Henrik Ibsen - Norwegian writer

Ibsen was born March 20th. 1828,in Skien, a small port of southern Norway.

His father, a sociable individual who was in the lumber business, had attuned an income which henrik ibsenpermitted him to provide his numerous family with all they needed. His mother, Marichen Altenburg, of German descent, was reserved, but extremely devoted to her children and her home. It appears that Ibsen may, in a degree, have inherited his interest in art from his mother.

As a boy Henrik Ibsen lived much to himself, occupying himself with reading and drawing. In 1836 his father declared himself bankrupt. Everything was sold, and the family abandoned the old house in town and found refuge in the countryside, at Venstop, a few miles from the city of Skien. Not until seven or eight years later was his family able to return to Skien.

Henrik, the eldest of the children, had to provide for his own existence, and in 1844 he went to Grimstad, as a pharmacist's apprentice. In 1848 the echoes of the European revolutions reached Norway and the spirit of Ibsen became inflamed with indignation and enthusiasm.

Thus, in l850 Ibsen left Grimstad and went to Christiania. He succeeded in September of that year in getting a The Warrior's Barrow, by Henrik Ibsen new play of his produced, The Warrior's Barrow, a romantic drama (in Catiline, The Warrior's Barrow and Olaf Liljekrans (Dodo Press)). But the profits were paltry and often the poet could not manage to have both dinner and supper the same day. He was on the point of abandoning himself to desperation, when Ole Bull offered him the post of stage poet in the theatre of Bergen, which he had founded just two years before.

For Henrik Ibsen that was a stroke of fortune, which gave him suddenly a modest but certain livelihood. He remained in this position five years, from 1852 to 1857, and he had the opportunity to produce several of his plays. Here he also wrote four plays based on Norwegian folklore and history, most notably Lady Inger of Ostrat (1855) (see Lady Inger Of Ostrat; The Vikings At Helgeland; The Pretenders (1904)), that deals with the liberation of medieval Norway.

In the summer of 1857 he left the direction of the theatre of Bergen for that of Christiania. A year later he married the woman who was his faithful companion during all his life, in the days of unhappiness as in those of happiness: Suzannah Thoresen, the stepchild of the novelist Magdalene Thoresen. To this period belong The Vikings of Helgoland (1858) and The Pretenders (1864), both historical sagas, and Love's Comedy (1862), a satire (see the link above).

In 1864 Ibsen moved abroad, and more or less stayed abroad for the rest of his life, only interrupted by short stays in Norway. In 1865 he wrote to Björnson: "If I were to tell at this moment what has been the chief result of my stay abroad, I should say that it consisted in my having driven out of myself the aestheticism which had a great power over me - an isolated aestheticism with a claim to independent existence. Aestheticism of this kind seem to me now as a great curse to poetry as theology is to religion."

Henrik Ibsen and Søren Kierkegaard

To understand the thought of Henrik Ibsen it is necessary to recall one of the greatest philosophers Scandinavia can boast of up to the present, the Dane Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), whose fundamental work Enten-eller (Søren Kierkegaard: Either/Or: A Fragment of Life (Penguin Classics)) is without doubt the one whose echo is most felt in the earlier plays of Ibsen, above all in Brand. The first part of this work (Enten) treats the aesthetic conception of existence. As a certain critic says, it could constitute a philosophic summa of the life of pleasure.

The second part (Eller) is instead a crushing confutation of the first, a sledge-hammer blow, under which the arguments expounded in Enten are reduced to dust and fragments. The apology for a life of pleasure gives way to a eulogy of altruism, sacrifice, and temperance. The aesthetic life is supplanted by the ethical.

Nowhere is the intellectual kinship between the two more apparent than in Brand, the drama about a stubborn and strong Norwegian priest that perhaps expresses the thought of Henrik Ibsen most clearly.

Anyone can see the spiritual affinity between the philosopher and the playwright, a spiritual affinity which has led some to consider Brand and other Ibsen plays dramatized comments on the thought of Kierkegaard. In fact, Ibsen' attacks against official Christianity, his point of view regarding the question of matrimony, his scorn for the various Peer Gynt, half-characters which ought to be melted down again in the crucible of the button-molder, are all motifs frequently found in the works of the great Danish philosopher.

Henrik Ibsen became, over time, more and more a poet that brought the problems and ideas of the day onto the stage of his time.

"... And what does it mean, then to be a poet? It was a long time before I realized that to be a poet means essentially to see, but mark well, to see in such a way that whatever is seen is perceived by the audience just as the poet saw it. But only what has been lived through can be seen in that way and accepted in that way. And the secret of modern literature lies precisely in this matter of experiences that are lived through. All that I have written these last ten years, I have lived through spiritually." ('Speech to the Norwegian Students, September 10, 1874, from Speeces and New Letters, 1910)

Works about Ibsen

Haldane Macfall: Ibsen: the Man, His Art & His Significance: Illustrated by Joseph Simpson,
Edmund Gosse: Henrik Ibsen,
Thomson Gale: Biography - Ibsen, Henrik (1828-1906): An article from: Contemporary Authors Online,
Einar Haugen: Ibsen's Drama: Author to Audience (expensive but good).

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