Annotated Ibsen Bibliography, 1983-2000, from Ibsen News and Comment
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ARTICLES ON IBSEN, 1989
Several important articles on Ibsen appeared in
1989. Exigencies of space being what they are, my review can mention only
briefly other articles worthy of notice. Still others (of a total of thirty-some
publications during the year) wont be mentioned at all. My selections
are diverse; no single method or topic or ideology dominates current Ibsen
First, three pairings among
the brief mentions. In June 1988 (a year before Tiananmen Square), Rolf
Fjelde (1), speaking to the Shanghai Cultural Bureau, contrasted ONeills
tragedies of fate (Iceman,
Long Days Journey,
and A Moon for the Misbegotten)
with Ibsens last four tragedies of failed choice. Burgard
(2) thinks Millers Death of a Salesman
has been given too much credit for being innovative and modernistic and
uses A Doll House
to make his case. And too much, says Jørgen Mejer (3), has been
made of the affinity between Euripides and Ibsen. Wilamowitz was right:
To find in Euripides an ancient Ibsen is more than [a mistake],
it is simply silly.
Next, articles on a single
motif or theme. Otten (4) takes Ibsens use of the Kindermord motif
as evidence that he left incomplete the conversion of old religious myth
into new secular science. The need for the argument would have seemed
more urgent if Ibsen were commonly thought of as an atheist-materialist.
With so many doors functioning dramatically in A
Doll House (the stage directions specify
eight, of which two remain unseen by the audience), Dukore (5) hears in
Noras slammed-door exit proof that she has reached a new level of
mature resolve. . . . a theatrical exclamation point, an audible
chord, . . . completes the drama thematically and theatrically.
In Abbotts The Vital Lie
(6), Ernest Beckers The Denial of Death
serves as a paradigm for dealing with the reality-illusion theme in modern
drama. Heroes attempt to stare down death by escaping from
an unreal world of joyless duties to an absent god into an illusionary
world of viable counter-reality. Their enterprise is doomed, but the plays
celebrate their failures. Abbott attenuates an already tenuous
case by progressively distorting the meaning of the vital lie
in The Wild Duck.
And it wont do to say that the words for wild duck and
spirit in Norwegian are almost identical and to
attribute such ignorance to Rolf Fjelde.
Three of the six essays (Hemmers,
Saaris, Alonges) in the sixth volume of Contemporary
Approaches to Ibsen bear upon the
Italian setting of the international Ibsen conference at which the papers
were read. Hemmer (7) sees Ibsens experience of Italy as equal in
importance to Goethes. It provided him with the aesthetics
of distance, liberated his will, and brought to his consciousness
a new kind of innocent sensualism. Saar (8) itemizes and interprets the
differences between the two versions of A
Doll House and thinks Italy had something
to do with Nora and Torvald sharing the same human nature in the final
version, she now stronger and he weaker than in the draft. Alnæs
(9) reads The Master Builder
as a folklore-based allegory on the artists eternal dilemma:
finding a higher meaning in our lowly earth life. The ambiguous
Hildes last words assert the consummation of Solness mission
on earth and permit us to call the ending happy. Ystad (10) discovers
in some of Ibsens tragedies Kierkegaards notion (in On
the Concept of Irony) that tragic
irony is time-determined. Examples are Skule trying to reach new political
ends by old warlike means and the destruction of Mrs. Alvings hopes
for the future by her sons heritage from the past. Except for Alonges
fantastic argument (11) that Ibsen was a ferocious sexist,
all the essays in this volume have value (even Alonges may be found
amusing), and one of them (Ewbanks, below) is important.
In Gail Finneys Freudian-feminist
book (12), Hedda Gabler figures as the personification of the hysterization
of the female body, or the reduction of the woman to her status as female,
and it is this process that brings about her downfall. The forbidding
promise of that unlovely sentence is fulfilled in an accurate analysis:
Hedda does not, like the conventional nineteenth-century heroine, kill
herself for love; her
suicide is the result of triple hysterization: her simultaneous
entrapment in impending maternity, in feminine propriety, and in her role
as an object of sexual blackmail.
Joan Templetons essay
(13) on A Doll House
is at least as strongly feminist as Finneys, more polemical, and
better written. She has no patience with critics who dilute Ibsens
feminism by universalizing Noras plight into that of a human
being and do so on the grounds that Ibsen did not stoop to
issues but was a poet of the truth of the human
soul. (The title of Saaris essay might bemuse Templeton.)
Whatever is universal, she says, is male. Yet
she cites with approval James Hunekers succinct analysis of
the plea for woman as a human being, neither more nor less than
man. . . . And she demolishes the old argument that DH
cannot be feminist because the heroine is not perfect by opposing to the
saintly Every feminist stereotype her own ignorant,
excitable, confused, and desperate-in short, human-Nora Helmer.
And this Nora is not hers alone. Othersyes, some men toosee
Noras ignorance, excitability, confusion, and desperation as the
result of male molding. Which is to say that Ibsens modern
tragedy is about a feminist issue. It is not to say that issues
sully art or that sex and gender cannot be admitted to a play raised above
feminism to universal significance. I think Templetons
reading of DH
is excellent; I wish she had been equally true to what others have said
about the play.
Inga-Stina Ewbank (14) argues
the virtual impossibility of translating Ibsens Norwegian into another
language. The translators solution is not to be looked for at any
particular point on a line between faithful literalness and free, poetic
paraphrase, but in a way of turning Ibsens Norwegian into a language
capable of incorporating (in Walter Benjamins words) the originals
mode of significance. As in earlier essays on Ibsens language,
Ewbank contrasts the hardness of Norwegian semantics and its
bent toward compounds (hjertekulde,
with the finely gradated and adaptable nuances of meaning in English;
and Norwegians vertical, male imagery for
the heights and depths of individual enterprise with the horizontal,
female imagery for social relationships in English. The paradox
of Ibsens language is that his intense monolingualism became the
rooted medium for rootless but universal characters.
. . . the international
greatness of Ibsen lies in the way he makes his national Norwegian
such a recognizable fragment of [what Walter Benjamin calls the] greater
language’ of human experience. Ewbank almost overcomes the
ineffability of her topic. That is meant as praise. In her other 1989
Ibsen essay, on his Dramatic Art (15), there is more about
the hard, small, unyielding vocabularies
of the Scandinavian languages, vertical and horizontal
imagery, fusion of landscape and metaphor, and Ibsens single-mindedness
against what he called the lax and limp (Norw.
quality in English culture. But there is overlap rather than repetition
in the two essays. One deals with the universality within, the other with
the human cost of, the spareness.
With Templetons and Ewbanks
essays, I have moved on to 1989s important articles.
Of the remaining items in that group I begin with two on Ibsens
In Ibsens Beginnings
(16) Van Laan describes a pattern in Ibsens plays I have not seen
treated anywhere else. In the opening scenes of play after play, Ibsen
disappoints our expectations of what the main design (or, in E. D. Hirschs
term, intrinsic genre) of the play is going to be. The classical
model is King Oedipus,
which begins as a play about ending the plague, goes on to deal with the
search for Laius murderer, and finally turns into Oedipus
quest for his own identity. Hedda Gabler
is Van Laans major instance in Ibsen. It begins as what looks like
a Newlywed Problem Comedy (financial and professional worries),
changes during Act II to the cynical French drama about adultery,
only to have that, too, turn into just another interim intrinsic
genre. The main action, Heddas yearning to regain power over
a man who can realize her vision of a life in freedom, courage, and beauty,
doesnt emerge till the end of Act II. All the later plays except
An Enemy of the People
follow this pattern, though the misrepresenting goes on longer
(and the early Lady I.
than in LC,
The strategic value of this oblique beginning is that it keeps
us from setting up cerebral barriers between ourselves and
the play and allows us gradually to realize that the pseudo-action,
with all its antecedents, is an essential part of the plays
central business. The essays cunning is in turning what
a strict Aristotelian would construe as an artistic liabilityfalse
leads, dispersive plot linesinto an asset. For Ibsen didnt
subvert the Aristotelian beginning-middle-end structure; he made it less
simple, rigid, and intrusive. His mind was post-Kantian.
Lyons (17) sees the character-in-scenic-space
as an irreducible and unbreakable entity in all dramaa perception
not available to ideological approaches. His illustrations, ranging from
Richard II to
include the Ice Church in Brand,
which is a conceptual structure, not the visual representation
of a metaphor but rather a visualization of the space that allows the
character to use his perception of the scene metaphorically in order to
conceptualize antithetical visions of experience (here, religious commitment
and social compromise). Topography has become indivisible from the
representation of character and holds a functional, transitive
value. This is heavy going. I take it to mean that as audience we
respond simultaneously to the stage spectacle, to the characters
perception of him/herself as sited in the spectacle, and to our own perception
of what the characters investing the physical setting with subjective
significance means in our total experience of the play. Despite
the ponderousness, Lyons gets at basic matters.
The socio-psychology of Brand
is the subject of two articles. Kühnhold (writing in German) (18)
thinks Harald Beyer and Valborg Erichsen (Edda,
19,20 ) misunderstood the Kierkegaardian elements in the play. Brand
is a totalitarian personality, whose speech, both in substance and in
the unyielding finality of its trochaic rhythms, disallows discussion,
whose need for power and drive toward ideality in a human vacuum are alien
to Kierkegaards belief that our primary duty is to further self-realization
in others, and whose all or nothing is a materialistic-quantitative
version of Kierkegaards spiritual-qualitative dialectic
of either/or. The true Kierkegaardian among Ibsens heroes is Dr.
Stockmann: plainspoken, morally and intellectually passionate, unworldly,
enemy of compromise [so is Brand], prone to excess. There is more to Brandmore
ambivalence, for one thingthan Kühnhold sees. Her criteria
for judging him suggest sentimental indignation. Nevertheless, her essay
is a useful modification of a view on the Kierkegaard-Ibsen relationship
that for too long has gone unreexamined.
Sohlichs massive article (19) on the fatherless society in Brand claims affinity with the Frankfurt schools analyses of the institutions and cultures of liberal and late capitalist societies. The approach neither relegates the past to poststructuralist oblivion nor recreates it nostalgically as a golden age but juxtaposes past and present for current meaning. The dramatic scenario in Sohlichs interpretation is, briefly, that Brands weak father failed to mediate between his family and the market society and therefore failed in his prescribed roles as provider, esteemed public citizen, and domestic authority. Both Brands young, strong, and demanding God and Einars slippered grandpa of a god become part of Brands image of an ideal social order. On the one hand, he longs to reinscribe a centrifugally dispersed community into the living text of a heroic tradition-on the other, he longs for the paternal and maternal moments of an idealized bourgeois family, in which a comfortable household god. . . is the icon of powerless fathers. The duality breaks the play apart. Brands all or nothing calls for a pathological narrowing of personality, a reduction of the self to a single quality rooted in the inwardness that Agnes teaches Brand to seek but which is dramatically inconsistent with the destruction of the family by the market forces which the text signifies but does not thematize. The critique of the family remains prisoner of the discourse of interiority. And so, Brand fails in his attempt to compensate for the fatherlessness by reenacting the role of Old Testament patriarch in Acts III and IV; the nuclear family has already surrendered to market and bureaucracy. His failure is underscored by the wise, commonsensical, and sympathetic Doctor sharing with the contemptible, opportunistic Mayor a commitment to what both call humane-ness. Sohlichs essay is lumpy with leftist sociological jargon, and I am not sure that it does not profoundly misread the play. But it establishes a complex and cogent interpretive scheme that proves not that Brand is a radical critique of nineteenth-century bourgeois institutions and values (Sohlich concludes that the play seems unaware of its ideological subtext) but that it can serve the modern reader as a text on which to base such a critique. If we are to have this kind of Ibsen criticism at all-and I suppose we must-then Sohlichs is something of a model.
(1) Rolf Fjelde, Eugene
ONeill and Henrik Ibsen: Struggle, Fate, Freedom, Theater
3 5 (1988), 67-74.
(2) Peter J. Burgard, Two
Parts Ibsen, One Part American Dream: On Derivation and Originality in
Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman,
43:iv (1988), 336-53.
(3) Jørgen Mejer, Henrik
Ibsen and the Revival of Euripides, Greek,
Roman, and Byzantine Studies 27 (2986),
(4) Terry Otten, Ibsens
Paradoxical Attitudes toward Kindermord, Mosaic
22:iii (Summer 1989), 117-31.
(5) Bernard F. Dukore, Doors
in the Doll House, Theater History Studies
9 (1989), 39-40.
(6) Anthony S. Abbott, The
Vital Lie (Tuscaloosa: Alabama University
(7) Bjørn Hemmer, Italy
in Ibsens Art, Contemporary Approaches
to Ibsen VI, ed. Bjørn Hemmer
and Vigdis Ystad (Oslo: Norwegian University Presses, 1988), 9-26.
(8) Sandra Saari, Female
Become Human: Nora Transformed, Contemporary
Approaches [see # 7], 41-55.
(9) Nina S. Alnæs, The
Master Builder: The Myth of the Artist
between Heaven and Hell, Contemporary
Approaches [see # 7], 81-91.
(10) Vigdis Ystad, Tragedy
in Ibsens Art, Contemporary Approaches
[see # 7], 69-80.
(11) Roberto Alonge, Protestant
Severity Versus Mediterranean Dissipation in Ibsens Theater,
Contemporary Approaches [see # 7],
(12) Gail Finney, Maternity
and Hysteria: Ibsens Hedda Gabler, Women
in Modern Drama (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1989), pp. 149-65.
(13) Joan Templeton, The
Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen, PMLA
104:1 (1989), 28-40.
(14) Inga-Stina Ewbank, Henrik
Ibsen: National Language and International Drama, Contemporary
Approaches [see # 7], 57-67.
(15) Inga-Stina Ewbank, The
Dramatic Art of Henrik Ibsen, World
and I 4:4 (1989), 529-45.
(16) Thomas F. Van Laan, Ibsens
Beginnings, Journal of Dramatic Theory
and Criticism 3:2 (1989), 19-36.
(17) Charles Lyons, Character
and Theatrical Space, in The Theatrical
Space, ed. James Redmond (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 17-44.
(18) Christa Kühnhold,
Ibsen und Kierkegaard, Orbis Litterarum
43:4 (1988), 316.
(19) Wolfgang Sohlich, Ibsens Brand: Drama of the Fatherless Society, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 3:2 (1989), 87-105.
First, three articles which, though focusing
on particular plays, raise larger issues. Ross Shideler finds evidence
in DH and HG
of the breakdown of male authority after Darwin killed God (1). Ibsens
Darwinism is about heredity and environment; Strindbergs about the
survival of the fittest. That Darwin virtually alone undermined the patriarchy
is a premise that needs closer scrutiny and ampler documentation than
Shideler gives it.
Katharine Worth modifies the common impression
that the Abbey Theatre group was hostile to Ibsens psychological
realism (2). Yeats, Synge, Edward Martyn, Lennox Robinson, and the acting
style of the Fay brothers all have affinities with Ibsen. The surprising
name here, of course, is Yeats. But when The
Only Jealousy of Emer (1919) is put next to
L f S, we discover
that the territory they were exploring is curiously similar.
Ibsen may have helped to shape an Irish drama able to combine realism
with more surreal or mystical elements; the options were remarkably open.
There is more to Ibsens influence on Irish drama than Joyces
Exiles (the relation
of which to Brand
and WWDA Lilla Crisafulli
 deals with in a short article of less scope than Worths).
Elm Diamonds theory about stage
realism as a form of hysteria-reality self-generatedis
original and exciting and strains the reviewers ability to condense
and distil (4). Her main exhibit is HG,
but she touches as well on DH,
and LE and deals
in her final section with the actress Elizabeth Robins co-authored
play, Alan's Wife
(a London flop in 1893). As the hysteric converts neurosis into sensory
and motoric behavior that has no physiological cause, so does the realist
playwright convert imagery into actual people moving and speaking before
an audience. What Charcot and Breuer and Freud were doing in clinics and
consulting rooms in the 1880s and 90s, Ibsen was doing on stage:
exposing and exploring hysterical women with a past: [By] endowing
the fallen woman . . . with the symptoms and etiology of the hysteric,
his theater of discovery sanctioned the clichés of
Victorian melodrama and popular psychology. The woman who after seeing
HG said, laughing,
Hedda is all of us, was so much under the spell of the realistic
staging that she assumed a real relation between signifier-signified-referent
(the actress playing Hedda-Hedda the characterher real-life model),
her narcissism deconstructing the mimetic referent. The identification
was all the more complete because the play queries the social reality
it shows. Womans undecidability about her identity is
theatricalized in Heddas last appearance as a head poked through
a closed curtain. The spectacle re-enforces the spectators pleasure
as spectator. Heddas inflated narcissism is transferred
to audiences who experience alternatives and ambiguities in their own
lives. So they defer knowledge of that which, as spectators,
as Lacan says, they are presumed to know. Diamonds question
at the end of her first section is as disturbing as it is large: Can
feminist theory make use of the observation that realism, at its inception,
might be construed as a form of an incitement to hysteria? I cannot
finally decide whether she praises Ibsens subtle strategy or censures
his sexist ideology. (But she should have told us that two of the three
references to a hysteric woman in Ibsens preliminary notes for the
playof which she makes important useare to Thea Elvsted, and
that her three ideas in the play are not Ibsens own
main points [Hoved-punkter]
in the notes.)
Authors of more conventional studies
are also sometimes careless (or willful?) Ibsen readers. Something can
be said for Marilyn Johns Blackwells argument that Solvejg is an
ambivalent character in Peer Gynts existential drama (5). Solvejg
seeks the heights, but the imagery of the play associates heights/ascent
with fantasy, license, and escape from reality, and depths/descent/ with
responsibility, self-knowledge, and community (however flawed and unattractive).
Solvejgs urging Peer to sleep and dream at the end proves
that he is still living his fantasy life when he sees her as his redeemer.
And so, PG is a
romantic fantasy that adumbrates DH
and HG. The
consistent inversion of the feminine redemptive . . . culminates in an
understanding that women partake of reality, of the same quotidian existence
as man, and that the masculine idealization of women is a displacement
. . . a refusal to accept the . . . responsibilities of self-realization.
But Blackwell unnecessarily weakens her reading by two major forcings
of the text. Nothing suggests that Peers movement from Aases
farm to Haegstad in Act I is a physical descent down in [to] the
valley at Haegstad, and nothing supports her quaint belief that
the plays last scene takes place where Peer pauses on his way to
Ingrids wedding. Ibsen, she says, implicitly brought
Solvejgs cabin down from the mountains and the heights of
fantasy and escape, violating the laws of space, in order to connect
her to the forces Peer has fled all his life. But the unspecified
stage directions for the sequence of Peers encounters at the end
of Act Vwith Solvejgs hut, with the ghostly reporters, with
the Button Molder (thrice), with the Mountain King, with the Thin Person,
and with Solvejgcan only mean that the whole sequence Moves around
on the same wooded upland slopebelow the mountain heights but above
the valley settlements, near
but only twice at,
The conclusion to Knut Brynhildsvolls
essay (in German) on romantic irony in PG
(6) is relevant to Blackwells. PG,
he says, ends in a kind of parthenogenesis, a virgin birth, that fulfills
Kierkegaards demand that Thought and Subjectivity can attain completeness,
(Fülle) and truth only by letting themselves be born
and sink down into the depth of substantial life. Peers
final return to Solvejg marks the end of the mock-jolly, Mephistophilean
self-irony that Kierkegaard calls romantic. In that change Brynhildsvoll
sees the possibility of the redemption of the non-heroic but now finally
non-romantic Peer. (Brynhildsvoll, incidentally, in forty pages says more
of interest about Kierkegaard and irony in PG
than Bruce Shapiro does in two hundred pages in his book about PG
and Kierkegaard (7). Brynhildsvoll does not appear in Shapiros bibliography.)
L of Y has
never received much critical attention, so one is grateful for Robin Youngs
intelligent discussion of Ibsens balanced ambivalence in a play
too often considered a little simpleminded (8). The ambivalence mirrored
Ibsens own divided loyalties. Contemporaries, both Left and Right,
misread the play. It satirizes Steensgaard as a vulgar sham but not altogether
the democratic ideals he professes or his entrepreneurial energy. It has
the Bratsbergs represent tradition and refined manners but also economic
vulnerability and ruthlessness. It is a play about old nobility compromised
by new materialism, about a society in flux, about the relative nature
of social and economic and moral values. It is that, all right.
Nora Helmers similarly suspect
motherhood is Lilian R. Fursts topic (10). What contemporary critics
found hardest to take in DH
was Noras desertion of her children. Women critics (Lou Andreas-Salomé,
Ella Ketschner, Fredericke Boettcher) and actresses (Robins, Janet Achurch)
were more understanding. The difference is important, for the play is
as much about ambivalent motherhood as about a bad marriage. . .
. Noras separation from her children is not the expression of an
egoistic urge to self-fulfillment; on the contrary, it is the outcome
of a tormenting spiritual self-assessment which leads her to theperhaps
mistakenconclusion that she must sacrifice her motherhood to the
moral welfare of the children. Its a good point, but Furst
might have made more of the tragic irony.
Two other articles on DH
are not strictly speaking critical. Bernard Dukore merits thanks for resurrecting
Eleanor Marx-Avelings and Israel Zangwills parody of the end
of Act III, which appeared in the hard-to-find socialist monthly Time
(London) in March 1891 (11). Entitled A Dolls House Repaired,
it altered Ibsens ending to conform with the marital morality of
the plays English critics. Torvald pays off Krogstad while Nora
eavesdrops, his and her speeches in the final scene are consistently reversed
(Nora: I have repented, Torvald; I swear to you, I have repented),
and it is he who insists on separating, handing her the key to the spare
bedroom. It all sounds as funny as Dukore tells us it is.
Beverly Elliotts discussion of
three productions of DHEthel
Barrymores in 1905, Jed Harris (with Ruth Gordon) in 1937,
and Travis Prestons (at the American Ibsen Theatre in Pittsburgh
in 1983is both a piece of stage history and transfeminist criticism
(12). Male critics disapproved of or were baffled by the early productions.
Was the play subversive? Dated? If so, was updating proper? Was it a comedy?
A tragedy? But most of Elliotts article is enthusiastic endorsement
of Prestons iconographic representation . . . entirely outside
of time of the collapse of the conventional values and institutions
of Western civilization. His staged discontinuities of stylized symbolizations
reproduced the shock of the original. But the productions disquieting
power also had something to do with the way Preston turned DH
into an ungendered play of profound philosophical stances on identity,
self and individuality, profoundly metaphysical and revolutionary.
This makes sense (in a global sort of way), but I would be more receptive
to it had Elliotts rhetoric been less clamorous.
Polemics against largely non-existent
opponents mars Malcolm Pitlocks thorough rereading of WD
(13). Not only does his effort to rehabilitate Gregers Werle sometimes
end in inanity (The play does not have a nice digestible moral:
Gregers is not the foolish meddler of the conventional account; he is
a tragic figure, for he alone in the play has the desire to do rightand
that is never contemptible); the whole premise for his article is
flawed. He assumes that anyone who thinks that Rellings view of
Hjalmars character is more accurate than Gregers is committed
to seeing the doctor as Ibsens raisonneur
and to taking what he says about the life lie to be the plays ultimate
wisdom. Pitlock is at his best when he notices how Gregers, in his quest
for an agent who can redeem his guilt for his fathers misdeeds,
moves through three generations of Ekdals. But why does he twice refer
to Werles first-act dinner party as a luncheon?
Elinor Fuchs in a major essay (14) de-problematizes
the old perception that there is incongruity in LfS
between allegory and realism, philosophy and psychology. Brian Johnstons
analysis is brilliant and deeply engaged, but it creates a
“supertext, in which the women characters are invisible
as autonomous individuals. Fuchss countering subtext
deals with ironies and social particulars. It is non-logocentric, non-phallocentric,
makes no ontological claims, and asserts no inalienable
first principles. The play doesnt just set sign against
sign; it sets sign system against sign system, advancing an
ironic, mutually relativising bifocal vision of human culture. It
ends neither happily nor tragically. Our atavistic longing for the open
sea is not canceled by Ellidas choice of the safety of comfortable
but her choice does mark a successful act of necessary acclimatization.
Fuchss enlistment of Ibsens ambivalence in the service of
feminism is both effective and elegant.
Arnold Weinsteins Metamorphosis
in Little Eyolf"
(15) is accurately titled: it is about characters in process, rainbow
personalities, under the power of primal fears and disgustslike
figures in Munchs paintings or like Kafkas Gregor Samsa, transformed
in bed by uneasy
dreams. Animal imagery expresses transformation: the child as rat. Or
young siren becomes ancient crone. When Rita Allmers is about to start
mothering the beach urchins, her dead childs evil eye is transformed
from private consciousness to public vision, and sacrifice turns
into redemption. Weinstein disconcerts the reader a bit by alternating
between analysis and encomiastics, but he writes well and reads Ibsen
The charnel house in James
Fishers title was Eleonora Duses term for the contemporary
commercial theater, from which she sought escape in Gordon Craigs
design for Rosmersholm,
at the Teatro della Pergola production in Florence in December 1906 (16).
Fishers article is of more biographical than scenographic interest
but does include Craigs epigram, Realism is only Exposure
where Art is Revelation. (Unfortunately, a few sentences later Fisher
writes that Craig didnt think a photographic image of contemporary
life would adequately expose
[my emphasis] Ibsens themes and characters.)
1990 was a good year for brief Ibsen studies-better, in fact, than other recent years of greater output.
(1) Ross Shideler, The Absent Authority: From
Darwin to Nora and Julie, in Proceedings
of the XII Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association,
eds. Roger Bauer, Douwe Fokkema, et al.
(Munich, 1988), III, 185-89.
(2) Katharine Worth, Ibsen and the Irish Theatre,
Theatre Research International (1990), 18-28.
(3) Lilla Maria Crisafulli, James Joyces
Exiles: Woman between Men, Linga Stile:
Trimestrale di Linguistica e Critica Letteraria
(Bologna), 25:1 (1990),
(4) Elm Diamond, Realism and Hysteria: Toward
a Feminist Mimesis, Discourse
13:1 (1990-91), 59-92.
(5) Marilyn Johns Blackwell, Spatial Images
in Peer Gynt: Ibsens
Inversion of the Feminine Redemptive, Modern
Language Notes 85:4 (1990), 879-87.
(6) Knut Brynhildsvoll, Das Nachleben der romantischen
Ironie in Henrik Ibsens Peer Gynt: Der Einfluss Kierkegaards, in
Studien zum Werk und Werkeinfluss Henrik Ibsens
(Leverkusen: Literaturverlag Norden Mark Reinhardt,
1988). This is a valuable volume of six essays on Ibsen. In addition to
the one about romantic irony that I quote from, they deal with Ibsens
youthful style (is there one? Brynhildsvoll asks), the tension of inside
and outside as structural principle in the plays, role and identity in
PG, Ibsen and Werfel,
and Ibsen and Wedekind.
(7) Bruce G. Shapiro, Divine
Madness and the Absurd Paradox: Ibsens Peer Gynt and
the Philosophy of Kierkegaard (New York: Greenwood
(8) Robin Young, Ibsens lykkelige
adelsmennesker: Commerce and Nobility in De
unges Forbund, Scandinavica
29:2 (1990). 181-92.
(9) William Solheim, Ghosts Off-Stage: Where
the Action Is, Scandinavica
29:1 (1990), 69-84.
(10) Lilian R. Furst, Angel, Demon, Mother:
Ibsens Nora, in Patterns of Change:
German Drama and the European Tradition, eds.
Dorothy James and Silvia Rananake (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 137-50.
(11) Bernard F. Dukore, Karl Marxs Youngest
Daughter and A Doll House,
42 (1990), 308-21.
12) Beverly F. Elliott, Noras Doors: Three
American Productions of Ibsens A Doll
and Performance Quarterly 10 (1990), 194-203.
(13) Malcolm Pitlock, The
Wild Duck: A Revaluation, Cambridge
Quarterly 19:2 (1990), 138-56.
(14) Elinor Fuchs, Marriage, Metaphysics, and
The Lady from the Sea
Problem, Modern Drama
33:3 (1990), 434-44.
(15) Arnold Weinstein, Metamorphosis in Ibsens
62:3 (1990), 293-318.
(16) James Fisher, Craig and Duse in the Charnel-House: Rosmersholm (1906), in Text and Presentation, ed. Karelisa Hartigan (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), 47-60.
As before, I have not reviewed items
that contain prose like this: As the desired sense of identity must
of necessity derive in part from means external to their [Ibsens
characters] selves, at once codifying their experience of meaning
for them while deriving the general meaning of the codes from applicability
to specific individual examples, a clash occurs.
In rewarding new turn on an old exercise,
Øystein Rottem (in Norwegian) (I) compares Oedipus
Rex and Ghosts
to show that Ibsens play is not antique tragedy resurrected
on modem ground (a translation of Rottems title quotation,
taken from an enthusiastic review in 1881), but a genuinely modern
play that reflects a profound crisis in nineteenth-century bourgeois society.
That statement, with implications far beyond Ghosts, relates Rottems
essay to Van Laans, below, on Ibsens place within a general
theory of tragedy. Greek tragedy, says Rottem, had no concept of subjective
guilt and did not distinguish between guilt and fate. He cites Kierkegaards
distinction (in Either/Or)
between the classical heros fall as a passion (suffering)
and the modern heros as an action. Esthetic guilt
becomes ethical. Ibsens lifelong concern with the corollary
issue of free will vs. fate/determinism makes him less of a rebel against,
or a critic-reformer of, bourgeois society than someone deeply suspicious
vis à vis all moral and metaphysical absolutes. Oedipus fear
of the ultimate meaning of his past furthers the quest for truth; Mrs.
Alvings realization of her complicity in hers hinders
it. That her subconscious wish is ironically granted her at the endOswald
is again her little childmakes Ghosts
more a tragedy of character than a family tragedy, and Ibsens
pessimism is, as Brandes said, more social than metaphysical
and therefore non-Greek. Thematically related to Rottems article
is Armin Paul Franks demonstration (2) that T. S. Eliots protagonists
in the plays on contemporary subjects do have a futureunlike
those of naturalistic plays, though Eliots plays are, like them,
analytical (i.e, retrospective). Whether Rosmers and
Rebeccas joint suicide is an act of self-imposed justice or the
work of the Rosmersholm Curse, they have no freedom of choice. Harry Monchensey,
the Chamberlaynes, Claude Mulhammer, and Lord Claverton do.
Myth in Van Laans title
(3) means pseudo-truthhere the assumption that tragedy
has died and cannot be resurrected in modern times. The main proponents
of the myth are Krutch, Abel, and Steiner (others are Heilman, Krook,
Brereton, Frye, Bredvold), and the proof of their errorVan Laans
litmus testis their failure to accommodate Ibsen, the worlds
greatest dramatist since Shakespeare, to their contention that there
is not and cannot be such a thing as modern tragedy. (Van
Laans logic would have been stronger if his tribute had not been
to Ibsen as dramatist but as writer of tragedy.)
By conducting cultural diagnostics and not literary
analysis (Susan Sontag), the death-of-tragedy critic sees modern
plays as either failing to meet the criterion that tragedy affirms
life or cutting themselves off from tragic import by rationalizing
their conflicts and thus allowing the critic to bury pre-rationalist tragedy
safely in the distant past. In Van Laans own theory
Ibsens plays are tragedies because they are plays for a time
of crisis, for a moment of discursive despair
(Timothy J. Reiss). Their actions are not about harmony superseding dissonance
but about dissonance itself, the Dionysian without the Apollonian,
perceiving life as unalleviated, endlessly and unendurably dangerous,
finally destructive and self-destructivein short demoniacal
Supporting his argument with an analysis
of even a single Ibsen play would, says Van Laan, take an inordinate
amount of space, because of the complexity and variety of the theoretical
assumptions underlying the death-of-tragedy myth. Perhaps, but even so
the reader cant help wishing for such an analysis. Still, Van Laans
view of tragedy as ineluctable discord seems to me truer to the tragic
tradition than the view of the affirmationists (Van Laans word).
Do the Iliad, the
Rex, King Lear,
Pheadra, and Billy
Budd really affirm life rather than
its ironic inequities? And Van Laans non-affirmationist Ibsen makes
much more sense than the alternative. For the variant of the affirmation
theory that the uplift school of critics applies to Ibsens plays
turns them into visions of socio-psychological Utopia in which tragedy
has indeed died. And that is not Ibsens world.
Inga-Stina Ewbanks prose is so
evocative, so apt and precise in its perceptions, that the inattentive
reader may miss its conceptually incisive substance. In The
Tempest and After (4) she thinks of Shakespeares
last play not as an influence, in any ordinary sense, on later
drama but as a seashell held up to the dramatists ear,
in which the processes of life within become audible. The
play presents a gap between text and meaning which gives [it] a
particularly shell-like nature: so much of what you hear in itbe
it Shakespeares autobiography or a colonial discourseis yourself.
Ewbank goes on to collocate The Tempest
and certain of Ibsens and Strindbergs plays. She ignores Shakespeares
influence on early Ibsen; her concern is with the Shakespeare the old
Ibsen found in Georg Brandes biography (1895-96) (which Ibsen referred
to as Brandes poem about Shakespeare). When
We Dead Awaken would not be the play it is if
it had not been written after The
Tempest: Rubek-Ibsen is the negative image
of the serene and fulfilled Prospero-Shakespeare, and the Nun-Attendants
final Pax vobiscum,
sealing Rubek and Irene into their own world of death,
contrasts with Prosperos last prayer to the audience, which throws
his fate on to them, thereby bridging the gap between art
and life. Ibsens dramatic epilogue is a
richer and sadder work if, as an undertone in it, we hear I am not
Shakespeare, nor was meant to be. Strindberg admired Shakespeare
partly because he saw in him the antithesis to the Nora man,
the Dovre poetStrindbergs particular abomination.
The essay is about influence-as-resonance, a lovely record of intertextuality
experienced but not manifest.
Oliver W. Gerland discovers in Pillars
of Society and The
Wild Duck the paradigm of Lacans imaginary
self-image (5). Bernick and Hjalmar are both positioned between a paternal
and a maternal character. The action of the plays is the protagonists
exchangeor refused exchangeof identification with one
of these figures for identification with the other. This triad
represents in a displaced form the familiar Oedipal structure: the
Mother as the childs original, narcissistic Imaginary,
the Father as social nay-sayer and repressor. When Bernick betrayed his
and Lona Hessels love, he moved from the erotic maternal-to the
socioeconomically advantageous paternal. In the course of the play, that
movement is reversed, as he becomes once again Lonas girlhood
hero."The Wild Duck
"comments" on Pillars of Society
in the sense that it ambivalently subverts the earlier plays simple
polarities of male/female and inside/outside. Gregers conversion
of Hjalmar fails because Gregers has no place to ground it: the
text refuses to disclose a reality for the new Hjalmar, who is already
enacting an Imaginary construct (breadwinner-inventor-husband-father)
underwritten by Haakon Werle. Gregers as clever dog forces
Hjalmar to repudiate his garret self, where he has been able to see himself
as he wants to appear in a stable mirror, and where hammering
is an adequate substitute for inventing. But since the
clever dog belongs to Haakon Werle, in retelling the Ekdal story
Gregers only reenforces his fathers control. Whether right
or notthe issue seems irrelevantthis is an ingenious and consistent
reading. But like so many others who seek psycholinguistic paradigms in
literature, Gerland occasionally offends against fictional decorum: .
. . unpinning the signifier from its original set of references, . . .
Gregers spends a great deal of time teaching Hedvig that the wild
duck is a free-floating signifier whose range of references extends
beyond the literal wild duck. He does?
The crucial term in Richard L. Barrs
essay on The Lady from the Sea
(6) is perspectival interaction (or bond), denoting
the way individual viewpoints collide but connect in communal discourse.
Like Rottem, Ewbank, and Gerland, who also deal with particular Ibsen
plays, Barr is less intent on coming up with yet another interpretation
than with using the play as a general modelin this case, a pattern
of real-life social relationships. A community is a set of interlocking
individual bondings, and Ballested, a minor character, is the plays
emblematic figure: because he is a jack-of-all-trades he relates to the
whole town. Ibsens title metaphor does not mean that Ellida is
a mermaid in all but a literal sense. (In Norwegian, the allusion cannot
be missed. Fruen fra havet
mermaid.) It means only that in the eyes of the town she is
strange. At the end she is still developing, but she has already
learned that she can establish viable relationships with others besides
the Stranger. If she is cured, it is because a relationship
(like hers now with her husband) makes for individuality, while Lyngstrands
equation, by which the wife is absorbed by her husband, eliminates
it. The ultimate significance of her development is that it illustrates
Ibsens penetratingly paradoxical view [that] solitary selfhood
is ultimately a contradiction in terms, and that he is, therefore,
not just (or even at all?) Brusteins radical individualist. (Peer
Gynt-though Barr doesnt say this-is the lonely egotist who learns
that true selfhood entails sociality.)
Kay U. Des Roches has written a dense,
difficult, controversial, but fiercely intelligent vindication of stage
directions (or stage instructions, as she calls them) as indispensable
embodiments of the playwrights visual codes in
dialogue with the spoken dialogue (7). When Janet Suzman, before
burning Løvborgs manuscript, rocked it in her arms as if
it were a baby, she was playing an interpretation, not the scene.
By taking the image-making prerogative away from the audience and giving
it to the character, the actress leaves us no freedom to move imaginatively
toward deeper and darker matters which must remain unvisualized.
The visual codes, the playwrights information about staging,
offers us (in Wolfgang Isers words) knowledge of the
conditions under which the imaginary object is to be produced
[Des Roches emphasis]. . . . stage instructions contextualize the
fictional action of the dramatic text. What we see on stage is neither
the mental image elicited during a reading of the stage instructions,
noras Iser would have itan inferior version of the
imaginary object. On the contrary, what we see
is to the production what the performance codes are to the playscript.
. . the written script . . . implies a multi-media event where sight and
sound confront each other. What the scripted stage instructions
call for cannot be made visible to an audience any more than to
a reader; in both cases it remains the prerogative of the imagination.
That is, the stage spectacle is different from any particular actualization-among
an indeterminate number of the referents in stage instructions. As spectators
we are still capable of, and entitled to, imposing our imaginative visuals
on the optics before our eyes. The theoretical premise here
is Jonathan Cullers structuralist dictum: just as literary criticism
is not the discovery of a meaning but an account
of the possibilities of interpretation, so Ibsen places
his characters into a dynamic universea universe where signifiers
do not presuppose signifieds and where readers must make their uneasy
way among meanings that always fall short of the truth.
Giving priority neither to words nor to spectacle, the essay is a radical challenge to the authority of even the best stage production. Yet, a mere playgoer may be forgiven for asking what Janet Suzman is to do with herself and her prop just before she burns Theas and Eilert Løvborgs child. Des Roches does not mention that Ibsens stage direction has Pakken har hun på skødet, (the parcel is on her lap) and that skødet, with a different preposition (i [in] for på [on]), means the womb. Do we have the right to deny the actor the right to interpret what she is enacting? I shall be told that Des Roches is abstrusely theorizing here and not directing live actors for an actual performance. I still think the case for the interpreting actor troubles her argument. More schematically, less incisively, but with many more specifics about actual stagings of playsone of them A Doll House Egil Törnqvist deals with related matters in his book on Transposing Drama mainly from a verbal semiotic system to an audio-visual one. (8)
Heinrich Deterings wide-flung essay
(in German) (9) on allegory in When We Dead
Awaken has Joyce, Rilke, and Mann testify to
the modernism of Ibsens last play: all three admired it and admitted
to being influenced by it. Scenographically, the play moves from a plausible
setting for social realism into an abstract space for signification,
to biblical-mountains that are premonitions of death. Among
the three coordinates of setting, characters allusive names, and
events as visualizations of thought processes, the tensions among allegorical
abstractions are released. (In his footnote 11 Detering finds a
similar analysis in Jørgen Haugans Henrik
Ibsens metode, but by confusing Haugan with
Einar Haugen goes on to say that in Ibsen's
Drama: Author to Audience Haugan backed off
from that analysis. He did not, since he didnt write the book.)
What is distinctly modern about the play is its ultimate non-resolution
of the conflict between two contending, would-be redemptive religions:
Maias and Ulfheims pagan hedonism, standing for
vitality; and Rubeks and Irenes sacralization
of art, standing for estheticism. Both religions
fail: Rubek and Irene die, and Ulfheim (literally) lets Maia down.
The final synthesis Detering finds in the formal structure of allegory.
By marking the boundary between the sayable and the ineffablethe
empirically experienced and the transcendentthe lovers death
is itself allegorical. Implying no eschatology and suspending the dialectic
between the two religions, the ending signifies the abandonment of any
effort to find meaning beyond the work of art itself, thus making it (and
the creative act that produces it) metaphysical. On this Detering cites
Walter Benjamin (in The Origin of German Tragedy
): Allegory is dialectically canceled the moment evanescence
is offered as allegory. Detering here seems to be saying that Ibsens
play ends in self-reflexiveness, though that is not obviously the point
of his use of Rilkes Malthe Laurids Brigges address to Ibsen
as the loneliest and of Brigges allusion to Ibsens
failure in his last play to make intangibles and stageables fuse in a
violent event: And now you could do no more. The two extremities
that you had bent together sprang apart, your mad strength escaped from
the flexible shaft, and it was as if your work had not been. If
not obscure, this is a bleak reading. I am not sure it is refuted if we
make a distinction between an allegorical play and a play in which the
characterslike the four principals in WWDA
never stop allegorizing themselves and their lives.
Of the not many 1991 articles that have
no other purpose than elucidating a single Ibsen play only one deserves
mention. Joan Templeton dichotomizes the characters in The
Wild Duck by gender and presents a new, witty,
and rewarding view of the play (10). Gina and Mrs. Sørby are housekeeperspractical,
competent, and sensible, the plays realists because
they are anti-rhetoricians. Hjalmar, Gregers, and even Dr.
Relling (his life-lie therapy is his
invention) are foolish, sentimentalizing missionaries.
Brand and Peer Gynt, absolutist and egotist, are here on the same side:
Gregers and Hjalmar are soul-brothers. Only by inference does
Templeton place Hedvig between the two groups of gender-divided adults:
Daddys girl with a vengeance, whose death, her
gift of love, is her birthday present from her father. The play
reverses the conventional opposition of Man/Reason and Woman/Feeling.
Gina is the eiron
to Hjalmars alazon.
When he corrects her pronunciation of pistol and Gina replies,
I dont see that that makes it any better, she is, says
Templeton, the better semiotician of the two. Her conclusion
is exemplary: In a play which lacks protagonist and raisonneur,
whose exposition and crisis remain ambiguous, in which language is suspect
and theory kills, there can be only one discourse that is privileged:
the simplest plain-speaking, the non-discourse, even down
to the ungrammatical and the inarticulate, the wrong language mocking
the right one, and finally, no speech at all.
Two shorter notices: Thomas Postlewait
uses the opening night of the first London production of A
Doll House (6/7/1889) to show how inaccessible
the objective purity of any event is to historians (11).
This is already the orthodoxy of the new historiography: the gathering,
the interpreting, and the reporting of data are processes that cannot
be kept apart, and all three are inevitably tainted by historians
covert or overt ideology. And Postlewait doesnt presume to add anything
new to either the stage history or the criticism of DH.
(One of his examples of the unreliability of documentation is no example.
A contemporary sketch showed Herbert Waring, who acted Helmer, playing
the piano in the Tarantella scene. This cant be right, says Postlewait,
since in Ibsens script it is Dr. Rank who plays for the dancing
Nora. Not quite. The play has both
men at the pianofirst Helmer and then Rank.)
Beverly Elliott and Tom Markus report on their use of Munch in staging Ghosts and Strindbergs The Father at the Virginia Theatre in Richmond in February 1981 and 1982, respectively (12). By putting emotions and not just tables and chairs on the stage, they wanted to reproduce the shock to the audience of the original productions. They used the frame for Munchs Madonna to frame the proscenium for Ghosts but replaced Munchs fetus with a molded mask of Mr. Alving, looking like Dagny Juells Polish husband and, like the fetus, emanating sperm. All the actors spoke to and looked at the audience, the way Munchs people look at the viewer of Evening on Karl Johan, Death in the Sick Room, and The Scream. For Strindbergs play, Munchs Scream and his portrait of Strindberg served similar functions.
(1) Øystein Rottem, . . . den
antike tragedie, gjenopstaaet paa moderne jord: et notat om skjebnesynet
i Henrik Ibsens Gengangere,
Edda 91:4 (1991),
(2) Armin Paul Frank, Ghosts from the What Might
Have Been: T. S. Eliots Plays of Anti-Naturalistic Analysis,
Yeats-Eliot Review 2:1 (Summer 1991),
(3) Thomas F. Van Laan, The-Death-of-Tragedy
Myth, Journal of Dramatic Theory and
Criticism 5:2 (1991), 5-31.
(4) Inga-Stina Ewbank, The
Tempest and After, Shakespeare
Survey 43 (1991), 109-19.
(5) Oliver Gerland, The Lacanian Imaginary in
Ibsens Pillars of Society
and The Wild Duck,
24:4 (1990-91), 342-62.
(6) Richard L. Barr, Metaphor and Community
in The Lady from the Sea: Remitting Impediments through the Marriage of
Skewed Minds, Modern Drama 34:4
(7) Kay U. Des Roches, Sight and Insight: Stage
Pictures in Hedda Gabler, Journal of
Dramatic Theory and Criticism 5:1 (1990), 49-68.
(8) Egil Törnqvist, Transposing
Drama: Studies in Representation (New York:
St. Martins Press, 1991); Representing the Source Text: Ibsens
Et dukkehjem/A Dolls
(9) Heinrich Detering, Allegorisierung und Modernität
in lbsens Når vi døde vågner,
(10) Joan Templeton, Sense and Sensibility:
Women and Men in Vildanden,
Scandinavian Studies 63:4
(11) Thomas Postlewait, Historiography and the
Theatrical Event: A Primer with Twelve Cruxes,
Theatre Journal 43:2 (1991), 157-78.
(12) Beverly Elliott and Tom Markus, Through the Piercing Eyes of Edvard Munch: Ibsen and Strindberg on Stage, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 5:2 (1991),53-65.
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