Ibsen, I

2001-08-30

Over the last few months I've been working my way chronologically through the twelve prose plays of Ibsen, which he wrote between 1875 and 1899. So far I've read the first six: The Pillars of Society, A Doll's House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, and Rosmersholm. Though I first read these plays in my teenage years, I have been meaning to revisit them for some time and I must say I'm quite enjoying the process of re-reading them now that I have more experience of the world. Ibsen is an uncompromising individualist, but to my mind he's not heavy-handed or preachy about it (although An Enemy of the People gets rather didactic for my taste in the fourth act). Instead, he treats of the subtleties of human relationships, especially the distortions that are introduced by a lack of honesty and integrity. I must think that some of his characters, plots, and statements were considered shocking or even heretical at the time -- indeed, I think they could be considered so today. Ibsen was the opposite of politically correct, and his focus on fidelity to truth, personal integrity, and honoring the self would probably be just as out of place today as they were in Victorian times. I suppose it's the continued heresy of his ideas that in large part attracts me to his writings, since I agree with Zamyatin about the crucial importance of heretical thinking to human progress.

Although Ibsen is an individualist and idealist, his stories are not necessarily upbeat. Indeed, they are usually dominated by a strong, at times overwhelming, atmosphere of repression and confusion. Yet most of the time at least one of his characters overcomes that atmosphere through dedication to truth, personal integrity, or sheer will. Most of the time -- that overcoming is not to be found in The Wild Duck and is only hinted at in Rosmersholm, so I'm curious to see how Ibsen handles his materials and themes in the remaining half of the plays I have yet to re-read.


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