Henrik Ibsen



  • (1828 - 1906) Norwegian dramatist and poet, who has often beencalled the father of modern drama. In his mature works Ibsenused naturalistic settings and dialogue to expose the corruption andhypocrisy of middle-class life. His work is valued for its technicalmastery, penetrating psychological insight, and profound symbolism.

    Ibsen was the son of a businessman, whose bankruptcy causedhis family considerable social embarrassment. He left home at 15 towork as a chemist's assistant; an affair with an older woman at thistime ended with the birth of a son. Ibsen secretly supported themboth for the remainder of his life. By the age of 36, Ibsen was considerablyin debt and subject to fits of depression. With the help of his friends,however, he paid off his debts and decided to move to Rome. He remainedabroad, in Italy and Germany, for 27 years.

    His first play, the romantic Catilina (1850), writtenunder the pseudonym of Brynjolf Bjarme, was followed by several historicaldramas in verse; these included The Burial Mound (1854) andThe Feast of Solhoug (1856), inspired by Norwegian folk songs.His most impressive works were written after he left Norway. The versetragedy Brand was published to considerable acclaim in 1866 whilePeer Gynt (1867; first staged 1876), a portrait of the author as an undisciplined and unprincipled young man, established his international reputation.In 1871 Ibsen began the play that he considered his greatest work,Emperor and Galilean (1876), a 10-act 'double drama' basedon the life of Julian the Apostate. It has seldom been revived.

    The first of his four social plays, the works that representthe essence of Ibsenism, was Pillars of Society(1877). This was followed by A Doll's house (1879), whichremains the most widely performed of his works, ghosts (1881),which uses sexually transmitted disease as a symbol of the guilt ofa corrupt society, and An Enemy of the People (1882). HeddaGabler (1890) explores the isolation of the individual, whileThe Master Builder (1892) focuses on the psychology of theartist.

    When Ibsen returned to Norway for good in 1891, it was asa world-famous author. A stroke in 1900 left him helpless for theremainder of his life.