Home Mission Parchi Viaggi Eventi Multimedia Contatti
Il Magazine I Numeri Catgorie Almanacco Contatti
IntervisteLibri ApertiAmbiente e TerritorioPaesaggi SonoriCucina LetterariaStorie in Cammino

Henrik Ibsen – Norway’s most renowned author, playwright and poet

18 Febbraio 2024
Henrik Ibsen – Norway’s most renowned author, playwright and poet
Ibsen is considered a leading figure in Norwegian and world literature. The fourth Norwegian Literary Park is dedicated by the Skien Community to the playwright with strong ties to Italy

Leggi l'articolo in italiano

Henrik Johan Ibsen was born on the 20th of March 1928, in Skien, a city in southern Norway. He was the second son of Knud Plesner Ibsen (1797-1877) and Marichen Cornelia Martine Altenburg (1799-1869). The Ibsen family was well situated financially and belonged to the local bourgeoisie. However, at the age of five, Henrik experienced major social changes in his life. The father suffered a devastating financial setback. Hence, two years later, in 1835, the family, reduced to poverty, moved to Venstøp, near Skien, where the Ibsen family remained until 1843, when they decided to move back to Skien.

The same year, to help improve the family’s financial situation, Henrik started as an assistant in a pharmacy in Grimstad. another small coastal town in southern Norway. He remained in Grimstad until 1850. During that time, the young Ibsen became known for his intelligence and his sarcastic wit, which made the pharmacy the preferred meeting place for the young people in town who had intellectual aspirations. In the same period, Ibsen engaged himself in poetry writing.

His early literary works
Ibsen's first literary work was the poem I Høsten ("In the Autumn"), which was published on 29th of September 1849, in the daily newspaper Christiania-Posten. [i]
In the same period he also wrote his first drama in three acts and in verse, Catilina (“Catiline”, 1850) Ibsen's friend, Ole Schulerud (1827-59), promoted the play to the only theatre in Christiania, the capital of Norway. Ibsen's work was however rejected. [ii] Schulerud, who was firmly convinced of Ibsen's literary talent, then decided to publish Catilina at his own expense, and in April 1850 the drama came out. In the same month Henrik Ibsen left Grimstad to establish himself in Christiania. Thus, a new phase, a new aera in Ibsen's life began.

Ibsen, at the time twenty-two years of age, wanted to follow an academic carrier, and hence follow university studies. To prepare, he attended “Heltbergs Studentfabrik”, a type of high school. Here Henrik met, among others, the writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910). Bjørnson, who later was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1903), remained a close friend of Ibsen for many years to come. However, Ibsen failed the university admission exam, and hence his dream of an academic career shattered.

However, in the literary field Ibsen had his first success as a dramatist. In contrast to his first drama, the second one, Kjæmpehøien (“The Burial Mound also known as The Warrior's Barrow”,1850), was immediately accepted by Christiania-Theatre, and the premier took place on 26th of September 1850. [iii] The plot, which was set in the tenth century, in Sicily, was about the contrast between the vengeful spirit of the Vikings and the concept of forgiveness in Christian doctrine.

"The Bergen Years"
The following year, in 1851, the famous violinist Ole Bull (1810-80) offered Ibsen a post in the management of the newly established Norske Theater in Bergen, the largest city on the western coast of Norway. Thus, the playwright became the theatre’s stage master. His responsibilities were decorations, costumes, props, stage arrangement and dramaturgy. Ibsen held the position for six years, and the experience he gained was essential for his future career as a dramatist. Furthermore, due to the assignment, also his financial situation improved considerably.

During “the Bergen years” Ibsen travelled to both Dresden and Copenhagen to increase his theatrical proficiency. On the 15th of April 1852 Ibsen arrived in Copenhagen, the at the time, culturally very lively Danish capital. When there, Ibsen got acquainted with Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791-1860), the illustrious director of the Royal Theatre, at which the dramatist did most of his theatre studies. When in Copenhagen Ibsen also met the renown Danish writer and poet Hans Christian Andersen (1805–75). After about two months in Copenhagen, Ibsen travelled on to Dresden, where he continued his studies. However, there he led a quite solitary life, and after a relatively short period of time Ibsen returned to Bergen.

After his return, Ibsen embarked upon an intense working period: In five years he wrote and staged four plays. The première of the first one, Sancthansnatten (“St. John's Night”, 1852) took place on the 2nd of January 1953. Then, from 1855 and in the following two years, always on the 2nd of January, were staged the dramas Gildet paa Solhoug ("A Feast at Solhoug", 1855), Fru Inger til Østraad ("Lady Inger of Oestraat", 1857) and Olaf Liljekrans (1857).

Although the young dramatist was prolific in his work, this was not an easy time for Ibsen. He failed to establish himself as a reputable playwright. He was even critiqued by the theatre committee, which criticized him for unsatisfactory management. Moreover, the public was not at all enthusiastic, at least not until early 1856.

However, with the staging of Gildet paa Solhoug (“A Feast in Solhoug”,1855) the sentiments changed. The drama was performed six times at Christiania Theater and played in the cities Kristiansand and Trondheim. Furthermore, in Trondheim Ibsen introduced an important novelty in the scenography; instead of addressing the audience, as was the norm, the actors, in their dialogues, addressed each other. In Ibsen’s last year in Bergen Olaf Liljekrans was staged. The drama was however not well received by the audience. If an evaluation of Ibsen’s Bergen Years was to be made, it could be said that only one of the dramas written during that time, Gildet paa Solhoug, had a certain success.

Private life
As already mentioned, Ibsen at the age of fifteen moved to Grimstad on his own. While there, in 1846, Henrik was romantically involved with the housemaid, Else Sofie Jensen. On the 9th. of October the same year, Sofie gave birth to a boy, Ibsen’s son, baptized Hans Jacob Henriksen. However, the relationship with the mother, and the son, did not last. Four years later Ibsen left Grimstad to start anew in Christiania. However, it would be another six years and a new transfer before there were any changes in Henrik’s private life.

On the 7th of January 1856, while in Bergen, Ibsen met the young Suzannah Daae Thoresen (1836-1914), daughter of pastor Hans Conrad Thoresen (1802-58) and Sara Margrethe Daae (1806-41). After a short period of time, Henrik and Suzannah became engaged. On the 18th of June 1858 they married, in Bergen. In the following year, after moving to Christiania, their only son Sigurd was born, on the 23rd of December.

However, the early years of the marriage were problematic. Both the Ibsen family and the theatre were in a difficult economic situation. The theatre was losing money and Ibsen was burdened with debts and a series of lawsuits over unpaid debts. Consequently, the family was forced to move frequently, always to increasingly squalid lodgings. All of this had driven Ibsen into a depressive state of mind. Suzannah with her strong willpower was, however, able to stabilize the family situation. And for all the years to come, she selflessly continued to be her husband's main support.

Back in Christiania
Already the year prior to the wedding, specifically on the 11th of August 1857, Ibsen accepted the position as artistic director of the Christiania Norske Theater. The theatre was established seven years earlier, with the intention to counterbalance the Christiania Theatre, at which actors and managers were Danish, and all plays staged imported from Copenhagen. Hence, the scope of the new playhouse was to promote dramas and vaudevilles written by contemporary Norwegian authors. On Ibsen's part, Hærmændene paa Helgeland (“The Vikings at Helgeland”, 1858) was the first drama staged at the theatre.

Following a period of intense literary production, the dramatist’s productivity dropped. Almost five years should pass before the poet and playwright wrote the poem Terje Vigen (1862), the comedy Kjærlighedens Komedie (“Love's Comedy”, 1862) and the historical drama Kongs-Emnerne (“The Pretenders to the Throne”, 1863).

Ibsen continued his work as artistic director until 1862. However, Ibsen wished to do more. He wanted to travel abroad, to continental Europe to be inspired. More than once, during the years in Christiania, Ibsen had applied for a state grant to do so, but unsuccessfully. However, in 1863, with help from Bjørnstierne Bjørnson, funds were raised. Finally, Ibsen’s wish to travel came true, the destination being Rome.

Henrik Ibsen left Christiania, and Norway on the 5th of April 1864 to spend a year abroad, immersing himself in European culture. After a little more than two months travel, Ibsen arrived in Rome, on the 18th of June. Suzannah and Sigurd followed suit and arrived in September. Ibsen may have intended to return to homeland after a year abroad, but his prospects in Norway were minimal to non. Hence, except for two brief visits, Ibsen did not in twenty-seven years return to Norway. Of his 27-year long voluntary exile Ibsen spent about ten years in Italy (from 1864 to 1868 and from 1878 to 1885), mainly in Rome, and about seventeen years in Germany, first in Dresden, then in Munich.

Ibsen’s first Italian period
In Rome, far from Christiania, Ibsen's life changed. Although initially his financial situation was still weak, his mood changed for the better. He had regained the desire to write. But after several unproductive years, to start over was not easy. However, it is told that when Ibsen one day, in the summer of 1865, by chance entered the Saint Peter's Basilica, he got a clear idea of what to write about, what to say. Ibsen immediately started writing, and a few months later Brand (1865), a five-act drama in verse, was a reality. Brand is considered to be Ibsen's first masterpiece.

The drama narrates the story of the idealistic and uncompromising pastor Brand and his tragic life in a Norwegian mountain village. When creating the character of the protagonist Brand, Ibsen is said to have been inspired by the Danish philosopher, theologian and writer Søren Kierkegaard’s (1756-1838) thoughts, which at the time was much debated. [iv] Further, the model for Brand is said to have been the Norwegian priest, Christopher Bruun (1839-1920). [v] When published, Brand created quite a stir and led to a long series of reviews in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish press. [vi]

It could be said that Brand changed Ibsen's life in many ways. His previous works had not captivated the public. Consequently, up until then Ibsen's reputation as a dramatist had been mediocre and, consequently, his remuneration modest. With Brand however, the situation changed. The drama was a great success, and with it the esteem for Ibsen grew. And the year after the publication, in 1866, Ibsen was at last awarded by the Norwegian government an annual author's salary. All this brought more stability to his life, which now seemed full of perspectives. Finally, he could concentrate fully on his artistic work. In retrospect, it might even be said that Ibsen’s spur-of-the-moment visit to Saint Peter's Basilica had been decisive not only for the narrative about the priest Brand.

The following year Peer Gynt (1867), a five-act play in verse, was published. The first two acts of the drama were written in Rome, the third at Villa Pisani i Casamicciola in Ischia and the fourth and fifth in Sorrento. [vii] The poem is based on legendary, folklore and fairy-tale motifs and is full of allusions to contemporary people and events. At the same time, it is a profound psychological study of the protagonist Peer’s character. [viii] Also Peer Gynt was well received and a success. It was also the last work Ibsen wrote before leaving Italy. The Ibsen family’s first stay in Italy ended the year after.

In 1868, when Ibsen’s son Sigurd turned nine, the family decided to move to Protestant Northern Europe, to Germany, where they found an educational system more to their liking. In terms of time, their stay in Germany was divided; first from 1868 to 1880 and then from 1885 to 1891. Initially, they settled in Dresden in the Kingdom of Saxony. However, in April of 1875 the Ibsen’s moved to Munich in the Kingdom of Bavaria, where they stayed until 1880, with one exception; the winter 1878–1879, when Ibsen stayed in Italy.

While in Germany Ibsen was productive. All together he wrote six dramas: De unges Forbund (“The League of Youths”, 1869), Kejser og Galilæer (“Emperor and Galilean”, 1873), Samfundets Støtter (“Pillars of Society”, 1877), Rosmersholm (1886), Fruen fra Havet (“The Woman from the Sea”, 1888) and Hedda Gabler (1890).

Back in Rome
In 1878 the Ibsen’s returned to Rome, which for seven years should remain their home. During his second stay in Italy Ibsen wrote another four, later to be famous dramas: Et dukkehjem ("A Doll's House", 1879), begun in Rome and finished in Amalfi, Gengangere ("Ghosts", 1881) and Vildanden ("The Wild Duck", 1884). Furthermore, during this period, in 1882, the son Sigurd Ibsen obtained his doctorate in law at l’Università di Roma. Three years thereafter, the Ibsen’s decided to move back to Munich.

The return to the homeland
As already mentioned, in 1891 Ibsen returned to Norway. He settled, together with Suzannah, in Christiania, which became his abode until his death. In those years in the Norwegian capital, he wrote the dramas Bygmester Solness ("The Master Builder", 1892), Lille Eyolf ("Little Eyolf", 1894), John Gabriel Borkmann (1896) and Når vi døde vågner ("When We Dead Awaken", 1899).

In 1900 Ibsen was stricken with paralysis. Subsequently, his health gradually deteriorated, and six years later he died in Christiania, on the 23rd. of May 1906. The celebrated playwright's funeral was the most pompous ever seen in independent Norway, with the king, government, parliament and diplomatic corps in the first line. The funeral ceremony was presided over by priest Christoffer Bruun, Brand's alleged role model.

The most famous and well-known works
Today Ibsen is regarded as a prominent figure in Norwegian literature. Ibsen's dramas can be classified and characterized in different ways; some as historic, some as romantic and others as realistic contemporary. The plays from Ibsen’s hand, today considered the most famous, his masterpieces, are Brand, Peer Gynt, Et dukkehjem/"A Doll's House", Gengangere /"Ghosts" and Vildanden/”The Wild Duck", written in Italy, and Hedda Gabler and perhaps Rosmersholm, written in Germany. [ix]

Among those, in an international context, Et dukkehjem/"A Doll's house" can be named the most famous of Ibsen's dramas.

In Italy, on the 15th. of February1889, the drama was staged for the first time, at the Teatro Gerbino in Turin. However, a more famous production of "A Doll's House" was stage in Milan on the 9th. of February1891, at the Teatro dei Filodrammatici. The protagonist Nora was played by the renowned actress Eleonora Duse (1858-1924), named the "Divine". Thereafter, the same staging of the play was also shown in Rome, Moscow, Vienna, Berlin, London and Budapest. Fifteen years later, in 1906, Duse, a great admirer of Ibsen, visited Christiania where she, at the National Theatre, performed both in "Hedda Gabler" and "Rosmersholm". While in Christiania she wished to meet the dramatist in person. However, Ibsen, who died later the same year, was then to frail.

Furthermore, by many, “A Doll’s House” is considered a symbol of feminism and the esteem of women. Hence, the protagonist Nora has become a feminist symbol. For example, in Italy, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Ibsen's " A Doll's House" was called the "Bible of feminism", together with the autobiography Una donna (1906) by the writer and feminist Sibilla Aleramo (1876-1960).[x] Still, more than 140 years after first published, "A Doll's House" can still be called modern and relevant. For example, in 2022 the drama was performed on 28 stages (4 in Italy), in nine different countries. [xi]

More generally, it can be said that Henrik Ibsen's major works do not fade away but remain relevant.

[i]     Christiania-Posten i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 26. februar 2023 fra http://snl.no/Christiania-Posten.
[ii]    Today named Oslo.
[iii]   https://www.ibsen.uio.no/DRINNL_K1%7Cintro_performance.xhtml
[iv]   https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/soren-aabye-kierkegaard/
[v]    Myklebust, Eivind; Allkunne: Brand - dikt av Ibsen i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 9. mars 2023 fra http://snl.no/Brand_-_dikt_av_Ibsen
[vi]   https://www.ibsen.uio.no/DRINNL_Br%7Cintro_publication_reception.xhtml
[vii]  https://www.ibsen.uio.no/DRINNL_PG%7Cintro_creation.xhtml
[viii] Peer Gynt i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 9. mars 2023 fra https://snl.no/Peer_Gynt 
[ix]   Hagen, Erik Bjerck: Henrik Ibsen i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 8. mai 2023 fra https://snl.no/Henrik_Ibsen
[x]    https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/57405/Master-tesi-Torill-Rambj-r.pdf?sequence=1 , p.63.
[xi]   https://ibsenstage.hf.uio.no/pages/search    


Dahl, Helge; Bjørnson i Roma. Europeer på klassisk grunn, Messel forlag, 2008
Hagen, Erik Bjerk; Henrik Ibsen i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 8. mai 2023 fra https://snl.no/Peer_Gynt
Heiberg, Hans; «… født til kunstner» Et Ibsen-portrett, Skien 2003
Myklebust, Eivind; Allkunne: Brand - dikt av Ibsen i Store norske leksikon på snl.no. Hentet 9. mars 2023 fra http://snl.no/Brand_-_dikt_av_Ibsen
Rambjør, Torill; “Due donne – due scrittrici, Sibilla Aleramo e Sigrid Undset, Confronti letterari dei romanzi Una donna e Jenny»
Treccani; https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/soren-aabye-kierkegaard/
World Press.com; https://ibsenitalia.wordpress.com/tappe-italiane-di-ibsen/1-roma-1864/1-2-il-circolo-scandinavo/ (6.03.2023)
Ystad, Vigdis; https://www.ibsen.uio.no/DRINNL_Br%7Cintro_publication_reception.xhtml 
Aarseth, Asbjørn; https://www.ibsen.uio.no/DRINNL_K1%7Cintro_performance.xhtml


Henrik Ibsen
Scopri il parco

Henrik Ibsen

Skien (Norvegia)

Leggi l'articolo in italiano
Torna indietro

Potrebbe interessarti anche

Giornata della Poesia in Parte d'Ispi: Erminio Cara

Paesaggio, acqua, tramonti, inferno, meraviglia e il cammino degli uomini nell'opera poetica di Erminio Cara

Blues di un molisano errante: Nicola Donatelli

Dedicato a Nicola Donatelli il quarto appuntamento di Tutte le stelle del Parco, la rubrica del M° Lino Rufo sui grandi personaggi che hanno conferito gloria e risonanza al territorio molisano in cui gravita il Parco Letterario Francesco Jovine

La casa della famiglia di Virgilio, luogo di natura e di ispirazione poetica

In attesa dell’imminente inaugurazione del Parco Museo Virgilio al Forte di Pietole, può risultare interessante fare un approfondimento sul luogo che ha dato i natali al grande poeta latino

Mazzarino, l'abruzzese che possedeva le redini di Francia e il cuore di Anna d'Austria

Originario di Pescina (Aq), piccolo borgo nel cuore dell’Abruzzo, il cardinale Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino riuscì a scalare le vette del potere politico del Seicento europeo diventando il personaggio più influente e controverso del suo tempo.

La poesia e la letteratura non morranno

La storia ci mostra che anche negli inverni più lunghi e più gelidi, quando pare essersi ibernato, il cuore degli uomini è pur sempre palpitante di vita ed è pronto ad accogliere e a coltivare la poesia, l’arte, il pensiero filosofico

Il bosco di Camaldoli tra sacralità e incanto

Per un pittore non vi ha forse luogo in Toscana così acconcio ed opportuno quanto Camaldoli per ritrar la natura dal vero. Abate Francesco Fontani (1748-1818)
I Parchi Letterari®, Parco Letterario®, Paesaggio Culturale Italiano® e gli altri marchi ad essi collegati, sono registrati in Italia, in ambito comunitario ed a livello internazionale - Privacy Policy
Creazione Siti WebDimension®