The New International Encyclopædia/Ibsen, Henrik

IBSEN, ĭp'sen, Henrik (1828—). A Norwegian dramatist, born at Skien, March 20, 1828, whose influence is marked in German, French, English, and Italian literatures. His great-grandmother was Scotch, his grandmother and mother German, his grandfather's grandfather Danish. They were a family of shipmasters. His father, Knud Ibsen, a merchant, met with reverses in Henrik's boyhood, which compelled the youth to pass six years (1836-42) in great poverty. In the latter years of this period he attended a scientific school at Skien, and late in 1843 he became an apothecary's apprentice at Grimstad, where he remained till 1849 writing a Catiline in three acts (published 1850), and some poems. He now sought the University of Christiania to learn medicine, but in 1850 he was diverted by the successful production at Christiania of his The Warrior's Mound from academic studies to the drama. In 1851 he helped to found a short-lived weekly, Man, in which appeared his political satire, Norma. In November he was appointed stage manager at Bergen, with leave of absence for three months to study the art he was to practice. These he spent in Germany, writing the unsuccessful and unpublished Saint John's Night. In 1856 The Banquet at Solhaug, the first of his national dramas, was produced in the theatrical centres of Norway and Sweden. It won him enthusiastic applause and national renown. In 1857 he became director of the Norwegian Theatre at Christiania, but five years of his management reduced it to bankruptcy. Here were produced Lady Inger of Ostraat, a saga drama (1855); The Vikings at Helgeland (1859); and Love's Comedy (1862). In this period he wrote also the longest of his minor poems, On the Mountain Plains (1860). In 1862, after the bankruptcy of the theatre, Ibsen accepted from the university small grants for researches in folklore and in 1863 petitioned the Storthing for the Poet's Pension (about $450). He received in 1864 a Traveling Scholarship and the Pension in 1866. Meantime, embittered by delay and the political situation, he left for Rome in April, 1864, whence he sent back (1866) the social satire, Brand. In 1868 Ibsen left Rome for Dresden, where he remained till 1874. After a voluntary exile of ten years, he went back to Norway. In 1891 Ibsen made Christiania his home. On his seventieth birthday the poet-dramatist received gifts and greetings from everywhere in the world. A bronze statue of him was set outside the new National Theatre in September, 1899. His influence has not been so widespread in the United States as in Europe.

Besides the dramas above named, Ibsen's works include: The Pretenders (1864), an historical drama; Brand (1866) and Peer Gynt (1867), dramatic poems; The League of Youth, a political comedy (1869); the bulky two-fold historical drama, Emperor and Galilean (1873); and, beginning with 1877, the yet better-known series of dramas that are more characteristic of what passes for Ibsenism: The Pillars of Society (1877); A Doll's House (1879); Ghosts (1881); An Enemy of the People (1882); The Wild Duck (1884); Rosmersholm (1886); The Lady from the Sea (1888); Hedda Gabler (1890); Master Builder Solness (1892); Lille Eyolf (1894); John Gabriel Borkman (1896); When We Dead Awaken (1900). Ibsen's dramatic work had been at first romantic. This phase culminated in the Banquet at Solhaug. Then it was historic, but still romantic, up to the Vikings at Helgeland. Next the psychologic interest becomes prominent, and with it a tendency to social satire very marked in Love's Comedy, a masterpiece of swift action and of biting irony. The dramas from 1864 to 1867 arc polemically national rather than social. The League of Youth marks the transition from political to social interests. From this time on Ibsen is a pathologist of social ills, dealing, as he does, with conditions universal to modern life, and thus winning an ever widening cosmopolitan audience. All these latter plays have been several times translated into English, best, so far as he goes, by William Archer (6 vols., 1890-92). Of comment there is cloud rather than illumination. By some Ibsen's work is assailed as immoral, cynical, pessimistic, unfit to be seen or read; by others it is hailed as a new gospel of truth and emancipation. It is not wholly either. The plays are studies in human responsibility under modern social conditions, which, in many points, Ibsen considers dangerously diseased and as threatening the whole body with a gangrene. So he has become the poet of protest, the unveiler of sophistries, the scourger of hypocrisies. He writes of vice, but it is with loathing. He lays bare the cause of evils, but leaves it to others to prescribe the remedy.

But leaving the moral question aside, these social dramas mark a new stage in the evolution of dramatic art. It is a drama of descending, not ascending action, not of preludes, but of consequences. The plays are apt to begin with their climax. They are thoroughly realistic, absolutely unconventional. Their dialogues are so natural as to give the illusion of real though fascinating conversation which the playwright allows his audience to overhear. It would be hard to match them in any literature. Hence their power has been felt throughout the dramatic and literary world, while the realistic dramas of the French naturalistic school, of the Goncourts and Zola, have been regarded with languid curiosity as the products of artistic theory. For Ibsen's life, consult: Jaeger, Henrik Ibsen: A Critical Biography (Chicago, 1894); for summaries and comment on the dramas, Boyesen, Commentary on the Writings of Henrik Ibsen (New York, 1894); Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (London, 1893); Wicksteed, Four Lectures on Ibsen (ib., 1892) : and Archer, “The Real Ibsen,” in International Monthly (ib., 1901).

The German Ibsen literature native and translated is very extensive; among the more noteworthy and recent contributions to it are: Brahm, H. Ibsen (Berlin, 1887); Andreas-Salome, Ibsens Frauengestalten (Berlin, 1892); Wörner, Ibsens Jugenddramen (Munich, 1895), and H. Ibsen (Munich, 1899 seq.); Jäger, H. Ibsen (Swedish, Christiania, 1892; German, Dresden, 1897); Von Haustein, Ibsen als Idealist (Leipzig, 1897); Garde (translated by Küchler), Der Grundgedanke in Ibsens Dichtung (Leipzig, 1898); Brandes, H. Ibsen (Copenhagen, 1898); Reich, Ibsens Dramen (Dresden, 1900); Litzmann, Ibsens Dramen (Hamburg, 1901).