. Bought — did you say — bought? 

Ellida. Oh, I was not a bit better than you. I joined in the 
bargain. I went and sold myself to you. 1 

The marriage was an out-and-out " Versorgungsheirat," 
as the Germans say. And on his part it was also largely 

1 Vol. ix, pp. 299-300. 


an act of practical calculation; the widower, unable to 
bear the void in his home, had looked deliberately about 
for some one to be a mother to his children. "I see that 
the life we two lead with each other," says Ellida, "is 
really no marriage at all." f We may rightly speak of 
guilt in her case, inasmuch as she did not enter into 
marriage ignorantly, as did Nora, or even reluctantly, as 
Helen Alving may be presumed to have done. Ellida has 
sinned against a sacrament. She married without offering 
love, and without claiming it. Her penance is like that of 
an earlier heroine of Ibsen. 

"For me is life but a long black night, 
Nor sun nor star for me shines bright, 
I have sold my youth and my liberty, 
And none from my bargain can set me free." ' 

At first we are apt to overestimate Ellida, or at least to 
side with her in the struggle with Wangel; hers seems the 
larger, more freedom-loving nature beside his outwardly 
cramped existence. But our respect for the plain country 
doctor both as a man and a physician increases an hun- 
dredfold as we see him rise to the height of self-abnega- 
tion. Seeing through her neuropathic state, he cures her 
through heightening her own sense of responsibility. This 
he does by putting into her own hands the free choice to 
stay or to follow the Stranger to whom she feels herself 
bound by a previous vow. By this generous act on the 
part of Wangel the crisis is averted and the entire situ- 
ation changed. Her phantom pursuer desists as soon as 
she opposes the force of her own will to his. At first she 

1 Vol. ix, p. 302. 

* Margot, in The Feast at Solhaug; vol. i, p. 225. 


feels irresistibly recaptured by the old obsession, and 
seems bound against her will to follow the Stranger by 
whom she is in equal measure attracted and repelled. 
Just the same she declines her husband's help and pro- 
tection, for her choice must be free, nobody can help her 
but herself. 1 When at last, uninfluenced by her husband, 
who leaves her free to choose, she decides to stay with 
him, the Stranger accepts the decision calmly and leaves 
for good. 

Has the Lady from the Sea lost her love of liberty, or has 
she not rather conceived a new idea of freedom? Before 
now, liberty meant to her the possibility for boundless 
self-assertion. At the turning-point in her fate it assumed 
the meaning of personal responsibility. Freedom consists, 
for a ripened personality, primarily in the right of over- 
coming one's egotism by one's moral sense. All men may 
share in the privilege of conquering the lower by the 
higher nature; it is an opportunity that remains even to 
those who reject the belief in the freedom of will. Our best 
chance of happiness lies in harmonizing our lives with the 
restrictive laws of society so far as these are reasonable. 
Our freedom is not lost when we surrender it voluntarily, 
with full moral consent. "Nous serons heureux, parce 
que nous aura plu d'etre ce que nous sommes." The 
instant that Ellida assumes her freedom of choice and 
action she is rid forever of her pursuer; no longer is she 
overshadowed by that vaguely yearning discontent, but 
takes her stand in solid reality, feeling herself competent 
and willing to undertake her duties as a wife and mother. 
The enjoyment of her very life depended on her knowing 
1 Vol. IX, pp. 308 and 317. 


that it is a life for herself to govern and direct; but that 
right assured to her, she lives no longer for her own selfish 
pleasure, but with a constant care for others. 

Although the central idea of The Lady from the Sea is 
transparent enough, yet the clarity of this psychologically 
so interesting work is somewhat impaired by the spirit of 
abstraction that trespasses on the concrete premises of 
the drama, a further complication being caused by the 
commixture of heterogeneous symbolical assumptions. 
The symbolism is thereby rendered too intricate and too 
wavering in its logic, and a phantasmagoric tone is given 
to the veriest realities. The trouble lies in the poet's will- 
ful play with his fancies, or, perhaps better, in his surren- 
der to their caprices. It has been pointed out that not 
only is the symbolical meaning of events and ideas differ- 
ently understood by the various persons involved in the 
action, but even one and the same person comprehends 
the same symbols quite differently on different occasions. 
These discrepancies lead to confusion, since, in order to 
grasp all the ideas of the play, we should first have to 
puzzle them out. Ellida, for instance, is nicknamed the 
Lady from the Sea, in allusion to her yearning for the 
ocean, — a feeling, by the way, which Ibsen shared keenly 
throughout his life. In her new place of abode she never 
gets over a sense of intolerable restraint. She misses the 
limitless expanse of the water view she had from the pa- 
ternal lighthouse. Her daily dip in the fjord is like the 
sole touch of home to her; but here the water is different, 
it makes her melancholy and nervous. Ellida is not 
"acclimatized," to use the painter Ballested's favorite 
phrase. But the sobriquet has also a deeper meaning. 


Ellida is called the Lady from the Sea, as though the sea 
were her natural life element, as though in some inexplic- 
able fashion she partook of the nature of creatures that 
live in the sea. Ibsen herein made Ellida's nostalgia for 
the sea the poetical expression of a half-jesting bio- 
genetic superstition. It is assumed by zoologists that 
the earliest vertebrate ancestor of man was an ichthyo- 
morphous animal. In Haeckel's Natiirliche Schopfungsge- 
schichte mention is made of the Lancelet (Amphioxus 
lanceolatus) as a surviving representative of the lowest 
vertebrates. Ibsen's remarks anent a " primal link " in the 
evolutionary chain refer to this animal. 1 He feels that in 
some people there survives an undercurrent of atavistic 
memory of this extremely remote lineal kinship. 

There exist some interesting paralipomena from the 
preparatory work for the play. 

Has the progress of the human race taken a wrong direction? 
Why do we belong to the dry land? Why not to the air or the 
sea? The desire to possess wings; the strange dreams in which 
we imagine that we can fly and are flying without wondering 
about it. — What do these things mean? . . . We must con- 
quer the sea; must build floating cities upon the ocean and let 
them take us from north to south or in the opposite direction 
with the change of the seasons; must learn to master the 
winds and the weather. This good fortune will come. And [how 
unl ucky are we] not to live to see it ! — The mysterious attract ion 
of the sea. Homesickness for the sea. Persons that are related to 
the sea. Sea-bound: dependent upon the sea; drawn back to it. 
... A species of fish represents an early link in the evolution 
[of mammals]. Are there traces (rudiments) of it still left in the 
human soul — at least in certain human souls? . . , The sea 

1 SW 11 , pp. 328-29. Cf. also Haeckel, Natiirliche. Sckopfungs- 
geschichte, 10th edition, pp. 611-12 and 728. 


commands a power of moods that rules us like a dominating 
will. The sea can hypnotize us; so can nature in general. The 
great mystery is man's dependence upon blind forces. 1 

In the play itself Ellida is incredulous about mankind 
having been destined to live on the dry land. 2 She is con- 
genially in love with the ocean, fascinated by its bound- 
less magnitude and demonic energy in which she senses a 
quintessential expression of the strenuous forces of life. 
This character of the sea is externalized in her former 
lover, the Stranger, who exercises such hypnotic power 
over her. Of course, the Stranger is not a mere allegory 
but a breathing human being; but by his moods, habits, 
character, calling, even by his appearance, he personifies 
that vast, savage, elemental allurement. Viewed as a 
human character, he is a totally "declimatized" person- 
ality, unknown by name, with a mysterious past. He 
signs himself by the common cognomen of Johnston; but 
that is fictitious; to Ellida he gave his name as Freeman. 
He dwells outside of the society and the laws of men. 
Once he slew a man, his own captain at that, yet his con- 
science is clear, for it was a deed of justice. He is never 
without a loaded revolver, because death for him would 
be easier to accept than any restraint of his liberty. 
Ellida's marriage he ignores, since no formal contract can 
affect his ways. With a plain hint of this anarchistic dis- 
position Ibsen makes him come and go by a leap over the 
garden fence in disregard of the convenient gate. As the 
open ocean serves to symbolize the ego unrestrained, so 
the inland, on the other hand, and the fjord, signify the 
confinements of society. Whereas out on the main the 
1 SW 11 , p. 7. » Vol. ix, p. 254. 


passions rule and rage, laws and duties and renunciations 
hem in the self-expression of human nature in any state of 

"That man is like the sea," remarks Ellida, at the con- 
clusion of Act III. In striving to achieve the anthropo- 
morphosis of the sea, the material reality of the Stranger 
is at times put greatly in jeopardy. Now on this already 
far from simple symbolism another is superimposed. If 
the Stranger is the incarnation of the sea, — the sea, un- 
derstood either as a simile of the resistless sweep of life's 
blind forces over the individual will or as a simile of the 
natural impulses in their antagonism to the social agree- 
ments, — then the Stranger, as the symbol of a symbol, 
yet performs symbolic ceremonies on his own account in 
his function as a concrete personality : he and Ellida have 
both wedded themselves to the sea, by throwing their 
rings into it, — the statement comes almost like a warn- 
ing not to identify the Stranger too closely with the ele- 
ment. But if he does not represent the irresistible fasci- 
nation the sea has for Ellida, who then is he, and what 
does he represent? We look bewildered for a definite 
answer that would stand the test of so much contending 
evidence. The fact that Ibsen used a "model" for the 
Stranger — he had heard in Molde the story of a seaman 
who by the magic of his eye had seduced a minister's wife 
— helps us not at all. In a letter to Julius Hoffory, Ibsen 
stated the history of the Stranger in detail and described 
his apparel. But he added: "Nobody should know what 
he is, just as little should anybody know who he is or what 
he is really called." l Ibsen has succeeded admirably in 

1 SNL, p. 112. 


his mystification, for of a certainty the Stranger is 
drenched in deepest mystery. Ultimately we have to 
resign ourselves to the thought that it is all a dream, and 
are only puzzled to know who does the dreaming: Ellida? 
Ibsen? or you and I? Symbolism approaches here close 
to the lawless logic of the " Marchendrama " (fairy tale 

Once it looks as though the poet were resolved to 
enlighten us. Dr. Wangel, in the last act, furnishes an 
explanation : — 

I begin to understand you by degrees. You think and con- 
ceive in images — in visible pictures. Your longing and yearn- 
ing for the sea — the fascination that he — the Stranger — 
possessed for you, must have been the expression of an awaken- 
ing and growing need for freedom within you — nothing else. 1 

This sounds like a terse, clear-cut definition from incon- 
trovertible authority. Yet it does not altogether comport 
with all features of the action. Also, the "nothing else" 
at the end makes the definition less satisfying than other- 
wise it might be. It sounds too much like a caution, "Thus 
far you may venture, but no farther." We are warned off 
the private preserves of the poet. And so we are dismissed 
here — and in the other symbolistic dramas — in a man- 
ner that gives us a certain sense of aggravation, a resent- 
ment at our being deemed unworthy of the poet's entire 
confidence; and we part from the play with a measure of 
diffidence in our ability to spell aright his full meaning. Is 
not that definition a mere sop to our intellectual curiosity? 
As one critic puts it drastically, "you have to pick up each 
and every word and fact like a stone to see what lies hid- 

1 Vol. ix, p. 346. 


den underneath." ° These things combine to detract both 
from the clarity of the play and from its artistic authen- 
ticity. The Lady from the Sea impresses us as a very 
remarkable and beautiful construction, but not as a 
spontaneous artistic creation. 

It must be conceded, however, that the uncertainties 
and improbabilities and romantic vaguenesses, while 
diminishing its dramatic worth, add to The Lady from the 
Sea a fresh element of intense poetical interest. It is by 
design that the action moves on the border line between 
the commonplace and the preternatural. The incertitude 
of the beholder results in his greatly heightened suspense. 
In this general impression of weirdness, as well as in the 
particular technical contrivances whereby the impression 
is conveyed, the work bears a striking resemblance to the 
dramas of Maurice Maeterlinck. 

With these parabolic dramas of Ibsen it is much more 
difficult to deal in an analytic fashion than was the case 
with the satirical plays. A hard-and-fast prosaic explana- 
tion, even were it safe to give, would be injurious to their 
subtler poetic fibre. For in their "succinct and intricate 
type of structure detail ceases to be detail, and the ties of 
sense and logic are merged into the fine, impalpable web 
of symbol." h 

All the same, Ibsen does not belie, even in these dramas, 
his old passion for straightforward earnestness of state- 
ment. As a rule the ideas or lessons are therefore palpable 
enough under their veilings. The "idea" or "lesson" in 
The Lady from the Sea is a positive restatement of Ibsen's 
old thesis that a true marriage is not the work of priest or 
judge, and that its only guaranty lies in the willing mutual 


surrender of two independently yet harmoniously devel- 
oped personalities. The play, so to put it, is a pendant 
to A DolVs House. The miracle that Nora expected in 
vain is here fulfilled. Summarizing the dialectic of The 
Lady from the Sea, we may point once more to the mar- 
riage of the principals as a contract that is flimsy and 
momentarily in danger of annulment until it becomes firm 
and solid through the infusion of individualism in its 
double aspect of freedom and obligation. And yet the 
happy ending is not convincing. The conjugal happiness 
of the principals remains rather problematical. Since 
Ellida's yearning was not reasoned but temperamental, is 
it not likely that sooner or later it may come over her 
again? Perhaps Ibsen himself did not imagine a cloudless 
future for the unequal union. For when the younger 
daughter, Hilda, reappears on the stage in The Master 
Builder, she speaks of having lived not in a real home but 
in a cage. 1 Is not this possibly a passing allusion to the 

On the question of the merits of The Lady from the Sea, 
critical opinion differs. As a stage play it has been less 
popular than most of Ibsen's dramas. For this lack of 
public enthusiasm the several flaws in the technique may 
be partly to blame. The treatment is somewhat too 
broad, and the by-plot (Boletta-Arnholm) occupies too 
much time and space in proportion to its intrinsic interest. 
The union of the younger couple is too much like a repe- 
tition of the conventional marriage of Ellida to Dr. Wan- 
gel. The modern public does not relish such improbabili- 
ties as the adventurous encounter between the Stranger 

1 Vol. x, p. 333. 


and the sculptor Lyngstrand of which the latter tells, or 
the curious conduct of the Stranger before Ellida, so long 
as he is meant for a being of flesh and blood and not for a 
mere phantasmagory, a sort of Flying Dutchman. If, on 
the other hand, he is to be thought of as a supernatural 
being, how can the intended effect of unearthliness be 
produced by a creature in a tweed business suit and 
peaked traveling cap? 

The total absence of social satire also told against the 
play, since people felt that Ibsen had built up his reputa- 
tion on that and were loath to miss it. In fact the works 
of this final period are felt by some critics to undo the 
earlier efforts mainly because of their freedom from 
satiric intention. Ibsen was accused of having turned 
violently anti-Ibsenite. All in all, there was a widespread 
feeling among friends and foes alike, that Ibsen's power in 
this play showed itself as being on the wane. 

The preoccupation with cryptic phenomena, which, as 
has been shown, decreases the vitality of the enacted 
characters, deserves a special comment. The first sign of 
this tendency was visible in Rosmersholm. The Lady from 
the Sea is bolder in the use of thought-transference. In 
The Master Builder and Little Eyolf it is also carried to 
great lengths. The "fishy eyes" of the Stranger and the 
"magnetic eye" of the architect Solness, with their hyp- 
notic power over others, are of great importance, not only 
for the characterization of those persons, but they are also 
general factors in the shaping of the events. This might be 
said even for "the great open eyes" of Little Eyolf. Sol- 
ness credits himself with a mysterious gift of telepathic 
coercion. He can make people do his bidding by fixing his 


eyes upon them, and can bring his wishes true by mere 
volition. "I merely stood and looked at her and kept on 
wishing intently that I could have her here"; 1 or again: 
"Don't you agree with me, Hilda, that there live special, 
chosen people who have been endowed with the power and 
faculty of desiring a thing, craving it, willing it — so 
persistently and so — so inexorably, that at last it has to 
happen? Don't you believe that? " 2 To a few other 
occurrences of purposed or involuntary telepathic com- 
pulsion we must call attention. Little Eyolf is drowned at 
the very moment when his mother pronounces the male- 
diction upon his "evil" eyes. Solness blames himself for 
having somehow, by his secret wish, brought about the 
conflagration of the old homestead. In The Lady from the 
Sea there are several striking incidents of the sort. The 
Stranger far out at sea, having learned of Ellida's marriage 
from an old newspaper, is seized with a violent rage. 
From that very day Ellida, being pregnant at the time, 
refuses to associate intimately with her husband. The 
eyes of the child that is born are discovered to have a 
most remarkable resemblance in color and expression to 
those of the strange sailor. At the approach of the Eng- 
lish steamer, which, unknown to Ellida, carries the mys- 
terious Stranger as one of its passengers, a presentiment 
lays hold of her; altogether, her increased nervousness 
just before the Stranger's return has to be explained like- 
wise as the effect of mental influences. 

1 Vol. x, p. 217. * Ibid., p. 296. 



After The Lady from the Sea, Ibsen demonstrated once 
more by practice his earlier belief that a drama is best 
when most direct. He dropped the occultist mantle, 
shook off the tightening clutch of the mysteries, and pro- 
claimed himself again the master of artistic clarity. The 
very title of the new play, Hcdda Gabler (1890), suggests a 
change of front, for it indicates a character study, not a 
thesis. With this drama English-speaking audiences are 
rather better acquainted than with any other by Ibsen, 
excepting A Dolls House. a Its early performance on the 
London stage, April 20-24, 1891, at the Vaudeville 
Theatre, by Miss Robinson and Miss Lea, created a sen- 
sation, and is pointed out by Mr. Archer to have been the 
second significant step towards the popularization of the 
great Scandinavian in England. Distinguished actresses 
of almost every nationality — Agnes Sorma, Eleonora 
Duse, Elizabeth Robins, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Nance 
O'Neill, Alia Nazimova, Marthe Brandes, to name just a 
few — have tried their prowess on the task of imperson- 
ating the principal of the play. To a less remarkable 
degree, yet each in his way forcibly enough, the other 
characters also challenge the best abilities of actors. And 
since Hedda Gabler is a character study, no more nor less, 
the task of any student of the play limits itself to some- 
thing like a complete comprehension of the dramatis 


persona. We need hunt for no lesson, for the dramatist 
aims at none. "The lesson is for me," says Mr. Colby in 
his already quoted volume, "that there is no lesson, and 
the pleasure of it is merely that of intimacy with a fellow 
mortal to a degree seldom permitted off the stage and 
never allowed upon it by any modern English-speaking 
playwright who knows on which side his bread is but- 
tered." b 

Ibsen, in returning temporarily to the full-blooded 
realistic manner characteristic of Pillars of Society and 
An Enemy of the People, brings to bear on his work a still 
more disciplined skill than he had at any former time been 
capable of. The play in its kind stands quite alone. From 
the symbolic cycle it is widely separated by its manner, 
while to the dramas of social conditions it hangs by slen- 
der threads, if any. The " social aspect," that is, consists 
in the inhibitive power of the aggregate opinion over the 
principal's conduct, since she is as much a votary of public 
opinion as was Helmer or Bernick. Hedda was brought 
up by her father as a "society girl," on the punctilio of 
the military caste to which he belonged, and without the 
softening influence of a mother. She acquired a correct 
and distinguished bearing and has maintained an irre- 
proachable reputation, even though her sexual integrity 
was only physical, not also moral. Hedda was before her 
marriage a fairly perfect specimen of the unwholesome 
type described by Marcel Prevost as "demivierge"; she 
had a platonic love for vice and a fondness for dallying 
with what was forbidden. For instance, she was a willing 
listener to salacious stories of amorous adventures. From 
curiosity rather than from appetite she paltered with 


temptations which she had neither the will to subdue 
nor the courage to yield to; and her virtue was amply 
safeguarded by a brace of unloaded pistols kept ready at 
hand expressly for the discomfiture of male temerity. 
Hedda's character suggests the virago: although she is 
devoid of a moral sense, yet the thought of abandoning 
herself to a man fills her with the dread of undying dis- 
grace. Thus, for example, her vanity feels a certain 
resentment against her old friend Eilert Lovborg because 
their friendship did not "develop into something more 
serious." Yet she had threatened to shoot him down for 
attempting to be her lover. 1 

What could the late Grant Allen have been thinking of 
when he made that remark quoted, without protest, in 
Mr. Archer's introduction to the play, that Hedda was 
"nothing more nor less than the girl we take down to 
dinner in London, nineteen times out of twenty"? 2 Surely 
he pronounced this black calumny against English 
womanhood unintentionally. The remark, in any case 
unjustifiable, can be pardoned only on the charitable 
assumption that it was lightly prompted by a woeful in- 
comprehension of Hedda's true character. Mr. Alien was 
deceived by her eligible exterior. She is abundantly 
endowed with good taste, social culture, a fair education, 
but ineffably poor in the qualities of the spirit. She is in a 
lasting state of intellectual and moral fatigue; knows no 
feelings, only "sensations," stimulations of the nervous 
system, such as playing with pistols — or with human 
lives. In the first sketch, Hedda is made to express a wish 
that she might be present at a public riot: — 

1 Vol. x, p. 101 /. * Ibid., p. xii/. 


It must be a peculiar sensation being eye-witness to that sort 
of thing. 

Judge Brack. Would you really like to? 

Hedda. Certainly. Why not, just once? That is, if one were 
not seen; and nobody found it out. 1 

Hedda may be rightly regarded as the most repellent 
human being ever portrayed by Ibsen; it is a picture of 
womanhood at its worst. Possessed from childhood of a 
satanical envy, — she once threatened to burn the hair 
off a little schoolmate of hers, just because it was richer 
and prettier than her own, — she developed by degrees 
into a cold-hearted, perverse, and wholly negative indi- 
vidual. Since she cannot care for any living soul, her life 
is hollow, utterly without purpose. It is a clinching com- 
mentary upon her complete spiritual sterility that she 
shrinks with cold disgust from the ordeal and the respons- 
ibilities of approaching motherhood. Her nature is of the 
essence of capriciousness, void of every womanly affec- 
tion, unadmixed with even an occasional kindly feeling 
for any living creature, and accompanied by an utter 
lack of capacity for any exaltation, whether moral or 

Hedda, then, is another Rebecca, without the latter's 
capacity for enthusiasm, without any ideals, and without 
any positive traits susceptible of development; a human 
beast domesticated, socialized, and cowed into submission 
by the forces of heredity and conventional education. 
"Hedda," says Mr. Colby, "was one of those sub voce in- 
surgents who wait until insurrections become respecta- 
ble"; — she "would have liked to murder her husband if 

1 SW U . vol. iv, p. 98. 


murder were in good repute," and "saw nothing wrong in 
adultery, but did think it impolite." d 

There is a cunning suggestiveness in the use of her 
maiden name, instead of her married name, for the title 
of the play. Hedda is far more the daughter of General 
Gabler than the wife of Dr. Tesman. 1 Any explanation of 
her character would be far apart from the truth without 
the constant remembrance of her haughty and idle an- 
cestry. Her marriage to George Tesman was a mercenary 
measure. She resorted to it when, after her father's death, 
the aging belle stood all alone with penury staring her in 
the face. The changed situation could not alter her pre- 
nuptial character. In marriage she remains the luxurious, 
pleasure-seeking, disdainful Hedda Gabler. Moreover, 
the matrimonial speculation turned out badly. From a 
rather one-sided point of view Professor Reich was justi- 
fied in naming Hedda Gabler "the tragedy of the bad 
match" in contrast with Ghosts, which he calls "the trag- 
edy of the good match." 6 Even socially Hedda has low- 
ered herself by the alliance with this out-and-out pedant. 
Three days of his company sufficed to throw her delicate 
aesthetic sense into a perpetual state of rebellion. His 
pedantic bourgeois manners and habits have "gotten on 
her nerves." She is annoyed by his very speech, with that 
everlastingly repeated "Fancy that!" and the childishly 
astonished "What!" George Tesman is ridiculous in the 
eyes of his wife. Consider a bridegroom who spends his 
honeymoon gathering material for a History of the House 
Industries of Brabant in the Middle Ages ! Hedda had 
miscalculated both his fortune and his professional future. 

1 C, p. 435. 


Instead of having joined her existence to that of a pro- 
found if not brilliant scholar, she finds herself condemned 
for life to the society of an ashman of modern "original 
research;" one of the "academic beetles who gather into 
shapeless little fact-heaps or monographs the things that 
a scholar would throw away."' Withal, the strength of 
Tesman's character may be measured by his connivance 
in the nefarious theft of Lovborg's manuscript. Hedda's 
matrimonial disappointment is aggravated as she real- 
izes the prematureness of her desperate decision; had she 
but waited another six months she might have married 
the only man who ever awakened her heart to softer 

Eilert Lovborg, after being jilted by Hedda, because 
his ineligible habits obstructed his social future, had been 
rapidly sinking lower and lower and was almost level 
with the gutter when the helpful hand of Thea Elvsted 
stretched out to raise and steady him. The meek little 
woman became Lovborg's brave "comrade," in defiance 
of the conventions. Far inferior to Hedda in the 
charms by which most men are attracted, she accom- 
plished, by the redeeming power of womanly sympathy, 
the miracle of reclaiming the degenerate genius for a life 
of work and regular habits and was able to arouse his 
sunken energy. His really remarkable ability is victori- 
ously demonstrated by the production of a great book on 
an economic question. This has rehabilitated him at a 
single stroke before the academic as well as the public 
world. He has come to the city with the manuscript of a 
still more significant publication which is more than likely 
to win for him the professorship that Hedda covets so 


greatly for her husband. Thea has followed him to keep a 
watchful eye on him, compromising her reputation as a 
married woman to keep Lovborg from relapsing into evil 
ways. Hedda, on the other hand, contrives to make him re- 
lapse into his abandoned mode of life. By a perverse chance 
Lovborg's manuscript falls into her hands, — it is called 
Eilert's and Thea's "child," with the same meaning as in 
When We Dead Awaken the master product of the sculp- 
tor and his model, — and cold-bloodedly, without a quaver 
of the conscience, she commits to death in the flames the 
irrecoverable labor of a great mind. After that this fem- 
inine monster drives the man himself to his death with 
the same sang-froid and without any cause or reason that 
would be comprehensible to ordinary human consciences. 
As to the motives of Hedda's conduct, it is folly to ex- 
culpate her by sentimental reference to her condition, as 
has actually been done by one or two eminent critics. The 
most lenient interpretation has discovered one solitary 
extenuating circumstance : it is that some sort of affection 
lay back of her jealousy and, as concerns her slaying Lov- 
borg by his own hand, that Hedda issues his death war- 
rant from compassion, in order to free him from the ne- 
cessity of dragging out a wholly ruined existence. But the 
faintest incipient sympathy for Hedda is effectively coun- 
tered by the thought of the more immediate motives of 
her actions. She acts, in the first place, from petty jeal- 
ousy and envy. The thought of her being eclipsed, to this 
man, by any living woman is more than her ungenerous 
heart can bear. But her criminal deeds are in reality per- 
petrated unreflectingly, all but unconsciously, by the 
quickening of a hideous sense of power over life and death. 


In the preliminary study for the drama, this side of Hed- 
da's character is made more strikingly apparent through 
her own explicit statement. Tesman wrings his hands 
impotently , exclaiming : — 

Ah, Hedda, why did you, oh, why did you do that? 
Hedda. It came over me unconsciously. Quite irresistibly. I 
simply had to see if I could lead him to a fall. 1 

Even in the final form of the drama, where Ibsen ad- 
hered more closely to the principle that the dramatic ac- 
tion should be self-explanatory, Hedda avows: "For once 
in my life I want to be master over a human fate."' Yet 
even this craving in her is unlike the ravenous indulgence 
of a magnificent large-featured egoism; rather is it the 
hankering for a new sensation, comparable to the decad- 
ent whims of a Faustina or Messalina, when Hedda hands 
Lbvborg the death-bringing weapon and enjoins him to 
"die in beauty." It is a condign irony of fate that trite- 
ness and ugliness settle down like a curse on all affairs 
that she touches. 3 Lovborg's end proves no exception, for 
in his mortuary aspect the lamented genius has shock- 
ingly disobeyed Hedda's parting injunction. Moreover, 
the manner of Lovborg's death has involved Hedda her- 
self in a very ugly dilemma: she must face exposure and 
public explanations or bribe the detestable Judge Brack 
into silence at the usual price assessed upon women of the 
world by blackmailers of their own social class. Her reso- 
lution to fly from the hateful alternative is motived still 
more unmistakably in the sketch than in the drama 

1 SW n , vol. iv, p. 95. • Vol. x, p. 114. 3 Ibid., p. 176. 


Uedda. Do you think it may be discovered? [that Lovborg 
was shot with one of her pet pistols.] 

Brack. Not so long as I am silent. ... I shall not abuse 
the situation. 

Eedda. But nevertheless I am in your hand? Unfree ! Unfree, 
then! Ah, this insupportable thought! I can't stand it! Never, 
never! 1 

There is nothing left for her inflexible pride except to 
carry out her own precept with better success than her 
unfortunate victim had done. 

Her death is in every sense of the word a happy relief 
not only to Hedda herself, but to every witness of her fate 
who is capable of fathoming — and what could be easier 
— her character and temperament. It seems an alto- 
gether fitting ending, ethically and aesthetically truer than 
the forced happy finale of The Lady from the Sea, for we 
feel that, to whatever shifts Hedda's exorbitant pride was 
driven, the end would have been the same; even though 
courage or cowardice had restrained her from further 
wrongs — as was quite likely, since crime and sin are 
apt to jar with decorum, — she would have drifted to a 
tragic end by other courses. At best she would have killed 
herself from sheer ennui; and in any event we might have 
trusted her to shoot straight and in a tasteful pose. " Never 
was suicide less horrifying. So little of value was there in 
her that it seemed less like taking human life than like 
removing debris.., Her soul, if she ever had one, had long 
since gone to the button-moulder." ° 

Those who persist in prating about Ibsen glorifying the 
heartless egoist are asked to consider how in his dramas 
egoism ends its career. 

1 SW 11 , vol. iv, p. 121. 


To deny outright the existence of any model for such 
a paragon of unwomanliness would surely be a lesser exag- 
geration than is contained in that vapid epigram of Mr. 
Grant Allen. Emil Reich quite drastically compares 
Hedda to the "Demonstrationsgaul," the notorious sick- 
all-around horse in books on veterinary surgery — an 
equine monstrosity afflicted with all the diseases and in- 
firmities which horseflesh is known to be heir to. Hedda 
Gabler was no true copy from life, but a skillfully com- 
posed eclectic picture, for which undoubtedly a number 
of living women had been laid under contribution. While 
no living man has observed the traits of Hedda Gabler in 
any human being in the same potency of proportions, men 
have declared themselves fairly familiar with them in less 
striking combinations, not to speak of the detached oc- 
currence of this or that characteristic of our evil heroine. 
The same may be said of the outward incidents of the 
plot. Here Ibsen is found to have combined, not invented. 
It is worth while mentioning some of these things, as 
affording an insight into the poet's laboratory. The wan- 
ton destruction of Lovborg's manuscript was in all proba- 
bility suggested by a rumor that the jealous wife of a very 
famous composer had revenged herself for a fancied neg- 
lect by burning up the manuscript of his just completed 
symphony . h At another turn the play exploits the gossip 
about a certain well-known lady whose husband had form- 
erly been addicted to strong drink and had by force of will 
overcome the habit. One day the wife, in order to demon- 
strate her power over him, placed a large quantity of 
liquor in his room, with a result that justified her antici- 
pations. At least one other matter deserves mention, as 


being undoubtedly drawn from life. A young Danish 
friend of Ibsen, a brilliant and erudite man, appears to 
have lent some important features to the figure of Eilert 
Lovborg. Lovborg's visit to the red-haired Diana was 
affiraiedly suggested by a certain clause in the young 
professor's testament and by his fondness in general for 
ladies that are fast and loose as to manners and morals. 
The same man, having fallen into intemperate habits, had 
the misfortune to lose a valuable manuscript. Of course, 
these things, and they might be multiplied, are not of any 
great importance in themselves, but they help us to estab- 
lish a proper measurement of Ibsen's "realistic" mode of 
composition and help to explain why the characters in his 
plays stand out with such unusual vividness. Even truer to 
life than the erratic genius Eilert Lovborg who, with the 
bedraggled "vine-leaves in his hair, " * oscillates violently 
between the gutter and the Hall of Fame, are the labori- 
ous scholar George Tesman, so familiar to those that dwell 
in a college community, and his good spinster aunt Julia, 4 
so cruelly treated by Hedda; not to forget the brave little 
Thea Elvsted and the case-hardened corruptor of virtue, 
Judge Brack. 

Next to Ghosts, Hedda Gabler has been chosen out 
among Ibsen's works for vehement and uncritical repro- 
bation. Decidedly it is an extremely unpleasant and pain- 
fully depressing play, and it brings no element of pleasure 
to that unduly numerous class of people who regard 
drama primarily in the light of an after-dinner auxiliary 

1 The now so hackneyed phrase was anticipated by Peer Gynt, saying, 
"Were there vine-leaves around, I would garland my brow." Vol. iv, 
p. 165. 


to the digestion. Also, by persons who either could not 
or simply would not appreciate its great artistic ex- 
cellence, Hcdda Gabler has been much derided and 
burlesqued. It is not a difficult matter to please the risi- 
bilities by a grotesquely superficial seizure of any highly 
differentiated specimens of human character. Presuma- 
bly the manufacturers of mirth to his majesty the mob 
experienced little trouble in eliciting laughter at the 
expense of Ibsen. That is a great man's unavoidable 
relation to buffoonery. 

Hedda Gabler has also been interpreted about as much 
as it has been slandered and ridiculed. It contains no de- 
finite moralizings, as do so many other Ibsen plays, and no 
edifying wisdom apart from its artistic content. "It was 
not really my desire to deal in this. play with so-called 
problems. What I principally wanted to do was to depict 
human beings, human emotions, and human destinies, 
upon a groundwork of certain social conditions and prin- 
ciples of the present day." l Nor does this play mark in 
any way a new progress of Ibsen's philosophy. Yet those 
who insist on cashing-in without grace the "lesson" of 
every work of the poet's art will find something in the 
nature of a lesson on the surface. In Hedda Gabler, Ibsen 
deals once more and, so far as a specific treatment of the 
question goes, for the last time, with woman's rights and 
her freedom. Hedda is a completely "emancipated" 
woman, but — as now and then befalls — the emancipa- 
tion has gone too far, or else has moved in a wrong direc- 
tion. For it has led her clearly out of the path of duty into 
a moral wilderness. No profitable order of society can exist 

1 C, p. 435. 


divorced from domestic obligations. Ibsen, his thorough- 
going championship of female independence notwithstand- 
ing, abhorred the type of woman whose "social" inter- 
ests lie wholly outside her family. And he simply loathed 
the Hedda Gablers of "society," surface idlers whose ex- 
istence is equally barren at home and abroad. Instead of 
despising a woman for overstepping with as much as a sin- 
gle toe the bounds of social propriety, he saved his scorn 
and contempt for those who sacrifice substantial duties 
to the pursuits of emptiness. And yet to his indubitable 
sentence of guilty, the enigmatical daughter of General 
Gabler might have pleaded for herself, as might any of 
her sister sinners, in the words of the Master Builder: 
" Don't you understand that I cannot help it? I am what 
I am and I cannot change my nature." l 

1 Vol. x, p. 201. 



Although, in the final series of dramas to which we are 
now turning our attention, that new feature of Ibsqn's 
technique which may fitly be called allegorical is predom- 
inant, yet no attempt, be it ever so serious, to grasp their 
inmost meaning should wholly take the place of artistic 
appreciation. Ibsen never expected, or intended, his 
plays to be studied merely for the sake of their philosophi- 
cal content. For that he was too eminently and intently 
the practical playwright, and if some of his later plays are 
not wholly intelligible without constant reference to 
underlying meanings, that constitutes an undeniable 
weakness. The essential requisites of the theatric art are 
human personalities whose demeanor in weighty situa- 
tions appeals to our aesthetic sense, quite apart from what- 
ever esoteric messages the poet may have chosen to 
commit to their keeping. As Victor Hugo has classically 
put it: "L'homme sur le premier plan, le reste au fond." 

Most of these plays, however, do carry hidden mean- 
ings and must be classed as parabolic or allegorical, as was 
The Lady from the Sea and, in a measure, before that, 
Rosmersholm. What is meant is that the main features of 
the action are designedly suggestive of larger meanings 
and special interpretations. As has been pointed out 
before, 1 the parabolic device seldom redounds to the 
1 Cf. pp. 218/ and 251/. 


advantage of a play so far as its specifically artistic values 
are concerned, and this is especially the case where the 
concrete transactions of a drama, because of their natural 
lines and hues, offer resistance to metaphorical investure. 
I have no hesitation in saying that such seems to me to be 
the outstanding flaw in Ibsen's final works. They exhibit 
a noxious incongruity between the truth of the scene, the 
striking verisimilitude of the figures on the stage, with 
their everyday appearance, utter simplicity of speech and 
manner, and detailed individual peculiarity, and, on the 
other hand, the elaborateness of the abstractions which 
by word and action they are meant to convey. If it is 
difficult enough even for the great dramatist in the first 
place to turn fancy into fact, how much more difficult at 
once to reverse the process and to reconvert the hardly 
fashioned substance into the airy fabric of mental con- 
cepts and ideas. One cannot feel that in his last cycle of 
dramas Ibsen has been as signally successful in this diffi- 
cult process of poetic transubstantiation as he was in 
Brand, or particularly in Peer Gynt, where the whole 
scenic enrobement serves as a constant reminder to look 
below the phenomena for their confidential message, 
whereas in the later works the realism of men and 
things prevents us from seeking recondite meanings. 

The artistic value of The Master Builder ("Bygmester 
Solness," 1892) a is thus marred by too violent a contrast 
between its tangible and its transcendental essence, 
between the real and the ideal spheres between which the 
action perpetually oscillates. Such is not necessarily a 
fault inherent in the theme, for Gerhart Hauptmann, 
treating a very similar subject in The Sunken Bell, sue- 


ceeded against still greater difficulties in attaining a far 
greater atmospheric consistency. Ibsen himself may have 
had misgivings on this score, for the first attempt at com- 
posing Solness was in verse. But the trouble stops not 
even here. Ibsen has not escaped the dangerous tempta- 
tion, so powerful under the circumstances, of driving 
home the symbolic argument with force when persuasion 
has failed. I mean that where the realities would not yield 
to an intelligible translation into the idiom of ideal percep- 
tions, disconcerting incursions of the imaginative elements 
into the realm of the actual are made to take place. Now 
the world concedes to the poet, quite willingly, the use of 
special media of communication, ciphers and cryptograms 
of his own, provided the secret language be susceptible 
of entire comprehension. His lofty purpose may condone 
some lack of directness. With poets, as with Jesuits, the 
end justifies the means. We accept thankfully any tran- 
script of his secrets into the vernacular of our humbler 
understanding which a great artist deigns to make. But a 
too abrupt transition from one medium of expression to 
the other is very apt to prove distressfully confusing to 
our minds, and it is just because of this frequent shifting 
of the methods of communication that much of Ibsen's 
final meaning cannot get to us across the footlights. And 
this much is axiomatic, I take it, that no matter what be 
its cryptic, or cabalistic thought, a stage play must be 
completely intelligible and enjoyable in itself, as a work of 
art, apart from its philosophical connotation. Now it 
seems to me that in The Master Builder the looker-on is 
prevented from sinking himself entirely in the events that 
pass before his eyes; while we boggle about the symbolical 


riddles, the natural dramatic effect is missed. Professor 
Grummann's plea for the "basic ideas" and "type 
figures" b is a poor postfestum boon for the playgoer. The 
latter wants to understand and appreciate as he goes. 
The recurring hints as to secret meanings underlying the 
outer aspects of the events are bound to produce disen- 
chantment; the poet's "romantic irony" pulls us up 
unawares out of our absorption, and that shakes our con- 
fidence not only in the reality of the particular transac- 
tion, but ends in destroying altogether the dramatic illu- 
sion. Ibsen was so much preoccupied with ideas in these 
latter-day dramas that the human fates of the dramatis 
persona became submerged in reflections of autobiograph- 
ical and of general philosophical import. 

If, for instance, — and this is surely not an unfair test of 
a drama, — we were to divest the Master Builder of all 
the accoutrements of his allegorical office, if we were, so to 
speak, to detranscendentalize him, would his story still be 
able to interest us deeply? Or would it seem more queer 
than pathetic to us? It says much for the living strength 
of Ibsen's dramas that even in this stage of allegorical 
propensity they do not entirely lose hold of our human 
interest. Who, then, is this Architect Solness, who regards 
himself as an ally of unfathomed forces, when denuded of 
his mystagogical trappings and viewed in the flesh and 
blood, bones and sinews of his ordinary genus humanum? 
To put him into the same class with Eilert Lovborg, Ulrik 
Brendel, nay, even Johannes Rosmer, as has been done by 
an otherwise competent critic, is missing the mark by a 
wide range. Though he has an Ibsenite family resemblance 
to those dreamers and impractical pursuers of the ideal, 


he is different from them in the specific gravity of his char- 
acter. Far from being sidetracked, like those others, from 
the main avenue to worldly success, Solness is above all 
things a worshiper of success and one of its high priests. 
Thus he seems linked in a close relationship with the rude 
men of action, the self-assertive masters of their fates and 
captains, not, to be sure, of their own souls, but too fre- 
quently of the souls of other men; to ruthless overmen of 
the business world who by dint of unremitting energy- 
have grown great and mighty in Philistia. Consul Kar- 
sten Bernick and the older Werle, and more particularly 
still, that paragon of a grand-scale moneymaker, John 
Gabriel Borkman, are prominent members of the same 
company. It would hardly do for Halvard Solness to dis- 
own this not altogether reputable family on the ground 
that they have fallen from grace, for in his own moral 
scope there lie the same possibilities of transgression. His 
wrongs against Knut Brovik and his son Ragnar prove it 
beyond a perad venture of doubt. 

To forge to the very front in any department of prac- 
tical life it is commonly thought that a man must be pos- 
sessed of genius, or at least that he must command a large 
stock of superior virtues and abilities. As a matter of fact, 
however, a majority of the "men of might" do not con- 
firm, upon a closer inspection of their qualities, the flatter- 
ing popular explanation of their success. Of course a man, 
in order to succeed even in the sordidest meaning of the 
term, must have some uncommon qualifications. He 
must be forceful, industrious, firm of purpose, steady of 
nerve, an active and vigilant judge and commander of 
men, and must have developed to a marked extent the 


ability to do at least one thing in the world conspicuously 
well. Much beyond this limit his character need not be 
developed. On the contrary, there is some probability 
that too fine a development of character would obstruct 
his way. The possession of very deep convictions, or a too 
scrupulous manner of weighing motives, would necessarily 
militate against his adopting those hard and grasping 
policies which, unfortunately, are apt to win in all the 
contests of business. And if the development of his tastes 
has gone far enough to make him more fastidious than the 
multitude, that also will operate not as a help, but as an 
impediment to the achievement of popular success. For 
the compact majority stands rigidly opposed to standards 
of culture and conduct that are different from its own, 
even though they be ever so much better, and "those who 
try to lead the people only do so by following the mob." 
Speaking, therefore, in a general way and with all due a.h 
lowance for exceptions, idealism cannot in candor be re- 
garded as an efficient adjutant in the struggle for superi- 
ority. Now Architect Solness presents himself as not so 
very different from the modern conquistadores of fame and 
fortune, resembling them even in the fact that he is self- 
made, not fortified for his career with the customary di- 
plomas and certificates. But the first superficial estimate 
of his character is soon contradicted upon closer observa- 
tion. Two opposite strains, the ruthlessly egoistic and 
the delicately sensitive, are present in his make-up; in 
fact, the dramatic story serves to disclose the inner con- 
flict between the two ultimately irreconcilable main cur- 
rents of his inner life. 

In Norway as well as in some other countries there 


are still some places where the completion of a new build- 
ing is festally observed by a traditional ceremonial. Be- 
fore a large gathering of people a bold climber, usually 
the builder himself, places a wreath on the very summit 
of the structure. This feat Halvard Solness, the self- 
made master of his craft, is called upon twice in his 
life to perform. The first time he crowned in this fash- 
ion the steeple of a church that he had erected; it was 
the last building he reared for the glory of God; hence- 
forth he vowed to build only for men. The second time 
it was his own new house, on which, contrary to the 
custom, he had also set a steeple. Solness knew, from 
that first experience, that he was subject to vertigo, yet 
ten years afterward hazarded the other climb. He 
reached the top, fastened the wreath, and in that very 
act was overcome by his weakness, so that in the mo- 
ment of his achievement he fell to his death. It was the 
penalty paid for going beyond his strength. 4 Solness 
knows that he is unequal to the feat, yet ventures it be- 
cause his pride forbids him to belie the heroic estimate in 
which he is held by a young girl, Hilda Wangel, who is 
known to us from The Lady from the Sea. Solness saw her 
as a mere child when he had finished that church in Stol- 
vanger. She showed herself at that time childishly en- 
thusiastic, and the man acknowledged her admiration by 
a kiss and some fanciful promises. The incident had long 
passed from his remembrance when one day, quite unex- 
pectedly, she appeared with bag and baggage to claim the 
"kingdom" he had promised her. In The Lady from the 
Sea Hilda's character is still undeveloped; she is a pert, 
precocious, and keenly observant young creature, with 


more than a trace of cruelty in her temperament. She ill- 
treats the young sculptor Lyngstrand, from sheer pleasure 
in the wickedness of it, even putting him intentionally to 
physical suffering. Too practical to marry a penniless 
consumptive, she would be willing to pledge him her troth, 
just in order to secure an early chance of being admired in 
weeds. Altogether her conduct gives just cause for the 
prediction that she is bound to develop into a full-fledged 
Hedda Gabler. c Since then she has grown into a young 
woman of an undefinable character. In some ways she 
resembles the Master Builder. Like him, she is by in- 
stinct rapacious. She wants to possess Solness, although, 
or because, he belongs to another woman, and without 
really loving him, else she would not insist on his risking 
his life to please her whim. Her ruling ambition is to 
make Solness act the overman, and to this end she works 
upon his vanity and makes him court disaster. "So ter- 
ribly beautiful and exciting," her pet phrase in The Lady 
from the Sea, goes far to characterize her. There is some- 
thing of vampire nature in her, the promise of a fiendish 
wrecker of strong men. It is her jubilant shout, uttered 
heedless of every warning, thoughtless of everything but 
her own triumph, when Solness has reached the pinnacle, 
that fells the Master to death. It is almost like a contest 
of strength between the two, in which the man succumbs. 
And, curiously enough, with Hilda, as with her idolized 
Master Builder, excessive self-love is hampered by an in- 
congruous streak of humanity, a species of atavistic con- 
science. For instance, she is deeply indignant over Sol- 
ness's injustice to poor old Brovik in concealing his son's 
superior ability. 


The simple plot of our drama derives its main interest 
not from its literal but from its transferred meaning, and 
this is of a twofold description. The play must be read 
with due regard to its symbolical and autobiographical 
content. The principal figure typifies, in his largest sym- 
bolical function, the eternal combat between the aspira- 
tions of the passing and the arriving generations, thus per- 
sonifying the pioneering radicalism of his own time. He 
has forced his way to leadership by dint of an immense 
faculty for labor, a genius for organization, a power of in- 
spiring confidence, an immovable courage, and a good 
measure of hard rapacity. He has been the master buil- 
der of his period, and has built according to his own liking. 
In any province of life, however, the tenure of primacy is 
limited, and Halvard Solness feels with dismay that his 
position in the van is already imperiled. Even as he has 
crowded out and trampled under foot his predecessors 
and contemporaries, so now he already seems to feel the 
pressure of the oncoming successors that must inevitably 
replace him. To save his prestige he has stooped to basest 
oppression. Old Brovik, whom he has ruined by unfairest 
means, serves him as a faithful slave. Now the fear of 
being outstripped by Brovik's highly gifted son, Ragnar, 
drives him to desperate and contemptible devices. In Sol- 
ness's attitude the historic fact repeats itself again that 
the revolutionary of yesterday becomes the conservative 
of to-day and the reactionary of to-morrow. This will 
ever be true, whatever material a man build in, be it in 
science, in the arts, or in statecraft. It is claimed concern- 
ing a man's physical age that he is as old as his arteries; 
spiritually a man's old age commences at that moment 


when factious antagonism to new ideas and their advo- 
cates lays hold of his soul. The decline of a great man's 
powers is not conditioned upon bodily decrepitude. As 
far as his years go and his physical strength, Solness is 
still in his prime, but we see that his usefulness has de- 
parted, because he would foolishly thwart a law of nature 
by which the younger generation can build higher than 
the older. At this point the concrete features of the ac- 
tion assert their right to some consideration. Ragnar 
Brovik is prevented by Solness from rising in the profes- 
sion, because the Master realizes that he himself has lost 
the power to rise. More than one reason may be guessed 
why his strength has gone from him. The Master Builder 
has sacrificed to the fetish of success his own happiness and 
the happiness of others. With youth his affections and 
illusions are gone. His whole nature is now warped from 
its nobler design. 

The end of the struggle is attained, yet somehow the 
superman discovers himself to be cheated out of the fruit 
of his heroic ruthlessness. The tragical complication is 
simply this, that his iron will was not supported by an 
iron conscience. This is made clear in numerous ways, 
above all by the fact that to the real transgressions of his 
strenuous career his "gnawing conscience" (the expres- 
sion occurs in the first draft of this play l as later in Little 
Eyolf) superadds an imaginary culpability. He holds him- 
self guilty of the death of his children, the desolation of 
his home, his wife's incurable despondency, all due to the 
fire that destroyed the old homestead. He had noth- 
ing to do with that directly, yet his conscience accuses 
1 SW 11 , vol. in. p. 234; cf. also, ibid., p. 318. 


him of arson and murder. It had been his artist dream of 
old to erect a new edifice in the place of the family house, 
and since he lacked the hardihood to demolish the old 
place, he nursed a secret wish that it might catch fire. 
And Solness, as we know, believes in the power of his 
wishes to come true. It is the same motive that occurred 
in Rosmersholm and is resumed later in Little Eyolf. All 
in all, Solness is an infelicitous mixture of egoist 
and sentimentalist, and it is the incompatibility between 
his rude will and his tender sensibilities that unbalances 
the Master Builder's inner equilibrium. How can he re- 
gain that and replenish his declining strength, unless by 
a wonder the gift of youth be his once more? And while 
he muses over the impossible, it arrives at the most un- 
expected moment. Its personification is Hilda, the in- 
carnation of Solness's longing. But when rejuvenescence 
is almost within his grasp, he cannot meet the conditions 
of the gift. It is one thing to design steeples, another 
thing to climb to their top. Spurred to the mad attempt 
by the urge of young ideals and the imperative challenge 
of hope, the great builder is dashed to the ground, the 
overman must perish among the multitude. The Master 
Builder's end is typical. Perhaps it is one of its meanings 
that such is the inevitable fate of the disciple of Zara- 
thustra, when in a world of men, not overmen, he would 
carry out his chimerical designs. It is not such an extra- 
ordinary performance of the imagination to paint in vivid 
lines and colors the ideal concepts of Nietzsche's philo- 
sophy, but as soon as the attempt is made to adopt them 
for the uses of life, the end must be dismay and disaster; 
and the builders of castles in the air have so far, without 


exception, had to confess their inability to reach up to 
their aerial mansions, to climb as high as they can build. 
Nor is it needful to assume that they are always dragged 
down by lower powers from the levels of their loftiest 
ambitions. It is enough that in those heights they are 
taken with vertigo. 

It is at this point that a second veil would seem to be 
drawn from the mysterious face of the Master Builder. 
The introspective and retrospective content of the play 
comes to view. Its meaning is an indication of the poet's 
inmost soul-life. Have we any right to inquire for this 
meaning? We know well enough that Ibsen frequently 
grew indignant over attempts to get at the "tendency" 
or idea of his works. He went so far as actually to deny 
the existence of any definite "tendency," yet we have had 
ample opportunity to observe how strenuous he was in sup- 
port of convictions, with what emphasis, nay vehemence, 
he staked his very existence upon the cause of light and 
right. Poets so constituted may say what they please 
about the absence of ethical motives; we must trust our 
common sense in this matter more than their denials. 
Ibsen, who anyway was far from consistent in this 
denial, had plainly an object in his prevarication. It was 
to safeguard his dramas against an undue shift of the 
public attention from their principal purpose to the sub- 
ordinate. For however lofty the symbolical purpose be, 
Ibsen was right in regarding as the prime function of the 
dramatist the presentation of human beings, not of intel- 
lectual concepts. One thing, though, he seemed to forget. 
Whereas the transient guest at the dramatic feast, the 
casual and more or less distracted visitor at the theatre, 


is more than willing to take the poet at his word and not 
look for anything below the surface of the "show," the 
profounder study of dramas such as Ibsen's must in- 
variably lead into the consideration of purposes and ideas; 
and if we descend to the mainsprings of the action, we 
are sure to touch motives that may be traced ultimately 
to experiences of an intimately personal nature. Ibsen 
guarded his good right to set barriers against spying curi- 
osity. The student, on the other hand, may use his well- 
established privilege of going irreverently as near to the 
heart of the poet's secret as is conducive to the fullest 
understanding of the poet's work. To go farther than that, 
however, cannot be the legitimate office of the literary 
critic and historian. He has no use for the ancient silliness 
of identifying unceremoniously each leading character 
with the author's self, and of glibly deriving every incident 
from facts and events in the author's life. Still, though 
nobody familiar with Ibsen's personality would coun- 
tenance his identification with Solness in any external 
meaning of the term, yet there need be no harsh contra- 
diction here between the direct and the symbolical inter- 
pretation. Solness is not Ibsen, but the former's fate is 
a symbol of the Iatter's. It is now definitely known that 
Ibsen drew upon his own experience for the main incident 
of the drama, the entrance of Hilda Wangel into the life 
of the elderly Master Builder. The publication of Ibsen's 
letters to Emilie Bardach * leaves no doubt of her having 
been the prototype of Hilda. Ibsen met the young 
Viennese lady in 1889, while spending the summer at 
one of his favorite resorts, Gossensass in the Tyrol. Be- 
tween the poet, then in his sixty-third year, and his 


ardent admirer of eighteen, there sprang up an extra- 
ordinary attachment which, on the girl's side far more 
than on the old man's, assumed a sentimental coloring. 
A picture of Ibsen in Miss Bardach's possession bore this 
inscription in his handwriting: "An die Maisonne eines 
Septemberlebens " (To the May sun of a September life). 
Ibsen, without quite losing his head, was deeply affected 
by this episode in his life, whose striking analogy to that 
of Goethe with Marianne Willemer he did not fail to 
realize. Seven years after his acquaintance with Miss 
Bardach, on his seventieth birthday, Ibsen received from 
her a congratulatory note. His reply proves that the 
adventure on his side, too, left a sentiment. 

Very dear Miss Bardach: — Accept my most cordial 
thanks for your letter. That summer at Gossensass was the 
happiest, the most beautiful in all my life. I hardly dare to 
think of it, — and yet I must do so forever, — forever! Your 
devoted, H. I. 

But a far more important autobiographical signifi- 
cance shines through the elaborate dramatic disguise. 
It is the correspondence between the spiritual tenor of the 
play and the drift of the poet's own life. Before this play 
was written, Ibsen's lifework was practically done. If he 
did not clearly realize it, he surely must have at least sus- 
pected that his position in the world's literary record 
would rest on what he had achieved and not on what he 
might still accomplish. As his creative power was break- 
ing up, did he perchance pay his tribute to the frailty of 
human nature by conceiving a bitter feeling toward the 
younger generation of poets which would supplant him 
and usurp his place? It is even believed that Gerhart 


Hauptmann's tragedy, Einsame Menschen, which had 
appeared a short while before, had ripened in the old poet 
the painful realization that he was condemned to stand 
still and see others climb to higher pinnacles than he had 
reached. His return to Scandinavia in 1891, after nearly 
thirty years of expatriation, at a time when his fame stood 
in its very zenith, was construed as a retreat before compe- 
tition. His disciples were bidding fair to outstrip him. A 
new form of dramatic art had sprung into existence through 
his efforts, but the younger school had gone beyond him. 
The Master Builder who.has kept the talents of younger 
rivals in subjection may be lured by the genius of a mi- 
raculous second youth to scale a still greater height; but 
he feels that he must fall, that his fall, indeed, is a his- 
toric necessity in order that the way may be cleared for 
the rising generation. The building stands, but the 
builder has to perish. Another pang may have entered 
his soul at the thought of the tragical discrepancy between 
achievement and happiness, — the thought that crops 
out so strongly in When We Dead Awaken. At what in- 
estimable sacrifice of personal happiness had his suc- 
cess been attained ! Had he not sapped his very life and 
offered its essence to a but half -comprehending world? 
Whenever he appeared at the top of the steeple, at the 
risk of life, he was filled with uncertainty about how the 
gaping crowd below would react to his performance : now 
they would vociferate and wildly wave their salutes, and 
the next moment they might want to drag him from his 
proud position to their own depth. 

Lastly, he may have yielded to a still more saddening 
contemplation. Ibsen's plays have been characterized 


as a code of social criticism in dramatic form. Through- 
out all that he has written Ibsen holds a grand and severe 
reckoning with the world. Most other people, he dis- 
covered, were entangled in hypocrisy, yet frequently 
the thought might have come to him that is articulated 
in the drama of The Master Builder: Had he, Henrik 
Ibsen, the full courage of truth? The courage to be ab- 
solutely himself, and — here we touch the veriest core 
of the Solness problem — the courage to live up to the 
ideals that he had evolved and proclaimed? Or was he, 
like Architect Solness, afflicted with vertigo when up on 
high? Thus Solness is shamed by Hilda's query: "Is it 
so, that my Master Builder dares not — cannot — climb 
as high as he builds?" l 

The general analogy between Solness and Ibsen can be 
carried with some profit to particulars. Indubitably the 
churches which Solness built at the outset of his career 
represent the early romantic plays ; the " homes for human 
beings " stand for his social dramas, and the houses 
with high towers for those spiritual dramas, with their 
wide outlook upon the metaphysical domain, on which 
Ibsen was henceforth to be engaged; the tower has ever 
been a symbol of spiritual elevation." Significant is this 
passage in Act II : — 

Solness. And now I shall never — never build anything of 
that sort again ! Neither churches, nor church towers. 
Hilda. Nothing but houses for people to live in? 
Solness. Houses for human beings, Hilda. 
Hilda. But houses with high towers and pinnacles upon them. 
Solness. If possible. 2 

1 Vol. x, p. 315. * Ibid., p. 282. 


And the following in Act III: — 

Solness. I believe there is only one possible dwelling-place for 
human happiness, and that is what I am going to build now. 1 

At this point Professor Paul H. Grummann's highly 
suggestive explanation of Hilda as a personification of 
Ibsen's youthful ambitions is well worth considering. 
To Grummann, Hilda becomes thoroughly plausible at a 
stroke when we think of her as the "type figure" of the 
ideal, for "we have come to think of the ideal as exacting, 
cruel, relentless, persistent, and objective. . . . Solness has 
substituted for the higher ideal (of building character) an 
inferior one, he hypnotizes himself into believing that the 
building of homes is better than the building of temples 
— with growing age the old ideals again make themselves 
felt, but he cannot rise to church building (Brand, and the 
romantic plays) ; he constructs a hybrid form — a dwelling 
with a tower — an architectural monstrosity." Such em- 
phatic disavowal of his middle works seems improbable in 
the extreme. The analogy deserts us here, since it can- 
not be asserted for Ibsen as for Solness that he "sold him- 
self for a business chance" when he turned his attention 
to social drama. Believing, with many others, that in the 
social dramas resides Ibsen's true greatness, I cannot ac- 
cept it as the central thought that a man who forsakes his 
highest ideal and attempts to find success by unworthy 
means will come to grief in that he will again be confronted 
by his former ideals and these ideals will drive him to ruin. 
I must admit, nevertheless, that there is force in Grum- 
mann's pointing to the reappearance of this central 
thought in When We Dead Awaken. 

1 Vol. x, p. 354. 


Whether or no the play is in reality as deeply indebted 
to the poet's self-examination as I am inclined to believe, 
this much is certain, that with the final return to his na- 
tive country Ibsen's poetry passed into an almost purely 
psychological phase. The external conflicts serve only to 
incite the internal; the crises and their solutions are in- 
dependent of the outer events. Polemics are now wholly 
absent, and even satire is almost totally suppressed. Otto 
Brahm, the man who did so much to give Ibsen his hold 
on the German stage, states the case truly when he says 
that in these last years Ibsen "gazes, not satirically, but 
rather in a lyric mood, into the secret places of human 
nature and the wonders of his own soul." What wonder 
that in this lyric mood poetic conceits of long ago should 
have risen up again. As long as thirty-five years before 
The Master Builder, Ibsen wrote a poem Building Plans 
("Byggeplaner," 1858). There he speaks of himself as 
planning a cloud castle that should shine all over the 
North. "It shall have two wings; the great wing shall 
shelter a deathless poet, the little wing serve a young 
girl for her bower." l 

1 SJl m , vol. i, p. 97. (Bauplanc); M, vol. hi, p. 25 (Byggeplaner). 
The second stanza runs: — 

Et skyslot vil jeg bygge. Det skal lyse over Nord. 
To floje skalder vaere; en liden og en stor. 
Den store skal huse en udodelig skald; 
Den lille skal tjene et pigebarn til hal. 



After his accustomed interval of two years, Ibsen fin- 
ished a new drama, to which he gave the title, Little Eyolf 
("Lille Eyolf," 1894). Early in the following year this 
domestic drama in three acts was mounted on the stage, 
— the German rendition, with Agnes Sorma and Emanuel 
Reicher in the principal parts, preceding again by a brief 
time the Norwegian premiere at Christiania. Little 
Eyolf enjoys a modicum of popularity without having, 
to my knowledge, attained as yet to the success of a long 
"run" or to a fixed position in the repertory of the mod- 
ern theatre. The obvious reason why this piece has in- 
curred managerial disfavor (even though actresses like 
Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Madame Nazimova have 
been signally successfully in the role of Rita) is the mini- 
mal outward action, — one is tempted to say fhe total 
absence of any incident after the first act. Besides, the 
play does not cater to the popular demand for sentiment; 
it lacks what the magnates of the theatrical trust are 
accustomed to call "heart interest." It is analytical, and 
processes of psychological analysis can have no very 
great attraction for people not grounded in the elements 
of psychological science. A play that has for its main 
purpose a close and subtle analysis of character can hardly 
be expected to make a strong appeal to the inartistic 
throng that makes up the bulk of our theatrical audiences. 


At the same time it must be said, in extenuation of the 
playgoer's lukewarm attitude, that the poet has again 
impaired the chances of success by the tortuosities of the 
allegorical design. This time we really have no choice left. 
If the play is to have any deeper meaning, its sense must 
be dug out or divined according to individual habits and 
ability. It is of course a question whether the interest 
of a superb characterization is not sufficient to establish 
Little Eyolf in the favor of students of the drama. In any 
case it is not likely that many would contradict Mr. 
Archer when he refers to the second act as quite the most 
poignant, and to the third as one of the most moving, that 
Ibsen ever wrote. 

We can readily understand why dramatic occurrences 
were banished from this play. A notable exception is, 
of course, Little Eyolf's death, which was indispensable 
for the spiritual run of events; but even the death of 
Little Eyolf is treated sketchily, — we are not given de- 
finitely to understand to what extent accident is respon- 
sible, or the "evil eye," of the Ratwife, or the evil wish 
of the mother. The attention of the spectator was not to 
be distracted unnecessarily from the portrayal of soul- 
life and the close interpretation of character. Now it is 
at least an open question whether the employment of 
romantic elements and even of legend and fairy tale is 
consonant with the analytical purpose. But Ibsen has 
seen fit to stray into the alluring paths of the mysteri- 
ously unreal, and we have to make the best of it. The 
poet did not rely on his inventive powers alone for the 
weird effects that were to be produced. The shrunken 
little Ratwife, with her black hood and red umbrella and 


the black-snouted Mopseman, seems to have been a 
local application of the legend of the "Pied Piper," made 
with reference to a real person. Ibsen himself informed 
Count Prozor that the original of the Ratwife was a little 
old woman who came to kill rats at the school he at- 
tended. She carried a little dog in a bag, and it was said 
that children had been drowned through following her. 1 
The Ratwife, like the Stranger in The Lady from the Sea, 
is susceptible of various symbolical interpretations. Most 
plausibly she signifies death, as does the Button-Moulder in 
Peer Gynt. Some critics define her, however, as a warning 
messenger of the higher powers, a figure to be classed with 
the faithful Eckart of German folklore or the Kundry 
of the Holy Grail saga. Maeterlinck and his neo-roman- 
tic followers are devoted to the use of similar weird 
creations of the popular fantasy. Still others view the 
" Rottejomf ruen " as the embodiment of pessimism in 
the more technical philosophic sense of the term. The 
world is undesirable, and the Ratwife acts as a bringer of 
peace by luring creatures to death. Still, if the presence 
of elements beyond the natural be felt to be obtrusive in 
the soberly realistic premises, we are not compelled to take 
this view of the nature of the Ratwife. With some good 
will and a little effort there is nothing to hinder us from re- 
ducing her to terms of reality without detracting from her 
symbolical office; even the graveyard smell that she brings 
with her may be accounted for as the exhalation from the 
"blessed little creatures" that follow her in myriads. 
Under such rationalistic explanation Little Eyolf is not 
subdued by witchcraft, but, allured by her odd looks, 

1 Cf. Vol. xi, p. vii. 


he follows, and at the water leans too eagerly over to 
watch her strange performance. 

One allusion will remain mysterious, whichever way 
we look at the "Rottejomfruen." Who is her "sweet- 
heart" whom she lured all by herself, without the faith- 
ful Mopseman's help, down to "where all the rats and 
ratikins are " ? He belongs to the realm of pure guesswork. 
The most intrepid spellers of signs are at a loss to make this 
puzzle out. The only living person who suspects himself 
of knowing the truth, Mr. William Archer, coyly declines 
to give it away. "To tell the truth, I have even my own 
suspicions as to who is meant by 'her sweetheart,' whom 
she 'lured ' long ago, and who is now down where the rats 
are. This theory I shall keep to myself; it may be purely 
fantastic, and is at best inessential." 1 And so we are left 
in the dark. At all events, the symbolism in Little Eyolf 
is not by any means as vexatious as that in The Lady 
from the Sea. Its general meaning at least is patent. Little 
Eyolf is the story of two people temperamentally almost 
as different as were Johannes Rosmer and Rebecca 
West. Their struggle is apparently blended in the poet's 
mind with the larger and typically human struggle be- 
tween instinct and responsibility, and his attitude marks 
a new turn in his ethics. The poet who at one time de- 
fended so irrefragably the supremacy of the natural im- 
pulse, sides now visibly with the opposite tendency. As 
in Rosmer sholm, the representative of the primitive in- 
stincts is in this drama a woman, hot-blooded, and so 
deeply absorbed in her wild sexual craving for her hus- 
band that even the maternal instinct is drowned in the 

1 Cf. Vol. xi, p. xiii. 


fiery wave of that passion. Since Rita wants Alfred's 
love undivided all for herself, his tenderness for their 
poor crippled boy fans her jealousy into hatred. 

Allmers. I must divide myself between Eyolf and you. 

Rita. But if Eyolf had never been born? What then? 

Allmers. Oh, that would be another matter. Then I should 
have only you to care for. 

Rita (softly, her voice quivering). Then I wish he had never 
been born. 1 

In its way Rita's love for Alfred Allmers is boundless, yet 
in the last analysis of her motives she becomes repugnant 
in her unmitigated animalism, a creature that justifies the 
gynophobia of an Alexander Strindberg or the notorious 
"Weibchen "-theory of Laura Marholm. "I will live 
my life together with you — wholly with you. I cannot 
go on being only Eyolf 's mother — only his mother and 
nothing more. I will not, I tell you ! I cannot ! I will be 
all in all to you! To you, Alfred." 2 And yet she dwells 
wholly outside his moral and intellectual range and is a 
total stranger to the serener atmosphere in which he, 
the thoughtful, self-possessed scholar, has his being. 

In one sense the situation in The Lady from the Sea re- 
curs, with the parts reversed. Allmers is the very opposite 
of Rita in temperament and purpose, and married her 
only for "practical" reasons, so that her money might 
further his scholarly ambitions and provide comfort for 
his beloved Asta, whom he believes to be his sister. But 
another situation is similarly recalled, namely , that existing 
between Torvald Helmer and his wife. Once more we are 
confronted with a marriage that is not bound by any spirit- 
1 Cf. Vol. xi, p. 48/. * Ibid., p. 49. 


ual tie. But here it is the man who achieves his emancipa- 
tion. Enthralled at first by Rita's beauty, Alfred slips 
step by step into a vapid sensuous existence. A tempo- 
rary separation teaches him to "bring his desires into 
harmony" with his sense of responsibility. A revulsion 
against Rita takes place in his feelings. 6 The tragedy that 
overtakes this already inwardly disrupted union, instead 
of healing the breach, rives the parties still farther asunder. 
Their self-reproaches and mutual recriminations reveal 
the fact that in this marriage the child was hardly more 
than a by-product of confluent sensual egoisms. The 
headlong self-indulgence of the parents is to blame for 
Eyolf's incurable infirmity. Alfred, although he cer- 
tainly loved the boy, tortured him by a system of educa- 
tion calculated to realize in Little Eyolf his own abandoned 
hopes of eminence. The boy's sudden death falls with 
peculiarly crushing force for this reason; and Rita's con- 
science pronounces her guilty of having murdered the 
child by her wish that he had never been born. The mo- 
tive has an obvious similarity to the consequence of mental 
influence introduced in Rosmersholrn and in The Master 
Builder. And the same effect of the children's death upon 
the parents occurs here as in the last-named tragedy — 
their happiness has fled never to return. In the prior 
framing of Little Eyolf, Alfred reads aloud a poem that 
was conceived much earlier than the play and had al- 
ready left the mark of its influence on one of Ibsen's 
dramas. Ibsen designates this poem as the first brouillon 
for The Master Builder. It dates from 1892 and is styled 
De Sad Der, De To ("They Sat There, the Two "). 

1 Cf. Vol. xi, p. 94. 


In the original it reads as follows: — 

De sad der, de to, i saa lunt et hus 
ved host og i vinterdage. 
Saa brsendte huset. Alt ligger i grus. 
De to faar i asken rage. 

For nede i den er et smykke gemt, — 
et smykke, som aldrig kaa breende. 
Og leder de trofast, hamder det nemt 
at det findes af ham eller hende. 

Men finder de end, de brandlidte to, 
det dyre, ildfaste smykke, — 
aldrig hen finder sin brsendte tro. 
han aldrig sin braendte lykke. 1 

The hopeful conclusion of Little Eyolf ill consorts with 
the sad outlook implied in the poem. The end of the 
conjugal crisis savors of plasters and patches that do not 
overly impress us with their cohesive virtue. It is by far 
too superficial a cure which is to infuse peace and meaning 
into two widely differing but equally selfish existences. 
The transition to a purified, wholly altruistic life of work 
in a common cause, symbolized as the conclusion of the 
drama by the hoisting of the flag to the top of the staff, 
seems too sudden in any case. Departing from his cus- 
tomary method, which was to reveal by means of the 
action fixed characters that have merely been traveling 
incognito, Ibsen here suits a different method to his new 
object. For we must bear in mind the significant change 
of front in his ethics. Instead of a renewed vindication 
of the instinctive rights of man — and woman — as 

1 For a fine metrical translation into German cf. SJF". vol. IV, 
p. 175/.; for the English prose translation, CW, vol. x, p. xxiii. 


they are proclaimed in A DolVs House, we have in Little 
Eyolf an exaltation of the duty of self-restraint. The 
enterprise of depicting a transformation of human char- 
acter caused by passing through a great crisis was worthy 
of Ibsen's dramatic powers, yet its success must be ques- 
tioned. He attempted to transmute extinct love into live 
philanthropy. Alfred and Rita are to devote them- 
selves, under a self-imposed monastic way of life, to the 
elevation of young people to nobler standards of exist- 
ence, the idea being repeated from Rosmersholm with, 
however, a more practical application. But I doubt 
whether the transformation of these two is wholly plausible 
even under the mystic "Law of Change " on which Alfred 
loves to dwell. 1 We can understand Rita's passion for 
atonement, even her sudden intelligent recognition and 
assumption of the responsibilities of motherhood, and 
we can understand that, since she can never more have 
children of her own, she wants to be a mother to other 
children. What we cannot grasp so well is her immediate 
ascension to a sphere of permanent serenity. Can we 
really believe that her fires are dead ? Or are they smoul- 
dering under their ashes to leap of a sudden into another 
consuming blaze? The finish seems as temporary as in 
The Lady from the Sea, where we could not look with very 
great confidence into the future bliss of Ellida and Dr. 
Wangel. Both endings issue out of the poet's convictions 
and desires rather than out of the inner workings of the 
characters as they are presented. 

The dramatic force of the piece suffers, in my judgment, 
still further through the unimpressive and unengaging 
1 Vol. xi, p. 55; ibid., p. 92, etc. 



personality of the leading man. Ibsen had planned to re- 
present Allmers as a famous scholar. In the preliminary 
sketch, Skjoldhejm ( = Allmers) is the author of numerous 
important works, and is now just on the eve of producing 
his magnum opus, "The Doctrine of the Life Spiritual." 
In his present character he is a Utopian dreamer, with 
fine abstract theories about responsibility. So far as his 
practical achievements go, Allmers is about as interesting 
and sympathetic as the dry-as-dust partner so illy mated 
with Hedda Gabler. 

Still further is the effectiveness of the play marred by 
a complicating underplot which is not tightly interlocked 
with the main interest. Introduced chiefly for the relief 
of monotony, the by-action between Alfred and Asta, 
which revolves about the familiar and too hard-ridden 
theme handled by Goethe in Die Geschwister, is not con- 
vincingly resolved. Asta, who loves Alfred, wrongly 
supposed to be her brother, accepts at last her suitor 
Borgheim without even enlightening him about the true 
state of her feelings. Engineer Borgheim, by the way, 
along with such other figures as Dr. Fieldbo in The 
League of Youth, or Captain Horster in An Enemy of the 
People, so full of energy, cheeriness, efficiency, and hu- 
man kindliness, belies the fabled limitations of Ibsen to 
the depictment of criminals, lunatics, and misanthropes. 

More than any technical imperfections, the socio- 
ethical drift of Little Eyolf would be sure to operate in- 
surmountably against a favorable reception from our con- 
servative public, if this public gave any thought to the 
tenor and thesis of this very serious drama. I am by no 
1 SW 11 , vol. iv, p. 147/. 


means referring to its open sexual allusions and implica- 
tions, for in this regard Ibsen did not depart from his 
accustomed discretion and delicacy despite the ticklish 
features of his composition, especially the voluptuousness 
of the beautiful heroine and the struggle of a man and a 
woman who believe themselves to be brother and sister 
against a powerful mutual sex attraction. On these grounds 
the legitimate moral sensibilities of serious people will find 
small reason for offense in Little Eyolj. In fact, a quite 
different, and anything but serious, class of people who 
are, from other motives, likewise deeply concerned about 
stage morals, have in the simplicity of their good souls, 
licensed this play because they failed to understand any 
of its meaning outside the high resolutions at the end: 
I mean the inveterate patrons of conventional drama. 
Somehow a belated taste in matters pertaining to litera- 
ture goes almost invariably with a denseness of intellect 
through which the subtler poisons of dangerous doctrine 
cannot percolate. The conventionalist, if he knows any- 
thing at all about Ibsen, may even be seen pointing with 
satisfaction to Little Eyolj as a proof of Ibsen's abandon- 
ment of ultra-radicalism and his return to the standing 
moral notions of "general humanity." But would the 
latter really follow from the former? 

The plain fact of the matter is that in Little Eyolf a 
theory of marriage is preached which, to my knowledge, 
has only one other open advocate among the great social 
thinkers of modern times; the same theory, namely, that 
is advanced in Tolstoy's Kreutzer-Sonata. In Ibsen the 
sexual austerity not uncommon with Northerners grew 
into asceticism, so that carnal love, even though legalized 


and sanctified, became for him almost like an aberration 
of human nature, an uncleanness and outright evil. In 
his dramas persons of a sensual temperament are either 
depraved, like Regine and Rebecca; or gross and brutal, 
like the lecherous Ulfheim in When We Dead Awaken; 
or mentally under-developed, like little Fru Maja in the 
same play. In Little Eyolf this spiritual aversion to sensu- 
ality has its strongest expression. Remember how point- 
edly the child's misfortune is traced to the incontinence of 
the parents. Since by the outcome of the play the main- 
tenance of platonic relations between husband and wife 
would seem to be commended, Ibsen is apprehended in 
the preposterous tenet that happy marriages must be 
childless. Marriage should consist in a complete intel- 
lectual junction of two personalities, a comradeship that 
fuses the spirits while it purifies the grosser instincts. 
The marriage of Rita and Alfred to have been ideal 
would have been childless. So Little Eyolf had no business 
to live! Perhaps Ibsen's social philosophy was going 
through its last pessimistic phase. At least the Epi- 
logue, When We Dead Awaken, does not support the theory 
of platonic marriage. 



Next in the chronological order of Ibsen's works comes 
John Gabriel Borkman (1896), a a play which, without 
losing its connection with the psychological series, 
lengthens out by still another link the chain of dramas that 
deal primarily with social conditions. 

Its autobiographical allusion, if any there be, has not 
been discovered. Its source or sources, doubtless of the 
anecdotical description, were not divulged by the poet. 
But the plot is undoubtedly founded on certain occur- 
rences during the period just preceding, when "frenzied 
finance" was rife in the Norwegian capital. It was prob- 
ably suggested also by the sequel of certain large defalca- 
tions, in which an officer of high rank was one of the chief 
culprits. This man, having undergone a term in prison, 
returned to live in the same house with his wife ; but they 
never exchanged a word of conversation. It is not known 
how much use was made of "models." About one of the 
characters, the pathetic figure of old Foldal, an interesting 
disclosure is made, but he was originally intended for 
The Lady from the Sea. The resemblance of the main 
movement of this drama to the coarser machinery of 
Pillars of Society is too obvious to have failed of extended 
notice. And in minor ways, too, John Gabriel Bork- 
man seems like a conscious renewal of an old theme, a 
refinement upon that sensationally successful piece 


which fell so far short of the later standards of its 

The central figure of the new drama is a Bernick raised 
to higher power; the self-seeker impelled by a larger am- 
bition, endowed with greater imagination and a stronger 
will-power, clinging with greater pertinacity to his aims, 
and carrying out in his evil fate the logical consequences of 
his evil deeds. In him we have a self-styled overman with 
the full courage of his perverse convictions, the frank 
exponent of the super-scoundrel's code of morals — the 
" overskurkens moral," to borrow his own name for it, 
joined to a different subject. Borkman is the sublimation 
of the unscrupulous, ruthlessly daring type of the specu- 
lator, the superman in business at whose shrine so many 
thoroughly honest and just as thoroughly weakminded 
people are everywhere found worshiping. He belongs un- 
questionably to the type too often found among "leading 
citizens," men who lead the people — but whither? In 
reading his own character he translates the insatiable greed 
for wealth and power into an uncontrollable desire to 
serve and benefit the race; and succeeds, while we are in 
his presence, in bribing our judgment into viewing him 
as a visionary idealist, whereas before impartial justice 
he is plainly a criminal. What saves him from our utter 
condemnation and contempt, at all events, is his ravish- 
ing power of imagination, that divine spark of poetry 
that is so sadly missed in many of his more fortunate com- 
peers. Yet in motives and ambitions he might be easily 
taken for some living member of the House of Lords of 
Business. "Think of me, who could have created mil- 
lions! All the mines I should have controlled! New 


veins innumerable ! And the waterfalls ! And the quarries ! 
And the trade-routes, and steamship lines all the wide 
world over! I should have organized it all — I alone!" 1 

Happiness to him means power over unlimited re- 
sources, in other words unlimited power over his fellow- 
men. The bitterest experience cannot chasten this moral 
misconception. Condemned as a felon because of it, after 
six years in a convict's cell and eight of close imprison- 
ment in his own apartments, he would go to prison again 
if chance willed it a second time. Men of his cast of mind 
endowed with only an ordinary cash-box imagination 
have been known to figure their chance better than he 
between immense fortune and indelible infamy, — now 
and then they are far-seeing enough to take into account 
the beneficent workings of statutes of limitations. 

Borkman's egomania completely blinds him to his 
turpitude. He even moralizes, comments mercilessly 
on the wickedness of others, and scores them as robbers 
and pirates. There is a telling bit of tragic irony when the 
poet makes him explain sententiously and with the chest 
note of deep conviction: "The most infamous of crimes 
is a friend's betrayal of his friend's confidence." 2 This 
applies to his former friend Hinkel, and Borkman's mere 
suspicion that his own words might be drawn upon him 
fires him into rage. He never betrayed a confidence; for 
it goes without saying that the people whose securities 
he pilfered "should have got them all back again — 
every farthing." 3 The good intention exculpates him 
before his conscience. Overmen are exempt from the ob- 
servance of laws. Borkman, like Rebecca West, possesses 
1 Vol. xi, p. 221 /. 2 Ibid., p. 223. ' Ibid. 


a sort of inverted nobility and grandeur of which he re- 
mains keenly conscious: "I had power in my hands! 
And then I felt the irresistible vocation within me ! The 
prisoned millions lay all over the country, deep in the 
bowels of the earth, calling aloud to me! They shrieked 
to me to free them ! But no one else heard their cry — I 
alone had ears for it." l Again: " The whole world knows 
[of my transgressions]. But it does not know why I did 
it; why I had to do it." 2 The Napoleon of commerce and 
industry, alas, was not one appointed of fate, else he would 
not have been "crippled in his first battle." Yet the 
crushing defeat of those hopes, the loss of everything he 
had, the ruin of his honor, his family, his life, leaves John 
Gabriel still true to his visions. 

Borkman. Can you see the smoke of the great steamships out 
on the fjord? 

Ella Rentheim. No.- 

Borkman. I can. They come and they go. They weave a net- 
work of fellowship all round the world. They shed light and 
warmth over the souls of men in many thousands of homes. 
That was what I dreamed of doing. . . . And hark, down by 
the river, dear! The factories are working! My factories! All 
those that I would have created! Listen! Do you hear them 
humming? The night shift is on — so they are working night 
and day. Hark! hark! The wheels are whirling and the bands 
are flashing — round and round and round. Can't you hear, 

Ella Rentheim. No. 

Borkman. I can hear it. 3 

He clings to his life-saving lie. With him it has been a 

steady process of make-believe which now serves him as 

1 Vol. xi, p. 268. ■ Ibid., p. 260. » Ibid., p. 316/. 


an arcanum against utter despair. His day will, must, 
come again. The world's work cannot go on without 
him. For eight years he has been pacing the floor of the 
room he never leaves, ceremoniously dressed to receive 
an imaginary delegation that must arrive sooner or later 
to beg him to resume his leadership, and practicing his 
condescending speech of acceptance. Even in that last 
conversation with his sister-in-law, just before the final 
break-down comes, the richly poetical quality of his mad- 
ness reveals itself by a hallucination. 

The situation of the hero between two contrastingly 
charactered women, the one devoted and full of under- 
standing, the other selfish and unsympathetic, is here 
dealt with in a doubly powerful way. In the time that 
is long past, Borkman chose between two sisters, exactly 
as Bernick had chosen. He selfishly married the unloved 
one, who on her part married him not from love, but be- 
cause of his promising career. By this he wrecked the lives 
of both sisters. Out of the unhealed old conflict between 
them a hateful contest now arises for the possession of 
John Gabriel's only child. The mutual hatred of the 
two sisters lasts while there remains any object to fight 
for. Only when John Gabriel is dead and young Erhart 
gone for good, is there a prospect of peace between them. 
The tragic fate of John Gabriel's wife evokes a vivid 
memory of Mrs. Alving, although the two characters are 
in no way alike. Gunhild Borkman is not supported by 
a noble stoicism in her grief. Her temper of mind is hard, 
loveless, unforgiving. She hates her husband grimly for 
the wrong he has done. Even her affection for Erhart is 
not pure mother-love, although she idolizes him. He is 


her one hope in life; the consecrated instrument of re- 
habilitation who will raise up the fallen fortunes of his 
house — like another Hjalmar Ekdal — and make re- 
splendent once more the darkened lustre of his name. This 
is to be Erhart's mission in life. When her sister's plans 
for Erhart threaten to cross her sacred purpose, she 
fights like a tigress for her young. Finally, rather than 
cede him to the rival, each sister abandons her claims to 
an adventuress. The mother's hope is cruelly shattered 
because Erhart happens to be an idle, pleasure-loving 
egoist bent on "enjoying life," and brusquely rejects the 
life task assigned to him. "Good Heavens, mother, I am 
young, after all ! " "I cannot consecrate my life to making 
atonement for another. ... I am young ! I want to live, 
for once in a way, as well as other people ! I want to live 
my own life." r So he deserts his mother, and his aunt 
as well, declaring himself unable to endure their stifling 
existence, and runs away with Mrs. Wilton, a beauty in 
her thirties, rich and dashing, of great unrestraint of 
manner and conduct. Her character is left rather un- 
determined in the play, but her worldly wisdom is to be 
inferred from the fact that she takes little Frida Foldal 
along in her elopement as a reserve kept for all emergen- 
cies, in case her own already fully ripened charms should 
lose their appeal to the object of her affections. 

One might point out a number of interesting anti- 
thetical connections between the occurrences and situa- 
tions in this play and those that preceded ; all tending to 
show the poet's care not to neglect any aspect of his prob- 
lems. To give an instance: In Little Eyolf the exclusive 
1 Vol. xi, pp. 279 and 283. 


object of a woman's love was her husband; to the child 
she was worse than indifferent. In John Gabriel Borkman 
the husband is shut out from the heart of his wife; what- 
ever love she is capable of centres on the child. But one 
such connection seems so important that it should cer- 
tainly have been noticed by expounders of Ibsen : I mean 
the relation of John Gabriel Borkman to A DolVs House. 
The connecting thought is almost self-evident to those 
familiar with the way Ibsen formulates his leading ideas. 
Nora Helmer was at one time in danger of being punished 
for an offense against the criminal code. Suppose she had 
gone to prison, how would Torvald have behaved? And 
how would Nora herself have acted, — or some other 
woman in her place, — had the case been reversed and the 
husband been the offender? The question being an ex- 
perimental one, the experiment is forthwith instituted. 
We readily surmise that Nora herself would have uttered 
a sentiment like Ella Rentheim's: "If I could have stood 
at your side when the crash came. . . . Trust me, I 
should have borne it all so gladly along with you. The 
shame, the ruin — I would have helped you to bear it 
all!" l She would have been one of those firm of faith 
whom the heroes of Ibsen need in order to believe in 
themselves, e.g., Skule, Stockmann, Solness. The further 
pursuit of this dialogue reveals an old conviction, here 
stated with stupendous emphasis and pushed to a still 
further length in Ibsen's next and final tragedy. 

Borkman. Would you have had the will — the strength? 
Ella Rentheim. Both the will and the strength. For then I did 
not know of your great, your terrible crime. 

1 Vol. xi, p. 245. 


Borkman. What crime? What are you speaking of? 

Ella. I am speaking of that crime fur which there is no for- 

Borkman. You must be out of your mind. 

Ella. You are a murderer! You have committed the one 
mortal sin ! 

Borkman. You are raving, Ella! 

Ella. You have killed the love-life in me. Do you understand 
what that means? The Bible speaks of a mysterious sin for 
which there is no forgiveness. I have never understood what it 
could be; but now I understand. The great, unpardonable sin is 
to murder the love-life in a human soul. 1 

About the dramatic merits of John Gabriel Borkman 
there is considerable difference of opinion. A majority 
of the critics claimed to notice in it a deplorable abate- 
ment of the creative power. Some even undertook to 
predict that the poet was nearing the end of his produc- 
tivity, — not a startling prophecy, considering that he 
had attained the age of sixty-eight. While it is true that 
John Gabriel Borkman has not held the stage as have 
some of the older works, this need not be stated as an un- 
answerable proof of its artistic inferiority. Anybody who 
takes the trouble to examine narrowly the details of its 
structure and portraiture will be willing to subscribe to 
the opinion that John Gabriel Borkman stands in the front 
rank of modern masterpieces of the drama, and that 
among Ibsen's works it is equaled by few and unexcelled 
by any. In defense of such seemingly extravagant praise 
some of the excelling features of the piece should be men- 
tioned in passing. The intense effect of this drama is 
obtained by the simplest imaginable means. Not in a 

1 Vol. xi, p. 216. 


single instance is the aid of extraneous contrivances in- 
voked. The characters are driven by their own motive 
power, and that at an unslackened speed. Plot and 
underplot, what little there is of the latter, are inseparably 
welded into one. No simpler mode of carrying the action 
forward could be devised than is here employed: each 
of the four acts merely takes up the thread where it was 
cut by the drop of the curtain, the entire transaction 
occupying about three hours. The verisimilitude is con- 
scientiously guarded. The characters are thoroughly 
vitalized. Nothing that verges on the supernatural oc- 
curs in this play, and the improbable never happens; 
yet all these elements of the commonplace conspire to 
produce a tremendous tragical effect. John Gabriel 
Borkman can easily dispense with a commentary. Its 
meaning rings forth deep and clear and simple. 

Of course one can also pick flaws in this masterpiece, as 
in any ; but these seem trifling by comparison with its gen- 
eral superiority. Mr. Archer discerns unmistakable traces 
of change of plan. " The first two acts laid the foundation 
for a larger and more complex superstructure than is ulti- 
mately erected. Ibsen seems to have designed that 
Hinkel, the man who " betrayed," Borkman in the past, 
should play some efficient part in the alienation of Erhart 
from his family and home." l But this objection is not 
well founded. In drama of the realistic sort a lightly sug- 
gested line of action need not necessarily be developed. 
We are, for instance, left in the dark as to the force of 
Hinkel's reason for dealing Borkman the evil blow. So 
why should we have to know particulars about the role he 

1 Vol. xi, p. xxi. 


plays in estranging Erhart from his parents? As though 
the characters of the parents and their mutual relations 
were not enough to account for the estrangement! Sev- 
eral other lines besides this bit of by-play were likewise 
only "sketched in": Mrs. Wilton's past, her whole char- 
acter, in fact, is left to our inference. Erhart's feelings for 
Frida, Frida's state of mind, the outcome of the marriage 
— what do we know of these things? But what, forsooth, 
need we know about them? The dramatic centre of grav- 
ity lies wholly outside their orbits. 



We come to the final monument of Ibsen's genius. At first 
he named this last work forebodingly A Dramatic Epi- 
logue ("En Dramatisk Epilog"), and in his correspond- 
ence he regularly refers to it as the Epilogue. Whether bis 
mind was bent on a final summing-up of all his work when 
this play was undertaken, or whether the hope of a new 
phase of poetic activity hovered before his vision, we have 
no positive means of deciding. The drama was published 
near the end of 1899 under the romantically expressive 
title : When We Dead Awaken (" Naar vi doede vaagner ") . a 
Despite his advanced years, Ibsen felt hardy enough in 
mind and body to be thinking of still further dramatic 
enterprises. Several months after the publication of the 
Epilogue he hinted broadly in a letter that another artistic 
project was agitating him. " I do not imagine that I shall 
be able to keep permanently away from the old battle- 
fields. However, if I were to make my appearance again, 
it would be with new weapons, and in new armor." 1 Pre- 
cisely what he may have meant must remain a secret. 
Possibly his English editor is right in assuming that Ibsen 
was planning a metrical play — he had said to Professor 
Herford a long time before that he hoped to wind up his 
work with a drama in verse. Perhaps he was through 
with all forms of artistic realism; a revulsion to the idealis- 

» C, p. 327. 


tic conception of the drama would have found the literary 
world not altogether unprepared, after the streams of 
pronouncedly romantic tendency manifest in the symbol- 
ical plays. 

For its personal interest, namely, as a grand poetical 
confession, as the epitome of a great artist's strenuous 
and lifelong struggle, and the expression of a long-hoarded 
philosophy of life, this play stands supreme. Moreover, it 
contains portions artistically exquisite, full of surpassing 
lyric beauty; and for brief moments the intuitive and un- 
erring vision of the born dramatist, the force and power of 
the practiced master of stage effect unequivocally reassert 
themselves. Yet judged in its entirety, When We Dead 
Awaken is not on a plane with Ibsen's best creations. As 
a stage piece it is lessened in strength by a lack of that ad- 
mirable balance between outer truth and deeper meaning 
which characterized the social problem plays. It is diffi- 
cult to repress a feeling that the persons in this drama be- 
have somewhat like marionettes, and yet that, in the 
words of Sculptor Rubek, "there is something equivocal, 
something cryptic, lurking in and behind these busts." 
I have expressed in an earlier connection a belief that cer- 
tain peculiarities of Ibsen's symbolistic method have had 
a notable influence upon the work of Maurice Maeter- 
linck. Ibsen's great Belgian disciple, however, went, in 
special instances, far beyond his master, so that his stud- 
ied effects frequently border on mannerism. Particularly 
is this true of Maeterlinck's dramatic dialogue, with its 
almost infantile simplicity, and of the outer bearing of the 
dramatis personoe, now so shadowy and uncanny as to sug- 

1 Vol. xi, p. 338. 


gest visitors from another planet, now so mechanical in 
speech and gesture as to appear like animated automa- 
tons. It seems that after Maeterlinck's style had been 
fully developed, the master in his turn fell under the influ- 
ence of the pupil. In the Epilogue, nearly all important 
figures thus bear the Belgian's marque defabrique ; the wan, 
silent Sister of Mercy as well as Irene, weird in speech and 
gesture, in form tall, slender, and emaciated like some 
pre-Raphaelite portrait; the uncouth bear hunter, less 
man than satyr, and the lusty, reckless little Maja, both 
of them frankly the slaves of their senses, yet neverthe- 
less refined into a sheer extramundane semblance. But 
whereas Maeterlinck, in his subtilized quasi-puppet plays, 
— even when the presentment happens to be couched in 
terms of ordinary facts of life, as in L'Intruse or in Vlnie- 
rieur, — comes to the aid of our imagination by plain 
hintings of supernatural interferences, such hints are ab- 
sent from a play like When We Dead Awaken, and conse- 
quently the spectator is both greatly mystified and tanta- 
lized. This makes the Epilogue a failure as a play. Viewed, 
on the other hand, not as a mere theatric entertainment, 
but as Ibsen's apologia pro vita sua before an audience of 
initiates, it becomes a great human document that bears 
an unmistakable impress of truth. Of course, no sillier 
blunder could be made than to attempt, by means of 
biographical excavations, to cover the movement of the 
play step by step with data from the poet's personal 

In general, however, we may acquiesce in the simple 
equation that Professor Rubek is identical with Henrik 
Ibsen. There is much outer and still more inner evidence 


of this. In the early exposition of the play, Rubek ex- 
plains why he does not feel quite happy in his native coun- 
try, to which he has just returned. " I have perhaps been 
too long abroad, I have drifted quite away from this — 
this home life." 1 In words closely corresponding with this 
sentiment, Ibsen in a private letter lamented his inability 
to renaturalize himself in Norway. "Oh, dear Brandes, 
it is not without its consequences that a man lives for 
twenty -seven years in the wider, emancipated, and eman- 
cipating spiritual conditions of the great world. Up here, 
by the fjords, is my native land. But — but — but! 
Where am I to find my home-land?" 2 Maja's remarks 
about Rubek's restlessness, "You have begun to wander 
about without a moment's peace. You cannot rest any- 
where, neither at home nor abroad. You have become 
quite misanthropic of late," 3 apply with the same force 
to the poet's own homelessness and his migratory habits. 
In the play, Rubek has lost the power to work; it is as 
though herein lay a prediction of the sad fate that was to 
overtake the poet. Turning to a still surer criterion, could 
there be a more trustworthy index to Ibsen's skeptical 
feelings about the popular appreciation of his works than 
the following bit of colloquy? 

Maja. Why, Rubek, — all the world knows that it [The 
Resurrection] is a masterpiece! 

Professor Rubek. All the world knows nothing! 

Maja. Well, at any rate, it can divine something. 

Rubek. Something that is n't there at all, yes. Something 
that never was in my mind. Ah, yes, that they can all go into 
ecstasies over! (Growling to himself.) What is the good of 

1 Vol. xi, p. 329. * C, p. 447. 

J Vol. xi, p. 335. 


working one's self to death for the mob and the masses, — for 
"all the world"! 1 

The true analogy between Rubek and Ibsen that is 
hinted in the inward discontent of the sculptor has to do 
with the eternal question as to the relative satisfactions 
of W'Ork and pleasure. Rubek's repudiation of his art is 
dictated by the characteristic despondency of a great 
man in his decline, the poignant grief of a creative artist 
whose power is on the wane. And that great artist was 
Ibsen himself. The works of his last decade were pervaded 
by a tone of resignation and regret. 

Rubek. All the talk about the artist's vocation and the artist's 
mission, and so forth, began to strike me as being very empty, 
and hollow, and meaningless at bottom. 

Maja. Then, what would you put in its place? 

Rubek. Life, Maja. 2 

When We Dead Awaken, as a postlude to Ibsen's life- 
work, interweaves nearly all the leading motifs by which 
his life and work were governed. But through the maze 
of harmonies a final melody rings clearly forth — the 
plaintive query : What shall it profit a man to enrich the 
whole world if by so doing he pauperize himself? 

It is, then, in a symbolical aspect that the persons of this 
play have to be viewed, and this is especially true of the 
great sculptor and his model. Nothing could be more ir- 
relevant and improper than to push the biographical par- 
allel so far as to seek evidence, for example, of some un- 
consummated love affair in the life of Ibsen. It is due to 
say that his marriage was so thoroughly happy that he 
prized it as the one true fortune life had borne him. 
1 Vol. xi, p. 336/. 2 Ibid., p. 396. 


Emil Reich, whose opinion on any matter connected 
"with. Ibsen is worth noting, observes well that, in When We 
Dead Awaken, Ibsen spoke his final word on the woman 
question. The theme here resumed is that of a self- 
conscious woman who is treated by the man she loves 
as a piece of property instead of as a personality. Heb- 
bel's Her odes und Mariamne and his Gyges und sein Ring 
are devoted to the same problem in dramatized psycho- 
logy. Irene's life was sacrificed by Rubek, for although 
he loved her as a man loves a woman, he repressed his feel- 
ings and used her solely as the tool of his artistic ambi- 
tion. An image of virginal purity was to be wrought, and 
the model must be of immaculate innocence. Irene ex- 
posed unreservedly the stainless radiance of her beauty; 
however, she did it not for the good of art in the ab- 
stract, but for love of the man in the artist. 

Irene. You did wrong to my innermost, inborn nature. 

Professor Rubek {starting back). I — 

Irene. Yes, you ! I exposed myself wholly and unreservedly to 
your gaze — and never once did you touch me. 

Professor Rubek. Irene, did you not understand that many a 
time I was almost beside myself under the spell of all your 

Irene. And yet if you had touched me, I think I should have 
killed you on the spot. 1 

Rubek's one real chance of happiness was with Irene. 
But the turning-point of his fortune was allowed to slip 
by unused. That was when their "child," the statue, was 
finished. Irene now at last expected to be his, the mother 
of his children in the flesh and blood. But she was honor- 

1 Vol. xi, p. 370/. This psychologically so. well-studied situation is, in 
a way, a repetition from Hedda Gabler. 


ably dismissed with a cool word of thanks: "I thank you, 
Irene. This has been a priceless episode for me." x Thus 
she passed out of his life. Her entire personality was 
swept away by the loss of her love. She now hates Ar- 
nold's art — as Rita in Little Eyolf hates Alfred's studies 
— because it has killed her "love-life." Revenge on 
Rubek is vicariously wrought through retribution meted 
out to men in general. Emotionally long dead, she eventu- 
ally loses her reason, her fixed delusion being that she is 
dead. Half-cured from her insanity, she meets Rubek 

For Arnold Rubek, on the other hand, Art lost its 
meaning when Irene left. Professor Grummann offers 
an extremely tempting interpretation of Rubek's separa- 
tion from Irene. She was Rubek's highest art ideal. 
In him, then, we have the artist who at first lives up to 
the highest demands of his ideals. Rubek casts Irene 
aside, and her character degenerates. Clearly the con- 
ception is that an ideal degenerates when it is forsaken. 
Rubek's ambition has ceased to soar; he attempts only 
petty things; and when he portrays human beings, he 
presents them sarcastically in animal masks, that being 
the way he has come to know them. With the inspirations 
of art gone, Rubek's existence becomes dull and empty. 
So he makes a belated attempt to "live." Since he can 
"afford" a beautiful villa and extensive traveling, he 
humors himself still further by purchasing a companion 
for his enjoyments. His young wife's name is Maja, which 
in Indian means the Life-Bearing or Fertile, or — in another 
connotation — the falseness and hollowness of the external 

1 Vol. xi, p. 420. 


world. The unintelligent, vacuous little Maja bores him 
as much as he bores her. Both are sighing for relief. She 
is far better suited to Ulfheim, whose grossly physical at- 
tractiveness appeals to her unspiritualized senses. This 
votary of fleshly joys acts, in a sort, as a "pendant" not 
only of Maja, but also of Irene. Having been betrayed 
by one woman, he would revenge himself by seeking to 
betray all women. His sensuality is not without a certain 
glamour of poetry, which is shown in striking contrast 
to Little Maja's matter-of-factness when he refers to his 
somewhat primitive buen retiro in the woods as a hunting- 
castle where princesses have dwelt in bliss, and she curtly 
names it an old pigsty. Ulfheim is a species of Wild Hunts- 
man, who, unlike his kinsman the Flying Dutchman of 
Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner, can attain his sal- 
vation only through the woman that denies herself to him. 
A significant difference marks the coming together of the 
two couples. Maja enters lightheartedly into an escapade 
with the mighty killer of bears. He frees her from her 
misadventurous union with Rubek; and when up in the 
mountains their lives are imperiled, Ulfheim and Maja 
seek safety by quick descent to the lowlands, where ex- 
istences like theirs best thrive. Irene, on the other hand, 
is reawakened from death to the realization of life's ut- 
most possibilities when Rubek at last reaches out for her 
possession. Together their wasted lives reattain a higher 
meaning. Like John Gabriel Borkman and Ella Rent- 
heim, they ascend the mountain hand in hand, and are 
buried, like Brand, under a falling avalanche. 

For the forcefulness of the idea that is central in When 
We Dead Awaken it is not material whether the plaint 


of a misspent life is fully grounded in the poet's own 

experience. The fundamental question is: Is a life of 

toil worth the living, and is not success, even supreme 

achievement, too dearly bought at the cost of happiness? 

Whilst the great worker labors and suffers in isolation, does 

not the common life go on relentlessly, careless of his 

reveries and aspirations? And is it not, after all, the part 

of wisdom to heed the Mephistophelian advice : — 

My worthy friend, gray are all theories, 
, And green alone Life's golden tree. 

In his earliest poems Ibsen again and again raises the 
question whether the poet's dreams will ever become 
reality. Once, in Paa Vidderne, the contrast is sharply 
stated between an artistic conception of life and life itself 
in its concrete reality. 1 Perhaps, then, all life in the ab- 
stract spheres of science, art, and religion is unreal? And 
here, at the close of his career, made wise by great achieve- 
ments and still greater disillusionments, Ibsen's last 
message would seem to be : Whoever has lived only for his 
art has never attained to real happiness, nay, has never 
really lived. Is it the poet's or the man's despair that 
moved the confession? The life that has not been lived — 
unquestionably this is the burden of this confessio poetas. 
It implies certainly a recoil from idealism, if it means 
nothing more than that the real joys of life are those 
smaller satisfactions which the man of exceptional en- 
dowment is compelled to forego. But even in his decline 
a man of Ibsen's stamp is hardly to be thought of as 
steeped in such petty regrets. The great artist is not 
liable to forget so utterly the fact that to be an artist is 
1 SW, pp. 90-104; M, vol. in, pp. 42-54. 


to spend and transmute much of one's common share in 
human happiness into less tangible but higher values. 
Ibsen expended his tremendous capacity for living in the 
artistic work to which his entire life was devoted. 

Yet it may be, on the other hand, that the aging 
revolutionary, in a retrospect over his public career, ac- 
cused himself of a radical inconsistency. He had con- 
ceived and advocated theories of life which perhaps he 
lacked the courage to practice — forms of happiness per- 
chance which he was too timid to grasp. In spirit a rebel 
and innovator, he was in conduct prudent and conserv- 
ative. Once, replying to the inquiry of a certain debating 
society in regard to the meaning of Rosmersholm, he 
pointed out as one of its leading motifs the clash that 
occurs in every serious life between conduct and insight. 
Man's acquisitive power makes him progressive, while 
his conscience, being the residuum of past traditions, tends 
to make him conservative. 1 

Be that as it may, where Rubek tells the story of his 
master effort, every line is fraught with personal allusion, 
and in this story Ibsen has undoubtedly bequeathed to 
us an epitome of his artistic curriculum vit<E. As origin- 
ally conceived, the master work was to be a supreme 
embodiment of purity and beauty represented by a 
woman of sublime nobility of form and mien. 

I was young then — with no knowledge of life. The Resur- 
rection, I thought, would be most beautifully and exquisitely 
figured as a young, unsullied woman, — with none of our earth- 
life's experiences, — awakening to light and glory without hav- 
ing to put away from her anything ugly and impure. 2 

1 C, p. 412/. 2 Vol. xi, p. 415. 


After Irene passed out of his life, that concept of the 
wakening beauty wondering at its own loveliness soon 
made room for another. The reason for the altered posi- 
tion of the central figure, at first intended to stand alone 
but now surrounded by many others, lay in a wider 
knowledge of life. 

I learned worldly wisdom in the years that followed. The 
Resurrection Day became in my mind's eye something more — 
and something — something more complex. The little round 
plinth on which your figure stood erect and solitary — it no 
longer afforded room for all the imagery I now wanted to add. 
... I imaged that which I saw with my eyes around me in the 
world. I had to include it — I could not help it. I expanded the 
plinth — made it wide and spacious. And on it I placed a seg- 
ment of the curving, bursting earth. And up from the fissures cf 
the soil there now swarm men and women with dimly suggested 
animal faces. Women and men as I knew them in real life. 1 

The transition from the romantic to the satirical plays 
is hinted here, and in order to leave not a trace of doubt 
about the underlying reference of the whole story to 
Ibsen's artistic career, Ibsen has made Rubek carve his 
own figure as that of a man who is weighed down with 
guilt and who cannot quite free himself from the earth- 
crust. Unquestionably Ibsen subjected his works, in this 
final review, to a pitiless criticism. 

Those readers of Ibsen who regard the works of his 
Roman period, Brand, Peer Gynt, and possibly also 
Emperor and Galilean, as the greatest performances of 
his genius, may if they choose point to the poet's self- 
estimate as to a court of final appeal. Moved by his 
regret over the abandonment of pure idealism, they over- 

1 Vol. xi, p. 416. 


look the inner compulsion that wrought the change, and 
fail to catch Rubek's apology, "I imaged that which I 
saw with my eyes around me in the world. I had to in- 
clude it — I could not help it." Already in 1874, Ibsen, 
addressing the Norwegian students come to bid him wel- 
come, declared : — 

I have written about those things which, so to speak, stood 
higher than my daily self, and I have done so in order to settle 
them, both outside and within myself. But I have also written 
about the opposite things, those which to an introspective 
contemplation appear as the dregs and sediments of one's own 
nature. The work of writing has in this case been to me like a 
bath which I felt I was leaving cleaner, healthier, and freer. 1 

As the number of subsidiary figures kept increasing, the 
sculptor had to widen his plinth; and for the sake of a 
properly proportioned arrangement, the ideal form that 
once in solitary grandeur occupied the centre was moved 
somewhat into the background^ Even so idealism with 
the poet was not permitted to overshadow all the facts of 
life. The transfiguring expression of joy that once glori- 
fied the statue's countenance was later subdued, in order 
to be brought into harmony with the enlarged purpose; 
for the aggregate idea of the group, as stated so tersely by 
Irene, was very comprehensive: "The statue represents 
life as you see it now." 

Looking back over the three periods of Henrik Ibsen's 
poetical activity, we are once more constrained to set 
aside the judgment of the bitterly disenchanted poet, and 
to insist, in conscious contradiction of the prevailing 

1 SNL, p. 50. 


opinion, 6 that his title to his fame, which is now inter- 
national and, if signs deceive not, deathless, reposes not 
so much on the exuberantly imaginative works of his 
early career, as on the so-called social plays of his later 
periods. We may include under this larger definition the 
full dozen of dramas from Pillars of Society to When We 
Dead Awaken. The first six, Pillars of Society, A DolVs 
House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, 
and Rosmershohn, are revolutionary, directed polemically 
against the government of human society as at present 
organized. The other six, The Lady from the Sea, Hedda 
Gabler, The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, John Gabriel 
Borkman, and the Dramatic Epilogue, are primarily and 
principally devoted to the psychological analysis of 
individual character. The general trend of the social 
ethics in this long series of plays is seen to mark a transi- 
tion from aimless attack upon the extant order to unquali- 
fied exaltation of the individual, and a further progress 
thence to a plea for socialized liberty. 

Throughout this imposing series of monumental works 
of art, Ibsen proves himself an artist of the first magni- 
tude. Sufficient has been said in these pages about Ibsen's 
originality; his work is strikingly his own. The. soundness 
of his methods has likewise been enough dwelt upon. The 
final secret of his technique is that its raw materials are 
the passions and wills of human beings, that, in the words 
of the philosopher Protagoras, " Man is the measure of all 
things." Pointing to the sum of his technical achieve- 
ments, it is not too much to call him the creator of a new 
form of the drama. 

But Ibsen was not only a great dramatic poet. How- 


ever we may differ from his views, we must admit that he 
was also an eminent factor in the culture of our age. He 
was an indefatigable student of living problems, envisag- 
ing them with his own clear-sighted eyes, not through the 
tarnished spectacles of the past, and enforcing for them 
the serious attention of the thinking world. To an age 
that is pregnant with new socio-ethical departures he 
rendered an incalculable service, in that he brought into 
strongest relief the intellectual tendencies of his time as 
they struggled to the surface of the social consciousness. 

His popularity must needs suffer from the fact that 
concealment or even caution was absent from the charac- 
ter of his work and that he did not belong to the literary 
prettifiers of the stern facts of life. Standing preeminent 
in thoughts other than those of the multitude, he con- 
tributed more slowly, none the less surely, his share to the 
creation of a new social order. He, first among modern 
dramatists, recognized evolution as the new organon of 
human knowledge and conduct, and, consequently, the 
determining influence of environment upon human char- 
acter. Therefore he pleaded more consistently than any 
other writer for the necessity of social readjustments; by 
doing this, he has aroused more controversy than perhaps 
any writer in history. Yet his thorough belief in heredity 
did not make of Ibsen an out-and-out determinist. To 
him the fundamental question remained : In a world pre- 
ordained by necessity, how far extends the responsibility 
of man as an individual and man in the aggregate? 

His plays are no mere satires upon the social world. 
Their influence is ever bent towards higher, truer, and 
more potent aspirations. A realist in most of his methods, 


Ibsen is by impulse and outlook an idealist, almost a 
visionary. And since without vision there could be no 
future, he is emphatically the poet of the future, and 
herein lies his power to influence the best minds of the 
present. He offered the people of his generation not what 
they wanted, but what he knew they needed. He strove 
for the approval of the very best among them, and that 
is why so many leading spirits of this era trace their 
maturity from his influence. 

Ibsen's work at first was relished by very few, but the 
rapidly increasing numbers now joining in the demand for 
it bear gratifying testimony to the educability of a public 
when once a truly great teacher obtains a hearing. Those 
of us who believe in the stage as a real and very important 
factor in civilization can only hope that sometime in the 
near future such a master may appear in the English- 
speaking world to show us how the facts and situations of 
our lives, rightly and seriously regarded, may prove a 
lever of social and intellectual progress. For no modern 
nation may be called completely civilized without a 
serious and artistically significant drama of its con- 
temporary life. 





Witness a contemporary English observer noted for the moderation 
of his views: "One of the reasons why we are so unintellectual, so con- 
ventional, so commonplace a nation is because we do not care for ideas, 
we do not admire originality, we do not want to be made to think and 
feel; what we admire is success and respectability." (A. C. Benson, 
The Silent Isle, p. 375.) 

Ibsen was a disbeliever in the stability of moral ideals. He declared 
in so many words that conscience is not a fixed human value. It varies 
with the individual and the epoch. The struggle between parties is a 
struggle between out-of-date consciences and new consciences. (SW 11 , 
vol. i, p. 208.) 

e Constrained Attitudes. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1910; pp. 


The most active among the original advocates of Landsmaal, accord- 
ing to some authorities the real originator of the movement, was the 
philologist Ivan Andreas Aasen (1813-1896). The most prominent poet 
who made use of it was Aasmund Olafsen Vinje (1818-1870). To balance 
the relative merits of the two forms of language is not an easy matter. 
For the present phase of the contest cf. Calvin Thomas, "Recent Pro- 
gress of the Landsmaal Movement in Norway," Publications of the 
Modern Language Association of America, vol. xxv, no. 3, pp. 367-68. 
Ibsen was luminously conscious of the interdependence between 
poetry and the national uplift. In a prologue composed for the anniver- 
sary celebration of the Norwegian Theatre at Christiania, January 2, 
1852, this sentiment is enunciated : — 

Art and the Folk must jointly onward stride, 
Else Art might easily seem an alien impulse 
Whose forces man nor grasps nor recognizes. 

(SW U , vol. i, p. 64.) 
c On the relation of the two works cf. A. M. Sturtevant, "Ibsen's 
Peer Gynt and Paa Viddeme," Journal of English and Germanic Phi' 
lology, vol. ix, no. 1, pp. 43 f. 

320 NOTES 


a Our chief source of information, apart from the poet's own letters, 
are the reports of personal friends. Ibsen was a copious correspondent, 
and many of his letters to notable persons are preserved in the original, 
as also in the German and English editions of his correspondence. Of 
letters addressed to him, however, none have so far been made availa- 
ble for the student. The life of Ibsen has been treated with satisfactory 
fullness and accuracy; especially so by Henrik Jaeger, Edmund Gosse, 
Roman Woerner, and Montrose J. Moses. Ibsen long cherished the 
plan of writing his own recollections, at least of the earlier part of his 
life. In 1881 he mentioned the plan of a book From Skien to Rome ; 
cf. C, p. 346. Again at a banquet tendered him at Christiania in 1898 he 
spoke of the intention; cf. SNL, p. 58. But the project never got beyond 
the beginnings. The brief fragment actually written is found in SW 11 , 
vol. i, pp. 198-205, under the title "Recollections of My Childhood." 
Gosse, p. 24. 

c Ibid., p. 240. 
Lady Inger of dstraat was written in 1854 and first performed at 
Bergen, January 2, 1855. In 1857 it was printed, in a very small edition. 
The definitive edition, not greatly altered, came out in 1874. 

6 The history of Ibsen's connection with the Bergen Theatre is re- 
hearsed by William Archer in "Ibsen's Apprenticeship," Fortnightly 
Review, vol. lxxv, n. s. January, 1904, pp. 25-35. 

* For a capital description cf. Edgar Steiger, Das Werden des neuen 
Dramas, p. 123. 

9 Cf. Christian Collin, "Henrik Ibsen und Norwegen," Die neue 
Rundschau, 1907, pp. 1281-1302. Cf. especially p. 1301. 

Among English writers who have given somewhat detailed attention 
to Ibsen's metrical works, the Rev. Philip Wicksteed deserves special 
mention. Four Lectures on Henrik Ibsen. London: Swan Sonnenschein 
& Co., 1892. 

' Haldane Macfall, Henrik Ibsen; The Man, His Art, and His Signifi- 
cance, p. 45. 

3 The symbolism of Sankthansnatten is discussed by J. Lescoffier ic 
Revue Germanique, 1905, pp. 298-306. 


For completer data of the stage history of Ibsen's plays and the 
printed editions cf. Halvorsen, Reich, Woerner, Kildal, Moses (see 

NOTES 327 

Selected List of Publications on Henrik Ibsen); the data may also be 
gathered from Archer's introductions to CW . 

6 Norske Folkeviser, 1853. Under a similar title, Norske Folkeviser og 
Stev, Jorgen J. Moe had previously published his collection in 1840; he 
followed this up with a collection of fairy tales in 1842. Another such 
was published by Peter Christian Asbjornsen in 1854. 

c Like The Night of St. John it was at first barred by Ibsen from the 
collected works. Now, however, it is available in Efterl. Skrifier; also 
in SW 11 , vol. ii. pp. 217-322. 

d Vol. i, p. 189/. 

* Whereas Ibsen in his essay on the Kaempevise, which was written 
earlier than The Vikings, still held the opposite view. 

' Kipling, La Nuit Blanche. 

Friedrich Bodenstedt, Die Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy : — 

Hbre was der Volksmund spricht: 
Wer die Wahrheit liebt, der muss 
Schon sein Pferd am Ztigel haben — 
Wer die Wahrheit denkt, der muss 
Schon den Fuss im Bligel haben — 
Wer die Wahrheit spricht, der muss 
Statt der Arme Flilgel haben! 
LTnd doch singt Mirza-Schaffy: 
Wer da lUgt, muss Prtigel haben! 

* Woerner, vol. n, p. 13. 

* Macfall, p. 88. 


a Cf. Steiger, op. cit, p. 128/. 

6 Brandes in SW", vol. iv, p. ix, declares Brand to have been a con- 
tinuation of the life work of Soren Kierkegaard and Frederik Paludan- 
Mueller (1809-1876). Ibsen denied Kierkegaard's influence. Cf. C, 
pp. 119 and 119 note 1, 136, and 199. 

c Cf . F. W. Horn, Geschichte der Literatvr des skandinavischen Nordens, 
Leipsic, 1880, p. 259. Kierkegaard's principal works were: Om Begrebet 
Irani ("On the Meaning of Irony"); Enten-Eller ("Either-Or"); 
Stadier paa Livets Vei ("Stages in the Journey of Life"). He was also 
the author of numerous pamphlets, often keenly polemical in tone, in 
which he made vehement propaganda for his views. 

d New York: Scribners; p. 171. 

328 NOTES 

e Cf . for the following paragraph the Life of Ibsen, by Henrik Jaeger, 
transl. by Clara Bell. 

' Agnes is a prototype of Nora in A Doll's House, not only in respect 
to this relation, but also in her unquenchable will. She leaves Einar 
much as Nora parts from Helmer, because of her disappointment that 
from him the "miracle" may never be expected. Einar, too, the man of 
fine phrase and pretty sentiment, is a forerunner, — namely, of Hilmar 
Tonnesen (Pillars of Society). The same type of character is raised to 
the power of caricature in Hjalmar Ekdal (The Wild Duck). 

9 A milder form of the disease is common among children of imagina- 
tive temper. Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn had a 
good attack of the malady. Mr. Archer quotes from Asbjornsen's 
Norske Uuldre-eventyr og Folkesagn : "Peer Gynt was such an out-and- 
out tale-maker and yarn-spinner, you could n't have helped laughing at 
him. He always made out that he himself had been mixed up in all the 
stories that people said had happened in the olden time." Vol. iv, 
p. 278. 

h On "Maalstraev" cf. chapter i, note a. The movement to substi- 
tute, in Norway, for the use of Danish as a literary medium a "Schrift- 
sprache" made up from native dialects has made considerable headway. 
"Landsmaal" is taught in the schools and spoken in Storthing. Ibsen's 
works are in the classic Danish, modified, however, by many Norwe- 

* L. Passarge's introduction in Reclam's Universalbibliothek, p. 8. 

* The first German version, by L. Passarge, was published in 1881. 
Other nations gave slower welcome to Peer Gynt. An English rendering, 
by William and Charles Archer, appeared in 1892. Not till 1896 was the 
play done into French, — by Count Prozor, in the Nouvelle Revue. It 
was performed the same year in Paris; the American production was 
undertaken in 1906, by Mr. Richard Mansfield. 


The changeful personal relations of Ibsen and Bjornson are lucidly 
reviewed by Lee M. Hollander in the introduction to SNL, pp. 20-25. 

° Love's Labor's Lost, Act i, Sc. 1, 1. 166/. 

c It is characteristic for the peculiar temper of Ibsen that the effect 
of Italy was to stimulate his philosophical and critical intelligence rather 
than his festhetic sense. The wonders of ancient art struck the disciple 
of northern Helleno-romanticism as conventional and lacking in char- 
acter. He preferred the Gothic style of architecture; hence the Duomo 

NOTES 329 

at Milan pleased and satisfied him more than any other building. Cf. 
C, p. 78. 

Arno Scheunert, Der Pantragismus ah System der Weltanschauung 
und Asthetik Friedrich Hebbels. Hamburg and Leipsic: Voss, 1903. 

' First written down in 1881; published in 1897 in vol. xn of the 
Works, edited by Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche. 

' In his drama Der Meister von Palmyra (1890), Adolf Wilbrandt has 
ventured to present his hero in a series of reincarnations. The same 
idea is carried out in some of the epic and dramatic versions of the 
legend about the Wandering Jew. 

9 The first performance was given at the Stadttheater in Leipsic, 
December 5, 1896. In Berlin it was given in March, 1898; in Christiania 
not till 1903, and then only Part First. 

h After Emperor and Galilean Ibsen freed himself energetically for a 
time from the hold that mysticism was gaining on him. But from The 
Master Builder on he succumbed again, and that irredeemably. 


The first of Brandes's penetrating essays on Ibsen was contained in 
the Aesthetiske Studier, 1868. 

Professor Josef Wiehr, Hebbel und Ibsen, Stuttgart, 1908, p. 8, says 
that Ibsen "did not find, as did Hebbel, the magic formula that might 
have revealed to him the meaning of life." That much is true. But I 
cannot assign the reason for it, with this author, to Ibsen's "extraordi- 
nary many-sidedness." 

c On this point the utterance of a thoughtful Englishman (who hap- 
pens to be the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury) is of interest: "All 
that later theologians can do, when the old doctrine is exploded, is to 
prove that the doctrine can be modified and held in some philosophical 
or metaphysical sense that was certainly not in the least degree con- 
templated by the theologian who framed it." (A. C. Benson, The Silent 
Isle, p. 231.) 

In Degeneration, Nordau devotes about one hundred pages to the 
task of proving Ibsen's degeneracy. 

e Both were translated by Jens Peter Jacobsen, the former in 1872, 
the latter in 1875. 


a On this subject in general consult Arthur Eloesser, Das biirgerliche 
Drama, Berlin: Hertz, 1898, and Edgar Steiger, Das Werden des neuen 

330 NOTES 

Dramas, pp. 125 ff. With special reference to Ibsen, cf. B. Litzmann, 
Ibsens Dramen, passim. 

Ibsen's course was the reverse. 

c Preface to Maria Magdalene. 

" Moderne Geister ("Det moderne Gjennerembruds Maend," 1881). 
The essay on Ibsen appeared first in the second edition, 1883; cf. p. 508 
of the fourth German edition. 

* Frank Moore Colby, Constrained Attitudes, p. 61. 

* Ibsen had been forestalled to some extent by Bjornson's Bank- 
ruptcy ("En Fallit,"1875). The two plays coincide in many of their 
social and ethical notions. Ibsen sent his drama to Bjornson, from 
whom, as we have seen, he had been estranged for some time. Bj3mson, 
however, was not keen to reciprocate the proffered renewal of the old 

The economic Utopianisms of Consul Bernick are repeated, in an 
intensified form yet in part almost verbatim, in John Gabriel Borkman. 
Compare his attitude towards Auner with that of the elder Werle 
{The Wild Duck) towards the human instrument of his crime. 

* As handled by the Dutch dramatist, Hermann Hejermans, in The 
Good Hope ("Op Hoop van Zegen," 1910), the grim theme proves 
far more stirring. Here the merchant prince actually offers up his 
hecatomb to mammon, with malice toward none in his heart and a pious 
smirk on his lips. 

J ' The Prodigal Son, p. 286. 
E. E. Stoll "Anachronism in Shakespeare Criticism," Modem 
Philology, vol vn, p. 572. 

The long delay cannot even be excused with the lack of a suitable 
translation. An adaptation, prepared by William Archer, was pre- 
sented under the title Quicksands, or Pillars of Society, as early as 
December 15, 1880, at the Old Gaiety Theatre, London. This single 
matinee performance remains memorable as being the first presenta- 
tion of Ibsen to an English-speaking audience. But for something like 
ten years no publisher could be induced to print Mr. Archer's trans- 

m The number is raised not inconsiderably through the publication of 
the Ejterladte Skrifier. The many prologues and other poems of occa- 
sion show Ibsen to have been a facile and fertile but not notably original 
producer of made-to-order poetry. 

n The manuscripts are for the greater part preserved in the Royal 
University Library at Christiania. Ibsen never expected to publish 
this material. "I don't want the public to discover the stupidities while 

NOTES 331 

struggling to give a play the form that satisfies me." Nevertheless he 
kept his papers, remarking, "All this is for my son, who can do with 
it as he likes." And another time he admitted, "These manuscripts are 
important; some day they will have a great value." 

The first thoroughgoing criticism of Ibsen came from a German pen: 
Ludwig Passarge, Henrik Ibsen. Ein Beitrag zur neuesten Geschichte der 
norwegischen N ationalliteratur. Leipsic: Elischer, 1883. Of course, 
attention had been called to Ibsen before that, — in England, by Mr. 
Gosse in 1872. Cf . p. 103. 

p Cf. Albert Dresdner, Ibsen als Noriceger und Europcier, Jena: 
Diederichs, 1907, p. 34. 


a Golden Bottomley, Midsummer Eve. 
The embitterment of intellectual women over the social condition 
of the sex has led more than once to their denial of woman's existence 
as one deserving to be called human. Note, for example, Helene Boh- 
lau's great novel Halbtier ("Half Brute," 1899). 

c "The ideal wife is one that does everything that the ideal hus- 
band likes, and nothing else. Now to treat a person as a means instead 
of an end is to deny that person's right to live." Bernard Shaw, The 
Quintessence of Ibsenism. 

* The Woman in White, as published by Burt, New York, p. 561. 

* Quoted in the Literary Digest, July 23, 1910. 

■^ It is said that the "model" for Nora was a certain votary of fashion 
who forged a bill in order to raise money for re-decorating her home. 
The character was altered by Ibsen beyond recognition. The change 
took place, probably, under the inspiration received from Camilla Col- 
lett, the poetess, a sister of Henrik TYergeland. She certainly influenced 
greatly Ibsen's views on the woman question. Jacobine Camilla Collett 
(1813-1895) was the most energetic pioneer of the woman movement 
in Scandinavia. Her writings constitute eloquent arguments for femi- 
nine rights, in particular Erindringer og BeJcjendelser ("Reminiscences 
and Confessions") and Era de Stummes Lejr ("From the Camp of the 
Dumb"). The story of her earlier life is told in her fine narrative I de 
lange Naetter (" In the Long Nights ") . Her most popular and influential 
novel was Amtmandens Dotre ("The Daughters of the Magistrate"); 
this undoubtedly helped to give shape to Love's Comedy. Cf. SW 11 , 
vol. rv, p. 303. 
1 e The Quintessence of Ibsenism, pp. 83 ff. 

332 NOTES 

* Being always conscious of the connectedness of his work, Ibsen 
husbanded every fruitful thought and word. Cf. p. 109, note 1, 
also Julius Bab, "Das Ibsen-Problem," Die neue Rundschau, Octo- 
ber, 1910. 

' Its first impersonator in English was Helen Modjeska. Having 
"created" the role at St. Petersburg in November, 1881, she essayed 
it in America, under the title of Thora (December, 1883, at Macauley's 
Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky). A correcter representation was se- 
cured for the English stage by Miss Janet Achurch whose performance 
of Nora Mr. Bernard Shaw pronounced fifteen years afterward still the 
most complete artistic achievement in the "new genre.'" 


This misleading translation of the original is due to the lack of a 
precise vocable, in English, for Gengangere. The truer connotation is 
preserved in the French, Les Revenants. 

Not even this cold comfort remains, however, if Sir Walter Be- 
sant is the bearer of a true tale. In his tragi-facetious sequel to A Doll* 
House, published in the English Illustrated Magazine for January, 1890, 
under the heading The Doll's House — and After, things turn all to the 
bad. After Nora's desertion Helmer takes to drink. The son becomes 
a forger; the girl, who is in love with young Krogstad, ends by suicide 
because his father, now egregiously respectable, opposes the match 
on the grounds of higher social hygiene. (Ibsen, of course, dealt with the 
question of moral heredity with far greater artistic freedom.) — Still 
another ending was furnished by an American authoress, Nora's Return. 
A Sequel to A Doll's House, by Mrs. Edna Dow Cheney. Boston: Lee 
and Shepard, 1890. Nora becomes a trained nurse, and during a cholera 
epidemic saves Helmer's life a second time. The ending is convention- 
ally happy. — While dealing with these meagre by-products of Ibsen- 
ism we might as well mention a certain parody on Ghosts given May 30, 
1891, at Toole's Theatre in London. This saltless concoction, served up 
under the name of Ibsen's Ghosts, or Toole up to Date, and having no 
value except that of proving conclusively the pathetic incapacity of 
its author for the appreciation of serious drama, came from the pen 
of Mr. John Matthew Barrie. 

c Walter Pritchard Eaton, in The American Magazine, August, 1910. 
Cf. The Daily Telegraph, March 14, 1891 (after the performance in 
Grein's "Independent Theatre"). A very adverse criticism also was 
that by Alfred Watson in The Standard. 

NOTES 333 

6 Pall Mall Gazette, April 8, 1891. 

* p. 93 /. 

9 The subject is ably treated by the German alienist W. Weygandt, 
Abnorme Charaktere in der dramatischen Literatur, pp. 77-126. 

* Lessing in his Laokoon, Schiller in the essay Gedanken iiber den 
Gebrauch des Gemeinen und Niedrigen in der Kunst. 


Oscar Wilde, Intentions: The Critic as Artist, p. 173. 

' Hermann Schlag, Das Drama, p. 352 et passim. Schlag's presenta- 
tion is very closely adhered to in the following discussion. For the begin- 
ning of this chapter use has been made freely of the chapter on " Dar- 
winismus und Schicksal" in Edgar Steiger, Das Werden des neuen 

e Cf. on Ibsen's technique, Emil Reich, Henrik Ibsens Dramen, 
Dresden: E. Pierson's Verlag, 1900, pp. 465/. 
Reich calls it the " Bravouraria." 

* Cf. Emil Reich, op. cit., p. 478/. 

* For good illustrations cf. Reich, p. 488. 

9 Ibsen s Symbolism in The Master Builder and When We Dead 
Awaken. University Studies, University of Nebraska, vol. x, no. 3, 
July, 1910. 

* Oswald's imbecile cries, "Give me the sun, mother," are explained 
by Weygandt, cf. chapter ix, note g, as a manifestation of paralyt- 
ica! paraphasia. What Oswald means is, " Mother, give me the mor- 
phine." Oswald's collapse is ushered in by premonitory symptoms 
which, according to high medical authority, are excellently described; 
especially his vague fears and incapacity for concentration upon any 


The tragedy was fully reported in the German newspapers. It 
formed the subject of an interesting Feuilleton by Julius Bittner in the 
Neue Freie Presse, January 13, 1911 (no. 16,665). 

6 Wilde, Intentions : The Critic as Artist, p. 209. 

c Velhagen und Klasings Monatshejte, May, 1909, p. 23. 
Brandes maintains, in a sweeping statement, that An Enemy of the 
People contains exclusively Kierkegaardian ideas. Cf. Die Literatur, vol. 
32, p. 21. 

334 NOTES 


Die Literatur, vol. 32, p. 69/. 

° Hedvig Ibsen, born 1832, became the wife of H. J. Stousland of 
Skien, a captain in the merchant service. 


Principles of Sociology, vol. n, 2, p. 592. 

1 S. W. Jordan, The Care and Culture of Men, p. 228. 
c Ibid. 

™ Rosmersholm was begun at Munich in November, 1885, but had 
been planned for a long while before that. The anginal title was White 
Horses. Cf. SW n , vol. m, pp. 259-326, and C, p. 404. It was published 
in November, 1886, and first acted at Bergen, in 1887. In English it 
was produced by Miss Florence Farr, who took the part of Rebecca, 
at the Vaudeville Theatre, in February, 1891. Johannes Rosmer was 
impersonated by Mr. F. R. Benson. 


The Lady from the Sea was published in 1888. A fairly complete sce- 
nario had existed since 1880. Cf . Die neue Rundschau, December, 1906, 
and SW n , vol. iv, pp. 7-50. This, in some of its main features, corre- 
sponds to the final form of the drama, yet there are also considerable 
differences between the two. The Scandinavian and German theatres 
adopted the play in 1889, without marked success. In England it has 
been given sporadically since 1891, in France since 1892. 

6 Cf. C, p. 90, note 1; also C, p. 423. She was a Dane by birth. Her 
principal works are Signe's Historic, Solen i SiljedaUn, and Billeder fra 

c Hilda and Boletta were originally intended for Rosmersholm, as 
daughters of Johannes Rosmer. Cf. SIF n , vol. in, p. 261. 
As is done by B. Litzmann, op. cit., p. 108 /. 

' Ehrhard, Ibsen et le thidtre contemporain, p. 418/. 

' Litzmann, p. 113/. 

• Litzmann, p. 116. 

* E. E. Stoll, in Modern Philology, vol. vn, p. 570. 

NOTES 335 


a Hedda Gabler was written in Munich and published in 1890. In 1892 
there already existed two renderings into English and three into Rus- 
sian; in 189-i it was translated into Spanish, in 1895 into Portuguese. 
There are no less than six parodies on Hedda Gabler in the English and 
Scandinavian languages alone, not counting those in German, French, 
etc. The earliest performances were given at the Residenztheater in 
Munich (with Frau Conrad-Ramlo in the title r61e), in January, 1891, 
the Lessingtheater in Berlin, in February, 1891, at Christiania (with 
Constance Bruun as Hedda) and Copenhagen (with Fru Hennings as 
Hedda), both in February, 1891. 

6 Colby, Constrained Attitudes, pp. 70-71. The chapter "The Hum- 
drum of Revolt" deals exclusively with Hedda Gabler. 

c Her situation in this respect greatly resembles that of Magda in 
Sudermann's Heimat ("Magda"). 

d Colby, op. cit., p. 65. 

1 Reich, op. cit., p. 359. 

' The comment is by Mr. Colby, so is the "ashman." Cf. op. cit., 
p. 62/. 

Colby, op. cit., p. 67. 

* Cf. Brandes, "Henrik Ibsen," Die Literatur, vol. 32, p. 35. 

' The model for Aunt Juliana was Elise Hoick, a Norwegian woman 
living in Dresden, where she devoted herseff to the nursing of an insane 
sister. Cf. SW", vol. iv, p. 336. 


The London "copyright matinee" (December 7, 1892) preceded the 
publication. The earliest performances took place simultaneously in 
Trondhjem and Berlin, January 19, 1893. First public performance in 
England, at the Trafalgar Square Theatre, February 20, 1893. In Amer- 
ica, the play was given at Chicago, both in Norwegian and English, in 
February and March, 1893. In 1900 it obtained a transient hearing in 
New York and several other cities. Of late years it seems to have grown 
somewhat in popular favor, but outside of Scandinavia it is nowhere a 
fixture in the repertory. 
Grummann, loc. cit. 

e Litzmann, op. cit., p. 134. 
The story is altered, for the sake of its moral meaning, in an appen- 
dix (entitled "The Melody of the Master Builder") to the English shil- 

336 NOTES 

ling edition of The Master Builder, by William Archer (1893). Here the 
hero is a journalist, not an architect. 

e Cf. chapter xiv, note c; cf. also Edgar Steiger, op. cit., the chapter 
"Weib und Ehe." 

f In Brandes, "Henrik Ibsen," Die Literatur, pp. 83 jf. Ibsen broke 
off the correspondence almost abruptly. The other mode! for Hilda was 
the Danish actress, Fru Engelcke-Friis, nee Wulff. 

For the symbolism of this play cf. vol. x, p. xxxi. 
Grummann, p. 4. 


The publication of Little Eyolf preceded its presentation on the 
stage by a full year. The book appeared in December, 1894, in Dano- 
Norwegian, German, English, and French; shortly after that also in 
Russian, Dutch, and Italian. In Scandinavia the market success of 
Little Eyolf exceeded that of all other dramas of Ibsen. The first perform- 
ance occurred at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, January 12, 1895. 
Within a few months of that date Little Eyolf was mounted by many 
other stages; it even reached Chicago in the spring of the same year. 
Two actresses of great temperamental difference yet similar artistic 
distinction impersonated Rita Allmers in Germany, Agnes Sorma and 
Adele Sandrock. 

6 Reich, p. 410, draws an interesting parallel with Grillparzer's Die 
Jiidin von Toledo. 

c Cf. Dresdner, op. cit., p. 86 /. 


a John Gabriel Borkman was published in December, 1896, simultane- 
ously in the original and in German. Very soon other translations fol- 
lowed, English, French, Russian. Again the sales were great. The usual 
"copyright matinee" was given in London, in December, 1896. The 
real premiere took place in Helsingfors, where on January 10, 1897, John 
Gabriel Borkman occupied the stage both at the Finnish and the Swed- 
ish theatres. The Germans first became acquainted with the play on 
January 16 of the same year, at Frankfort-o. M. 

Cf. Archer's introduction to The Lady from the Sea in vol. rx; also 
SW ", vol. rv, Einleitung, p. 349 /. The original was Wilhelm Foss, 
since 1878 a copyist in the State Department of the Interior. In 1877 he 
published a small volume of mediocre poetry. The sketch of The Lady 
from the Sea was written in 1880. 

NOTES 337 


a When We Dead Awaken was published simultaneously in Dano- 
Norwegian and in German in December, 1899. The earliest perform- 
ance was at Stuttgart, January 26, 1900; on the following day another 
performance was given, at Stettin, by Dr. Heine's itinerant Ibsen 
Theatre. The Royal Theatre of Copenhagen gave the piece on January 
28, 1900. For the preliminary draft, entitled Resurrection Day, cf. SW ", 
vol. rv, pp. 187/. 
Grummann, p. 5. 

c Cf. Woerner, vol. n, p. 336. 

d For this and the following remarks cf . Woerner, p. 334 /. 

e As sharply stated, for instance, by Mr. Montrose J. Moses, Eenrilc 
Ibsen, The Man arid His Plays, p. 517. 




Out of the enormous bulk of the literature about Ibsen a 
number of books and articles of special importance are here 
catalogued. While due regard has been had to the accessibility 
of the material, it has nevertheless seemed best not to exclude 
the most significant foreign treatises. The extraordinarily 
copious and able contribution of the Germans to the subject 
rendered a preponderance of German titles unavoidable. The 
list may be readily amplified from the bibliographies itemized in 
section A. A considerable portion of the Ibsen literature is 
found in miscellaneous collections of essays, as, for instance, 
Charles H. Caffin's The Appreciation of the Drama, New York, 
1908 (where five chapters are devoted to a minute analysis of 
Hedda Gabler) ; Walter Pritchard Eaton's The American Stage of 
Today, Boston, 1908 (with a chapter on Alia Nazimova's imper- 
sonation of Hilda in The Master Builder) ; Havelock Ellis's The 
New Spirit, London, 1890 (with a chapter on Ibsen), etc., etc. 


Halvorsen, J. B., Norsk forfatter-lexikon. Vol. in, nos. 22- 
24. Christiania, 1889. 
Bibliografiske oplysninger til II. Ibsen's Samlede Vser- 
ker. Copenhagen, 1901. 
See also under B, Samlede Vserker. 
Kildal, Arne, Chronological bibliography of Ibsen and the 
interest manifested in him in the English-speaking countries, 
as shown by translations, performances, and commentaries 
[pp. 121-222 of Henrik Ibsen, Speeches and New Letters. 
Boston, 1910]. 
Biography of Henrik Ibsen. Bulletin of Bibliography, Boston, 
i v, pp. 35-37, 49. 


Carpenter, W. H., Bibliography of Ibsen, Bookman, v, 1. 

Elliott, Agnes M., Contemporary Biography, Carnegie Li- 
brary of Pittsburgh, 1903. [Under " Ibsen."] 

Mullikin, Clara A., Reading List on Modern Dramatists. 
The Boston Book Co., 1907. 

A very large number of Ibsen publications are found listed 
in the Cumulative Book Index, Poole's Index to Periodical 
Literature, Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Annual 
Library Index, Annual Magazine Subject Index, and Dra- 
matic Index. 

For contributions in German cf. especially Wolff, E., Die 
deutsche Ibsen-Literatur, 1872-1905, Biihne und Welt, v, pp. 
566-570; 605-610; further, the Jahresberichte flir neuere 
deutsche Literaturgeschichte, Das Literarische Echo, Bibli- 
ographic dcr Zeitschriftenliteratur, and Kayser's Bticherlexikon. 


H. Ibsen, Samlede Vserker. Med bibliogr. oplysninger ved J. B. 
Halvorsen. Nine vols., and vol. x: Supplementsbind med 
bibliogr. oplysninger ved H. Koht og anmserkninger af C. 
Naerup. Copenhagen, 1898-1902. 

H. Ibsen, Samlede Vserker. Mindeudgave. Edited by Johan 
Storm. Copenhagen, 1906/. 

Breve fra H. Ibsen, udgivne med inledning og oplysninger af 
H. Koht og J. Elias. Two volumes. Copenhagen, 1904. 

H. Ibsen, Efterladte Skrifter, udgivne af H. Koht og J. Elias. 
Three volumes. Copenhagen, 1904. 

The Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen. Copyright edition. 
Edited by William Archer. Twelve volumes. New York: 
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908. [Vol. xii (1911): From 
Ibsen's Workshop. Notes, Scenarios, and Drafts of the Mod- 
ern Plays, translated by A. G.' Chater, with introduction by 
W. Archer.] 

In process of publication also by Charles Scribner's Sons, 
The Works of Henrik Ibsen, subscription edition. 

Letters of Henrik Ibsen, translated by John Nilsen Laurvik 
and Mary Morison. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1905; 


New York, Fox, Duffield & Co., 1905, and Duffield & Co., 

The Correspondence of Henrik Ibsen, the translation edited by 
Mary Morison. London, 1905. [The contents are identical 
with the foregoing edition (by Laurvik-Morison) ; the variant 
title is left unexplained.] 

Ibsen's Speeches and New Letters, translated by Arne Kildal. 
With an introduction by Lee M. Hollander and a bibliograph- 
ical appendix. Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1910. 

H. Ibsens samtliche Werke in deutscher Sprache. Durchgesehen 
und eingeleitet von Georg Brandes, Julius Elias, Paul 
Schlenther. Nine volumes. Berlin, 1898-1903. [Vol. x, sup- 
plem., (1904): Briefe, herausgegeben mit Einleitung und 
Anmerkungen von Julius Elias und Halvdan Koht.] 

Nachgelassene Schriften, herausgegeben von Halvdan Koht 
und Julius Elias. Four volumes. Berlin, 1909. 



Bergsoe, W., Henrik Ibsen paa Ischia og "fra piazza del 
popolo." Erindringer fra aarene 1863-69. Copenhagen, 
Brandes, Georg, Bjornson och Ibsen. Stockholm, 1882. In 
English, London, 1899. 
H. Ibsen. In Aesthetiske Studier, pp. 278-336. Copen- 
hagen, 1888. 
Henrik Ibsen. Two volumes. Copenhagen, 1898. 
Detmoderne Gjennembruds Maend. Copenhagen, 1883. 
In German, Moderne Geister, Frankfort-o. M. Fourth 
edition, 1901. In English, transl. by R. B. Anderson, 
Eminent Authors of the Nineteenth Century, pp. 
Dietrichson, L., Svundne tider. Three volumes. Christiania, 

Jaeger, Henrik, Henrik Ibsen og hans Vserker. Christiania, 
1888. In English, by Clara Bell. London, 1890; by W. Mor- 
ton Payne, Chicago, 1891. 


Lindgren, Hellen, H. Ibsen i bans lifskamp och hans verk. 

Stockholm, 1903. 
Paulsen, J., Mine erindringer. Copenhagen, 1900 (pp. 1-40: 
mit fbrste mode med Ibsen). 
Nye erindringer. Copenhagen, 1901 (pp. 80-157: Siste 

mode med Ibsen). 
Samliv med Ibsen. Nye erindringer og skitser. Copen- 
hagen, 1906. In German by H. Kiy, Berlin, 1907. 
Petersen, S., H. Ibsens norske stillebog fra 1848. Christi- 

ania, 1898. 
Thaarup, H., H. Ibsen set under en ny synsvinkel. Copen- 
hagen, 1900. 
Vasenius, V., H. Ibsens dramatiska diktning i dess forsta 
skede. Helsingfors, 1879. 
Henrik Ibsen. Ett skaldeportratt. Stockholm, 1882. 


Boyesen, H. H., A Commentary on the Works of Henrik 

Ibsen. New York, 1894. 
Brandes, Georg, see under Scandinavian. 
Dowden, Edward, Essays Modern and Elizabethan. London, 

1910, pp. 26-60. 
Gosse, Edmund, Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe. 
London, 1879, pp. 35-69. An enlargement of this book 
published under the title "Northern Studies," London, 
Ibsen. London, 1907. 
Henderson, A., in Interpreters of Life. New York, 1911, 

pp. 159-283. 
Herrmann, Oscar, Living Dramatists. New York, 1905. [The 

essay on Ibsen is by Henry Davidoff.] 
Huneker, J., Ibsen, in Iconoclasts, a Book of Dramatists. 
New York, 1905. 
Henrik Ibsen, in Egoists, a Book of Supermen. New 
York, 1909. 
Jaeger, Henrik, see under Scandinavian. 
Lee, Jennette Barbour, The Ibsen Secret, A Key to the 
Prose Dramas of Henrik Ibsen. New York and London, 


Macfall, Haldane, Ibsen, the Man, His Art, His Significance. 

London and New York, 1907. 
Matthews, Brander, Ibsen the Playwright, in Inquiries and 

Opinions. New York, 1907, pp. 229-279. 
Merejkowski, D., The Life Work of Henrik Ibsen. From the 

Russian, by G. A. Mounsay. London, 1907. 
Moore, George, Ghosts, in Impressions and Opinions, Lon- 
don, 1891, pp. 215-216. 
Moses, Montrose J., Henrik Ibsen, The Man and His Plays, 

New York, 1908. 
Russel, E., and P. Cross-Standing, Ibsen on His Merits. 

London, 1897. 
Shaw, George Bernard, The Quintessence of Ibsenism. 

London, 1891. New York, 1904./. 
Wicksteed, P. H., Four Lectures on Ibsen, dealing chiefly 

with his metrical works. London, 1892. 
Zanoni (pseud.), Ibsen and the Drama. London, 1894 [hostile 

to Ibsen]. 


Aall, A., Henrik Ibsen als Denker und Dichter. Halle, 1906. 

Bahr, Herm., Ibsen. Vienna, 1887. 

Berg, Leo, Henrik Ibsen. Cologne, 1901. 

Brahm, Otto, Henrik Ibsen. Berlin, 1887. 

Brandes, Georg, Ibsen. Mit zwolf Briefen an Emilie Bardach. 
Berlin, 1906. 

Bulthaupt, H, Dramaturgic des Schauspiels. Oldenburg, 

' 1901. Vol. iv. j 

Dresdner, A., Ibsen als Norweger und Europaer. Jena, 1907. 

Ernst, P., Ibsen. Berlin, 1904. 

Hanstein, A. v., Ibsen als Idealist. Leipsic, 1897. 

Landsberg, H., Ibsen. Berlin, 1904. 

Litzmann, B., Ibsens Dramen, 1877-1900. Hamburg, 1901. 

Lothar, R., Ibsen. Leipsic, 1902. 

Mauerhof, E., Ibsen der Romantiker des Verstandes. Halle, 

Matrhofer, Johannes, Henrik Ibsen. Berlin, 1911. 

Munz, B., Ibsen als Erzieher. Leipsic, 1908. 

Norxiann, E., Henrik Ibsen in seinen Gedanken und Ge- 
stagen. Berlin, 1908. 


Odinga, Th., Henrik Ibsen. Erfurt, 1892. 

Passarge, L., Henrik Ibsen. Leipsic, 1883. 

Paulsen, J., see under Scandinavian. 

Pick, R., Ibsens Zeit- und Streitdramen. Berlin, 1897. 

Plechanow, H., Ibsen. Stuttgart, 1909. 

Reich, Emil, Ibsens Dramen. Seventh edition, Dresden, 

Schmitt, E. H., Ibsen als psychologischer Sophist. Berlin, 
Ibsen als Prophet. Grundgedanken einer neuen Asthetik. 
Leipsic, 1908. 
Steiger, E., Das Werden des neuen Dramas. Berlin, 1898. 

[The chapter, Ibsen und die moderne Gesellschaftskritik, 

pp. 125-318.] 
Woerner, Roman, Henrik Ibsen. Two volumes. Munich, 

vol. i, 1900; vol. II, 1910. 

Much interesting material is contained in special volumes or 
numbers of certain periodicals, as follows : — 

Die neue Rundschau, xvn, (1906). [Contributions of Otto 
Brahm, Julius Elias, Hermann Bang, Bernard Shaw, etc.] 

Biihne und Welt, 1903, no. 12. 

Sonderhefte der Ibsen- Vereinigung : Ibsen, Masken, n, nos. 21- 
22. [Contributions by Hermann Bahr, A. v. Berger, O. 
Brahm, G. Brandes, J. Elias, H. Landsberg, P. Schlenther, 
H. Drachmann, M. S. Conrad, E. Reich, etc.] 

Propylaen, 1909, nos. 31-32, Ibsen-Nummer. [Contributions 
by Kalthoff, H. Lufft, P. Zschorlich.] 


Vicomte de Collevtlle et F. de Zepelin, Le mattre du 

drame moderne. Paris, 1906. 
Ehrhard, A., Henrik Ibsen et le theatre contemporain. Paris, 

Lasius, T., Henrik Ibsen. Etude des premisses psychologiques 

et religieuses de son oeuvre. Paris, 1906. 
Lemaitre, Jules, in vols. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, Impressions de theatre. 

Paris, 1892-1898. 
Lichtenberger, Henri, Le Pessimisme dTbsen. Revue de 


Paris, vol. 84 (1901), pp. 806-825; and numerous articles in 

the Revue des Cours et Conferences, since 1899. 
Ossip-Loukie, La philosophic sociale dans le theatre d'Ibsen. 

Paris, 1900. 
Sarolea, Ch., Henrik Ibsen, Etude sur sa vie et son oeuvre. 

Paris, 1891. 
Tissot, E., Le Drame norvegien. Paris, 1893. 


Aronsohn, O., Oswald Alving. Eine pathologische Studie 
[being No. 1 of Erlauterungen zu Ibsens pathologischen 
Gestalten]. Halle, 1909. 

Geyer, Dr., Le Theatre d'Ibsen. Revue Bleue, xvi, 7 (1904). 

Gumpertz, K., Ibsens Vererbungstheorie. Deutsche medi- 
zinische Presse, x (1906), pp. 84 Jf. 

Lombroso, C, Ibsens Gespenster und die Psychiatric Die 
Zukunft, iv (1892), pp. 551-556. 

Sadger, J., Ibsens Dramen. Asthetisch-pathologische Studien. 
Beilage zur Allgemeinen Zeitung (1894), nos. 162, 164-165, 
229; (1895), nos. 140-141. 

Schiff, E., Die Medizin bei Ibsen. In Aus dem wissenschaft- 
lichen Jahrhundert (pp. 93-100). Berlin, 1902. 

Weygandt, W., Die abnormen Charaktere bei Ibsen. Wies- 
baden, 1907. [Separately reprinted from Abnorme Charak- 
tere in der dramatischen Literatur, pp. 77-126.] 

Wolf, G., Psychiatrie und Dichtkunst. Wiesbaden, 1903. 



Albrecht, H., Frauencharaktere in Ibsens Dramen. Leipsic, 

Andreas-Salome, Lou, Ibsens Frauengestalten. Second ed., 

Jena, 1907. 
Von Bistram, Otttlie, Ibsens Nora und die wahre Emanzipa- 

tion der Frau. Wiesbaden, 1900. 


Boccardi, A., La donna neh" opere di H. Ibsen. Trieste, 1892. 
Brunnings, Emil, Die Frau im Drama Ibsens. Leipsic, 1910. 
Von Ende, A., H. Ibsen and the Women of his Dramas, 

Theatre, x, pp. 48-54. 
Gilliland, Mary S., Ibsen's Women. London, 1894 [being 

no. 1 of the Bijou Library]. 
Hertzberg, N., Er Ibsens kvinde typer norske? Christiania, 

Kretschmer, Ella, Ibsens Frauengestalten. Stuttgart, 1905. 
Marholm, Laura, Die Frauen in der skandinavischen Dich- 
tung. Freie Biihne, i (1890), pp. 168 jf. 
Ibsen als Frauenschilderer. Nord und Siid, April, 
Ibsen-Heft of Neues Frauenleben. [Contributions by E. Holm, 

Leopoldine Kulka, Rosa Mayreder, etc.) 



A Brother in Distress, poem, 55. 

Achurch, Janet, as Nora, 332. 

Actresses, leading, who have taken the 
part of Ibsen's heroines, 37, 159, 175, 
256, 287, 332, 334, 335, 336. 

-Eschylus, 171. 

Ajax Mainomenos, 171. 

Allen, Grant, 258, 265. 

America, recognition of Ibsen in, vii, 
xiii, 127 ; Pillars of Society in, 121, 
126, 128 ; Master Builder in, 127-128, 
335 ; Ghosts in, 175 ; A Doll's House in, 
159 ; status of women in, 147-151. 

Antoine, Andre, 104. 

Archer, William, 37, 63>, 128, 158, 327, 
328 ; Ghosts and Gibberings, 168; on 
Ghosts, 176 ; on Hedda Gabler, 256, 
258; on Little Eyolf, 288, 290; on John 
Gabriel Borkman, 306 ; as editor of 
Master Builder, 335 ; Ibsen' 's Appren- 
ticeship, 326; Quicksands, 330; In- 
troduction to The Lady from the 
Sea, 336. 

Arnold, Sir Edwin, 168. 

Asbjornsen, Peter Christian, Norske 
Huldre-eventyr og Folkesagn, 5, 327, 

Bab, Julius, " Das Ibsen-Problem," 
Die neue Rundschau, 332. 

Bagge, Magnus, model for Hjalmar 
Ekdal, 211. 

Bahr, Hermann, 13. 

Ballads, influence on Ibsen's early 
work, 34, 35, 38. 

Balzac, 169. 

Bardach, Emilie, 281-282. 

Barres, Maurice, 166. 

Barrie, J. M., 332. 

Beaumarchais, Figaro, 57. 

Benson, A. C, The Silent Isle, 325, 329. 

Bergen, 23, 117, 334; National Thea- 
tre at, 20, 27, 103, 326; Bergen pe- 
riod, 27-28, 30, 32. 

Berlin, 104; Vikings at Helgeland 
played at, 37 ; The Master Builder 
given at, 127, 335; Pillars of Society 
given at, 128 ; Emperor and Galilean 
at, 329 ; Hedda Gabler at, 335; Little 

Eyolf, 336; the "Freie Biihne" of, 

Bjornson, Bjornstjerne, 1, 9, 10, 11, 328 ; 
Synnove Solbakken, 37 ; as model for 
Haakon, 49 ; his friendship for Ibsen, 
49, 54, 60, 87, 175 ; as Stensgaard, 90 ; 
referred to in The Northern Signals, 
91; as model for Stockmann, 197; 
Bankruptcy, 330. 

Bbcklin, Arnold, 85. 

Brahm, Otto, 104, 132, 286. 

Brand, 8, 83, 87, 96, 102, 103, 127, 318, 327; 
Norwegian character depicted in, 8; 
translated in Germany, 11; relation 
to Love's Comedy, 42; method in, 
181, 183, 187, 270; discussion of play, 

Brandes, George, 1, 6. 68, 76, 95, 103, 113, 
142, 173, 175, 197, 228, 311, 327, 329, 333, 
335, 336. 

Brandes, Marthe, as Hedda, 256. 

Browning, Robert, 59. 

Bruun, Constance, as Hedda, 335. 

Building Plans, poem, 286. 

Bull, Ole, 19. 

Caesar's Apostasy. See Emperor and 

Caine, Hall, 121. 

Calderon de la Barca, 85. 

Campbell, Mrs. Patrick, as Rita, 287; as 
Hedda, 256. 

Catilina, 19, 24, 56, 67, 137. 

Christiania, 19; "Grand Cafe" in, 18; 
Norwegian Theatre of, 20, 23-24, 48, 53, 
103, 325; Vikings given at, 36; The 
Pretenders, 48; League of Youth, 92; 
The Master Builder, 127; Little Ey- 
olf, 287; Emperor and Galilean at, 
329; Hedda Gabler, 335; manuscripts 
preserved at, 330-331. 

Colby, Frank Moore, Constrained At- 
titudes, xiii, 257, 259, 330, 335. 

Collett, Camilla, poetess, 243, 331. 

Collin, Christian, 326. 

Collins, Wilkie, The Womanin White, 
146, 170, 331. 

Copenhagen, 21, 60, 127. 

Corneille's Cid, 57. 



Dano-Norwegian, speech, 1 ; poetry, 

Darwin, Charles, 65, 110. 

De Sad Der, De To ("They Sat There, 
the Two"), poem, 292-293. 

Denmark, 1, 2, 3, 4, 32, 55, 120. 

Despres, Suzanne, 104. 

Dickens, Charles, 215. 

Diderot, Denis, Le Pere de Famille, 

Digte. See Poems. 

Dionysos, Theatre of, 171. 

DolVs House, A, 18, 28, 30, 115, 116, 135, 
320, 328 ; ending, 121, 332 ; as showing 
Ibsen's views on women, 138, 139, 141- 
144, 147, 150-159, 160, 166; pathology 
in, 170; method, 181, 186, 187 ; motifs 
in, 210, 253 ; symbolism in, 220, 223 ; 
relation to John Gabriel Borkman, 
304, 328, 332 ; discussion of play, 143- 
147, 151-159. 

Dostojevsky, 18. 

Drachmann, Holger, Es war einmal, 

Drama, development of, viii-xi ; 
Greek, viii, 57, 171, 178, 180 ; German, 
viii-x, 111-113, 178 ; problem, 57; 
Bourgeois tragedy, 111-118 ; Ibsen's 
ideas of, 38 ; Ibsen and the new 
drama, 178-191 ; social drama, 12, 13, 
32, 42, 47, 57, 58, 92, 103-110, 113-118, 
135, 160, 172, 183, 242, 285, 298, 309, 320. 

Dramatic Epilogue, symbolism in, 14, 
137; the " unities " in, 186; ethics of, 
206. See also When We Dead Awaken. 

Dresden, 21, 61, 88, 93, 335. 

Dresdner, Albert, Ibsen als Norweger 
und Europder, 331. 

Due, Christopher Lorenz. 17. 

Dumas, Alexandre, fils, 26, 126. 

Duse, Eleonora, as Hedda, 256. 

Eloesser, Arthur, Das burgerliche 
Drama, 329. 

Emerson, 65, 225. 

Emperor and Galilean, 88; first at- 
tempts, 93-94 ; Ibsen's estimate of 
the play, 94; Julian, 94-96; philoso- 
phy of, 96-101; execution, 102; some 
of Ibsen's methods in, 181, 183, 187, 
329; in Roman period, 318. 

Emperor, Julian, The. See Emperor 
and Galilean. 

Enemy of the People, An, 26, 74, 89, 115. 
257, 295, 320, 333 ; methods of work in, 
133, 181, 187; date of, 191; ethics in 

206; symbolism in, 219; discussion of 
play, 192-204. 

England, Ibsen's work in, xv, 103, 331; 
The Master Builder, 127, 335 ; Pillars 
of Society, 121,330; A Doll's Bouse, 
159,332; Ghosts, 168, 175; Hedda Gab- 
ler, 256; The Lady from the Sea, 334; 
John Gabriel Borkman, 336; Little 
Eyolf, 336. 

Euripides, Medea, 153; plays of, 171. 

European influence, Ibsen as a, xi, xii. 

Farr, Florence, as Rebecca. 334. 
Faust, Goethe's, 59, 75, 87, 196, 208. 
Feast at Solhaug, The, 20, 26, 34, 124; 

compared with The Vikings at Hel- 

geland, 34, 35; metre, 129. 
Feuerbach, Ludwig, 61. 
Fishermaiden, The, by Bjb'rnson, 9. 
Flaubert, 169. 

Folklore, Ibsen's use of, 27, 34, 78, 84. 289. 
Forel, Auguste, 171. 
France, Ibsen's work in, 104, 111, 128, 

334; French influence on Ibsen, 28, 

68, 157, 244. 
Franco-Prussian "War, 67. 
" Freie Biihne " of Berlin, 176. 
Freytag, Gustav, Die Valentine, Graf 

Waldemar, 112. 
Fulda, Ludwig, Der Talisman, 86; 

Der Sohn des Khalifen, 86. 

Garborg, Arne, 6; Paulus, 71. 

George, Henry, Progress and Poverty, 

Germany, Ibsen's relations with, 10, 11, 
21, 67, 96-97, 113; appreciation of Ib- 
sen in, 102-103, 128, 286, 331; problem 
drama in, 57; Mazier Builder in, 127; 
Pillars of Society in, 111, 159; A 
DolVs House in, 144; Ghosts, 175; 
Little Eyolf in, 287, 289; The Lady 
from the Sea, 334; John Gabriel 
Borkman, 336; When We Dead 
Awaken, 337. 

Ghosts, 28, 109, 110. 116, 128; as a social 
play, 135, 157; method in, 181, 185, 
186,' 187, 188, 189-191 ; symbolism in, 
219, 220; its rank among plays, 224, 
320; atmosphere, 240 ; compared with 
Hedda Gabler, 260, 266 ; parody on, 
332 ; discussion of play, 160-180. 

Goethe, viii, 27, 85, 180, 184, 219, 231, 
241, 282, 295. 

Gosse, Edmund, 16, 18, 103, 129, 326, 331. 

Gossensass, in the Tyrol, 281, 282. 



Grieg, Edvard (music for Peer Gynt), 

Grillparzer, Franz, 85, 153, 243, 336. 
Grimm Brothers, 5. 
Grummann, Professor Paul H., 104, 

272, 285, 314, 335, 336, 337. 

Haeckel's Katilrliche Schopfangsge- 

Halvorsen, J. B., 326. 

Hamsun, Knut, 1, 6. 

Hansen, Mauritz Ch., influence of, 22. 

Hansteen, Aasta, original of Lona Hes- 
sel, 124. 

Hauptmann, Gerhart, 25; Sunken Bell, 
62, 270; A Fool in Christ, 71; Han- 
nele, 85; Einsame Menschen, 283. 

Hebbel, Friedrich, 38, 39, 97, 99, 112, 
313, 329. 

Hedda Gabler, 60, 115, 116, 125, 140, 313, 
335; compared with Pillars of So- 
ciety, 128; method in, 185, 187, 320; 
discussion of play, 256-268. 

Hegel, G. W. F., 60, 96. 

Heine, Heinrich, 315. 

Hejermans, Hermann, The Good Hope, 

Hennings, Mrs., as Nora, 159; as Hedda, 

Herford, Professor C. H., 43, 63', 308. 

Hero's Mound, The. See The War- 
rior's Hill. 

Hoffory, Julius, 104, 250. 

Holberg, Ludwig, 3, 27. 

Hollander, Lee M., 328. 

Houwald, " fate " tragedies of, 178. 

Howells, W. D.,175. 

Hugo, Victor, 57, 154, 269. 

Ibsen, Hedvig, 334. 

Ibsen, Mrs. See Thoresen, Susannah 

Ibsen's art — 

Dramatic technique, 15, 23, 28, 
30-33, 37-38, 41-12, 48-49, 51, 59, 83, 
93, 102, 121, 125-126, 128-132, 157-159, 
168-172, 178-193, 218-224, 241-243, 253- 
257, 269-272, 288, 295, 305-307, 309-310. 

Symbolism, 14-15, 60, 85, 184, 189- 
190, 216, 219-224, 240, 247-252, 269-272, 
309-310, 326, 333. 

Character treatment, 12, 18, 25-26, 
31-32, 41, 51, 58, 114-118, 130, 183-185, 
242, 256-257, 287-288, 295. 

Idealistic element, 56, 62, 69, 77, 78, 

164, 184, 196, 200-204, 206-207, 216-217, 
238, 285, 309, 316-319, 322. 

Realistic element, 13, 32, 60, 84, 93, 
130-134, 172, 266, 270-271, 306, 308, 321. 

Didactic element, 57-58, 60, 79, 105- 
110, 126, 135, 160, 192, 217, 252, 267,269, 
296-297, 321-322. 

Poetic element, 22-23, 46, 48, 59, 87, 
105, 252, 319, 320, (lyric) 15, 22, 27, 32, 
38, 129, 286, 309. 

Psychological element, 131-132, 238, 
247, 286, 287, 298, 313, 320. 
Fantastic element, 78, 84-86, 254, 289. 
Influence of, on acting, 87, 131- 
132, 134, 159. 

Influences on, Norwegian, 4-5, 8-9, 
12-14, 55; German, 22,30, 96-97, 111- 
113; French, 28, 48, 157; romantic 
and historical, 22, 24, 26, 30, 35, 36-38, 
48, 60, 84-85. 
Ibsen's character, xii, xiv, 9, 50, 55, 56, 

58, 69, 70, 79, 224-226. 
Ibsen's creative power, 105, 305, 312. 
Ibsen's life, early life and work, 16-28; 
business affairs, 53, 54, 83 ; romance 
with Emilie Bardach, 281-282 ; return 
to Scandinavia, 283 ; biographical re- 
ferences in The Epilogue, 310-312, 
316-319; writers on, 326, 328. 
Ibsen's methods of work, 18, 23, 132- 

134, 199, 265-266, 332. 
Ibsen's theory of life — 

Ethical and social ideas, 55, 56, 58, 
65, 66-78, 106-109, 122, 136, 141, 146-151, 
156-157, 160, 173, 193-196, 202, 206, 226, 
229-231, 234, 235, 238, 239, 242, 257, 280, 
290, 293-297, 320-321, 325. 

Philosophical, 42, 50, 63-66, 77, 80, 
94, 96-101, 110, 187, 224-227, 246, 267, 269, 
272, 316. 

Political, 55, 56, 60, 63-65, 67-69, 79, 
225, 227-229. 
Religious, 60-62, 71-75. 
Ideas on marriage, 42-46, 122, 123- 
124, 139, 146-157, 160-165, 234, 244-245, 
252-253, 296-297. 

Ideas on the woman question, 26, 
124-125, 136-146, 231, 267-268, 313-314. 
Iffland, A. W., 112. 

In the Picture Gallery (a suite of son- 
nets), 50. 
Italy, Ibsen in, 21, 59, 79, 93; effect on 
Ibsen, 328. 

Jacobsen, Jens Peter, 6, 329. 
Jaeger, Henrik, 62, 78, 326, 328. 



James, Professor "William, 205. 

John Gabriel Borkman, 26, 127, 161, 214, 
320, 330, 336 ; method of, 181, 185, 186, 
188; ethics of, 206; discussion of 
play, 298-307. 

Jonson, Ben, 21. 

Kaempevise, essay on the, 15, 327. 
Kielland, Alexander, 1, 6. 
Kierkegaard, Soren, 5, 60-62, 327. 
Klaar, Professor Alfred, 197. 
Kleist, Heinrich von, 171, Der zer- 

brochene Kmg, 181. 
Kotzebue, Aug. von, 112. 

Lady from the Sea, The, 13, 115, 117, 
264, 275, 276, 294, 320, 334; method in, 
133, 181, 182, 185, 186, 187,241 ; relation 
to Little Eyolf, 29,9,290,291 ; discussion 
of the play, 243-256. 

Lady Inger of Ostraat, 20 ; method in, 
181, 186, 326; discussion of the play, 26- 

Lammers, Gustav Adolph, 62. 

Landsmaal, 2, 79, 325, 328. 

Landstad, M. B., 34. 

Lea, Miss, as Hedda, 256. 

League of Yoidh, 8, 11, 17, 29, 83, 115, 
123, 141, 142, 153, 187, 295 ; dialogue 
in, 130-131; discussion of the play, 

Lessing, 57, 60, 69, 100, 111, 170, 215, 333. 

Liberal party, 7, 89, 227-228. 

Lie, Jonas, 1, 6, 197. 

Lillo, George, George Barnwell, 111. 

Little Eyolf, 13, 115, 133, 151, 169, 170, 
186, 187 ; mental influences in, 254, 
279 ; relation to John Gabriel Bork- 
man, 303 ; discussion of play, 287-297. 

Litzmann, B., Ibsens Dramen, 222, 330, 
334, 335. 

Love of a Politician, The. See Norma. 

Love's Comedy, 14, 28, 53, 62. 77, 116, 123, 
181, 331 ; discussion of play, 42-48. 

Love's Labor 's Lost, 91, 328. 

Lord, Miss (translated Ghosts), 172. 

Ludwig, Otto, Der Erbf&rster, 112. 

Lugne-Poe, 104. 

Macbeth, 153. 

Macfall, Haldane, 25, 50, 51, 326, 327. 

Machiavelli, 52. 

Maeterlinck, 15, 85, 252, 289, 309-310. 

" Marchendrama," 85-86, 251. 

Marholm, Laura, 291. 

Marriage, Ibsen's. See Ibsen's life. 

Marriage question, Ibsen's treatment 
of. See Ibsen's theory of life. 

Master Builder, The, 115, 127-128, 183, 
187, 206, 320, 329, 335, 336 ; mental influ- 
ence in, 254, 292; discussion of the 
play, 270-286. 

Meissner, Dr., analogue to Stock- 
mann, 197. 

Meredith, George, 215. 

Meyer, Richard M., 180. 

Mill, John Stuart, 146. 

Modjeska, Helen, as Nora, 332. 

Moe, Bishop Jorgen, 5, 327 

Moliere, 57, 215. 

Moses, Montrose J., Henrik Ibsen, The 
Man and His Plays, 79, 90, 326, 337. 

Motifs, Ibsen's, 110, 312, 317; grouped 
by Brandes, 113. 

Mullner, " fate" tragedies of, 178. 

Munich, 18, 21, 334, 335. 

Munch, Andreas, 5. 

Nazimova, Alia, as Hedda, 256 ; as Rita, 

Negri, 94-95. 

Nibelungenlied, 38, 39. 

Nietzsche, Friedrich, 52, 58, 66, 98, 99, 
100, 205, 226, 231, 236, 279. 

Night of St. John, The, 27-29. 

Nordau, Max, 110; Degeneration, 329. 

Nordens Signaler ( The Northern Sig- 
nals), poem, 11, 91. 

Norges Damring. See Welhaven. 

Norma, or The Love of a Politician,^). 

Norsemen, The, 26. 

Northern Signals. See Nordens Sig- 

Norway, language, 1-2 ; literature, 2-5 ; 
politically, 2, 3, 6, 7,55, 56; status of 
woman in, 7 ; Ibsen's attitude to- 
wards the national characteristics, 
7, 9, 13, 51, 62-63, 76, 79, 89; his rela- 
tions with, 21, 46, 54-55, 56, 87, 103, 

Norwegian influences on Ibsen's work. 
See Ibsen's art. 

Norwegian Theatre at Christiania. See 

Ode for the Millennial Celebration of 

Norway's Union, 54. 
GCdip-us, 166, 171, 180, 181. 
Olilenschlager, Adam, influence on 

Ibsen's early dramas, 22, 27. 
Olaf Liljekrans, 20, 35-36, 129. 



O'Neill, Nance, as Hedda, 256. 
Ossip-Lourie, M., 174. 

Pan Vidderne, poem, 14, 316, 325. 
Passarge, L., 328, 331. 
Pathology, Ibsen's use of, 169-173, 211. 
Peer Gynt, 8, 14, 28, 57, 115, 116, 129, 142, 
170, 318, 325, 328; relation to Emper- 
or and Galilean, 96, 102; method in, 
181, 183, 187, 270; symbolism in, 289; 
discussion of play, 76-87. 

Petersen, Clemens, 87. * 

Philoctetes, 171. 

Pillars of Society, 41, 57, 115, 159, 160, 
170, 220; as beginning of social plays, 
103, 110, 111 ; method, 181, 182, 186, 187 ; 
relation to other plays, 211, 214, 257, 
298, 320, 328 ; discussion of play, 118- 

Pillars of Society in Prose, The, (Thau- 
low's pamphlet), 198. 

Poems {Digte), 129. 

Pragmatism, 52. 

Pretenders, The, 11, 42, 77, 104, 170; syn- 
thetic method in, 181, 183, 187; dis- 
cussion of play, 48-55. 

Prisoner, The, at Agershuus, (a pro- 
jected novel), 23. 

Problems, Ibsen's manner of treating, 
241-242, 321. 

Professions, Ibsen's treatment of, 115- 

Prozor, Count Moriz, 104. 

Public, the, and the drama, viii-xv. 

290, 292, 294 ; motif in, 317; discussion 
of play, 227, 229-240. 

Quintessence of Ibsenism. See Bernard 

Raimund, Ferdinand. See "Marchen- 

Ramlo, Frau Conrad-, as Hedda, 335. 

Ray, Katherine (translated Emperor 
and Galilean into English), 104. 

Reich, Emil, 79, 186, 260, 265, 313, 326, 
333, 336. 

Reuter, Fritz, 215. 

Robins, Elizabeth, as Hedda, 256. 

Robinson, Miss, in Hedda Gabler, 256. 

Rome, Ibsen in, 21, 59, 88, 191; " Scan- 
dinavian Union " at, 137. 

Roosevelt, Theodore, xi, 139. 

Rosmer, Ernst (Elsa Bernstein), K6- 
nigskinder, 86. 

Rosmersholm, 28, 115, 116, 117, 127, 133, 
169, 214, 254, 320, 334; method in, 181, 
182, 187; relation to Little Eyolf, 279, 

Sagas, 27, 33-34, 37-41, 48, 289. 
Sandrock, Adele, as Rita, 336. 
Saxe-Meiningen's, Duke of, players, 48, 

Scandinavia, 3, 4, 36, 103, 283, 336. 
Schandorph, Sophius, 164. 
Scheunert, Arno, 329. 
Schiller, ix-x, 22, 51, 57, 170, 215, 333; Ka- 
baleund Liebe, 111, 113; DieBrautvon 
Messina, 178; Wallenstein, 178; opin- 
ions on dramatic methods, 180, 181. 
Schlag, Hermann, 180, 333. 
Schleswig-Holstein, 11, 55, 60, 91. 
Schlenther, Paul, 104, 165. 
Schopenhauer, 42, 97, 106. 
Scribe, influence of, 93, 126. 
Shakespeare, viii, x, 48, 51, 145, 175, 178, 

Shaw, George Bernard, 52, 58, 145; 
Qtnntessence of Ibsenism, 98, 155, 168,' 
174-175, 331. 
Shaw, Miss Mary, as Mrs. Alving, 175. 
Siebold, P. F., 103. 

Skien, birthplaceof Ibsen, 16, 62, 117, 129. 
Sophocles. See (Edipus. 
Sorma, Agnes, as Rita, 336. 
Spencer, Herbert, 90, 226. 
St. John's Eve, 20. 
Steiger, Edgar, 113; Das Werden des 

neuen Dramas, 326, 329, 333, 336. 
Stirner, 100 ; Der Einzige und sein Ei- 

gentum, 205. 
Strindberg, Alexander, 6, 291. 
Strodtmann, Adolf (translator of 
The Pretenders and The League of 
Youth), 103. 
Stuck, Franz, 86. 
Sudermann's Die drei Reiherfedern, 

Sunken Bell, The. See Hauptmann. 
Svanhild, 42, 88. 
Sverdrup, Johan, 227. 
Sweden, 2, 55. 

Terje Vigen, epic poem, 22. 

Terry, Ellen, as Hjordis, 37. 

Thackeray, 232, 335. 

Thaulow, Harald (Stockmann's arche- 
type), 197-199. 

Thompson, Professor J. Arthur, The 
Bible of Nature, 65-66. 

Thoresen, Anna Magdelena (step- 
mother of Mrs. Ihsen), 243. 



Thoresen, Susannah Daae (Ibsen's 
wife), 20. 

Tolstoy, 16, 58, 71 ; The Power of Dark- 
ness, 121 ; Kreutzer Sonata, 296. 

Trondhjeni, addresses at, 138, 227, 229, 

Tyrol, Ibsen in the, 21, 281. 

Vikings at Helgeland, 14, 31, 48, 49, 51, 
104, 181 ; treatment of women in, 26, 
124, 137, 140; inspiration for, 33, 34; 
discussion of play, 36-41. 

Vinje, Aasmund Olafson, 79, 325. 

Wagner, Richard, 315. 

Warrior's Bill, The, 19, 20. 

Welhaven, Johan Sebastian, 4. 

Wergeland, Henrik, 2, 4, 331. 

Werner, " fate " tragedies of, 178. 

Wette, Adelheid, Hansel und Gretel, 86. 

Weygandt, Wilhelm (neuropatholo- 
gist), 211, 333. 

When We Dead Awaken, 13, 140, 161, 
262,283,285, 297, 320, 337; discussion 
of play, 308-319. 

White Grouse of Justedal, The, 29, 35, 

Whitman, Walt, 145. 
Wicksteed, Rev. Philip, Four Lectures 

on Henrik Ibsen, 326. 
Wiehr, Professor Josef H., Hebbel und 

Ibsen, 329. 
Wilbrandt, Adolf, Der Meister von 

Palmyra, 242, 329, 342. 
Wild, Bird, The, 36. 
Wild Duck, The, 45, 115, 116, 117, 225, 

320, 328, 330; method used in, 181, 182, 

187, 188, 189; relation to liosmers- 

holm, 236-238; discussion of play, 

Wilde, Oscar, 57, 333. 
Woerner, Professor Roman, 50, 213, 220, 

326, 327, 337. 
Wolter, Charlotte, as Hjordis, 37. 
Woman question, Ibsen's treatment 

of. See Ibsen's theory of life. 
Women's Rights League of Norway, 


Zola, 19, 169, 171, 188. 

(STbe ttitacrs'ibe $re££ 

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