1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 81-86: Six Plays By Henrik Ibsen

A Doll’s House: Likely Ibsen’s most famous play details the life of an aristocratic woman who discovers her values don’t fall in line with those laid out society, a conflict which enlightens her to her own ignorance, which in turn impels her to better herself via education. This naturally enough, considering the era in which it was written, causes the dissolution of the domestic sphere in which she lived. The play provides characters constructed to serve as contrasts and re-contextualized versions of various characters, and was no doubt quite forward thinking considering the era in which it was originally produced, but like other forward thinking feminist works, like those produced by the likes of Jane Austen, the sentiments are stale and aged, and in turn the play loses some of its potency when read in a contemporary light.

Ghosts: Another play with a strong feminist protagonist, this tells the tale of a widowed woman who has made her own fortune via hard work and aims to deplete the wealth inherited from her unfaithful and amoral husband by building an orphanage. In her home she keeps the product of one of her husband’s many affairs as woman servant, whom she has educated. When her son, and only offspring of an unhappy marriage returns home, the protagonist finds herself being questioned about her own personal morals and the morals of her family by a man of the church whom she seems to have held some esteem for in the past. The play is very much about how one must deal with the sins of one’s father and how the wrongs of other people can define the lives of others. Like A Doll’s House, the play suffers from a contemporary reading. This which would have outraged and offended the Victorian public, do not affect a contemporary reader in the same way, and so its potency has been degraded by age. I order to offer how Ibsen’s own contemporaries may have responded to the play’s content, I offer the following are reviews of the play which I’ve appropriated from Wikipedia:

Ibsen’s positively abominable play entitled Ghosts….An open drain: a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly….Gross, almost putrid indecorum….Literary carrion…. Crapulous stuff” – Daily Telegraph

Revoltingly suggestive and blasphemous ….Characters either contradictory in themselves, uninteresting or abhorrent.” – Daily Chronicle

Morbid, unhealthy and disgusting story….A piece to bring the stage into disrepute and dishonour with every right-thinking man and woman.” – Lloyd’s

Lugubrious diagnosis of sordid impropriety….Characters are prigs, pedants and profligates….Morbid caricatures…. Maunderings of nookshotten Norwegians” – Black and White

As foul and filthy a concoction as has ever been allowed to disgrace the boards of an English theatre….dull and disgusting….Nastiness and malodorousness laid on thickly as with a trowel.” – Era

Ninety-seven percent of the people who go to see Ghosts are nasty-minded people who find the discussion of nasty subjects to their taste, in exact proportion to their nastiness” – Sporting and Dramatic News

Ugly, nasty, discordant, and downright dull…. A gloomy sort of ghoul, bent on groping for horrors by night, and blinking like a stupid old owl when the warm sunlight of the best of life dances into his wrinkled eyes” – Gentlewoman

The socialistic and the sexless….The unwomanly women, the unsexed females, the whole army of unprepossessing cranks in petticoats….Educated and muck-ferreting dogs…. Effeminate men and male women….. They all of them–men and women alike–know that they are doing not only a nasty but an illegal thing…. The Lord Chamberlain [the censor] left them alone to wallow in Ghosts…. Outside a silly clique, there is not the slightest interest in the Scandinavian humbug or all his works…. A wave of human folly” – Truth

 

 

An Enemy Of The People: The tale of how money influences politics, and how one’s struggle to be honest can only succeed at the expense of his family. It fits very well in with Ibsen’s writing, which is often criticizes social morals and conformity, but it is dull and painfully predictable at time.

 

Rosmersholm: A flawed masterpiece, Romersholm tells the narrative of a man born into piety who, after a great tragedy, comes to have an understanding of life that is not in keeping with the views his ancestors, nor his closest friends, and finds himself impeached by those he hoped to help. Personal motives seem to stain the progressive view he had adopted and a tragic end is spoiled by an unneeded narration of the events which bring the play to an end.

 

 

Hedda Gabler: Unlike Ibsen’s other female protagonists, the title character of this play, while strong willed, is completely unrelatable and despicable. A spoiled, manipulative liar and bully, who literally sets other’s ambitions aflame when her own fail to materialize.  It ends in the only way it possibly could. At time meditative, the play if bogged down slightly by one-dimensional and all-to logical characters.

 

 

The Master Builder: Alongside Rosmersholm, this is my favourite of the play I’ve read by Ibsen. It tells the story of a man who has willed all of his ambitions to materialize and remains at odds with the world around him. Paranoia regarding the young generation and his place amongst them define the internal struggle of the title character, while tragedy and success pepper his past and define his future. And no Ibsen play is complete with out a suicide!

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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