Henrik Ibsen, background (cont'd)
Ibsen himself considered Emperor And Galilean (1873) his most important play. But this heavy drama about Christianity and paganism is not generally included among his most important achievements. The later Pillars of Society (1877) (see The Pretenders; Pillars Of Society; Rosmersholm (1913)), however, is. It dealt with a wealthy and hypocritical businessman, whose perilous course almost results in the death of his son.
After Peer Gynt (see review) The league of Youth, and thse plays, Ibsen began his series of great social and psychological dramas: A Doll's House (1879), Ghosts (1881), The Wild Duck (1884), The Lady From The Sea (1888), Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder (1891). Little Eyolf (1894) and John Gabriel Borkman (1896). These dramas have reached a wide international audience - partly due, of course, to their greatness, but perhaps also because they are well suited for the theatre (they are much easier to stage than, for instance, Peer Gynt). A Doll´s House (1879), for instance was a social drama,whichcaused a sensation and toured Europe and America.In the play a woman refuses to obey her husband and walks out from her apparently perfect marriage, her life in the "doll's house".
In these works, Ibsen generally proclaims the individualistic gospel of the dominatiion of the ego. "Let humanity" he says, "finally discover Beauty in Liberty. Let it refuse to be subject to certain truths which have ceased to be true, and through its spirit let it return to nature."
This is the ideal longed for also by the French encyclopaedists and by the German romanticists. In the name of this ideal, Ibsen critically examines a number of the major social institutions, and assails the life of the family, the relationship between man and woman (for instance in Hedda Gabler, The lady from the sea, and A doll's house), between parents and children, in the form it has taken in our social life, relationships which constitute only an impediment to the development of the true force and joy of living; and the relationship between the individual and society (perhaps in its sharpest form in An Enemy of the People, 1882).
But against this ideal, dark forces are encamped, inflexible as destiny. The individual knows that he is subjected to countless miseries, which are his through heredity (Ghosts), that he is the victim of a physiological determinism, from which, however wiIling he may be, he is unable to free himself. "He remains," says a French critic, "until death a slave to this physical ego that is opposed to his intellectual and moral ego." But what then can one substitute for this violent negation?
Ghosts (1881) touched the very forbidden subject of hereditary venereal disease. Daily Telegraph (London) called the play "an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a lazar house wit all its doors and windows open." Again, in this play, a bourgeois façade hides moral decay and guilt. Mrs. Alving, the widow of the respected Captain Alving, has to reveal to her son Oswald the ugly truth about his disease.
Ibsen's perhaps most moving dramas: The wild duck (1884) and Rosmersholm (1886) statews Ibsen's own point of view regard how to live. One must will and act according to the measure of one's own forces, and not desire more than it is possible to accomplish: for in that way both desire and capability are fully realized. The need for the ideal must be banished, since this weakens the will and hinders the realization of what is actually within one's power. Thus Ibsen is also a realist, who sees that the search for the "best" may something prevent on from achieving what is "good".
In the last drama written by him, When the dead awakens (1899), Henrik Ibsen raises the question fundamental, and for him - maybe for many of us as well - of whether all his aspirarions, all his renunciations for the love of art have been worthy of the sacrifice. The question was a painful one for the then old poet, whose life had been a daily struggle against falsehood. Perhaps the answer that his noble and honest conscience must have given him made tranquil and happy the last days of his troubled exitence. And perhaps his answer in this drama is also an answer that may shed light on deep existential questions of life and meaning even today?
Henrik Ibsen died on May 23rd, 1906.
Recommended collections of Henrik Ibsen's works:
Works of Henrik Ibsen, Complete 13 Volume Set (Viking Edition) by Henrik Ibsen (Author), William Archer (Introduction)
Complete Works in 13 Volumes, including; Vol. 1, Lady Inger of Östråt; The Feast at Solhoug; Love"s Comedy V. 2, The Vikings at Helgeland; The Pretenders V. 3, Brand V. 4, Peer Gynt; a dramatic poem V. 5, Emperor and Galilean; a world-historic drama; part 1, Caesar"s apostasy, and part II, The Emperor Julian V. 6, The League of Youth; Pillars of Society V. 7, A Doll"s House; Ghosts V. 8, An Enemy of the People; The Wild Duck V. 9, Rosmersholm; The Lady from the Sea V. 10, Hedda Galber; The Master Builder V. 11, Little Eyolf; John Gabriel Borkman, When We Dead Awaken V. 12, From Ibsen's Workshop V. 13. Biography of Ibsen by Edmund Gosse Each volume has several black & white plates, including a tissue-guarded frontispiece.
(1152 pages). This wonderful book contains Ibsen's twelve major prose plays, and includes A Doll House's, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, and Hedda Gabler in fresh new translations. It also contains about 100 pages of extra, with very informative materials about Ibsen and his plays. An excellent collection!
Ibsen: Three Plays (Drama Classic: Collections S.) (Paperback) by Henrik Ibsen (Author), Kenneth McLeish (Translator), Stephen Mulrine (Translator)
This collection brings together three of Ibsen's masterpieces, translated by two of the giants of British Theatre: Sir Peter Hall's excellent versions of The Wild Duck and The Master Builder and John Osborne's energetic translation of Hedda Gabler.. A good collection of some of Ibsen's major works.
Four Major Plays: A Doll's House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback) by Henrik Ibsen (Author), James McFarlane (Introduction, Translator), Jens Arup (Translator)
A good collection, and also great translations of Ibsen. Highly recommended.
Ibsen's Selected Plays (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback) by Henrik Ibsen (Author), Brian Johnston (Editor)
Ibsen is in the first ranks of European writers, and has been so since the late nineteenth century. This collection includes five major plays, spanning Ibsen's long career in recent translations by Brian Johnston (Peer Gynt, The Wild Duck, and The Master Builder) and Brian Johnston and Rick Davis (A Doll House and Hedda Gabler). The translation of Peer Gynt appears for the first time here. There is also a background section of some interest.