IBSEN IN SKIEN AND GRIMSTAD:
IBSEN IN SKIEN AND GRIMSTAD:
his education, reading, and early works
IBSEN IN SKIEN AND GRIMSTAD:
his education, reading, and early works
Philip E. Larson
Copyright 1999 by Philip E. Larson. All rights reserved.
The Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum, Grimstad
Telemark Museum, Skien
For my grandchildren
The Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum, Grimstad
Telemark Museum, Skien
ISBN: 82 - 992932 - 5 - 1
Philip E. Larson, 1941—
Printed by: TERJES trykkeri as, Lillesand.
Cover: Grimstad, painting by Henrik Ibsen (1850).
The Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum, Grimstad
Table of Contents ........................................................................... 5
Illustrations .................................................................................... 6
Acknowledgements ........................................................................ 7
Introduction ................................................................................... 9
Ibsen in Skien .............................................................................. 13
Ibsen in Grimstad, 1844-48 .......................................................... 45
On the Composition of Catilina ..................................................... 85
Ibsen’s Last Year in Grimstad, April 1849-April 1850 ..................... 107
Key to Website .......................................................................... 129
Notes ....................................................................................... 133
Bibliography ............................................................................. 153
Index ........................................................................................ 177
Addendum on Ibsen's Education in Drawing and Painting .............. 184
1. Venstøp, woodcut ............................................................................................. 17
2. Fossum Jernverk (Fossum Ironworks), painting ..................................................... 25
3. Follestad Gård, watercolor ............................................................................... 28
4. Gjerpen Kirke og Prestegård (Gjerpen church and parish house) watercolor ........... 29
5. Josva og Engelen (Joshua and the Angel), print .................................................... 32
6. Joshua and the Angel, painting .......................................................................... 32
7. Limie’s building, photograph .............................................................................39
8. The building which housed Reimann’s Pharmacy as it is today, photograph ........... 53
9. Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum as it is today, photograph ..................... 82
Many people helped me in the course of this project, which began in
1989. In the USA, Evert Sprinchorn of Vassar College read many drafts
and gave insightful criticism and warm encouragement. Dunbar Ogden
of the University of California at Berkeley provided valuable advice on
research procedures. Robert Matteson and John Jaunzems of the St.
Lawrence University English department read drafts of chapters. Thomas Berger of the same department proofread the whole manuscript. Betsy
Cogger Rezelman and Collen Knickerbocker, successive associate deans
of academic affairs at St. Lawrence, authorized support from the faculty
In Norway, where much of the research was done, those who helped
me at various stages include librarians, archivists, translators, professors,
scholars and friends of Ibsen. Each made a contribution in opening up
for a curious stranger some aspect of Norwegian culture: Karsten Alnæs
suggested I read the Skien newspapers from the 1830s. Lisen Bergshaven
of Grimstad shared her own rich fund of knowledge of local lore, and
introduced me to others who also had information to offer. Helge Fæhn
explained to me the place of pietism in 19th century Norwegian religious
life. Tor Gardåsen of the Telemark Museum in Skien generously shared
the resources of that archive, and later read and corrected the chapter on
Skien. Ingard Hauge read and corrected my translations of Ibsen’s
Grimstad poems. Hege Hobæk, president of the Ibsen society in Skien,
showed me the scenes of Ibsen’s childhood, helped me find things in her
town, and offered many useful suggestions. Tove Dahl Johansen and
other reference librarians at the National Library in Oslo helped in locating information and references. Terje Leiren of the University of Washington taught me about Norwegian history at the International Summer
School in Oslo. Herman and Borghild Løvenskiold showed me through
their estate at Fossum, and shared the bibliography of their book collection. Harald Noreng, who among his other achievements is an expert on
local Grimstad history, offered advice on many occasions. Trine Næss of
the National Library made the resources of the theatre collection available to me while I was tracking down the plays performed in Skien and
Sørlandet during Ibsen’s time. Astrid Sæther, director of the Ibsen Center in Oslo, made me welcome at the center and provided research materials as well as working space. Bjørn Tysdahl of the University of Oslo
offered insight into Norwegian literature in the early 19th century. Trond
Woxen corrected the translation of Andreas Munch’s “Donna Clara, en
natscene.” Vigdis Ystad of the University of Oslo supervised my reading
at the very beginning of the project. Asbjørn Aarseth of the University of
Bergen allowed me to attend his course on Ibsen’s history plays, held at
the University of Oslo, and also read an early draft of the manuscript. I
am grateful to several excellent Norwegian language teachers, and especially to one, Bård Sandvei.
Jarle Bjørklund, director of the Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum, offered me his hospitality many times, opened the way for me
with valuable clues, and is the publisher of this book. The expenses of
publication are being shared by the Telemark Museum in Skien, through
the cooperation of Vibeke Mohr, director of the museum. The illustrations were prepared by Tor Gardåsen in Skien, and Pål von Krogh in
Grimstad. Final proofing was done by Reidar Marmøy, chair of the board
of the Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum. The manuscript was
seen through the press by Rolf Erik Nilsen. The website was constructed
by Geir Andresen.
Philip E. Larson
Henrik Ibsen of Norway is recognized today as one of the best dramatists of the nineteenth century. Some people even regard him as one of
the best who ever lived. The American critic, Harold Bloom, for example,
in a recent survey of major authors in the Western tradition, ranked Ibsen
as "second only to Shakespeare and perhaps Molière."1 More than ninety
years after Ibsen’s death, his plays have been translated into many languages, and are read and performed all over the world.
Most of the scholarly attention that Ibsen has received has been directed towards his middle and late plays. If one examines only his greatest works, however, one can fail to appreciate the gradual mastering of
craft that led up to them. The assumption of the present investigation is
that an understanding of the beginning of Ibsen's creative activity is valuable for an appreciation of his achievement as a whole.
Ibsen's beginnings are more obscure than one might expect for someone of his stature. One reason for this obscurity is that his early years
were spent in small towns. He was born in 1828 in Skien, a town of about
2500 residents on the southeastern coast of Norway, and he lived there
until he was 15 years old. In late December of 1843 he moved to Grimstad,
a smaller town about 75 miles farther down the coast, where he lived for
six years, until April 1850, when, at the age of 22, he moved to the
Norwegian capital, Christiania (Oslo).
Ibsen's culture was part of the general European culture of the time,
although it was influenced most strongly by that of Denmark in its "Golden
Age," especially its center, Copenhagen.2 Since he lived in an area remote from the center, Ibsen received the general culture indirectly, filtered through parents, schoolteachers, religious instructors; published materials in books, magazines and newspapers; conversations with those
who had been outside the area or abroad; and other such intermediaries.
To be sure, Ibsen did not apprehend his cultural environment uncritically;
he knew it was filtered, and he had his own filters to receive it.
Ibsen was not only geographically removed; he was physically isolated as well, sometimes by preference, at other times by necessity. As a
boy he spent hours playing by himself in a little room stocked with books
and toys.3 From the age of 15 he did not live with his family but rather
supported himself as a pharmacist's apprentice in Grimstad. Christopher Due, who knew Ibsen during the three years he worked in the Nielsen
pharmacy in Grimstad (1847-50) and who observed his confinement and
isolation, later wrote of him: "It was as if his whole spiritual life moved
exclusively, or at any rate essentially, in the direction of imagination and
thought."4a More than most people, Ibsen lived in his mind and created
in his imagination a reality alternative to the one he occupied physically.
The subject of Ibsen's beginnings has been investigated. There are
several biographies, the best-known being those by Henrik Jæger, Halvdan
Koht, and Michael Meyer.5 Jæger's biography, which was published during its subject's lifetime, includes a memoir written by Ibsen himself of
his boyhood in Skien.6b Koht was more familiar with Ibsen's work than
was any other biographer, since he participated in the editing of his works
over a period of more than 50 years.7 Koht had lived in Skien as a boy,
and could talk to Ibsen’s family as well as to others who had been close to
him. Still, a reader of Koht's biography is perplexed by the fact that he
often does not reveal his sources. Meyer's biography incorporates much
of what had been presented in earlier accounts and is thoroughly documented. He observes in his introduction, however, that a lot of information which Ibsen scholars would like to have at hand is available but
A biography that covers a writer's entire life will naturally devote the
most attention to the periods in which its subject's major works were
composed, and these three biographies are alike in this respect. There
are several other books, however, which concentrate on Ibsen's early life.
In 1949 Oskar Mosfjeld published Henrik Ibsen og Skien,9 based not only
on the existing literature but also on interviews with elderly people from
Skien who remembered Ibsen as a boy. While this book is the most detailed account of Ibsen's boyhood, it contains information that either may
be unreliable or else is impossible to verify.10
Christopher Due published a monograph of his recollections of Ibsen
in Grimstad sixty years after the events described had taken place.11 This
monograph preserves some precious anecdotes of the young Ibsen, but it
Unless otherwise indicated in the notes, all translations in the text are by the present writer.
A translation of this memoir is included below, pp. 14-19.
does not relate them in the order in which they must have occurred. For
example, Due wrote that only a few weeks after Ibsen and he became
acquainted, Ibsen gave him a poem which Due sent to a newspaper in
Christiania for which he was the local correspondent.12 This poem, "I
Høsten" ("In the Autumn"), was published 29 September, 1849, but Ibsen
and Due must have become friends either in late 1847 or early 1848,
almost two years earlier.
In 1940 Hallvard Lie saw through the press a monograph written by
Hans Eitrem, and left unpublished at his death. It was entitled Ibsen og
Grimstad.13 The manuscript was based both on Eitrem's own research in
Grimstad in 1909-10 and on notes that were lent to him by Hans Terland,
a local schoolteacher and historian. The complex authorship of this book
raises questions about its authenticity, even though all three persons involved no doubt approached its subject with care.
The present study draws on all these published sources as well as on
others. The investigation which preceded the writing of this book was
not limited to published information, however, but also included new
research, conducted in libraries, museums, and archives in Skien,
Grimstad, Arendal, and Kristiansand, as well as in Oslo.
The material of this study is organized into two parts. The printed
part is a book, and comprises four chapters on Ibsen's intellectual and
literary activity from the time he learned to read, in about 1835, to April
1850, when he left Grimstad for Christiania. The second part is a series
of files that have been loaded onto a website; these contain sources of
information about Ibsen and his cultural background, some of which either have not previously been available, or if available, may not have
been examined with respect to their possible value for Ibsen studies.14
The files are of several different kinds. There are lists of books that
were available in Skien and Grimstad, a list of plays that were performed
in Skien, and a list of plays some of which were probably performed in
Grimstad. There are translations of later accounts by Norwegian and
Danish writers of local religious, educational, and theatrical activities of
the time. There are translations of a few pieces of contemporary journalism that Ibsen might have read, and of reviews of performances of plays
that he might have attended. Translations of some of Ibsen's earliest
prose writings, and of the poetry he wrote in Grimstad are included, as is
a translation of most of Due's memoir.
The narrative is constructed to provide not so much a complete
biography as a basic introduction to the facts of Ibsen’s early life and
circumstances, but it discusses new or recently discovered information
in somewhat greater detail. Those who are already familiar with the
known facts of Ibsen’s early life must be patient with the obligatory review of them, if they are to gain the new information the book contains.
Those to whom the subject is new will appreciate the review, as well as
the notes and bibliography at the end. The book can be read without
reference to the files on the website, which are provided for those who
want to delve more deeply into the subject.
IBSEN IN SKIEN
Henrik Ibsen was born in 1828 in Skien, an old town on the southeastern coast of Norway in the province of Telemark. The town’s main industries were farming, timbering, and shipping. Skien had only 2500
inhabitants, but it was prosperous; its location at the head of a fjord into
which a navigable river flowed made it a center for people, goods and
information travelling to and from the mountainous hinterlands. Skien
was a provincial community, but one not without cultural resources. The
town had several churches and schools, and its cultural life included concerts, fairs, and theatrical performances.
Skien had a number of well-established families, and the Ibsens were
among them. Until Henrik was seven years old, the family lived in town,
first in one fine house, and then in another, even finer one. Henrik’s
father, Knud Ibsen, owned a general store and the town’s second largest
brandy distillery; he was also an importer and had shipping interests.
One year his name appeared as 17th in the list of taxpayers, indicating
that he had one of the largest personal incomes in the district.15
Henrik’s condition was comfortable, and had it continued he might
have developed in a different way. In 1834, however, Knud suffered a
series of financial setbacks, and he had to sell his businesses and his
fine house in town.16 In 1835 the family moved about a mile outside of
town to a farm at Venstøp that had been bought in 1832 as a summer
place. [See Illustration 1.] Knud was never able to recover from his
losses, and his economic circumstances continued to decline. In 1837
he had to sell the farm, although the family was allowed to live there
The family's straitened circumstances after 1835 might lead one to
conclude that Henrik’s childhood was one of cultural as well as economic
deprivation, but he probably could not have attained the intellectual and
artistic mastery he displayed in his mature years if his native culture had
not supplied him with significant resources.
One would like to have Ibsen’s own account of his childhood. In 1881
he began to write a memoir, in which he described some early experiences and impressions of his home town. This memoir is worth including here since it is the only narrative about his early life that he ever
At the time when, a number of years ago, the streets of
my native town of Skien were named,--or perhaps rechristened,--the honor was done me of giving to one of them my
name. At least report has said so, and I have been told of it by
trustworthy travellers. According to their accounts, this street
runs from the market-place down to the sea, or the dredged
area at the shore.
But if this description be accurate, I cannot imagine why
the street has come to bear my name, for in it I was neither
born nor did I ever live. On the contrary, I was born in a
court near the market-place,--Stockmann’s Court, it was then
called. This court faces the church, with its high steps and its
noteworthy tower. At the right of the church stood the town
pillory, and at the left the town-hall, with the lockup and the
madhouse. The fourth side of the market-place was occupied
by the common and the Latin schools. The church stood in a
clear space in the middle.
This prospect made up, then, the first view of the world
that was offered to my sight. It was all architectural; there was
nothing green, no open country landscape. But the air above
this four-cornered enclosure of wood and stone was filled, the
whole day long, with the subdued roar of the Langefos, the
Klosterfos, and the many other falls, and through this sound
there pierced, from morning till night, something that resembled the cry of women in keen distress, now rising to a
shriek, now subdued to a moan. It was the sound of the hundreds of saws, that were at work by the falls. When I read of
the guillotine afterwards, I always had to think of these saws.
The church was naturally the most imposing building of
the town. At the time when, one Christmas eve near the
close of the last century, Skien was set on fire through the
carelessness of a serving-maid, the church which then stood
there burned with the rest. The servant-maid was, as might
easily happen, put to death. But the town, rebuilt with straight
and broad streets upon the slopes and in the hollows where it
lies, gained thereby a new church, of which the inhabitants
boasted with a certain pride that it was built of yellow Dutch
clapboards, that it was the work of an architect from
Copenhagen, and that it was exactly like the Kongsberg church.
I was not able at that time fully to appreciate these advantages, but my mind was deeply impressed by a white, stout,
and heavy-limbed angel, with a bowl in his hand, on weekdays suspended high up under the roof, but on Sundays, when
children were to be baptized, lowered gently into our midst.
Even more than by the white angel in the church, my
thoughts were occupied by the black poodle who lived at the
top of the tower, where the watchman called out the hours of
the night. It had glowing red eyes, but was not often seen; in
fact, it appeared, as far as I know, upon one occasion only. It
was a New Year’s night, and the watchman had just called
“One” from the window in the front of the tower. Just then
the black poodle came up the tower steps behind him, stood
for a moment, and glared at him with the fiery eyes,--that was
all, but the watchman at once fell head foremost out of the
tower-window down into the market-place, where he was seen
lying dead next morning by all the pious folk who went to the
early New Year’s service. Since that night no watchman has
ever called out “One” from that window in the tower of Skien
This incident of the watchman and the poodle occurred
long before my time, and I have since heard of such things
having happened in various other Norwegian churches, in
the days of old. But the tower-window in question has stood
prominently in my memory since I was a child, because from
it I got my first deep and lasting impression. For my nurse
took me up into the tower one day, and let me sit right in the
open window, held from behind, of course, by her stout arms.
I remember distinctly how it struck me to see the crowns of
the people’s hats; I looked down into our own rooms, saw the
window-frames and curtains, saw my mother standing at one
of the windows; I could even see over the roof of the house
into the yard, where our brown horse stood tied near the barndoor and was whisking his tail. I remember that on the side
of the barn there hung a bright tin pail. Then there was a
running about, and a beckoning from our front door, and the
nurse pulled me hastily in, and hurried downstairs with me.
I do not remember the rest, but I was often told afterwards
that my mother had caught sight of me up in the tower-window, that she had shrieked, had fainted,--as was common
enough then,--and, having got hold of me again, had wept,
and kissed and caressed me. As a boy, I never after that
crossed the market-place without looking up to the tower-window. I felt that the window especially concerned me and the
I have preserved but one other recollection from those
early years. Among the gifts at my christening there was a
big silver coin bearing the image of a man’s head. The man
had a high forehead, a large hooked nose, and a projecting
under lip; furthermore, his neck was bare, which I thought
singular. The nurse told me that the man on the coin was
“King Fredrik Rex.” Upon one occasion I took to rolling the
coin on the floor, and, as an unfortunate consequence, it rolled
into a crack. I believe that my parents saw an evil omen in
this, since it was a christening gift. The floor was torn up,
and thorough and deep search was made, but King Fredrik
Rex never again saw the light of day. For a long time afterwards I looked upon myself as a grave criminal, and whenever Peter Tysker, the town policeman, came out of the town
hall and across to our front door, I ran as hurriedly as I could
into the nursery, and hid under the bed.
We did not live long in the court by the market-place. My
father bought a bigger house, into which we moved when I
was about four years old. My new home was on a corner, a
little farther up town, just at the foot of the “Hundevad” hill,
named after an old German-speaking doctor, whose imposing wife drove a “glass coach,” that was transformed into a
sleigh for winter. There were many huge rooms in this house,
both up and down stairs, and we lived a very sociable life
there. But we boys were not much within doors. The market-place, where the two biggest schools were situated, was
the natural meeting-place and field of battle for the village
youth. Rector Oern, an old and lovable man, ruled in the
Latin school at that time; in the common school there was
Iver Flasrud, the beadle, also an imposing old fellow, who
1. Venstøp, woodcut. Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum.
filled the post of village barber as well. The boys of these two
schools had a good many warmly contested battles around
the church, but as I belonged to neither, I was generally present
as a mere onlooker. For the rest, I was not much given to
fighting as a boy. I was much more attracted by the pillory,
already mentioned, and by the town hall, with its gloomy mysteries. The pillory was a reddish-brown post, of about a man’s
height; on top there was a big round knob, that had been black
at one time; it now looked like an inviting and benevolent
human face, a little awry. From the front of the post hung an
iron chain, and from this an open bow, which always seemed
to me like two small arms, ready to grasp my neck with the
greatest of pleasure. It had not been used for many years, but
I remember well that it stood there all the time that I lived in
Skien. Whether or not it is still there, I do not know.
And then there was the town hall. Like the church, it had
high steps. Underneath there were dungeon cells, with grated
windows looking into the market-place. Within the bars I have
seen many pale and sinister faces. One room in the basement of the town hall was called the madhouse, and was really, strange as it now seems to me, at one time used for the
confinement of the insane. This room had a grated window
like the others, but inside the grating the whole opening was
filled by a heavy iron plate, perforated with small round holes,
so that it looked like a colander. Furthermore, this cell was
said to have served for the confinement of a criminal named
Brandeis, much talked of at the time and afterwards branded.
It was also inhabited, I believe, by a life-convict, who had
escaped, was recaptured, and flogged out on the Li marketground. Of this latter, eye-witnesses related that he danced
when he was led to the place of punishment, but had to be
drawn back to the lockup in a cart.
In my boyhood Skien was a lively and sociable town, entirely different from what it was afterwards to become. Many
highly-gifted, prominent, and respected families then dwelt,
both in the town itself, and on great farms in the neighborhood. These families were mutually bound together by relationships, more or less near, and balls, daytime companies,
and musical assemblies followed one upon another in close
succession, both summer and winter. We nearly always had
visiting strangers in our spacious place, and especially at
Christmas and fair time our rooms were full, and open house
the rule from morning till evening. The Skien Fair came off
in February, and it was a happy time for us boys. We began to
save up our shillings six months beforehand for the jugglers,
and rope-dancers, and circus-riders, and for the purchase of
honey-cakes in the fair booths. I do not know if this fair did
much for trade; I think of it as of a great popular festival,
lasting the whole week through.
In those years not much account was made of the 17th of
Mayc in Skien. A few young men shot with pop-guns out on
Blege Hill, or burned fireworks; that was about all. I have an
idea that this reserve in our otherwise demonstrative townspeople was due to consideration for a certain highly-esteemed
gentleman,d who had a country-seat in the neighborhood, and
whose head was respected for various reasons.
But it was all the merrier on St. John’s eve.e This was not
celebrated by all the people together, but the boys and grownup people grouped themselves into five, six, or more companies, each of which worked to collect the material for its own
bonfire. From as early as Whitsuntide we used to go in crowds
around the wharves and shops to beg tar-barrels. In this matter a peculiar custom had reigned from time immemorial.
Whatever we could not get freely given us was stolen, without either owner or police ever thinking to complain of this
sort of violence. A company could thus by degrees collect a
whole stack of empty tar-barrels. We had the same time-honored right to old barges. Whenever we found them ashore, if
we could succeed in getting one quietly away, and well concealing it, we thereby acquired the right of possession, or, at
least, our claims were not contested. The day before St. John’s
eve the barge was borne in triumph through the streets to the
place of the bonfire. A fiddler sat up in the barge. I have
often witnessed and taken part in such proceedings.17
17 May, 1814, was Norway’s constitution day.
Ibsen may be referring here to Severin Løvenskiold, the governor-general of Norway. He was one of
the strongest supporters of the king of the unified kingdoms of Norway and Sweden, who was first of
all the king of Sweden, and was not fond of Norway’s independence day. It appeared to him to flout
the union, which had been imposed by the Swedes on the Norwegians through the threat of force.
Midsummer’s eve, 23 June.
This narrative apparently recounts nothing from the time after 1835,
when Ibsen was seven years old, and the family moved out of town to
Venstøp. Therefore we must depend for information about his early life
primarily on the testimony of others who knew him and on evidence
that can be reconstructed of his surroundings.
An unanswered question about Ibsen's development has to do with
his early education. We do not know how much regular schooling he
had. Even though the family lived in the country, there was a private
school less than two kilometers from the Ibsens' farm, on an estate called
Fossum.18 This school was operated by the owners of the estate, the
Løvenskiold family, for the children of their employees. Halvdan Koht
writes that Ibsen went to school at Fossum.19 He does not say how he
knows this, but his family had moved to Skien in the 1880s, when he was
8 years old, and he may have heard the information from friends or relatives of the Ibsens.
The Løvenskiolds were the wealthiest family in the area near Venstøp.
Members of the family for generations had been highly-placed civil servants and government ministers. During Henrik’s time in Skien, the
head of the family, Severin Løvenskiold, was the governor-general
(Stattholder) of Norway, that is, the deputy of the king of the unified kingdoms of Sweden and Norway.20 The family owned (and still owns) a tract
of about 85,000 acres, much of which was in timber; there were iron
mines on the land, and an ironworks which made stoves, cannons, and
farm equipment. [See Illustration 2.]
A model of the grounds of the estate as it was in the nineteenth century, displayed in a private museum there, shows a substantial two-story
school building. This building had been constructed in 1834 out of stone,
on a site where earlier there had been a wooden school building.21 According to Koht 90 students were enrolled at the school in the 1830s, and
the teacher was Hans Isaksen. It is difficult to imagine Henrik’s parents
not doing everything possible to take advantage of this school for their
son. Knud Ibsen was Ernst Løvenskiold’s deputy in the Gjerpen parish
council in 1839-40, suggesting that he was a trusted associate of the latter,
and he was also associated with two successive managers of the Fossum
ironworks.22 His son might have attended the school as a charity case,
and this might be why it was never mentioned later.
According to another scholar, Terje Christensen, the school on the
estate was an almueskole, that is, a school for working-class children where
one learned “the three Rs” in a few months and not much else.23 This
opinion may be based on a confusion between the school building shown
on the model and another building which used to stand outside the gates
of the estate, and may originally have been a guardhouse. This building
was moved down the road towards town and operated by the municipality as a working-class school. This school was not established until 1901,
however, after the school building on the grounds of the estate had been
torn down, along with all the other buildings associated with the ironworks, which closed in 1867, after the iron deposits had been depleted.
While the Løvenskiold family usually had private tutors for their own
children, Oskar Mosfjeld says that at certain periods they sent them to
the Fossum school for language instruction.24 They could not have done
that if the school had been only a working-class school. Another relevant
fact is that some of the employees at the ironworks were educated people,
among them engineers from Germany, and they would not have been
satisfied for their children to receive merely the kind of education that
was available at a working-class school.
When Ibsen took the university entrance examinations in 1850, he passed
both French and German, as well as Latin. We know he studied Latin in the
early 1840s at a private school in Skien, and later with a tutor in Grimstad,
but if he did not study French and German while he lived on the farm at
Venstøp, it is not easy to say where and when he did study them.
Christensen concludes that while it is not certain where Ibsen started
school, his teachers were probably either Hans Isaksen or Christen Lund.
Both of these men were residents of Aarhus, a district adjoining Venstøp
to the south. Both men knew French and German.25 What we can say on
the basis of our present knowledge is that in the community where Ibsen
lived at Venstøp were people able to provide him with a good elementary
education, including instruction in languages.
Ibsen also received at least one year, possibly two, of secondary education. In 1841, when he was not quite thirteen, his parents enrolled him
in a new private school in the town of Skien.26 It was conducted by two
theological candidates from the university in Christiania, W. F. Stockfleth
and Johan Hansen. It was not the only school in Skien; there was also a
lærd skole (Latin school), but in those years it was not very good and was
also quite expensive.
At that time Skien and Larvik had the only Latin schools between the
capital city of Christiania (Oslo) and Christianssand, at the southern end
of the Norwegian peninsula. The purpose of such a school was to prepare students for the university entrance exam. Skien's Latin school could
claim several distinguished alumni from the 1820s, including the historian Peter Andreas Munch, the economist and politician Anton M.
Schweigaard, and the critic and philosophy professor Marcus Jacob
Monrad. After the retirement in 1839 of its longtime rector, Knud Ørn,
however, the school had declined in quality; between 1839 and 1842 only
fifteen students enrolled there, while about 20 students enrolled at the
new school Ibsen attended.27
In February 1841 the local newspaper in Skien carried an advertisement for the school that Ibsen was about to attend. It reads in part that
students should come to the school "bringing with them the books they
have used previously," that is, the books from the schools they had attended earlier.28 This statement tells us that the new school was not
drastically different from the Latin school, since its teachers were prepared to use the same books. Hansen became the rector of the Skien
Latin school several years later, a fact which indicates that he was a fully
qualified teacher at that level.
We do not know which books were used in Ibsen's private school,
but we do know the ones that were used in the Latin school, since a
report on the books used in that school in 1840 was published in 1842 in
the university annals.29 If the teachers at Ibsen's private school were
willing to use the books the students already owned, there is a good chance
that some of these were the ones used in the local Latin school, since
they would have been circulating in the town. If we combine the invitation in the newspaper ad with the list of textbooks used in the Latin school
in 1840, we have, if not iron-clad evidence of Ibsen's schoolbooks, at least
some information about what those books might have been.
There were anthologies for reading not only in Modersmaalet (Ibsen’s
native language, which at that time in its written form was essentially
Danish), but also in German, French, and other languages. These anthologies included excerpts from the writings of major authors in each
language. There were textbooks in world history as well as Scandinavian
and specifically Norwegian history. The text in that subject by the Skien
native P. A. Munch contains a famous and controversial theory of the
origins of the Norwegian people that Ibsen refers to in an article on the
heroic ballad that he wrote in 1857.30 Its section on medieval Norwegian
history could have provided an idea he later developed into Kongsemnerne
(The Pretenders, 1863).
An article published almost 40 years later by J. F. Ording, a classmate
of Ibsen’s at the private school, relates some information about Ibsen’s
talents and behavior at the time:
Although there is so much that is changed and different,
there is at the same time much that is similar, that is like
himself and recognizable, in what he [Ibsen] recurs to: the
schoolboy with the good head, the deep understanding, the
somewhat sensitive, irritable temperament, the slightly irascible mind, the sharp tongue, the satirical inclination, but at
the same time friendly and informal.
Already as a schoolboy Ibsen had a marked inclination for
drawing and painting. There were several who thought that
in this direction he could become an artist of high rank. There
may be still in someone's possession one or another of those
pictures that with simple ordinary colors he painted, of the
landscape of his native town Skien, for example Fossum ironworks with its picturesque, romantic surroundings, of which
there was a view from the farm where Ibsen's parents then
lived.f I remember very well how radiantly these drawings
shone for our childlike eyes. I myself have in my possession
a little picture that Ibsen had given me, a shepherd boy, sitting on a rocky knoll; it was extremely beautiful. This definitely striking, outstanding talent in Ibsen did not get a chance
for direct development, but it is fully and strongly recognizable in his work, in the remarkable artistic eye wherewith he
organizes everything to the strongest possible painterly effect.
Ibsen was of a higher intelligence than ordinary people.
He read history eagerly. In his rendering of historical events,
in conversations about historical personages he revealed a
depth of understanding, a warm interest, that had to awaken
strong attention. He especially liked to study ancient, classical history.
There was among our comrades a somewhat odd, droll
person, who usually went by the name "The Astronomer."
No picture by Ibsen of Fossum ironworks survives, but there is a watercolor by him of another
estate, “Follestad Gård.” [See illustration 3.]
This was a lanky boy with hair so fiery red, as I have never
seen it on any other human being. His face, with a pair of
roguish, good-natured, twinkling eyes, had a color, which did
not give away much to that shining, glowing hair; it was as if
illuminated by that scarlet hair, and for the sake of harmony
he had clothes of reddish-brown material, of which the outermost part was a little tailcoat which contributed not a little to
increase the person's, the figure's, somewhat comic effect.
He had got his nickname from the fact that with a genuine
passion he contemplated, he carefully observed the moon and
the stars through a little spyglass he owned and that literally
was the light of his eyes. Not seldom one got to see "The
Astronomer" sitting up in a tree or on a board fence, and from
this observatory he peered at the moon through the spyglass
and with an incomparably comic expression declared as the
result of his observation . . . “I still do not believe it, it is inhabited.”
What usually happens in school happened here, that "The
Astronomer," despite all his good-naturedness, had some small
dispute with Ibsen, and in combination with another comrade he [Ibsen] had a stab at a lampooning artwork. Ibsen
himself asked [his comrade to participate?] with a feigned
composure, and yon scribblerg imagined himself already to
have thoroughly punished his adversary. But so it happened
that one morning: we had just taken our places on the
benches, but the instruction had not yet commenced. Facing
Ibsen sat "The Astronomer" in his usual place, the redhead
fairly content.h But all at once his illuminated face got even
redder, and he began to make unambiguous signs of coming
over the table in order to employ those so-called "arguments
ad hominem." The occasion for his strong excitement showed
itself to be a piece of paper, which Ibsen from his side held up
towards him and which seemed to work on him in the same
Surely Ording is referring to himself as Ibsen’s accomplice, since they were sitting next to each
The desks were constructed so that each pair of boys sat facing one another across a raised, sloping
2. Fossum Ironworks, painting by Peter Wergmann (1830s). Telemark Museum. The brown wooden school building, replaced in 1834 by a stone
building, shows in the right center group as perpendicular to the picture plane, with a simple peaked reddish tile roof.
way as a red cloth on some animals. No wonder: on the
paper stood the star-gazer vividly depicted in all his red appurtenances with the spyglass before his eye, observing the
pale half-moon, and underneath was written his scientific
proverb: "I do not believe it, it is inhabited!"31
Ibsen's most influential teacher at the private school was Johan
Hansen,32 who in addition to giving him tutoring in Latin, taught history,
which according to Ording was Ibsen’s favorite subject. Ording also notes
that Ibsen was “on a higher level” than the other students. This indicates
that he had had more education before enrolling in the new school than
the other boys his own age. He was the only student in the school at that
time to receive tutoring in Latin, which shows that his teacher recognized his promise and offered him a subject that he would need if he
wanted to enter the university. According to Henrik Jæger, Ibsen was
also interested in religion, and Hansen taught that subject as well.33 Ibsen
was sorry when Hansen died in 1865 and remembered him as having
had "a gentle, lovable temperament."34
Like other boys in Norway at that time, Henrik received religious as
well as secular instruction. In October 1843, when he was 15 years old,
he stood up at the front of the sanctuary in the Gjerpen church and answered questions about the Bible and the Christian religion put to him by
the rector of the church, Fredrik Rode. [See Illustration 4.] In preparation for the confirmation examination, Ibsen had had to study not only
the Bible but also the Lutheran catechism, which presents the articles of
Lutheran doctrine in a question-and-answer format, with passages from
the Bible as well as other explanatory material to support each point.
The Lutheran catechism was the standard text for Norwegian students
preparing for confirmation. This catechism had been written originally
in German, and therefore had to be translated. The translation most
commonly used at the time was the one by Erik Pontoppidan.35 Its commentary has a distinctly pietistic bias, however. Pietism was a movement of emotional and evangelical Lutheranism that arose in northern
Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, partly in reaction to
the rationalistic preaching of clergymen who had been educated in
According to Christensen, Rode was neither a pietist nor a rationalist,
but rather preached a fairly straightforward, or as he put it, "pure"
Lutheranism.36 He was embattled at times during his tenure in Gjerpen,
partly because of his differences with some of his conservative parishioners, and partly because of a growing sentiment for pietism in the parish
which led to a split in the congregation. The pietistic preacher Gustav
Adolf Lammers, who happened to be married to Rode’s sister, became the
pastor of the Lutheran church in Skien in 1848. He formed a new congregation, made up of members from both the Skien and Gjerpen churches,
in 1853. It was the first “Indre misjonsforening” in Norway, and was a
pietistic congregation. Ibsen’s mother Marichen and his sister Hedvig
chose to join that congregation. These events took place after Henrik
had left Skien, but dissension in the Skien congregation was already evident by 1843.
Rode was a big, strong man, who had served several scattered parishes in northern Norway before his appointment in Skien, and who in
addition to his role as parish rector was a farmer and an innovator in
agriculture. He had published his own explanation of Luther's catechism
in Skien in 1840.37 In preparing Henrik’s class for confirmation, the rector may well have used his own text. Perhaps it does not make much
difference which text they used, although surely it is important in evaluating the quality and character of Ibsen's religious education that his
teacher was a scholar and doctrinally in the mainstream of the denomination.
By tradition, the rector of the Gjerpen parish church also had the title
of prost (i.e., dean, or administrative head) of the churches in the provinces of Telemark and Bamble. Both Rode, who was rector from 1832 to
1854, and his predecessor, Edvard Munch, in turn left Gjerpen and assumed the deanship of the cathedral parish in the capital city of
Christiania. These successive appointments may have been influenced
by Severin Løvenskiold, but they also indicate the respect in which the
Gjerpen church was held and the stature of the men attracted to it. The
Gjerpen church was the major social institution in the area where the
Ibsens lived, and by all accounts its influence was largely positive.
According to his father, Henrik acquitted himself very well in the confirmation examination.38 The rector's evaluation appears to corroborate
this judgment. In the parish record he wrote that Henrik Ibsen: "Reads
remarkably well in the Book, and displays thoughtfulness." His grade for
the examination was: "Very good knowledge of Christianity."39
3. Follestad Gård, watercolor by Ibsen (1842). Otto Lous Mohr, Henrik Ibsen som Maler, Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1953, facing p. 16
4. Gjerpen church and parish house, watercolor by Paul Linaae (1861). Telemark Museum
Literary and theatrical resources
Henrik was often physically isolated as a child, not merely because
he lived on a farm, but also because ordinarily he did not choose to play
with the other children in his vicinity.40 He was considered standoffish,
even arrogant, and he described himself in his memoir as an observer of
rather than a participant in the games of boyhood.
He was a great reader, however, both then and in later life.41 He was
usually secretive about what he read, since he was several times accused
of stealing other people's words and presenting them as his own. When
he was still a boy in school, 13 or 14 years old, one of his teachers, W. F.
Stockfleth, accused him of plagiarizing an essay he had written for class.
Ibsen defended himself stoutly, claiming that "every single word" was his
own.42 It is easy to understand why his teacher suspected him, because
Ibsen's essay contains allusions to other writing. His early poetic, dramatic and critical texts were based on other texts, but what he wrote
combined elements from his sources in new ways, changed their connotations, or set a source composed in one genre in opposition to a source
Ibsen’s method of reading may have been part of his originality, since
he was not only a talented but also a very intelligent person. It is possible that he learned the idea of combining and opposing different texts
from reading the Bible. He was reading the Bible by the age of seven, and
he continued to do so all his life.43 It was his favorite book.44 In the Bibles
of that time, as now, after a verse of scripture there was often a footnote
directing the reader to refer to another passage whose meaning could
alter or illuminate the meaning of the given passage. Henrik used to sit
at the dining room table and read the Bible for hours, carefully turning
the pages to all the references as he did so. Perhaps he was interested in
the way one passage could alter or enhance the meaning of another.45
Not only did Ibsen read intertextually, but when he came to write his
own texts he often composed with two or more literary sources in front
of him, or the memory of what he had read clearly in his mind. He did
not necessarily respect the integrity of the texts he read, rather he used
them as raw material for his own invention. Still, from the very beginning his process of composition grew out of his reading, and when we
know what he read, that knowledge can provide information about his
purposes and procedures.
Sometimes Ibsen’s sources are obvious. For example, in 1855, when
he was writing Gildet på Solhaug (The Feast at Solhaug), he used dozens of
passages from the Norwegian folk songs collected by M. B. Landstad.46
Some lyrics are used as given, while others are changed. Ibsen uses the
folk songs not merely for musical accompaniment but also to characterize the persons and to bring to life the world of the medieval folk songs
and ballads. The play also depends on other literary and theatrical sources,
one of which may have been the Danish dramatist Henrik Hertz’s Svend
Dyrings Hus. One reviewer of the play at the time it first appeared thought
Ibsen had plagiarized Hertz’s play, a charge which Ibsen attempted to
rebut in the preface to the second edition of his play.47 Hertz’s play was
produced at the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen during the same season in
which The Feast at Solhaug premièred, so Ibsen was familiar with it. The
repertoire included many other plays as well, however, and Ibsen’s play
also shows traces of other plays of the time. A working dramatist uses
what he finds appropriate to his purposes, whether it comes from literature or from life, and it may be more important to try to understand
Ibsen’s characteristic procedures of composition than to measure too scrupulously his indebtedness to the intellectual property of others. An
author’s text can derive from other texts without necessarily being merely
imitative or a pastiche.
Sometimes one can determine what an author has read from the internal similarities between the source text and the author’s text. For
example, when Peer Gynt says “My kingdom for a horse! . . . Well, half
my kingdom”-- we can recognize this as an allusion to Shakespeare’s Richard III. Ibsen uses his sources in many different ways: sometimes he
means us to recognize the connection, and at other times, not. Sometimes he will take tiny details or a larger motif from another play; at
other times he will borrow the vocabulary of a particular philosopher,
like Kierkegaard or Hegel. In each case his use contributes in some way
to the poetic or dramatic design, so it is not enough merely to identify the
allusion, although that is the first step. Beyond that one must observe
how he uses his source or sources, in order to begin to understand his
meaning. In the allusion cited above, for example, Ibsen is humorously
comparing his hero with Shakespeare’s; the fact that Peer is willing to
give only half his kingdom illustrates his compromising character.
Another way to attempt to ascertain what an author has read is to
establish what reading materials were available to him and to read them
searching for resemblances. It might be assumed that Ibsen’s access to
reading materials as a child was limited primarily to the books left in the
loft at Venstøp by its former owner, “the Flying Dutchman,” books like
Harryson’s History of London, for example. Hedvig Ekdal refers to that
7. Josva og Engelen (“Joshua and the Angel”), print in Billed-Bibel for
Det norske Folk, indeholdende Den hellige Skrifts kanoniske Bøger,
Christiania: Guldberg & Dzwonkowskis Officin, 1840, p. 177
8. Joshua and the Angel, painting by Ibsen (1845?). The Ibsen House
and Grimstad Town Museum, Grimstad
book in Vildanden (The Wild Duck), and some scholars have reasoned
from the details of the play back to the life of the author. That book
might have exercised a special magic on the boy because of its association with its mysterious former owner, but Henrik had other books to
read as well.
One possible source of reading matter for the young Ibsen was the
book collection of his neighbors, the Løvenskiolds. That family had a
large collection of books, many of which are preserved to this day. The
study, sittting room, and dining room in the main house on the estate are
maintained in their original condition and closely resemble the setting at
Old Werle's in Act One of The Wild Duck:
A richly and comfortably furnished study, with bookcases
and upholstered furniture, a writing table, with papers and
reports, in the middle of the floor, and green-shaded lamps
softly illuminating the room. In the rear wall, open folding
doors with curtains drawn back disclose a large, fashionable
room, brightly lit by lamps and candelabra. In the right foreground of the study, a small private door leads to the offices.
In the left foreground, a fireplace filled with glowing coals,
and further back a double door to the dining room.48
All of these details are present in the main house at Fossum, even the
small door that leads to the office downstairs, which is like the one that
Old Ekdal is forced to come through during the dinner party in Act One
of The Wild Duck, when the door from the office to the outside is locked.
It seems likely from the detailed accuracy of this stage direction that
Ibsen was familiar with the room where the books were kept.
In 1843, the year the Ibsens left Venstøp, the Løvenskiolds’ book collection contained more than 900 titles, including plays by Aeschylus,
Sophocles, Shakespeare (in Danish and German, as well as English), Jean
Racine, Molière, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, Johan
Wolfgang von Goethe, Ludvig Holberg, Adam Oehlenschlæger and others. It also included many other authors of imaginative literature from
Homer on, as well as books on history, philosophy, religion, law, agriculture and science.49
Knud Ibsen had been a member of the Løvenskiolds' social circle before
his financial losses,50 and while he lived at Venstøp he was associated at
times with the managers of the ironworks.51 Therefore he was probably in
the house where the books were kept, so it is physically possible that he
borrowed some of them for his son. Other well-established families with
whom Knud and his wife Marichen were connected would also have had
book collections, although not as large as the one at Fossum. The
Løvenskiolds' collection is of special interest not only because it was kept
in a house near to where Henrik lived, but also because many of the books
in the collection still exist. It provides evidence of the cultural environment where Ibsen grew up. While there is no anecdotal evidence that Ibsen
was ever inside the main building at Fossum, the existence of the book
collection shows that good literature was present in his vicinity, and we
must therefore be prepared to imagine the young Ibsen reading, and hearing read, the literature of the general European culture from an early age.
Books were not his only source of published reading material. Skien
also had the first newspaper in Telemark, Ugeblad for Skien og Omegn. It
was founded in 1830, when Henrik was two years old, so it was part of his
literary landscape from the beginning. Since his father placed ads in this
paper over the years, to sell milk, cream, and hay, we can assume that he
had a subscription to it; if that is so, the paper would have come to the
house every week, and Henrik could have read it as soon as he was old
enough to read. We know that he read newspapers regularly later on,
and it may be reasonable to assume that he formed this habit early.
This newspaper was usually only six pages, but it contained a variety
of information. There was local, national and international news. There
were announcements for auctions and other sales. Book dealers and
lending libraries placed advertisements for books. For example, one ad
offered a Danish translation of Sophocles' Oedipus the King. The fact that
the ad appeared does not prove that Ibsen read the play, but it is worth
noting that such a play could be acquired in Skien in the 1830s.
In the newspaper there were also ads for theatrical productions: 148
plays were advertised for performance in Skien between 1832 and 1843.52
Most of the plays that were performed were one-acts and vaudevilles or
musical comedies, but plays by some of the better dramatists of the time
were also presented, usually by travelling companies of Danish actors.53
An example of the plays performed by visiting Danish theatre companies is Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s Elverhøj (“Elves’ Hill”), a “fairy-tale comedy” which was performed twice in Skien while Ibsen was growing up, in
1836 and again in 1840.54 J. L. Heiberg was a scholar, poet, critic, playwright, and theatre director. He had married Denmark’s best actress,
Johanne Luise Heiberg, whose first major role was as Agnete in Elverhøj,
which premièred in 1828 and became Heiberg's most famous play. For
many years Heiberg wrote plays for Det kongelige Theater (the Royal
Theatre) in Copenhagen, one of the finest repertory theatres in Europe.
He became its artistic director in 1847.
While we cannot be sure that Ibsen saw any of Heiberg's works while
he lived in Skien, it should be noted that Heiberg’s own plays, and his
translations of plays by other dramatists, were performed in Skien more
often than anyone else's while Ibsen was growing up. Heiberg's example
as dramatist, critic, and theatre artist was a significant influence on Ibsen's
early plays and dramatic criticism. Two of his early plays, Sancthansnatten
(St. John’s Night) and Olaf Liljekrans, are "fairy-tale comedies" in Heiberg's
manner. Ibsen's youthful dramatic criticism, written in Christiania in
1850-51, shows that he had been reading Heiberg's published criticism.55
When Ibsen received a travel grant from the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen
in 1852, soon after his appointment as theatre-poet and sceneinstruktør,
the first place he went was to the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, where
he met Heiberg, saw several of the theatre's productions, and spent six
weeks as an intern learning stagecraft. When Heiberg died in 1860, Ibsen
wrote a poem to honor his memory, in which he defended him against
his critics, even though Heiberg had declined to produce Ibsen's best
play at the time, Hærmændene paa Helgeland (The Vikings in Helgeland),
when it was offered to his theatre.
There is no anecdotal evidence that Ibsen ever attended any of the
performances of live theatre in Skien while he was growing up. What
argues against the possibility is that his family probably did not have
money to spare on paid entertainments. What argues in favor of the
possibility is not only the fact that children were sometimes allowed to
attend rehearsals for free, but also that Ibsen's own theatrical activity,
which we shall consider in what follows, suggests a stimulus from personal experience.
The Danish players who visited Skien in the summer of 1843, when
Ibsen was 15 years old, offered a season that was better, in terms of both
repertoire and performance, than what had been presented in previous
years. The season included Et Glas Vand (A Glass of Water), by Eugene
Scribe;56 Kean, by Alexandre Dumas père;57 "Donna Clara, en natscene",
by the Norwegian poet Andreas Munch;58 and Indqvarteringen (“The
Billeting”), by Henrik Hertz.59 The reviews printed in the local newspaper praised the fine quality of the performances.60 The performances
were often held in “Limies Sal,” a large room that ran the full length of
the second floor of a building in downtown Skien. [See Illustration 7.]
Many of Scribe’s plays were performed in Skien, and Ibsen later participated in the staging of at least fifteen of them in Bergen.61 Several of
his early plays, notably Fru Inger til Østraat (Lady Inger of Østråt) and The
Vikings at Helgeland, use the Scribean method of plot construction. The
main character in Kean, a proto-realistic character study by Dumas pére,
is a virtuouso Romantic actor, the same kind of actor who would have
played the lead in Ibsen’s own first play, Catilina. This similarity does
not imply a direct influence, but may suggest that Ibsen was aware of
theatrical as well as literary styles before he wrote his first play.
The main character in Andreas Munch’s play, Donna Clara, could
have been a model for Margit in The Feast at Solhaug, since both characters are imprisoned in unhappy marriages and both are visited by men
with whom they were in love before they were married. The two plays
were performed in Bergen during the same season (1855-56), so Ibsen
might first have read “Donna Clara, en natscene” at that time, although
the fact that it was in the repertory at all could indicate that he knew the
play earlier and had himself suggested it for the season.
Hertz’s “The Billeting” is a farcical domestic comedy written in the
tradition of the eighteenth century Norwegian-Danish dramatist Ludvig
Holberg, whose works were widely available in Norway while Ibsen was
growing up, and who was one of the only writers whom Ibsen later
admitted he was reading.62 It has not been easy to trace specific resemblances between Holberg and Ibsen, however, since the former is often
crude where the latter is subtle. An exception is Peer Gynt. In any case,
if one is looking for the origins of Ibsen’s comic style, it might be as
enlightening to search for them in his Danish comic contemporaries,
Heiberg, Hertz, and Christen Hostrup, all of whose plays he directed in
Bergen, as in their common ancestor Holberg.
It is hard to believe that the young Henrik Ibsen was not aware of the
theatrical activity in Skien in 1843 and that he would not have done all
he could to attend at least some of the performances. It is also unlikely
that his mother Marichen, who was a lover of the theatre, would not
have made an effort to attend at least the performance of the play by
Andreas Munch, since its author was a Norwegian and a nephew of the
former rector of the Gjerpen parish church, which the Ibsens attended
Early creative activity
The foregoing review of Ibsen’s education, reading, and cultural
environment can provide a background for the following discussion of
his two creative efforts in Skien about which we have the most evidence:
a puppet play and a classroom essay.
Ibsen had the use of a little porch off the kitchen in the farmhouse at
Venstøp. He would closet himself with books and toys and play by himself. He had a model theatre, that is, a box with a stage on which he could
set up small painted figures mounted on wood.63 If he was reading a
play, he could make a set of figures of the characters, and move them
according to the requirements of the action. It is possible that the boy
began to mix characters from one play with those from another, in a way
combining imitation and repetition with invention. As his skill increased
and his ingenuity sought more scope, he began to present his imaginative works before an audience. According to Einar Østvedt, a local historian, Ibsen gave puppet shows in a window of his porch that faced the
yard.64 Conceivably he placed his toy theatre in the window and moved
the wooden figures on the tiny stage for a group of children standing in
front of the window. The window was small, however, and at some point
the theatre moved to a larger venue nearby.
The Danish theatre companies did not visit Skien in either 1841 or
1842, and during the summer of one of those years, in a shed or barn at
Venstøp Ibsen produced a puppet play about Ferdinand and Isabella of
Spain. The only known description of the play is by an elderly lady from
Skien, Benedikte Paulsen, who as a child had been a member of the audience on the day the play was performed.
At the start of the 1840's Ibsen operated his puppet theatre at Venstøp. There was an extension on the farmhouse
towards the north, which included a washhouse, servants'
quarters, a shed and several other rooms. The shed served as
the theatre hall. At the far end a platform was set up, consisting of some wide boards, and behind these boards was a corridor, covered by a curtain. From this corridor the movements
of the puppets were guided by means of strings. Henrik himself performed this work, with a highly trusted assistant--usually Theodor Eckstorm from the Grini farm. It cost half a
shilling to attend the performance, but some individuals were
allowed in free. People came a long distance to see the performances. Some of the boys came in order to make mischief.
For the female part of the audience the attraction was the
great puppet Isabella of Spain. Oh heavens, how fine she
was! Coal-black ringlets, and a crinoline of rose-red silk. She
was able to move with artistic skill across the boards, and then
the little girls shouted with delight. Then onto the scene came
knight Fernando. A feathered hat, and a red costume with
gold braid. He moved slowly and proudly towards Isabella.
Then--oh woe!--as quick as a flash a black Moor appears, who
seizes her and would like to run away with her. But knight
Fernando pushes him away so vigorously that he ends up lying down, after which Fernando and Isabella salute the audience. --Thus went the play.
But one Spring day when a great performance was announced at Venstøp, and the stage was painted with blue
anemones, the whole event had an unexpected interruption.
Ole Paulsen from Gulset and Peder Lund Pedersen from Limi
cut the strings. Then Henrik got really angry. He rushed at
Ole, even though the other was much bigger. Peder had to
come and help his friend Ole, for even though Henrik was
small of stature, he was tough. The young spectators yelled
loudly, and the uproar was frightful. Then a voice was heard
that drowned out everything else: "What is all this racket?" It
was Knud Ibsen, Henrik's father. When he saw the combatants, he understood the situation at once, because he said:
"Can you not leave Henrik and his puppets in peace!"
Henrik did not lose courage, but got new strings for the
puppets. His mother, the lady Marichen, said that she could
well understand why she was so short of clotheslines. On
Midsummer's Eve that same year there was a repeat performance. Then they had a bonfire on Venstøp Hill, and a great
number of people were present, both adults and children.
Henrik took advantage of the opportunity to earn a lot of money
for his theatre.65
The figures were stringed puppets, or marionettes, and they were in
period costumes which Henrik had probably made himself. He once
painted a new face on Hedvig's doll,66 so he very well could have made
puppets in costumes, although it is possible that his mother helped him
with Isabella's beautiful red dress. He also manipulated the puppets,
together with an assistant, and spoke all the voices.
Ferdinand and Isabella were king and queen of the united kingdoms
of Aragon and Castilia, and they were known for having driven the Moors
5. Limie’s building, photograph (1971). Telemark Museum
and the Jews out of Spain in 1492. If we ask why the young Ibsen should
have been interested in Ferdinand and Isabella, we can speculate that it
was because they were paradoxical figures: Christians who were guilty
of intolerance and murder, heroes who were also villains.
In the list of books from the Latin school, under “History,” there is a
textbook by Hans A. Kofod. The story of Ferdinand and Isabella driving
the Moors and the Jews out of Spain appears in Kofod's textbook, and that
could have been where Ibsen read it.67 There were at least four different
history textbooks available to Norwegian students at the time, but Kofod's
account is the most vivid of the four, and the only one that places Isabella
on the battlefield. Moreover it was in the book used in Skien’s Latin
school.68 Of course, none of the accounts suggests that any Moor was so
audacious as to attempt to carry off Isabella, so that motif could have
come from some other source, for example, from folk tales or ballads in
which trolls carry off brides from their weddings.
It has recently been suggested that Ibsen's puppet play is similar to
one in Don Quixote.69 The latter features a Spanish lady held captive in a
tower by the Moors.70 One of them sneaks up, accosts her, and is whipped
for his actions by his own people. The lady is rescued from the tower by
her husband, a brave Spanish gentleman on horseback. There was more
than one Danish translation of Don Quixote, but since the sequence of the
puppet play in that book was famous, it might have been included in an
Ibsen's inspiration could also have been another printed puppet play.
Heiberg's first published play was a puppet play, entitled Don Juan.72 Puppet plays also circulated in unpublished form when they were performed
Ibsen's puppet play was a ridderskuespil, that is, a play of chivalry, a
play about knights and ladies. Plays of chivalry were a fashion rather
than a genre in playwriting that derived to some extent from the Spanish
theatre. They had been introduced to the German public by a series of
translations of Calderon's and Lope de Vega's plays made by August
Wilhelm Schlegel and others in the late eighteenth century. Plays in
imitation of the Spanish style were written by Germans and then translated into Danish and performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen.
Some Danish dramatists also attempted the style, although their plays
were not always set in Spain.
How did Ibsen know enough about the theatre to invent a play of
chivalry in the Spanish manner? He could have read such plays, but he
also could have seen them in the performances given in Skien by travelling companies of Danish actors. In 1839 the company that visited Skien
advertised a play of chivalry entitled Kjærlighed og Heltemod (“Love and
Heroic Valor”), about a woman in a castle who is wooed by many suitors.73 To win her hand a suitor has to ride his horse all the way around
the castle on top of the wall, and all the suitors except the last fail the test,
and plunge to their deaths.
While it is not possible to say with certainty what Ibsen's sources and
procedures were for the composition of his puppet play, it is legitimate to
suppose that he based the play partly on a historical source about
Ferdinand and Isabella and partly on narrative elements, either from Don
Quixote, from folk literature, or from other puppet plays that he had seen
or read about. The idea of making a puppet play might have been merely
an extension of his play with his toy theatre, but also it might have been
influenced by his attendance at a puppet show. The fact that the play is
a ridderskuespil in the Spanish manner shows that in some way Ibsen had
been exposed to that theatrical style. In his very first piece, therefore, it
is possible to discern techniques of composition that borrowed from several different sources: historical, narrative and theatrical. These were
techniques that he was to use many times in his later works.
Ibsen’s dream essay
Ibsen wrote an essay while he was a student at the private school in
Skien, and a version of it has been preserved. It is not from his own
hand, but rather from that of a classmate, J. F. Ording, who was sitting
next to Ibsen on the day he read it aloud in class. Ording remembered it
so vividly that he was able to reconstruct it more than 30 years later and
publish it in a newspaper article.74 Ibsen read that article twice in proof
when it was about to be reprinted in a reliable literary history; he remembered it, and he did not indicate that it was inaccurate.75 He made
the following note about the essay in the margin of the proof sheet:
This Norwegian essay brought me into strained relations
with my excellent teacher Stockfleth. You see, S. had got it
into his head that I had taken the essay from some book or
other and stated that to the class. I rejected his mistaken
interpretation in a more energetic way than he liked.
This is a translation of the essay:
During a journey “on the heights,” while confused and
exhausted, we were taken by surprise by the fall of night.
Like Jacob of old, we lay down to rest with stones under our
heads. My comrades soon slumbered; I myself was unable to
sleep. At last fatigue overcame me; then in a dream an angel
appeared over me, and said: “Stand up and follow me!” “Where
will you lead me in this darkness?” I asked. “Come,” he repeated, “I will show you a sign, human life in its reality and
truth.” So I followed fearfully, and downwards it went over
colossal steps, until the mountains arched themselves over
us into mighty vaults, and there before us lay an enormous
city of dead men with all the frightful sights and smells of
death and corruption: a whole world lying corpse-like, sunken
together under the power of death, a faded, withered, extinguished splendor. Over everything fell a faint, shimmering
light, as pale as the light reflected over a graveyard by church
walls and the cross on a whitewashed tomb, no more light
than that was emitted by the bleached skeletons which filled
those dark rooms in endless rows. The vision there by the
angel's side brought upon me a freezing apprehension: “Here
you see, all is vanity.” Then came a whisper like that of the
first faint beating at the beginning of a storm, then like a thousand groaning sighs. It grew into a howling storm, so that the
dead stirred and held out their arms to me . . . and with a
scream I awoke . . . soaked by the night's cold dew . . . !
The form of the narrative in this piece is a dream within a story. A
dream allows the writer to introduce non-realistic events like the appearance of an angel. Yet paradoxically, what the angel proposes to show the
dreamer is "reality." There is a reference to Jacob, who in the book of
Genesis lay down to sleep with his head on a stone, and in his dream he
saw a ladder which reached to heaven, with angels ascending and descending. In that dream Jacob was called by God to be the father of His
Ibsen's dreamer, by contrast, is called not to carry out a great historic
mission but rather to witness an apocalyptic vision. He is not shown a
vision of heaven but instead is led down a stairway into the earth, where
in the underworld he sees a dead city with corpses lying in rows every-
where. The angel calls this scene "human life in its reality and truth,"
and, again, "vanity". This latter refers to a passage from the book of
Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!
All is vanity!"76 The term “whitewashed tomb” (or “whited sepulchre”) is
also Biblical, an epithet Jesus applied to the Pharisees, to mean that they
were hypocrites, i.e., white and pretty on the outside, dead and decayed
on the inside.77 The underground city of dead men might have been
inspired by Ibsen’s reading of the Book of Enoch. The Apocrypha was
sometimes included at that time in large family Bibles like the one Ibsen
probably read. In that book Enoch recounts a number of apocalyptic
visions, including one in which an angel leads him down to Sheol and
shows him a valley where fallen rebel angels await judgment.78
Ibsen’s story evidently has a literary inspiration. It alludes to at least
two different books in the Old Testament, to one in the New Testament,
and perhaps also to the Apocrypha. Ibsen could have picked up something either from graveyard poetry or from horror fiction that shows up
in the elaborate reference to the quality of the reflected light underground,
as well as in the final shock-effect.
The introduction of details from several different sources, the play on
different dimensions of reality, the paradoxical way of juxtaposing the
worlds of imagination and reality, and the portrayal of the dark side of
life – all are features that are characteristic of Ibsen's technique throughout his career. To cite just one example, at the end of the third act of
Brand, when Brand is thinking about travelling south to save his young
son from having to spend another winter in the cold, dark place where
they live, the Gypsy girl Gerd comes running in, and cries:
Have you heard? The parson's flown away!
The trolls and demons are swarming out of the hillsides,
Black and ugly. Big ones, small ones--oh!
How sharply they can strike . . . .
Can you see the thousand trolls
The village priest drowned in the sea?
That grave can't hold them; they're groping their way ashore,
Cold and slimy. Look at the troll children!
They're only skin-dead; see how they grin
As they push up the rocks that pinned them down.79
In this passage Ibsen introduces supernatural imagery about dead trolls
coming back to life from the mouth of the half-mad Gypsy girl. The
perceptions of the supernatural are those of the character, so the passage
does not seem incredible, even though it appears in a realistic scene.
Brand contains a complex pattern of conflicting imagery, in which Christianity is set against paganism. The idea portrayed in this scene is that
when Brand considers leaving his home and calling, all the pagan forces
that his strong faith and leadership have suppressed are released from
their captivity. To be “skin-dead” was a notion from folk tales, like being
a zombie. A comparison of this passage with Ibsen’s classroom essay
shows that both contain the theme of coming back to life. In both cases
the resurrection is uncanny, however, and those who are resurrected are
Ibsen did not have as regular an elementary education as most people
do today, but that does not mean that there were no educational resources
in the area where he lived, nor that he could not have received a fairly
decent preparation, including instruction in German, French, and Latin.
He also had a sound and thorough religious education. His environment
offered substantial literary and theatrical resources, which may have contributed to the fact that his literary and dramatic abilities had already
begun to assert themselves by about the age of 13. The evidence of these
abilities that survives shows that his creative activity was influenced by
his study of the Bible, history, and classical as well as contemporary literature.
IBSEN IN GRIMSTAD, 1844-48
In the fall of 1843 the Ibsen family moved back to Skien, into a second-floor apartment in a complex of buildings at Snipetorp, on a bluff
above the town. The new quarters were small, and there were five children. It was decided that Henrik, who was the eldest, would have to
make his own way, even though he was only fifteen years old. At the
turn of the year 1843-44, Henrik left his family and moved to Grimstad, a
town about 75 miles down the coast, where a position had been found for
him as a pharmacist’s apprentice. His plan at that time was to become a
doctor. The ordinary route to that profession was closed to him, because
his parents could not afford to pay for further education for him, but in
Norway at that time it was still possible to qualify by examination to become a medical practitioner. The study of pharmacy was at least related
to medicine, and what he learned might be useful in future medical studies.
In 1844 about 800 people lived in Grimstad. Its main industries were
shipbuilding, shipping, fishing, and timbering. The town had been built
on a site where the land forms a natural harbor and is further shielded
from the Skagerrak by an archipelago of small islands or skerries. The
buildings of the town climb a slope above the harbor. The main street,
Storgaten, also climbs this slope.80
The pharmacy was located in a house near the bottom of Storgaten.
[See Illustration 8.] Ibsen lived in the house with the family and the
other employees of the pharmacist, and shared a tiny bedroom on the
second floor with two younger boys. He had to work in the shop every
day except Sunday, and he was on call at night. If the doorbell rang
during the night, he had to answer it. If he was in bed, he had to get up,
climb down a steep staircase to the shop, and prepare whatever medicines were required.
Ibsen wrote a letter to a friend in Skien, Poul Lieungh, dated 20 May,
1844, less than five months after his arrival in Grimstad. This letter survives:
You really must excuse that I am only now answering your
letter, but I have had so much to do recently that it has not
been possible before, and even now I do not have time to
write a long letter. Hedevall has left by now, and I am sure he
will be pleased, at least I am very well satisfied and have never
regretted coming here, since Reimann is very good to me and
does everything possible to awaken my interest in the pharmacy, which in the beginning was not very great. With his
wife, on the other hand, I do not do nearly as well, and we are
often at odds, since it is impossible to satisfy her in any way.
Reimann is also the postmaster, so you can just as well let my
brother Johan enclose your letters in the ones he writes, since
in that way you can avoid paying anything. You know,
Grimstad, and especially the surrounding area, is quite beautiful, and the ladies, even if they are not as attentive as Skien’s,
are also quite acceptable, and you can be sure I do everything
to earn their favour, which is very easy to obtain. Since the
steamer passes Grimstad twice a week I hope to make a trip
with it to Skien, if no obstacle prevents it, which I do not
expect. I have several questions to ask you, which you must
answer by the next post: First and foremost you must tell me
how J.J. took the news of her sweetheart's death, and also let
me know who is the lucky man who has taken his place; since
I know her too well to suppose she is still grieving for him.
Next you must tell me whether Carl Aamodt is still practicing
writing poetry, and finally, if so, ask him not to forget to send
me a little poem. Even though I could write more, I must
now leave off through lack of time, but you can be sure that
next time you will get a longer letter. Please send the book
“William Tell,” which Hedevall has borrowed, up to us, since
it does not belong to me. Farewell, and greet all our good
friends from yours sincerely, Henrik J. Ibsen.
Finally, do not let anybody see this since it is written in greatest
Hedevall was Poul’s brother; he had visited Ibsen in Grimstad before
he himself also took up a position as a pharmacist’s apprentice. Apparently he had left Grimstad with Ibsen’s copy of “William Tell,” and Ibsen
wanted to be sure it was returned. It is not clear from the letter which
version of the story of the Swiss hero he was referring to; the most likely
version would have been Friedrich Schiller’s famous play in a Danish
translation,82 but it also could have been the original, since he used the
German spelling of the name, Wilhelm. In Danish or Norwegian the spelling would have been Vilhelm. Ibsen was able to read German, and in
Grimstad today there are single copies of plays in German by Lessing,
Goethe, and Schiller old enough to have been seen in Ibsen’s time.83 If
Ibsen had a copy of the play, he was probably reading it. Since it was not
his own copy, that means he was able to borrow books. The letter also
shows that he was interested in poetry and wanted to continue a conversation about poetry that he had been having with another friend in Skien,
Ibsen lived in Grimstad for six years, until April 1850. The first three
of those years are the darkest of his life. They were formative years for
him, however, so it is worthwhile to try to establish what can be known
with any degree of certainty about his circumstances and activities. He
was ordinarily confined to the pharmacy, and he had no friends of his
own age, so many of his impressions came to him through reading. He
read voraciously, according to Maria Thomsen, one of the maids who
worked at the pharmacy. Hans Eitrem interviewed her more than sixty
years later, after Ibsen’s death, and she was quoted by him to have said:
That Henrik was a great one for reading, believe me. He
had a whole box chock-full of books, but no clothes. He read
and wrote almost the whole night. On some nights he was
surely not in bed before 2 A.M. - Did he have light? Yes, there
was a tallow candle. I never heard it was refused him. Sometimes I called at the door and said: you go to bed now, boy.
You will get confused from all this reading. - No, he never
read anything aloud to us.84
This passage suggests that Ibsen had a place where he could read and
write, and where he kept his books. Among the few possessions he had
brought with him from Skien was a carton of books. We do not know the
titles of the books, but they must have been of at least three types. Some
were the books he needed to prepare for the certification examination in
pharmacy.85 Others were textbooks he had acquired as a boy in Skien, in
subjects like French, German, Latin, Norwegian, history and religion.
Still others were no doubt his favorite books from childhood. Others he
had borrowed for pleasure reading.
His reading material was not limited to what was in his box of books.
Until 1845 the pharmacy was also the post office, and part of Ibsen’s job
was to sort the incoming and outgoing mail. Newspapers and magazines
from other cities arrived through the mail, and presumably Ibsen could
read them before their owners came to collect them. There was no newspaper in Grimstad in the 1840s, but Vestlandske Tidende was published in
Arendal, twelve miles up the coast; Christianssandsposten came from down
the coast in Christianssand, and several newspapers were published in
Christiania, among them Morgenbladet and Christiania-Posten.
Grimstad’s location by the sea, and its shipping activities, helped to
make it a fairly cosmopolitan community. The steamer plied the coast
regularly between Christiania and Christianssand during the summer
months. There were many shipowners in Grimstad, and their ships carried cargoes of timber and iron ore to more distant cities, and brought
trade goods back with them. Residents of Grimstad were accustomed to
travel abroad both for employment and trade. Most of Grimstad’s young
men went to sea, and the children of wealthier families were often sent
to school in Denmark, Germany, France, or England.
There was no public library in Grimstad, but there was a reading society, founded in 1835. The collection of the reading society was housed in
the building of the inactive Dahlske Skole,86 a few blocks up Storgaten
from the pharmacy. In the 1840s this building was used for the workingclass school, where the children of the town learned educational fundamentals. Its schoolmaster, Anders Isachsen, was the first librarian of the
reading society.87 The list of names of the members of this society included both Jens Arup Reimann, Ibsen’s first employer, and Niels Peter
Nielsen, the father of Lars Nielsen, his second employer. It has usually
been assumed, therefore, that Ibsen had access to its collection.
Before and during the time that he lived in Grimstad the reading society acquired 664 titles.88 Most of the books were translations of novels by
authors like James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas
père, Captain Marryat, and Walter Scott. There were also books by Danish and Swedish writers in their original languages, including K. L.
Rahbek’s edition of the works of Ludvig Holberg. The collection also
contained bound volumes of several magazines. From 1832 to 1838 Christian Winther had edited and published in Christiania the literary journal
Bien (The Bee). This journal printed the work of some of the best writers
in Norway, including Maurits Hansen, Henrik Wergeland, and Johan
Sebastian Welhaven. The reading society had a fairly complete set of this
journal. The issues of The Bee would have been 6-12 years old by the
time Ibsen had access to them, but that would not have prevented him
from reading what was in them.
Corsaren (The Corsair) was also in the collection of the reading society. This magazine had been founded in Copenhagen in 1841 by Meir
Goldschmidt and was edited by him until 1846, when he sold it, although
the magazine continued to appear until 1849. The Corsair published articles on political and cultural topics, as well as reviews of books and
plays. It was an excellent source of information on the leading figures of
Denmark in its "Golden Age". It had a satirical style and often printed
caricatures similar to those done by Ibsen when he worked as a journalist in Christiania in 1850-51.
According to oral tradition, during the first two years he lived in
Grimstad Ibsen was already satirizing his neighbors in verse. Following
is a translation of a passage in Didrik Arup Seip’s introduction to the
volume of poems in Ibsen’s collected works. It includes his earliest known
attempt at versifying:
An old shoemaker’s wife told H. Terland “that in her youth
she often encountered Ibsen, or ‘the pharmacy boy,’ as they
used to call him. The boys and girls of the town liked to gather
around him, because where he was present, they could almost always be sure of entertainment. He could come out
with such amusing remarks, and he was so good at rhyming,
and in those days it was appreciated when one could make
long rhymed strings of words about people.” One of these
rhymes has survived in tradition and is quoted by different
people with only slight variations in the names. H. Terland
gives the following explanation of it:
“The reason it has lasted must be that it deals with a
distinguished citizen and his whole household in a completely harmless manner. I myself as a small boy was
entertained at hearing it, and according to what the old
shoemaker’s wife told me, she herself was present when
Henrik fashioned it, as he stood in the midst of a crowd
of girls and boys in a yard near the merchant’s house. It
deals with Mathias Gundersen, his two shop-boys, of
whom one was the later merchant and shipowner
Gunder Holst; his wife, Anne Elisabeth, gets her name
changed to Anne Lise, and their daughter’s name is Anne
Kristine. At that time, as we know, one had quill pens.
The rhyme goes like this:
‘Cut my pen,’ says Gundersen.
‘I don’t have time,’ says Gunder.
‘Are you serious?’ says Halvor.
‘Come and eat,’ says Anne Lise.
‘The food is not exactly tasty,’ says Anne Kristine.”89
Mathias Gundersen was a successful businessman, who in addition to
his shop, which was in the family home on Storgaten, owned and operated a shipyard at Hasseldalen. He was only about 30 years old at the
time this verse was composed, which was probably in 1845, but in 1844
he had already been elected mayor of the town, and would be elected
again in 1846.90
The action of the scene takes place in his shop. Mathias is doing
some paperwork; he asks his clerks to sharpen his pen for him, but the
first claims to be too busy, while the second wonders if his boss is only
joking. Just at that moment Mrs. Gundersen invites everyone to come to
dinner, while her daughter criticizes or apologizes for the food.
There were probably more lines to the verse, but these are all that
have survived. Still, they are enough to show the skill of the young satirist, who produced and performed a theatrical cartoon, which is deftly
struck without being nasty. The verse is what has survived, but surely it
was delivered with impressions of each character by the author. The
piece is satirical and depends for its effect on the audience’s knowledge
of the persons imitated. Since we do not know them, we can only imagine the reaction that greeted the performance. The anecdote that accompanies the verse shows that even during his first three years in Grimstad,
Ibsen was a recognized participant in the town’s street life, and one whose
wit would be remembered.
Ibsen had Sundays off, and he liked to spend his free time painting
and drawing. Sometimes he would take his painting equipment with
him and go for walks, stopping to make pictures of the landscape. The
walls of the pharmacy were soon covered with his works, some of which
have survived and can be seen today in the Ibsen House and Grimstad
Town Museum. One of the earliest has a religious theme. There was a
print of Joshua and an angel in a picture Bible owned by the pharmacist’s
family, and Ibsen made a painting of it, probably in 1845. [See Illustrations 5 & 6.] The print shows Joshua kneeling in the desert and an angel
hovering nearby. The verse cited under the print is Joshua 5. 13. Following are verses 13-15 from the RSV:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and
looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn
sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him,
‘Are you for us or against us?’ And he said, ‘No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And
Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said
to him, ‘What does my lord bid his servant?’ And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, ‘Put off your shoes
from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.’ And
Joshua did so.91
We do not know why Ibsen copied this picture, but we can speculate that
he was interested in its theme: a man searching for divine authority, or
a man selected for a mission by a supernatural being.
As Ibsen learned the trade of pharmacy, J. A. Reimann increasingly
left him to tend the shop alone while he walked around the town. Reimann
was alcoholic and fell into debts that he could not repay for the purchase
of medicines. In those days many of the medicines dispensed by pharmacies were derived from plants and herbs collected locally. Both
Reimann and his apprentice would often go out to collect such plants.
They were naturally free for the taking, but prepared medicines ordered
from Christiania were not. The pharmacy was put up for sale in order to
satisfy the creditors, and on 26 August, 1846, it was bought at auction by
a man from Christiania named Ole Andreas Haanshus.
By that time a calamity had befallen the pharmacist’s young apprentice. In the winter of 1845-46, one of the maids at the pharmacy, a woman
named Else Sophie Jensdatter, became pregnant. She was from a farm in
Birkedal, about 20 miles inland, and she went home before the child was
born. On 9 October, 1846, she was delivered of a baby boy, who was
christened Hans Jacob Henriksen. In a complaint received on 25 November by the local county court, Else named Henrik Ibsen as the father.92 The magistrate, Johan Casper Preus, in turn asked Ibsen to submit a statement in answer to the alleged paternity, including information
about his economic circumstances that would be used to determine the
amount of support payments. Ibsen’s response has recently come to
Required by Your Honor to explain whether I admit or
deny being the father of a male child born to the maid Else
Sophie Jensdatter Birkedalen, who at baptism the 25th of October last was called Hans Jacob, I must herewith respectfully state that despite the girl's intimacy at the time in question with other men [Mandspersoner] as well, I dare not definitely disclaim the aforementioned paternity, since unfortunately I have had physical intercourse with her, to which her
tempting behavior and simultaneous service with me at the
home of Pharmacist Reimann in equal degrees gave opportunity.
I am now in my twentieth year; own nothing at all, except
some shabby clothes, footwear and linen, and shall in a short
time leave Grimstad Pharmacy, where I have supported myself as an apprentice, and accordingly without any other income than meals and the aforementioned necessities, since
the summer of 1843. My still-living father, whom I am obliged
for the time being to leave, is one of the lesser businessmen
in Skien and finds himself in the most indifferent circumstances.
Grimstad the 7th of December, 1846.
Respectfully, Henr. Ibsen.93
There are several inaccuracies in the letter. In the first place, Ibsen
had not been living in Grimstad since the summer of 1843, but rather
since January of 1844. In the second place, at the time he wrote the
letter he was not in his twentieth year, but rather in his nineteenth, that
is, he was eighteen years old. If he thought he had something to gain by
overstating either the length of his service or his age, it is not clear what
that might have been, so these errors were possibly inadvertent, but their
presence allows one to wonder whether any other statements in the letter are incorrect as well.
It is not necessary to accept his characterization of Else’s behavior as
“tempting” in order to understand that living conditions in the pharmacy
were conducive to inappropriate intimacies. In addition to their apprentice, the Reimanns employed and housed two maids. When Ibsen got out
of bed at night to answer the door, he had to pass through the room where
the maids slept, since there was no other access to the stairs. On weekends one of the maids, Marie, whose family lived nearby, usually went
6. The building which housed Reimann’s Pharmacy as it is today, photograph. The Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum
home, so Else was there alone. She was Ibsen’s husmor, which meant
that she was responsible for looking after his personal needs, like the
laundering and mending of his clothes. Their enforced proximity could
have led to repeated acts of intimacy for the two years they were together
in the pharmacy. Such activity on Ibsen’s part would have been unlike
his customary behavior both before and after this time, which was highly
reserved, even withdrawn. It is therefore at least equally possible that
Else simply offered him warmth on a few cold nights when he climbed
the steep stairs from the shop after waiting on a late customer, or that she
made herself available to him for other reasons.
Else had grown up on a farm, but when she left home she had joined
a class of itinerant servants who worked in private homes or businesses
for a year or more before they married and set up their own households.
She may have left the farm in the first place in order to improve her
chances of finding a husband. At the time in question, however, she was
27 years old and still unmarried. A woman of her age and station had few
chances of marrying, and therefore she could look forward only to continued employment as a domestic servant, unless she could find a better
position. She was illiterate, however. She must have known that the
pharmacist was in financial difficulties, and that these could jeopardize
the position she had. She might therefore have entertained some hope of
finding security in a relationship with the intelligent young apprentice.
It was not unheard-of for young women from agricultural families to become pregnant before marriage; it could be regarded as a sign of
Ibsen’s letter to the court states that he thought she had been intimate with other men at the time she became pregnant. The term he
used, Mandspersoner, usually indicates male persons not known to the
speaker or writer, and is often derogatory. In any event, Ibsen accepted
legal responsibility in an ambiguous situation, but there was nothing
ambiguous about the penalty. In a resolution dated 18 December the
court required him to pay maintenance for the child until its fifteenth
birthday.94 This misfortune was traumatic for the young Ibsen and left
its mark on his literary works, most famously in the portrait of the Green
Woman and her son in Peer Gynt, but also in many other references to
illegitimacy and its consequences. The immediate result of his disgrace
was that he was barred from access to the better families in Grimstad, so
that he felt not only isolated in the community but also alienated from it,
déclassé. At the same time, he was regarded with admiration by some of
the other young men of the town because he was sexually experienced.
About a month after the paternity suit was resolved, on 13 January,
1847, Ibsen took the certification examination in pharmacy at Arendal, a
town about twelve miles up the coast from Grimstad. Following is an
anecdote recorded by Hans Eitrem about the day Ibsen was to take that
One of the small boys who shared a room with him has
told me that he can well remember the day Henrik left for
Arendal in a sleigh, in crackling cold and snowy weather. The
one who was driving could recall only one thing from the
journey: the little fellow was so terrified, so scared to death,
that the driver had to laugh. They drove over a [frozen] lake.
The ice thundered as it usually does in extreme cold. Then
Ibsen was seized by panic, got out of the sleigh and escaped
to land. He was not willing to sit again until horse and sleigh
had crossed the ice.95
Ibsen must have been anxious about the exam he was going to take,
whose outcome would affect whether or not he could keep his job when
the pharmacy was transferred to its new owner. One cannot blame him
for being frightened at the booming of the ice, and for abandoning a vehicle in whose progress he had lost confidence. He had enough to worry
about that day without having to imagine himself sinking into the freezing water under the ice.
The pharmacy was soon sold again, this time to a resident of Grimstad
named Lars Nielsen, who had been Reimann’s apprentice several years
earlier, and who was barely four years older than Ibsen himself. The
pharmacy was transferred to Nielsen's ownership on 21 February, 1847,
and he was granted a pharmacist's license a month later. The furnishings and equipment from the pharmacy in Storgaten were moved to
Østregate 13, in a different part of the town. [See Illustration 9.]
Ibsen moved too, and in the next three years his living conditions
were better in every respect. He was no longer merely an apprentice,
but now a pharmacist's assistant, with a small salary. He had his own
room, with a stove, a bed and a table, which during the daytime was part
of the shop, but which at night he had to himself, since his employer did
not live on the premises. Even at the new pharmacy, however, he still
had to be on duty every day except Sunday. In the evenings and on
Sundays he was free to read, study, and write.
Early literary efforts
Under the new arrangement, Ibsen’s morning and evening meals were
brought to him, but he regularly ate the midday meal at the nearby home
of his new employer's parents, Niels Peter and Ida Katrine Nielsen.
Georgina Crawfurd, an elderly unmarried lady originally from Scotland,
was a friend of theirs, and she often had lunch there, too.96 She befriended the young man and used to lend him books from her family's
library.97 Perhaps in gratitude for this kindness, he gave her some of his
poems in manuscript before he left Grimstad. Her great-nephew, Jens
Pharo Crawfurd, who was a boy of 12-14 years at the time he knew Ibsen,
reported to Eitrem in 1909 that he had often carried books between his
aunt and Ibsen.98 Only a few books old enough to have been in Grimstad
in the 1840s survive today, but they include plays by Lessing, Goethe,
and Schiller in German, and by Shakespeare in English.99
In the summer or fall of 1847, Ibsen began to study for the university
entrance examination. He had to abandon his plan to take a preliminary
exam that would have allowed him to pursue accreditation as a medical
practitioner, because that avenue was closed by the Storting (the Norwegian parliament) in 1845 when it changed the rules, and required everyone to take the university entrance exam, which was called the examen
artium.100 The most serious consequence for him of this change was that
it meant he would have to prepare for exams in Latin and Greek.
There was no secondary school in Grimstad, and even if there had
been, Ibsen could not have attended it because of his job. He was therefore in the position of having to learn on his own the subjects to be tested.
There was some latitude in the choice of subjects, but not much; those
on his syllabus were: Modersmaalet (i.e., native language), French, German, Latin (written, oral, and translation), Greek, religion, history, and
arithmetic. As a boy in Skien he had been exposed to all of these subjects
except Greek and arithmetic, and these were the two subjects he would
fail when he came to take the exam in August of 1850.
At about the same time that he began preparing for the artium, that is,
during the fall of 1847, he also began to write poetry, or at any rate to
keep copies of some of the poetry he was writing.101 Before he left Grimstad
he collected twenty-six poems in a notebook under the title "Blandede
Digtninger fra Aarene 1848, 1849, 1850" (“Mixed Poems from the years
1848, 1849, 1850”). He hoped to publish the collection once he got to
Christiania, but he was not successful, and only two of the poems were
published in his lifetime, both while he lived in Grimstad, and both in
Christiania-Posten.102 Most of the poems collected in “Mixed Poems” were
written during his last year in Grimstad (1849-50), but four lyrics survive
from the time before he wrote his first play, Catilina, in the winter of
1848-49. The first of these, "Resignation," bears the date 1847:
Er de Glimt fra Sjælens Dunkle,
Der igjennem Mulmet brød,
Og som Lynblink monne funkle
Kun til evig Glemsel født? -Var forgjæves al min Higen,
Var min Drøm kuns et Fantom,
Er mig nægtet Sjælens Stigen,
Var min Digten kold og tom! -Tier da I Undertoner! -Kan jeg eder ei forstaa, -Lad mig iblandt Millioner
Leve glemt og glemt forgaa! -- -- -[Are you glimmers from the dark of the soul, that broke
through the dense darkness, and that sparkle like a lightning
flash, born merely to be forgotten forever? Were all my yearnings futile, was my dream just a phantom, is the soul's ascent
denied me, was my poetry cold and empty! Be silent, then,
you undertones! If I cannot understand you, let me among
millions live forgotten and forgotten die!]103
Despite the brevity of this poem, its argument is complex and may be
summarized as follows: the speaker wants to know if the fleeting images
that emerge from what we would call his unconscious mind are destined
only for oblivion. In a series of rhetorical questions he poses four dilemmas: what if his longing to create is futile; what if his dream of poetic
achievement is just an illusion; what if "the soul's ascent" (the poet's
idealizing gesture) is impossible for him; and finally, and probably as a
result of the first three dilemmas, what if his writing is without feeling?
In the last four lines, the speaker appears to state the implications of
defeat: he orders the "undertones" (the undercurrents of feeling) to be
silent, because if he cannot understand them or make out what they
mean, he would rather lose himself in the mass of humanity and die
Where could a 19-year-old in Grimstad in 1847 have acquired the conception of poetry that undergirds this poem? We do not know this, but it
might have been from an anthology for Modersmaalet published in 1846
by Henning Junghans Thue, a man who had been raised in Grimstad and
educated at the university.104 From 1844 to 1848 he served as the principal of a school in Arendal.
Ibsen could have acquired a copy of Thue's anthology from a number
of different people. As a boy growing up in Grimstad, Thue had been a
pupil of the schoolmaster Anders Isachsen. While he was living in Arendal,
he used come to Grimstad to visit his family, and at times he also visited
his former teacher. Isachsen would probably have had at least one copy
of his accomplished former pupil's anthology; he might even have used it
as a textbook, although not in the working-class school. On alternate
days he conducted a borgerskole (“middle-class school”) at the Dahlske
Skole, which offered instruction to students whose parents were able to
pay. As a boy Thue had received instruction in English from "a certain
English lady,"105 who was probably Miss Crawfurd. If so, he could have
visited her as well, and she might have been able to supply Ibsen with a
copy of Thue's anthology. Ibsen's Latin tutor, Emil Bie, was a cousin of
Thue’s, and was certainly acquainted with him. It is not impossible that
Ibsen even met and talked with Thue himself, either at the pharmacy or
on one of his Sunday strolls up to Fjære church, since the Thues lived on
a farm at Frivold, on the way. By some accounts, one of Ibsen’s tutors in
Grimstad was Søren Christian Monrad, a theology student at the university and the younger brother of the university professor Marcus J.
Monrad.106 Both brothers had been at university with Thue and had travelled with him later on the continent.107 S. C. Monrad might have supplied Ibsen with a copy of Thue’s anthology, especially if he was helping
him to prepare for the examination in composition.
Ibsen would have had to have a textbook of some kind in composition.
One that had been published by a man who was teaching nearby in Arendal,
and who had family and friends in Grimstad, would have been the one
most likely to be accessible to him. The fact that Ibsen wrote many different types of lyric poetry in the early period shows that he was thinking
about poetry in terms of its different types, and experimenting with these
types to see what he could do with them. Thue's anthology is organized
according to genres and has several sections devoted to lyric poetry, with
Oplysninger ("clarifications") at the beginning of each of the sections, so
the book could have served Ibsen as a useful guide. Following is a translation of the first paragraph of the first of Thue's "clarifications":
By the term Art one understands the ability to present
soul-images in a sensuously comprehensible way; he who
possesses this ability is called an Artist, and what he produces
by its help, a Work of Art. Accordingly, to every work of art
belong two things, namely, first a soul-image which shall be
presented (this is called the art-work’s Idea), and next a means
whereby the idea is presented and somehow embodied; this
is called the art-work’s Form. The idea is an image of some
reality created in the soul, but such an image, in which this
reality impresses itself, not directly, but under an ennobled
and perfected figure; the reality which in that way ennobles
and perfects itself in the idea constitutes the art-work’s Subject. The idea arises in the soul in such a way that something
pertaining to reality makes an impression on the feeling; this
feeling develops with the help of the imagination into a complete soul-image; then when this soul-image is dressed in a
sensible form, it becomes a work of art. Harmony or agreement must take place between idea and form, which like soul
and body are fused into one; since herein lies the art-work’s
Beauty. Art has no other purpose than to give a sensible form
to ideas which create themselves in the soul, and thereby to
produce beauty; if a work of art has another purpose beyond
this, for example to teach or in general to be useful, then it is
only partly or relatively a work of art.108
If Ibsen had read and thought about this passage, his first poem could
be interpreted as a response to it, in which the speaker asks: given Thue's
definition of art in general, and of poetry in particular, am I in any way
able to participate in the creative activity? Can the images that arise
from my soul be captured and shaped into form "in a sensuously comprehensible way," or are they destined to be forgotten? The title of the poem
is apt, in that if the creative activity is beyond the reach or ability of the
speaker, he might as well "resign," i.e., abandon such activity entirely,
and lose himself in the masses of humanity.
At about the same time that he began to save some of his lyric poems,
Ibsen wrote a series of practice essays in preparation for the exam in
composition. These he sent in a notebook to a reader in Christiania named
Paul Stub.109 The first of the three essays which survive, “Om Vigtigheden
af Selvkundskab” ("On the importance of self-knowledge"), bears the date
of 3 February, 1848; all three essays are in the same notebook, so they
probably all date from about the same time. The first essay includes two
ideas that were to be of permanent significance in Ibsen's thought: it is
necessary to be honest about one's own nature, even one's moral failings,
and the goal of life is the development of one's full potential. The second
essay, “Arbeide har Lønnen i sig selv” ("Labor is its own reward"), turns
the assigned topic to the subject of altruism, arguing that spiritual endeavor is also a kind of labor, and that only through the exercise of one's
abilities can one develop them. This essay continues the theme of the
importance of self-development. The third essay, “Hvorfor bør en Nation søge at bevare sine Forfædres Sprog og Minder?” ("Why should a
nation seek to preserve the language and memory of its ancestors?"),
argues that tradition is the inheritance of the achievements of the past,
and that it is the responsibility of the present generation to preserve and
carry forward this inheritance. This essay shows Ibsen's love of history,
and his recognition of the importance of assimilating one's tradition.
Ibsen's second surviving poem, and the first of three from 1848, is
entitled "Ved Havet" ("By the Sea"):
Med kamplysten Hu!
Hvo mægter dig følge?
Hvor stævner du nu?
Hvo mægter vel hæmme
Din stormende Hast?
Hvo dig at tæmme,
At holde dig fast!
Lig Yngling i vilde
Mod Klippen at spille
Var stedse din Lyst.
Dog midt i din striden,
Midt i din Harm,
Din Søblomme liden
Dig vinker til Barm!
Ak, flygtig er Stunden; -Din Storhed som den! -Din Kraft er forsvunden,
Da synker nu hen! --
See Grave dig vente
I Klippernes Rift, -Ha, Bølge! saa endte
Din Drøm om Bedrift!
O! bland kun din Klage
Med Brændingens Sang! -Hvad er vel tilbage! -Ei Mindet engang!
Thi mens i dets Himmel
Du drømmer dig gjemt,
I Bølgernes Vrimmel
Du længst er forglemt! -- -- -[Foaming wave with battle-loving mind! Who is able to
follow you? Where are you heading now? Who is able to
restrain your stormy rush? Who to tame you, to hold you
Like a youth in wild tumultuous brawl, your desire was
always to play against the cliff. Yet in the midst of your
struggle, in the midst of your anger, you beckon the little seaflower to your breast!
The moment is fleeting; like your greatness! Your force
has vanished, then you sink down! See, a grave awaits you in
a break in the cliffs. Ha, wave! So ended your dream of
Only mingle your lament with the breakers' song! What
is left behind? Not even the memory! Because while in its
heaveni your dreams preserve you, in the tumult of the waves
you are long since forgotten!]
This poem is a nature lyric, the poetic equivalent of a landscape painting. Norway's leading lyric poet in 1848 was Johan Sebastian Welhaven,
who had written two nature lyrics with the title "Ved Havet."110 Ibsen
i.e., the heaven of memory.
might have used either or both of them in composing his poem. Here is
just the first of them:
Der voxer ingen Busk paa denne Klippe;
Dens Væg er lodret mod de dybe Vande,
herfra mod Vest du øiner ingen Strande;
her alle Skranker, all Grændser slippe.
Hvor kjøligt vifter Luften over Voven,
og letter kvægende dig Stoffets Lænker,
mens Dagens Stjerne sig i Havet sænker,
og Aftenstjernen tænder sig foroven.
O, see den stille, deilige Forsoning,
hvor Hav og Himmel mod hinanden gløde,
og begges Grændser i det ømme Møde,
forsvinde i en purpurvarm Fortoning.
Saaledes daler i dit varme Indre
en himmelsk Anelse, mens Hjertet bæver;
du veed ei om den vandrer eller svæver,
og Rummets Ørken kan ei meer dig hindre.
Nu Havet aander slumrende. Hvor ømme
henglide dog dets sommerlune Vover;
thi nu har Himlen gydt sin Mildhed over
dets underbare, vexelfulde Drømme.
Dog drager endnu i den dybe Stilhed
et dæmpet Drøn, en Sukken gjennem Rummet,
og seer du, hisset glimter Bølgeskummet;
og bruser endnu med den gamle Vildhed.
Du aner, at en Klippebanke skjuler
sin mørke Jettekrop, hvor Bølgen fraader;
du veed ei, hvilken Trolddomsmagt der raader
i denne Klippes hemmelige Huler.
Ak, selv du bærer paa en lønlig Smerte –
om Himlens Klarhed over Barmen daler,
om Haab og Kjærlighed din Kummer svaler,
den voxer dog fra Bunden af dit Hjerte.111
[No bush grows on this cliff; its wall is perpendicular to
the deep water. From here westward you see no beach; here
all barriers, all borders stop.
How cool the breeze wafts over the wave, and refreshingly releases you from the shackles of your body, while the
day-star sinks in the sea, and the evening star kindles overhead.
O, see the silent, beautiful union, where sea and sky make
each other glow, and their border disappears in the tender
meeting as a warm purple haze.
Thus a divine impulse sinks into your warm inner being,
while the heart trembles; you do not know whether you are
walking or gliding, and the desolation of the place can no
longer hinder you.
Now the sea breathes as if asleep. Yet how gently its summer-warm waves glide away, since now the sky has poured
its mildness over its wonderful, changing dream.
Yet still a muffled roar breathes in the deep silence, a sigh
through the place; and you see the sea-foam flashing yonder,
and rushing still with the old wildness.
You guess that where the wave is foaming a cliff conceals
its dark giant's body; you do not know what magic power reigns
in this cliff's secret caves.
You yourself are harboring a secret pain: whether heaven's
brightness will descend upon your bosom, whether hope and
love will cool your sorrow, - it rises still from the depths of
It is possible that Ibsen borrowed the "soul-image" (in Thue’s sense of
the term) of Welhaven's poem, a wave breaking against a cliff. The events
of the two poems are quite different, however. In Welhaven's poem the
landscape itself is the subject, and the reason for describing it is to evoke
a mood of melancholy reflection in the reader. In Ibsen's poem, by contrast, the speaker challenges the landscape, addressing the wave as if it
has a mind of its own and a lust for action. The speaker in his poem is
aware of how quickly a wave's life is over. Whatever a wave might imagine, whether dreams of achievement or memories, the fate of all
imaginings is oblivion.
If it is the case that Ibsen used Welhaven's poetic landscape, he set it
to a completely different feeling. Where the mood in Welhaven's poem is
quiet and melancholy, in Ibsen's it is urgent, troubled, even frightened.
It is interesting to compare the viewpoint in his first two poems, where
the speaker expresses his doubt and anxiety, with that in his first two
essays, written at about the same time, where Ibsen stresses the importance of self-knowledge and self-development. How can one develop
oneself when all human aspirations are doomed to oblivion? These early
pieces in poetry and prose have themes that become part of the writer’s
permanent concerns, but they appear here only in embryo. They are
sketches of landmarks in what will become his characteristic poetic landscape, whose main theme he described many years later as “the clash of
ability and aspirations, of will and possibility, at once the tragedy and
comedy of mankind and of the individual.”112
Ibsen's third poem has a religious theme. Unlike the first poem, which
has no landscape, and the second poem, which takes place outdoors, the
third poem takes place indoors, and during a storm. It is entitled "Tvivl
og Haab" ("Doubt and Hope"):
Ha, hvilken Nat, saa rædsom, mørk!
Derude stormer det! -- -- -Som Løvens Brøl i vildsom Ørk
Hør Stormens Aandedræt! -Ha, komme I fra Dødens Dal,
I Skygger hist, som gaa
Lig Aander over natlig Val
I Skygevandter graa? -- -Og disse Tordenstemmers Klang
I denne Midnatsstund! -- -Som Mørkets vilde Seierssang,
Som Dommedags Basun! --
O, Mangengang jeg spottet har
Med Dommedagens Gru, -Ha, Frugten, denne Haanen bar,
Er vild Fortvivlen nu! -- -Forlængst, forlængst, mens Barn jeg var
Min Aftenbøn saa glad
Til Himlens Gud for Mo’r og Fa’er
Og søskend smaa, jeg bad; -Men længst, ak, længst det er forbi, -Jeg har min Bøn forglemt,
Ei meer jeg søger Trøst deri,
Er ei til Andagt stemt! -- -- -Ha, svage Sjæl! saa skjælver du
For disse Tordenbrag? -- -Du troer i denne Stormnats Gru
At skue Dommedag, -Den Dag, som aldrig komme vil, -Saa lød jo tit dit Ord;
Og paa den Gud, du beder til,
Forlængst du selv ei troer! -- -Ha, Dæmon, er du atter vakt? -Vig fra mig Frister fæl!
O, som Orkaners vilde Jagt
Det stormer i min Sjæl, -- -Og ingen Leder, ingen Vei
I dette Tvivlens Hav! -- -Gud! For en barnlig Bøn til dig
Al jordisk Kløgt jeg gav! -- -Men ak, jeg er ei Barn meer,
Og har ei Barnets Sind! -For Veien, Uskyldsøiet seer
I Troen, er jeg blind! -O, rædselsfuld er denne Nat,
Af Lynet kuns belyst, -Og dog den er et Dagskjær klart
Mod Mulmet i mit Bryst! --
Dog end fortvivle vil jeg ei,
Men følge Hjertets Bud:
Til Haabet vil jeg klynge mig,
Til Troen paa min Gud! -Lad hyle kun Orkanens Sang, -Jeg slumrer ind til Ro,
Forvist jeg vaagne skal engang
Gjenfødt med barnlig Tro. -- -- -[What a night, so frightful, dark! A gale is blowing out
there! Like the lion's roar in a desolate wilderness, hear the
storm's breathing! Do you come from death's valley, you shadows yonder, you gray-shrouded spirits who walk like ghosts
across a battlefield at night?
These thunderous voices sound in this midnight hour like
the darkness' wild victory song, like doomsday's bassoon!
Many times I have scoffed at the terror of doomsday; the fruit
this insult bore is wild despair now!
Long, long ago, when I was a child, I made my evening
prayer so gladly to God in heaven for mother and father and
siblings small: but that was over long ago, I have forgotten
my prayer, I no longer seek consolation there, I am not disposed to piety!
Tossing soul! do you tremble so at these thunderclaps? In
the terror of this stormy night you believe you will see doomsday, that day that never will come, thus your words often ran;
and it has been a long time since you believed in that God
you are praying to!
Demon,j are you awakened again? Depart from me, horrid tempter! Like the hurricane's wild chase it storms in my
soul, and no guide, no path in this sea of doubt! God! I would
give all worldly cunning for a childlike prayer to you!
i.e., the demon of doubt.
But I am a child no more, nor have a child's mind! I am
blind to the path the innocent eye sees in faith! This night is
terrifying, illuminated only by the lightning, and yet it is as
bright as day compared to the darkness in my breast!
Yet I shall not despair, but follow the heart's command: I
shall cling to hope, to faith in my God! Let the hurricane's
song howl, I slumber in peace; certain I shall awaken again
reborn with childlike faith.]
The theme of a young man lost in a storm was a familiar one in the
poetry of the time. Henrik Bjerregaard, a poet from the previous generation, had written a poem called "Ynglingen i Stormnatten" (“Youth in the
Stormy Night”), whose main character, an outcast for some unnamed
crime, ends by falling or jumping off a cliff. The shadowy figures seen in
Ibsen’s poem are reminiscent of figures in Welhaven’s “Asgaardsreien,” a
poem which was included in Thue’s anthology:
Lydt gjennem Luften i Natten farer
et Tog paa skummende sorte Heste.
I Stormgang drage de vilde Skarer;
de have kun Skyer til Fodefæste.
Det gaaer over Dal, over Vang og Hei,
gjennem Mulm og Veir; de endse det ei.
Vandreren kaster sig ræd paa Veien.
Hør hvilket Gny – det er Asgaardsreien!113
[Resoundingly through the night air rushes a procession
on foaming black horses. In time of storm the wild bands
move; they have only clouds as a foothold. It [i.e., the storm]
goes over valley, over meadow and heath, through dense darkness and wind; they pay it no heed. The terrified wanderer
throws himself down on the road. Hear what a clamor--it is
While both poems evoke supernatural figures of death and the sounds
and sights of a storm, the figures in Ibsen’s poem do not ride horses in
A company of dead spirits on horseback who ride through the air, especially at Christmastime,
sweeping human beings along with them.
the sky but rather “walk like ghosts across a battlefield at night.” The
speaker in Ibsen's poem is spiritually lost, the stormy weather a reflection of his inner torment. The poem contains several echoes of biblical
language, suggesting that Ibsen continued to read the Bible in Grimstad,
just as he had done in Skien. Terms like “death’s valley” and “doomsday’s
bassoon” could have been taken from the apocalyptic imagery in the Bible.
For that matter, a landscape that could be described as “death’s valley”
had earlier appeared in a classroom essay he had written in Skien.114 The
speaker says at one point that he no longer believes in God but at the end
maintains that he will cling to the hope that when he awakens his childlike faith will have been restored.
It is legitimate to wonder whether the religious ambivalence in “Doubt
and Hope” has anything to do with the possibility that Ibsen visited his
family in Skien during the Summer of 1848.115 The contrast between the
speaker's present doubt, and the faith that he recalls from his childhood,
might have been influenced by fresh impressions of home, or by the
anticipation of them. Both Ibsen’s mother and his sister Hedvig had become involved in the pietistic movement in Skien led by the preacher
Gustav Adolph Lammers; his father had not. His parents' growing estrangement, which was emphasized by their religious differences, must
have been disturbing for their eldest son. He had almost certainly lost
the approval of his parents when he fathered an illegitimate child, and he
might have felt that his mother’s religiosity placed a further barrier between them.
All three of Ibsen’s earliest poems portray states of anxiety, even of
despair. They might be read to suggest that he was experiencing an emotional crisis. It is perhaps more plausible, however, to suppose that his
crisis, if any, had come earlier, in 1846-47, when his circumstances were
truly adverse. By the time he was able to write about his state-of-mind, or
at any rate, by the time he saved anything he had written, he was already
better off: he had a salary, three meals a day, and a plan to attend the
university once his apprenticeship had been completed.
Ibsen and Scandinavianism
Ibsen’s fourth poem, "Kjæmpeégen" ("The Giant Oak Tree"), was written in response to the dispute between Denmark and Germany over possession of the southern Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein:
Høiest i Nord stod en Kjæmpeég, -I Hedenold var den oprunden; -Saa herlig dens Krone mod Himmelen stég
Og Rod slog den dybest i Grunden. –
De mægtige Grene, de frodige Skud
Den bredte fra Nordpol til Eideren ud,
Den skyggede stolt over Sveas Lande
Og kransede Vesterhavs klippede Strande! -Men Tidens Storme mod Kjæmpen foer,
Den mægtige Stamme de knuste,
Og over det splittede, sjunkne Nor
Som Gravsange voldsomt de bruste,
Og Østens rovgjærrige Ørne saae
Med lystne Blik over Codans Blaa,
Mens Tydsken strakte sin Haand efter Byttet,
Der laa, som en Døende, ubeskyttet! -- -Dog spirende Skud den Knuste bar, -- -Let Gnisten vorder til Flamme! -De Unge mindes, hvad Gubben var, -Gad gjerne vorde det samme. –
Snart søge den Skilte sin Broder igjen,
Og række ham Haanden som trofast Ven, -Snart vorde de Eet, snart smelte de sammen,
Som Vinternats Himmel med Nordlysflammen!
[In the farthest North stood a giant oak; its origins were in
heathen times; its glorious crown rose towards heaven, and
its roots struck deep into the earth. Its mighty boughs, its
vigorous shoots it spread from the North Pole to the Eider,l
proudly shaded the land of the Swedes, and crowned the Western sea's [the Atlantic Ocean’s] rocky shores!
But the storms of time moved against the giant; they
crushed its mighty trunk, and over that split, sunken Nor [goddess of the north] they roared violently like a funeral song,
and the East's [Russia’s] ravenous eagle looked across the blue
A river which today is in Germany, but which then was considered by the so-called “Eider Danes” to
be the limit beyond which German expansion should not be allowed.
Codan [the Baltic Sea] with a covetous eye, while the German
stretched his hand towards its prey, which lay, like one dying, unprotected!
Yet the crushed tree bore sprouting shoots, the living spark
grows easily into a flame! Youth remembers what the
graybeard was, and is readily disposed to grow the same. Those
separated soon seek their brother again, and extend their hand
to him like a faithful friend; soon they shall be united, soon
they shall fuse together, like the Northern Lights' flame in a
winter night's sky!]
This poem contains a message or, more precisely, a prophecy: like
the regeneration of an ancient tree, the sense of community of Scandinavians will be reborn and shine like the Northern Lights. The oak tree is a
symbol of the ancient unity of Scandinavian culture; the reach of its
branches shows the geographical extent of that culture. The fact that the
tree grew far in the North may be an allusion to the theory propounded
by Peter Andreas Munch that the Norwegians entered Norway from the
North and are the most ancient and “purest” of the Nordic races, as well
as the authors of the saga literature:
The northern Teutons had wandered northward from the
Volga region through Russia and up into Finland. A smaller
group, “the weaker branch of the stock,” had crossed the Gulf
of Bothnia and settled down in Sweden. The rest had found
their way around the Gulf of Bothnia, and from there had
spread out southward into Norway.116
A version of this theory had been published by Munch in a textbook
that was used in one of the schools in Skien.117 If Ibsen was alluding to
this theory, he does not appear to have been interested at that time in its
racial aspects, but rather in the idea that Nordic culture was once great
and could be so again, were it united.118 This is the central idea of Ibsen’s
poem and the fundamental tenet of Scandinavianism.
It seems clear that in this poem Ibsen supports the idea of
Scandinavianism, not merely as a matter of ethnic pride but also as the
best defense against the threats represented by Russia and Germany.
This poem is the earliest evidence of Ibsen's interest in Scandinavianism,
an ideology with which he was to be associated at various periods for the
rest of his life.119
Scandinavianism began in the early nineteenth century, perhaps most
obviously in the writings of the Dane Adam Oehlenschlæger, who both in
poetry and plays portrayed Scandinavia as a primordial unity, which once
was glorious, and could be so again. This idea was part of the intellectual
climate during the period of Romanticism, in which each emerging European state investigated its cultural origins as part of its search for a national identity.120 Norwegians were aware that they were the least impressive of the three Scandinavian kingdoms in the nineteenth century,
and the notions that they were the oldest and had been the most distinguished in ancient times were gratifying to their national pride. As research unearthed a store of uniquely Scandinavian literature, including
sagas, legends, ballads, and folk tales, the recognition of a common cultural heritage gave impetus to the related idea of a political union. This
idea was appealing to some Scandinavians, partly because of the vulnerability they felt as pawns in the realignment of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars.
For almost 400 years prior to 1814, Norway had been administered as
a province of Denmark. During the Napoleonic Wars, however, Denmark, as a neutral power, was trading with both sides. To prevent its
supplying Napoleon, the English fleet shelled Copenhagen in 1807 and
confiscated the Danish fleet. This action drove Denmark into the French
camp. When the wars ended, Norway was taken away from Denmark
and assigned to Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel, a treaty which was negotiated without Norway’s participation or consent. The Norwegians were
allowed by the Swedish monarch to keep the constitution they had just
written at Eidsvoll, but they were required under the threat of military
force to accept union with Sweden.
The idea of a triple Scandinavian union was supported by statesmen
in all three countries, mainly because they believed that the imperial
ambitions of larger states like Russia and Germany could more effectively be dealt with strategically from a position as a larger state. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, this idea was pursued at the
highest levels of government, generally as a search for a common succession between the royal houses of Sweden and Denmark. Union was pursued with more or less energy depending on the ambitions of individual
monarchs, as well as on the political situation at any given time in
Scandinavia and among the larger powers. France and England tended
to support in principle a triple union as a buffer against Russia, which for
its part opposed the idea. Before Germany was unified, its potential influence was not focussed in any given direction. As its unification pro-
gressed, however, the dispute over the appropriate national allegiance of
the southern Danish provinces became a symptom of what Scandinavians feared would be a German expansion northwards into the Danish
peninsula of Jutland, which controlled the entrance to the Baltic Sea.
The situation in the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein was complicated by the fact that both had numerous German-speaking residents
who would happily have been part of Germany.
Scandinavianism was not merely a political program but also an ideology, a belief system. Different people responded to this ideology in
different ways. For example, Nicolay Wergeland, who was the parish
priest at Eidsvoll at the time the constitutional convention was held there
in 1814, was strongly anti-Danish, because he felt that Norway had suffered in its 400-year union with Denmark, and therefore he could not be
in favor of a political union that included Denmark.121 His son Henrik,
Norway’s greatest lyric poet, was nationalistic and a populist, but after
meeting the Swedish king he expressed his support for the Scandinavian
Johan Sebastian Welhaven, who opposed Henrik Wergeland in a famous press debate in the 1830s, had published a series of sonnets in 1834
entitled Norges Dæmring (“Norway’s Dawn”), in which he advocated
Norway’s breaking out of its cultural isolation and renewing its contacts
with the Danish tradition. He was politically a conservative and an advocate of cultural Scandinavianism. M. J. Monrad, who was to become
Norway’s most important literary critic, had published a long article entitled “The Scandinavian Idea” in Morgenbladet in September 1844.122 It
might have been from such a source that Ibsen first became aware of the
movement. Monrad supported Scandinavianism culturally but thought
it was premature to advocate a political union before Norway was able to
stand on an equal footing with the other two kingdoms. Both Welhaven
and Monrad would be Ibsen’s teachers during the year he spent at the
university in Christiania (1850-51).
In the 1840s Scandinavianism was most active among students at the
universities in the three kingdoms. These were at Christiania, Copenhagen, Lund, and Uppsala. All of these cities hosted meetings attended
by students from the other universities. In 1851 Ibsen recited a poem,
“Til Danmark,” at the meeting of students held in Christiania, which is in
much the same spirit as “The Giant Oak Tree.”
An individual’s support of Scandinavianism often depended on his
place in society. Members of the bureaucracy in Norway were often
Scandinavianists, because they were appointed by the crown and per-
ceived the augmentation of the royal power as an augmentation of their
own. Norwegian farmers, on the other hand, often took little interest in
international issues and preferred to exercise whatever influence they
had in the parliament, which was usually at odds with the crown, since
the parliament and the king of the union of Sweden and Norway were
engaged in a struggle for power that lasted until the union was dissolved
Ibsen’s interest in the dispute over Schleswig and Holstein might have
been stimulated by reading about it in the newspapers. One of the newspapers to which he probably had access was Fædrelandet, a liberal publication from Copenhagen edited by Carl Ploug, one of the leading spokesmen for Scandinavianism. Ploug wrote editorials about the SchleswigHolstein question, and also published reports on gatherings of university
students in support of Scandinavianism that were held during the middle
and late 1840s. The Norwegian labor leader, Marcus Thrane, published
an article in Morgenbladet in May 1848 (# 134) entitled “Om Schleswig og
Danmark—Norges Deeltagelse i Krigen” (“On Schleswig and Denmark-Norway’s participation in the war.”) He argues that Norway should stay
out of the dispute over the southern Danish provinces. Thrane was not
a Scandinavianist. Ibsen’s poem, by contrast, suggests that the German
threat is best answered by a spirit of unity among Scandinavians. His
was the Scandinavianist position.
There were several reasons why Ibsen supported the Scandinavianist
position, both culturally and politically. By 1848 he was preparing to
become a university student, that group among which support for
Scandinavianism was the strongest. Despite the fact that he was an apprentice at the time, he had been born into the Norwegian upper class,
royalist by tradition. Scandinavianism was the ideology of the royalist
party, since its members felt that their traditional privileges would be
protected better by the king than by the country’s emerging democratic
institutions. Ibsen’s former neighbor in Venstøp, Severin Løvenskiold,
was the governor-general of Norway, and one of the strongest supporters
of the king of the Swedish-Norwegian union. In 1849 Ibsen addressed a
long poem to the king entitled “Vaagner Skandinaver!” (“Awake Scandinavians!”), urging support of the Danes. No criticism of the system of government is implied in this poem. The hero of his first play, Catilina, is,
like its author, a déclassé aristocrat. Ibsen’s Catiline talks vaguely about
freedom, but he looks not to the future but to the past, to a better time
that he would like to restore, a time when his natural superiority was
recognized and his privileges were unchallenged.
Ibsen later wrote that he was strongly moved by the events of 1848, a
year of turmoil both in Scandinavia and in Europe as a whole.123 The
February revolution in Paris that year was reported in the Scandinavian
press. There was actual fighting both in 1848 and 1849 in the dispute
over Schleswig-Holstein. Ibsen had been politicized by these events, or
at any rate by reading about them and by discussing them in the evenings with his friends. His friend Christopher Due thought that Ibsen
had become “a full-blooded republican.” It might be more accurate to say
that Ibsen had become a Scandinavianist, although of course that does
not show up directly in a Roman play. Nevertheless, it is important to
understand that when he wrote his first play he had already found a personal ideology. Scandinavianism gave Ibsen a cause and a premise for
connection with others that transcended his personal circumstances. In
the years to come he was not merely an adherent of the ideology of
Scandinavianism, but also one of its advocates and spokespersons.
Ibsen’s circle of friends
Soon after the pharmacy moved to its new location, that is, probably in
the summer or fall of 1847, Ibsen’s isolation was to some extent relieved
when he acquired a new friend of about his own age, a customs official
named Christopher Due (age 24), who published a memoir more than sixty
years later that provides some rare eyewitness information about Ibsen in
Grimstad.124 The next summer Ibsen made another new friend, Ole Carelius
Schulerud (age 21), a law student at the university who arrived in Grimstad
in June 1848 to spend a year with his family while studying for his exams.
Schulerud's father was the head of the customs office where Due was employed. Due introduced Ibsen and Schulerud, and thereafter the three of
them spent time together until Schulerud left for the capital in August of
1849. They generally met in the evenings in the watchroom of the pharmacy. By the fall of 1848 they were joined by other young men of the town.
Other members of the group included Gunder Holst (age 22), a shop
clerk who later became a wealthy businessman and shipowner; his cousin
Jakob Holst (age 28), a businessman who had been educated in Denmark; Andreas Isachsen (age 19), a son of the local schoolmaster Anders
Isachsen; Daniel Martini (age 20), a son of the parish priest in nearby
Landvik; Gude Smith (age 26), who was Justice Preus’125 law clerk; and
Sigurd Ørbeck, a young man from Lillesand, a town a few miles down the
coast, who was Preus’ office clerk.126
One source suggests that Mathias Gundersen (age 33), a businessman
and the former mayor of the town, was also a member of the group.127 He
had bought a shipyard at Hasseldalen in 1843, and had built it into a thriving enterprise, but in 1848 he was forced to sell it. It was bought by another local entrepreneur, Morten Smith Petersen,128 who was an officer of
the local savings bank which held the mortgage on the shipyard. Smith
Petersen was able to acquire the property for far less than it was worth. He
built many ships there. Grimstad residents of today believe that the setting and incidents of Samfundets støtter (Pillars of Society), which deals with
shipping fraud, are based on Ibsen’s memories of their town.129
Mathias Gundersen was married to Jakob Holst’s sister, Anne Elisabeth
(age 30). Gundersen and his wife, as well as Gunder Holst, had all been
mentioned in a lampoon of Ibsen’s from 1845-6, so he had probably known
them for some time before the men began to gather as a group. Ibsen also
had women friends: Jakob’s sister Sophie (age 18), Daniel’s sister Cathrine
(age 22), and Clara Ebbell (age 19), to whom he later addressed a number
of lyric poems. The women did not congregate with the men at the pharmacy, although the following summer both sexes participated in Sunday
boating trips. Ibsen escorted Sophie to a ball held in the winter of 1849-50
and dedicated one of the last poems he wrote in Grimstad to her and Cathrine.
As was customary at the time among young men with some education,
the group discussed and debated topics of the day, and they also read together. They sometimes drank punch at their gatherings, out of laboratory
beakers which could be emptied hurriedly and would not attract attention
in case anyone came to the door. Sometimes they played cards, and on
occasion they would go out and play billiards.130 Hans Terland was rector
of the Dahlske Skole in Grimstad for several years after 1915, and used to
collect information about Ibsen’s years in the town. He describes a prank
they carried out one night, most likely in the summer of 1848:
There lived in Grimstad at this time an unmarried businessman [Oluf Oppen Ebbell, age 58], who was something of
an original. He was very small of stature and lame in the hip.
One peaceful summer night he was suddenly awakened by a
terrifying spectacle in the cellar underneath his rooms. It
sang and whistled and crowed and cackled so that the poor
man was on the verge of going out of his mind from terror.
He got out of bed and went to the window, where he cried:
“That’s enough, that’s enough.” Not until the following day
did he discover from where the commotion had originated.
It was Ibsen and Schulerud, possibly also several other of the
comrades, who wanted to indulge in a little fun and therefore
had sneaked quietly into his cellar and suddenly given voice
to that abominable caterwauling. The businessman did not
take this fun graciously: he immediately set about composing a complaint to the conciliation commission, a complaint
that was couched in such amusing language that the friends
got a lot of enjoyment from it. It began like this: “Last evening,
at 12 o’clock at night --.” A parody, which was certainly
authored by Ibsen, began like this: “Last evening, at 12 o’clock
at night, I was awakened from my sleep just as I was going to
bed.” The conciliation commissioner Christian Holst succeeded in getting the matter settled, for which Ibsen should
have been very grateful.131
One source maintains that Ibsen’s role in such pranks was usually to
incite the others, and that he himself did not always carry them out.132 If
one were to ask why Oluf Ebbell was thus singled out for teasing, it might
have been because he was a long-time member of the town tax board, to
which Ibsen had to pay tax as a “pharmacist’s journeyman,” “to his teethgrinding irritation,” as Due puts it.133
The principals in the incident were all closely connected. Oluf Ebbell
was a trustee of the Grimstad savings bank. The conciliation commissioner Christian Holst was the assistant manager of the bank, and therefore the supervisor of Ibsen’s employer Lars Nielsen, who in addition to
operating the pharmacy was a teller at the bank. Holst was an uncle of
Gunder and Jakob Holst, one or both of whom might also have been
involved in the incident. The closeness of this cast of characters and
their interlocking relationships demonstrate why it could be frustrating
for Ibsen to rebel against his circumstances.
The young men had a practice of writing satiric verses and making
drawings. Some of these were evidently aimed at members of the group.
Daniel Martini and Sigurd Ørbeck especially became the objects of Ibsen’s
wit, partly because they were well-off, while he, Due, and Schulerud,
were all three “as poor as church mice.” Due tells an anecdote about
Ibsen’s satirization of Daniel Martini:
Among those who gathered in the watchroom there were
some, especially one of them [Martini], who by his foolishness and unsuccessful attempts to be witty became a very
useful and rather well-deserving object for Ibsen's wit and
sarcasm, which were always rewarded afterwards with bursts
of laughter. Among the many jokes, often in the form of poems, and illustrated by splendid drawings, whereby he held
up to ridicule comic circumstances among the comrades, there
is one which I have a desire to relate . . . .
Ibsen had an astonishing ability to write fluent verse
quickly, and he was also . . . very talented as an illustrator.
His pen could quickly, tastefully and tellingly express the point
when something was to be presented by illustration. Even
though without seeing the altogether first-rate drawings one
can scarcely take pleasure in what is comical in these presented circumstances, I shall even so attempt to give the reader
an impression of them.
In a notebook in a series of pages one saw as a first picture
the young man, bowing and elegantly flourishing his hat in
the entryway, as he takes leave after a visit to his adored heart's
queen. But his horse, harnessed to a sleigh, has found the
departure rather prolonged, so the impatient animal has
ambled away on his own. Its master, who in his amorous
mood has not noticed, is finally ready to depart and realizes
to his astonishment that horse and sleigh have disappeared.
The next picture shows him running wildly in order to
catch his disobedient animal, but he cannot find it and must
turn back in order to borrow a horse for the trip home, about
half a mile. Then in a later picture he is seen riding as fast as
he can in order to catch his horse. The latter, however, has
stopped in at a nearby farm, from where in a new picture one
sees the horse with a surprised expression (splendidly drawn)
observing his master's hasty riding, while the latter does not
notice the fugitive.
Another picture shows a scene in the servants' quarters,
where the master, having arrived at home, rousts the sleepdrugged stableboy out of bed by the hair. A new horse is
taken out, and now both venture forth, each on his horse, in
order to search for the one that has disppeared. In the last
picture all three horses are seen, at the moment when the
wandering horse comes walking calmly along and is met by
the other two, etc.
This ridiculous situation was also depicted in a detailed
poem in rhymed verse, of several stanzas, with tunes from
the Danish vaudeville Genboerne [“Neighbors”], which was new
at that time, and from which several songs were often sung
by the above-mentioned young man.134 The latter was then
instructed by Ibsen to learn several of the songs from “Neighbors,” and Ibsen gave him a copy of several sections of the
horse story. This proved to be a success. The young man in
question learned the verses and sang about his own misfortunes in the belief that they belonged in the play.
One cannot describe Ibsen's delight at the great amusement which reigned in the circle of comrades when we got
the object of our teasing to sing the songs whose comic hero
he himself was. Ibsen's eyes glittered like fire, and we all
forgot that we were naughty boys.135
Another historian, Joseph Bergwitz, reports that in the final picture Martini was shown kissing his horse instead of his girlfriend.136 Terland describes
what happened when Martini realized the joke that had been played on him:
[Daniel Martini’s] father did all he could to provide his son
with a good education; but he did not take to book learning.
However, he had a strong, massive body and--let it be said to
his credit--he was not afraid to use his hands. He was therefore educated as an agronomist and helped his father to operate the parish farm. The young friends amused themselves
by caricaturing this young man with the heavy spirit, the
heavy body and the strong, shrill voice, especially when he
appeared as the courteous and interesting cavalier. It did not
take much to tease this good-natured but easily-angered fellow; --it was enough just to depict him with a pair of enormous gloved hands or to draw him, together with a couple of
his horses, which stood and scolded him. When he found out
that he had been the object of Ibsen’s cruel talent, he came
storming into the pharmacy and threatened to thrash the sly
little Ibsen, who through his ingenuity soon got him mollified again.137
Satire can be a dangerous weapon, especially when employed at close
range. Ibsen must have learned something about authors and audiences
as Martini was chasing him around the shop; possibly he was able to
escape only by giving Martini the manuscript or by destroying it himself.
Sigurd Ørbeck, who had inherited money from his father and was one
of those Ibsen characterized as having “empty heads with full pockets,”
was the subject of a satiric verse entitled “Sigurd Von Finkelbecks Gravsted”
(“Sigurd von Finkelbeck’s Cemetery Plot”), illustrated with a drawing of
the tomb. Ibsen gave a copy of this verse to Jakob Holst, and it has
Hans Fiender var tomme Kruus,
Et fuldt, -- hans Ideal, -Hans hele Livet var en Ruus,
Hans Død, en Perial.
Her hviler Herr Sigurd med Øiet lukt,
End fugtig af Bacchusgaven;
Hans Hoved kneiser saa stolt og smukt,
Som Monument over Graven.m
Paa høire Side.
En sagde: “Hans Hjerne forskruet er”,
En Anden: “Dens Skruer er løse”, -En Tredie fandt uten stort Besvær:
“Den er af de Spirituøse”.
Paa venstre Side.
Da sidstegang Brændeviinsflasken var tom,
Man bar ham til Graven hen;
De Blomster som findes at voxe derom
Dufte af Finkelenn end! --
The last two lines of this stanza are corrupted, due to a fold in the paper of the manuscript.
“Finkel” is a term for cheap or inferior liquor.
[At the Head.
His enemies were empty beakers, a full one was his ideal, -his whole life was a drunkenness, his death an intoxication.
At the Feet.
Here lies Sir Sigurd with eyes closed, still moist from Bacchus’
gift, his head rises so proud and handsome, as a monument
over the grave.
On the Right Side.
One saying: “His brain is hysterical.” Another: “Its screws
are loose.” A third states without further ado: “It is from the
On the Left Side.
When the last brandy flask was empty, they carried him away
to the grave; The flowers which grow on it still smell like
Despite having been portrayed as a drunk, Ørbeck bore the costs of a
“reformers’ banquet,” at which, according to Due, Ibsen gave “a fire-breathing speech against all kaisers and kings, these monsters of society, and
for the republic, the ‘only possible’ form of government.”139 One of Ibsen’s
friends “with empty heads and full pockets,” who might have been Ørbeck,
loaned him the money to buy a suit, so that he could go to a ball. According to Due:
This at first astonished Ibsen, but then at the same time
he found that it only confirmed the cited saying, and when at
year’s end the bill for the cost of the clothing was presented,
he found even more confirmation of it, as he declared in his
humorous way: “First he is stupid enough to give me credit,
and later he is stupid enough to expect the bill to be paid.” I
can state, however, that this debt of Ibsen’s was paid.140
While Ibsen was occasionally at odds with some of the members of
the group, their differences were resolved and the meetings continued.
This would not have happened unless the participants were getting something out of them. The other young men were assured of entertainment,
even if it was sometimes embarrassing for them. Ibsen had the chance to
air his views, to practice his creative skills on an audience, to read and
discuss good literature, and to enjoy a companionship that must have
been rewarding to him, given his ordinarily reserved temperament. His
friends also helped him to overcome his confinement in the pharmacy
by bringing him books, newspapers and other information they thought
might interest him. For that matter, the pharmacy itself was a gatheringplace where townspeople would exchange gossip. At times Ibsen was
irritated by some who would never leave, but he also must have learned
a lot just by being present and observing what went on.
Theatre in Grimstad
Ibsen, Due, and Schulerud evidently shared an interest in the theatre,
although reading plays together was not the only resource available to
them in pursuing this interest. There were live theatrical performances
in Grimstad as well. The town had an amateur theatrical society, of which
Reimann was a member.141 The society had been more active in the 1830s
than it was in the 1840s, but it continued to stage performances and to
maintain its collection of plays.142 According to Eitrem:
Amateur theatre thrived in the small towns long after it had
declined in the capital. Especially at the end of the 1830s and
the beginning of the 1840s, up to about the time when Ibsen
came to the town [Grimstad], they were seriously involved
with amateur theatre. In the older families there were stocks
of all possible things which one could use on the stage - these
older families were really buried under stuff. Here the young
people found an arsenal when it came to putting on masquerades and comedies. What they played were not minor pieces.
Around 1842 were performed Holberg’s Den Stundesløse [The
Busybody], Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro, not to mention Kotzebue’s plays and Heiberg’s vaudevilles.143
The theatre in Grimstad, a room on the second floor of a hotel that
had been converted for performances, was called "Demants Sal," and was
located in a building on Storgaten, a few minutes' walk from the Nielsen
pharmacy.144 The operator of this theatre, Christian Demant, was originally from Copenhagen. As a young man he had come to Grimstad,
where he married a widow who owned the building where the theatre
9. Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum as it is today, photograph. The Ibsen House and Grimstad Town Museum
was later housed. Demant had a watchmaker's shop on the ground floor
of the building, and he was also a daguerrotypist, the first in Norway. He
also maintained a lending library, which because of his interest in the
theatre might have included plays.
Travelling Danish theatre companies sometimes stopped in Grimstad
as they sailed along the coast between Christianssand and Arendal, and
they performed part of their repertoire. Since there was no newspaper in
Grimstad, it is impossible to say which plays these companies performed
there, although advertisements for their performances were published in
the newspapers of Arendal and Christianssand.145 The repertoire of the
travelling theatre companies was derived from that of The Royal Theater
in Copenhagen and was a mixture of Danish translations of plays by foreign, mainly French dramatists, and original works by the dramatists of
The Royal Theater: Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Thomas Overskou, Henrik
Hertz, Christen Hostrup, and others.146
The quality of the acting in the travelling companies varied. The
companies were assembled by audition in Copenhagen. The farther one
intended to travel from the capital, the less enthusiastic many actors were
about participating, so the widest-ranging companies often had the least
accomplished actors. In the summer of 1848, however, just a few months
before Ibsen wrote his first play, the company that toured Sørlandet included one of the leading men of the royal theatre, Frederick Printzlau,
who had become famous by portraying characters like Don Juan, the
Count of Monte Cristo, and other Romantic rebel-heroes. Since Catilina
is a vehicle for just this kind of actor, one can speculate that Ibsen saw
Printzlau in performance or at least met him. Printzlau was a fine actor
and a very handsome man, but he was also moody and unpredictable. At
that time he had abandoned performing in Copenhagen for a tour in the
During the first three years Ibsen lived in Grimstad he spent almost
all of his time in the Reimann pharmacy, but he had access to current
newspapers and magazines because the pharmacy was for a time also the
post office. He had access to bound magazines and popular literature
from the collection of the local reading society. He also had his own
collection of books, and he spent much of his free time at night reading,
studying, and writing. On his days off he would often go for walks and
take his painting equipment along. After the pharmacy moved to
Østregate, he acquired a new source for reading material in his friend
Georgina Crawfurd, whose private library would have had books not included in the collection of the reading society. As part of their conversations about literature, she could have suggested to him authors to read
and supplied him with those of their works that were in her collection.
These would have included contemporary Norwegian poets like Henrik
Wergeland, Andreas Munch and Johan Sebastian Welhaven, as well as
the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
By the fall of 1847 Ibsen was reading for the university entrance examinations. In early 1848 he sent three practice essays in written composition to a reader in Christiania. His earliest surviving poems date
from about the same time. By the summer of 1848, he had found two
friends of his own age, Due and Schulerud, who shared his interests in
literature and the theatre. They read together in the evenings in the
watchroom of the Nielsen pharmacy, and they discussed what they read.
Their group soon expanded to include several other young men of the
town, some of whom became the objects of Ibsen’s satire. His rebellious
attitude led to pranks directed against the citizens of the town, which got
him into trouble with the authorities. The combination of circumstances
and influences acting on the young man at that time contributed to the
fact that around Christmas of 1848 he began work on his first play, Catilina,
the subject of the next chapter.
ON THE COMPOSITION OF CATILINA
The preface Ibsen wrote for the second edition of Catilina (1875) contains his recollections of his circumstances at the time of its inception:
Catiline, the drama with which I embarked on my literary
career, was written in the winter of 1848-9, that is, in my
I was in Grimstad at the time, dependent on my own efforts for the necessities of life and to pay for the tuition which
would enable me to reach university entrance standard. Those
were turbulent times. The February Revolution, the uprisings in Hungary and elsewhere, the war over Schleswig—the
powerful influence of all this furthered my development,
however immature I may have remained for long to come. I
wrote resounding poems to the Magyars encouraging them,
in the cause of freedom and humanity, to hold out in their
just struggle with the “tyrants”; I wrote a long series of sonnets to King Oscar primarily containing, as far as I remember, a plea to set aside all petty considerations and without
delay to march at the head of his troops to the aid of our brothers on the very frontiers of Schleswig . . . . I could not refrain
from expressing myself, on more elevated occasions, along
the same passionate lines as in my poetry--from which, however, I derived only dubious benefit, both from those who
were and those who were not my friends: the former acclaimed my talent for being unintentionally funny, while others found it utterly remarkable that a young man in my subordinate position should actively discuss matters which not
even they themselves ventured to have views about. For the
sake of truth I must add that my behavior on a number of
occasions did not justify any great hopes that society had in
me someone in whom the solid middle-class virtues might confidently be expected to flourish, just as I also, through my epigrams and caricatures, quarrelled with many who had deserved
better of me and whose friendship I in fact prized. The long
and short of it was that, while big things were happening in the
tumultuous world outside, I found myself at loggerheads with
the small community in which I lived, cramped as I was by
private circumstances and by conditions in general.
Such was the position when, studying for my examination, I went through Sallust’s Catiline and Cicero’s speeches
attacking Catiline. These works I simply lapped up and some
months later my play was finished . . . . I did not at the time
share the views of the two ancient Roman authors on Catiline’s
character and conduct and I am still inclined to believe that
there must have been much that was great or significant about
a man whom Cicero, the indefatigable spokesman of the majority, did not find it expedient to tackle until circumstances
had so changed that he could attack him with impunity.147
This preface has been the starting point for all later investigations of
the play’s origins, but it does not tell the whole story. What follows is an
attempt to give a more complete account of the origins of Catilina, both
through a review of earlier scholarship on the play’s sources and through
the evaluation of evidence about the poet’s circumstances and reading at
the time of its composition.
Ibsen’s friend Christopher Due, who published a memoir of Ibsen in
Grimstad sixty years after the reported events took place, notes that after
the group of young men who liked to meet in the pharmacy where Ibsen
worked would disperse of an evening, Ibsen stayed up to read and write
far into the night.148 By the fall of 1848, and perhaps earlier, Ibsen was
studying Latin, the most important subject to be tested on the university
entrance exam.149 He had a tutor, a theological student named Emil Bie,
who later had this to say about his experience:
Because of his restricted position in the pharmacy, Ibsen
could not come to me, so I had to go to him. We sat in a little
room beside the shop, and I can well remember, that with
him I went through a treatise [sic]o about Catiline and Cicero.
The lesson was constantly interrupted, because as soon as
the doorbell sounded--and it was not so long between each
time that happened--Ibsen had to go into the shop.150
Bie does not mention their reading Sallust’s history of the Catilinarian
conspiracy together, but in his 1875 preface Ibsen notes that he had read
Sallust as well, so it is possible that he did so on his own.
Eiliv Skard has provided an analysis of what Ibsen took from Cicero
and Sallust for his play and shows not only that Ibsen used almost nothing from Cicero’s orations but also that the play departs considerably
from the information given in Sallust’s history.151 Even when a detail
appears to have come from Sallust, Ibsen usually has changed it. In the
first scene of the play, for example, which takes place “on a road near
Rome,” Catiline meets the Allobrogian emissaries. The emissaries are
historical, but Catiline never met them, because they did not arrive in
Rome until after he had already left the city for the last time. Again, in
the second scene of the play, one of the conspirators predicts that Catiline
will be disappointed in his quest for the consulship and mentions that he
has that day been attacked by his enemies. Historically, Catiline lost the
election for the consulship a year before Cicero attacked him in the first
of his four orations.
The characters of Curius and Fulvia (whose name Ibsen changed to
Furia) and their relationship are found in Sallust, but Ibsen changes their
actions. In Sallust, Fulvia reveals the conspiracy to Cicero after learning
of it from her lover Curius; in Ibsen’s play Furia similarly learns of the
conspiracy from Curius, but then she persuades him to reveal it. Sallust
reports a meeting between Catiline and the conspirators and contends
that at the meeting Catiline incited the others to act. In Ibsen’s play the
reverse obtains: they urge on a reluctant leader.
Many of the changes the dramatist makes are for the purpose of streamlining the action, evidently so that he can concentrate on what interests
him, the portrayal of Catiline, his main character. Ibsen fails to introduce
any of Catiline’s historical opponents in the Roman senate. Since his conception of Catiline was different from what is in the historical record, Ibsen
The notation is Bergwitz’s, who includes the quotation in an essay on Ibsen in Grimstad. The term
“treatise” (Avhandling) makes it sound like they read a book about Catiline and Cicero, rather than
Cicero’s four orations against Catiline. That cannot be right, however. Ibsen would not have paid to
be tutored in a text that was not on the syllabus.
must have found it simpler to avoid letting Catiline’s opponents express
their opinions. The play’s portrayal of Catiline’s relations with the female
characters is not based on history, a subject to which we shall return.
The play also includes a detail from another Latin source. The names
of the Allobrogian emissaries, Ambiorix and Ollovico, are not taken from
Sallust but rather from Caesar’s Gallic Wars, another Latin text on the syllabus for the university entrance exam.152 The men who have these names
in Caesar’s history are not Allobrogians. Nor emissaries. Nor are they
even associated with one another. They are members of other tribes who
opposed the Roman legions. Ibsen plucked out the names and used them
in his play because neither Cicero nor Sallust had mentioned the names of
the Allobrogian emissaries. This loose attempt at historicism on Ibsen’s
part, to use the names of other Gauls instead of either inventing names or
using the names of other persons mentioned by Cicero or Sallust, suggests
that in his earliest period Ibsen at times preferred to borrow rather than to
invent, even if he changed what he borrowed.
It should also be mentioned that Skard argues persuasively that the character of Furia shows similarities with a character in the Danish poet Friedrich
Paludan-Müller’s Vestalinden (“The Vestal”), a long poem from 1839 about a
vestal virgin who has violated her vows of chastity and is condemned to
death. Her punishment is to be buried alive in a vault, where she dies slowly
of suffocation. Skard identifies enough similarities between Ibsen’s first play
and this poem to allow us to be confident that “The Vestal” was a source.153
These, then, are sources that have been considered “certain.” None of
them is a dramatic narrative, however, and Catilina is a drama. It is allwell-and-good for Ibsen to ask us to imagine him radicalized by the revolutionary events of 1848 and determined to rescue the character of the
rebel Catiline from the portrait left of him by the historians. Such a spirit
does not, however, by itself transform historical, rhetorical and epic texts
into drama. A thorough investigation of the play’s origins should therefore inquire as to its possible antecedents in earlier dramatic literature.
Antecedents in earlier dramatic literature
Henrik Jæger interviewed Ibsen in the early 1880s and asked him
about the sources of his first play. Ibsen replied that the only dramatists
whose works he could remember having read at the time he wrote Catilina
were Ludvig Holberg and Adam Oehlenschlæger.154 Holberg was an eighteenth-century Danish-Norwegian dramatist who is considered to be the
father of Scandinavian drama, but while his plays were in the collection
of the Grimstad reading society and therefore available to Ibsen, they are
mainly comedies. Since Catilina is not a comedy, their usefulness for his
immediate purpose must have been limited.
The plays of Oehlenschlæger were also available to Ibsen, and we
know he read them. Due records that among other works the young
men read the plays of Oehlenschlæger.155 It is possible that they read
them aloud, a possibility strengthened by the fact that one of the members of the group, Andreas Isachsen, became an actor and in 1852 was
appointed at the theatre in Bergen where Ibsen was sceneinstruktør from
1851 to 1857. Isachsen probably would have needed Ibsen’s support in
order to secure that position, and the latter would not have recommended
him merely on the basis of personal acquaintance.156
If one reads a series of plays by the same author, the recurring themes
and patterns in the works are often foregrounded. Brian Johnston observes that when writing his first play, “the young Ibsen already has at
hand a Romantic metaphysical vocabulary . . .”.157 Reading the plays of
Oehlenschlæger was one of the ways that Ibsen acquired this vocabulary. Oehlenschlæger was the most important Danish dramatist in the
first half of the nineteenth century and the major figure of Scandinavian
literary Romanticism. He had written about twenty tragedies, as well as
other plays, over a period of more than forty years. These plays were
available at the time in many single editions and in two collected editions.158 Those that have seemed to scholars to have left traces on Ibsen’s
first play include Balder hin Gode, Hakon Jarl, Axel og Valborg, Stærkodder,
and Væringerne i Miklagard (“The Vikings in Byzantium”). Although a
few scholars159 have attempted to demonstrate similarities between Ibsen’s
first play and particular plays by Oehlenschlæger, and further research
may find more evidence of this kind, it may be enough to regard those
plays as a general influence, as a literary resource present in the poet’s
mind, in the way that August Strindberg’s plays were present in the mind
of Eugene O’Neill.
Catilina’s theatrical conventions are similar to those employed by
Oehlenschlæger, with their fluid changes of scene, presentational acting
style, set speeches, and supernatural effects, although these conventions
were the common resource of dramatists in the Germanic world after
Friedrich Schiller and were derived from the theatre of Shakespeare and
his contemporaries. Shakespeare’s plays had been translated into German in the eighteenth century and contributed to the development of
the theatre in Germany both on the stage and in the form of new plays.
Ibsen’s first play is fashioned with the conventions of the German Romantic theatre; he did not necessarily receive these conventions directly,
however, but more likely through the mediation of Oehlenschlæger.
Many of Oehlenschlæger’s plays cast a male character between two
contrasting female characters, and since Ibsen does this as well in the
triad of Aurelia-Catiline-Furia, it might safely be concluded that he got
the idea from the Danish dramatist.160 It needs to be said, however, that
he explores the psychological dynamics of the triad more deeply than did
Even if the play’s debt to the Danish dramatist is granted, scholars
over the years have felt that Catilina shows evidence of Ibsen’s having
read plays by other dramatists as well. They have suggested several candidates, including: Lord Byron’s Manfred, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s
Götz von Berlichingen and Iphigenie auf Tauris, Ben Jonson’s Catiline his
Conspiracy, Friedrich Schiller’s Die Räuber, Fiesco, and Wilhelm Tell,
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Henrik Wergeland’s Sinclars Død. Because of the play’s frequent references to fate, it has been speculated that
Ibsen was aware of the schicksalstragödie (“fate tragedy”) of early nineteenth-century German drama.162
In considering the play’s possible dramatic antecedents, one needs
first to ask, can its apparently derivative details be explained on the basis
of what we already know the poet read? For example, when Josef Faaland
suggests similarities between the first speech by Aurelia and the corresponding speech by William Tell’s wife Hedwig in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell,
the suggestion seems plausible, because we know that Ibsen had read
Schiller’s play as early as 1844.163 On the other hand, Francis Bull’s statement that “as far as dramatic technique in Catilina is concerned, it undoubtedly comes from Shakespeare . . .” is less convincing, because we
have no circumstantial evidence that Ibsen had read Shakespeare at that
Another question that needs to be asked is whether Ibsen had knowledge of any earlier plays on the theme of the Catilinarian conspiracy.
Most scholars who have considered the issue have assumed that he did
not, perhaps because he lived in a small town or because there were no
such plays in Danish.165 Ibsen’s access to literature was better than has
been previously thought, however, and he could read both German and
French. 166 When he took the university entrance examination in
Christiania in August, 1850, he passed both German and French; in fact,
his best grade in any subject was in German. He maintained his knowledge of German in later life, partly because he lived in Germany from
1868 to 1880, and 1885 to 1891; his knowledge of French seems to have
disappeared, most likely because he did not need it, and did not keep it
up. Even if his knowledge of French in Grimstad was limited, he had
friends who knew French, and they could have read to him books and
plays written in French, translating as they went along.
There were seven earlier plays about Catiline written in German and
French. There were in all at least eleven Catiline plays published before
Ibsen’s.167 Of these, four include elements found in Ibsen’s play that are
not in the historical sources. Two of them, Ben Jonson’s Catiline his Conspiracy (London: 1611), and Christophe Kuffner’s Catilina (Vienna: 1825),
feature the ghost of Sulla. It is possible, but unlikely, that such an unusual detail not found in either Sallust or Cicero would have been invented twice.
A French Catilina by Alexandre Dumas père and Auguste Macquet
premièred in Paris on 14 October 1848, shortly before Ibsen started work
on his own Catiline play, which Koht estimates was during the Christmas
holidays of that year.168 The French play was published.169 Several scholars have noted the proximity in time of the Dumas and Macquet play to
Ibsen’s first play. Edmund Gosse thought that Ibsen might have noted its
appearance in a newspaper but concluded that the two plays are completely dissimilar.170 Koht described the play as “a vapid pièce à intrigue
that could not have had much influence on Ibsen.”171
All the same, several features of the Catilina by Dumas and Macquet
are suggestive of features in Ibsen’s play. In the prologue to the French
play, Catiline rapes a vestal virgin. None of the other earlier Catiline
plays has a vestal virgin in it, although one is mentioned in Sallust’s history.172 The situation of the vestal virgin in the French play, Marcia, is in
one important respect different from Ibsen’s Furia in that she bears a
child by Catiline. Marcia is also temperamentally different from Furia in
that she is kind and gentle, whereas Furia is passionate and vengeful.
Marcia’s circumstances are similar to Furia’s, however, in that she is condemned to death and the method of execution is to be buried alive. Marcia,
like Furia, survives. Ibsen could have found in the French play, either by
reading it, by reading about it, or by hearing about it, details that he used
in his own play and arranged differently.
Koht notes that while no Norwegian newspaper had announced the
publication of the play by Dumas and Macquet, it had been mentioned in
the French press.173 Grimstad was in touch with events in France through
its shipping activities. The father of one of Ibsen’s close friends, Ole
Schulerud, was chief customs inspector for the town, and Christopher
Due worked in the customs office as well. News of cultural events in
Paris could have come on ships, either first-hand from travellers or in
newspapers and magazines. Due says that Ibsen read portions of his
play to him and Schulerud as it was being written.174 Once they knew of
his project, they might have brought him any information about the subject of Catiline that they had.175 Due was the local correspondent for
Christiania-Posten, so he would have been a person who kept up with
Two other members of Ibsen’s circle of friends, Jakob and Gunder
Holst, were shipowners. After about 1830 France was Norway’s principal
market for timber, and many ships from Grimstad carried timber to France.
Consequently, both officers and seamen would have found it useful to
know at least some French, and one of them could have brought back a
copy of the Dumas-Macquet play from a trading voyage to Paris in the fall
of 1849. The Holsts were a large and prosperous family, many of whose
members were seamen, ship captains and shipowners.
Another French play, Catilina Romantique, by C. E. Guichard, had been
published in Paris in 1844. Its portrayal of the title character is not completely negative, as is the case with nearly all the other Catiline plays
except Ibsen’s. In the fourth act of this play, Catiline is in the field with
his army and has a conversation with an old general Mallius. At the
beginning of the last act of Ibsen’s play, Catiline is in the field with his
army, and has a conversation with an old general called Manlius, the
spelling of the name in Sallust. In both plays, the scene takes place on
the eve of the final battle between the conspirators and the government
forces. In both plays, the movements of nearby troops are discussed, and
the old general mentions having known Catiline since he was a boy. Both
Cicero and Sallust refer to Catiline and Manlius as being together with
rebel troops outside Rome, but neither of them, and none of the other
Catiline plays, shows them in that context.
There are other similarities between the two plays: in a scene in the
second act of Guichard’s play, three allegorical figures,--Pride, Poverty
and Death,--appear to Catiline, urging him not to give up his ambition.
These figures look quite different from the ghost of Sulla in Ibsen’s play,
but the theatrical conventions used to portray supernatural effects are
the same in both plays, and they have the same function, to provide a
moralizing perspective on the main character. Ibsen could have adopted
the idea of a scene in which the main character receives a supernatural
visitation and replaced the allegorical figures used by Guichard with the
ghost of Sulla.
The character names in Guichard’s play are more like those in Ibsen’s
play than those in any other Catiline play except Jonson’s, which is in
English, and thus alien to Ibsen. Guichard’s play, like Ibsen’s, gives considerable stage time to the portrayal of the conspiracy from the conspirators’ point of view. In both plays the conspirators urge Catiline not to give
up the leadership of the revolt at a moment when he feels discouraged.
Both plays include the Allobrogian emissaries, who also appear in Jonson’s
and Kuffner’s plays but are absent from Dumas and Macquet’s play.
In the absence of direct evidence of Ibsen’s reading, the answer to the
question of his dependence on earlier dramatic models will continue to
be based on internal comparisons and consequently will remain a matter
of individual judgment. It should be remembered, however, that Ibsen’s
situation in Grimstad gave him more literary resources than has been
generally recognized and that his command of languages was wider than
has been thought.
In a chapter of his memoir entitled “Ole Schulerud, Ibsen’s faithful
friend,” Christopher Due writes “. . . in those years one studied seriously
Kierkegaard’s books Either/Or [and] Works of Love, among others . . .”.176
Due’s characteristic discretion leaves a doubt as to exactly who is meant
by the phrase “one studied,” but the sentence may indicate that the three
friends read and discussed a number of the Danish philosopher’s books.
Schulerud had just spent several years as a student at the university in
Christiania; Due observes that in those years the town produced only
two university students (the other was Emil Bie, Ibsen’s Latin tutor), so
by local standards Schulerud was highly educated. His graduate specialty was law, so as an undergraduate he would have taken courses in
philosophy and could have shared his learning in conversations and readings with his friends.
While Francis Bull mentions Kierkegaard and the Don Juan theme as
possible influences on Ibsen’s first play, Either/Or has not previously been
carefully considered as a source for Catilina and therefore has not figured
in the deliberations of scholars investigating its sources.177 Either/Or was
Kierkegaard’s first major work; it became a great success after it was published in 1843.178 The work appeared in two parts, the first supposedly
written by an aesthete, the second by an ethicist. The first part contains
several chapters that could have contributed to Ibsen’s thinking as he
was planning his play. These chapters are entitled: “The Immediate
Erotic Stages, or The Musical-Erotic,” “The Tragic in Ancient Drama Reflected in the Tragic in Modern Drama,” and “Silhouettes.” Let us consider each of these in turn, beginning with the chapter on tragedy:
For Kierkegaard (“K”), the main difference between ancient and modern tragedy lies in the latter’s emphasis on situation and character. K is
interested in the consciousness of the tragic character. In his view, what
makes a character tragic in the modern age is the consciousness of guilt,
and especially of inherited guilt.179 Modern people are more isolated and
individualistic than were the ancients but are also therefore completely
responsible for their actions:
Whereas in ancient tragedy the destruction of the hero
results from such strong external factors as state, family, and
destiny, the hero of modern tragedy “stands and falls entirely
on his own acts.”180
The modern tragic hero is more guilty than the ancient, and therefore modern tragedy is more painful. K contends that in modern tragedy
“the tragic hero becomes bad, evil actually becomes the tragic subject . .
.”.181 While we do not know when Ibsen read this statement, it could have
been at about the same time that he was reading the words with which
Sallust introduces his narrative of the Catilinarian conspiracy:
Lucius Catiline was of noble birth. He had a powerful
intellect and great physical strength, but a vicious and depraved nature. From his youth he had delighted in civil war,
bloodshed, robbery, and political strife, and it was in such
occupations that he spent his early manhood. He could endure hunger, cold, and want of sleep to an incredible extent.
His mind was daring, crafty, and versatile, capable of any pretence and dissimulation. A man of flaming passions, he was
as covetous of other men’s possessions as he was prodigal of
his own; an eloquent speaker, but lacking in wisdom. His
monstrous ambition hankered continually after things extravagant, impossible, beyond his reach. After the dictatorship of
Lucius Sulla, Catiline had been possessed by an overmastering desire for despotic power, to gratify which he was prepared to use any and every means. His headstrong spirit was
tormented more and more every day by poverty and a guilty
conscience, both of which were aggravated by the evil practices I have referred to. He was incited also by the corruption
of a society plagued by two opposite but equally disastrous
vices—love of luxury and love of money.182
If Ibsen had read Ks theory of tragedy, which maintains that the modern tragic character is evil, while he was reading such a description of
Catiline, the juxtaposition of impulses could have contributed to his idea
of writing a play about Catiline, because the Roman rebel is an excellent
example of a person who meets Ks definition of a tragic character, one
whose tragedy is caused by the evil in his own nature.
When K offers a prototype of a modern tragic character, the one he
chooses is Antigone. Such a choice illustrates that modernity of character is not a matter of historical period but of spirit. Ks example might
have helped Ibsen to see that he also could choose a classical subject, a
choice which otherwise seems surprising. Not only were there no earlier
Norwegian plays based on classical models, but there were very few such
Danish plays.183 Oehlenschlæger had written a Socrates, but it is not among
his most important works. Almost all of his plays, although they are
historical, have Scandinavian characters and settings.
The situation of Ks Antigone is not entirely the same as that of
Sophocles’. The significant difference is that she is the only one who
knows her father’s secret, that he killed his father and married his mother.
She does not even know if he knows it. Oedipus is imagined as being
dead when K describes her, but he says that when Oedipus was still alive
she could never bring herself to ask him, in case he did not know, since
that would reveal to him his own disgrace:
How she found out is extraneous to the tragic interest . . .
. At an early age, before she had reached maturity, dark hints
of this horrible secret had momentarily gripped her soul, until certainty hurled her with one blow into the arms of anxiety. Here at once I have a definition of the tragic in modern
times . . . .184
Antigone keeps her secret to herself. The secret isolates her, even
from the man she loves, and finally causes her to commit suicide rather
than risk revealing it in a moment of intimacy or derangement. It also
protects against the possibility that her father’s misfortune would be repeated in a succeeding generation.
Ibsen’s Furia also carries a secret about a disgrace in her family, that
her sister Tullia committed suicide after being seduced and abandoned
by Catiline. Actually, while it is not mentioned in the play, Catiline presumably knows how and why Tullia died, so the only “secret” from his
point of view is that Furia is Tullia’s sister. The only secret from Furia’s
point of view is that the man with whom she is in love seduced her sister.
Unlike Ks Antigone, Furia reveals her secret to the man she loves,
whom she knows as Lucius, but only after having him swear to avenge
the deed. When she learns that Lucius is in fact Catiline, she realizes that
her lover is her enemy, and she dedicates herself to pursuing him thereafter, in order to avenge her dead sister.185 Furia’s obsession becomes the
mainspring of the plot, in the end replacing the play’s political action.
For his part, when Catiline learns the nature of the crime he has sworn to
avenge, he realizes that he has unknowingly made himself his own enemy. Ibsen has the characters recite this dilemma several times during
the rest of the play in order to emphasize its significance.
It could be argued that in defining Catiline’s dilemma Ibsen was applying Ks formula for the tragic situation to the circumstances in his play.
According to K, it is the knowledge of guilt which defines the situation of
the modern tragic character. While Catiline’s dilemma is similar to that
of Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, who swears to avenge the death
of the former king Laios without realizing that he himself is the killer,
Catiline immediately realizes that he has sworn to avenge his own crime.
In Sophocles’ play, Oedipus’ ignorance of his guilt generates a dramatic irony whose effect on the audience is to produce a sense of impending doom. Oedipus’ quest for knowledge carries the plot forward as
our foreboding increases, until, with the revelation of the identity of the
killer, and Oedipus’ recognition that it is himself, the action “veers around
to its opposite,” and the catastrophe takes place, in which Oedipus as the
avenger of his father’s death punishes himself as his father’s killer by
putting out his own eyes. In The Poetics Aristotle describes the action of
this play as the best for a tragedy, since recognition and reversal, the two
elements of the tragic plot which are able to produce the strongest emotions in the audience, happen at the same time. This type of action is at
the heart of the neoclassical conception of tragedy, since The Poetics became a handbook for dramatists after it was rediscovered in the fifteenth
Dramatic irony of the kind found in Sophocles is absent from Ibsen’s
play, because Catiline spends the whole play in the knowledge of his
guilt, a knowledge which according to K is the essence of the modern
tragic character. This knowledge impedes his ability to act and causes
him to vacillate between dreams of conquest and fantasies of escape.
Because Catiline states the theme of his guilt in the opening monologue,
a monologue which was pasted to the beginning of the manuscript after
the original first scene had already been drafted, it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that Ibsen intentionally placed his main character in a situation equivalent to that of Oedipus in Oedipus the King after the recognition scene, or of Antigone as K describes her, i.e., in a state of anxiety
caused by the consciousness of guilt.
In Aristotle’s conception of tragedy, the action is a movement from
ignorance to knowledge among those whom the poet has destined for
good or bad fortune. This knowledge is of the true relations of the characters. Ordinarily it is revealed gradually, so as to sustain the interest of
the audience in what will happen next. For example, in the course of his
investigation of the death of Laios, the former king of Thebes, Oedipus
first discovers that the man he killed at a place where three roads meet
was Laios, and only later that Laois was his own father.
By contrast, Catiline already knows everything of this kind at the beginning of the play, except for the fact that Furia, with whom he is romantically involved, is the sister of Tullia, whom he has seduced and
abandoned. Once that information has been revealed, in the third scene
of the first act, his character has exhausted its ability to move in the Aristotelian sense. Because of his paralysis, Furia becomes the active character in the play, driven as she is by her desire for revenge. The desire of a
character for revenge produces a different type of dramatic action than
the movement from ignorance to knowledge, and while it was known to
Aristotle, since Aeschylus had used it in Choephoroi (The Libation Bearers), it was not his favorite kind of action, nor the type he discusses approvingly in The Poetics.
It has been recognized ever since Ibsen’s play was published that his
Catiline is a passive hero, more acted-upon than acting.186 One could
even argue that Furia is the protagonist, since she is the only one who
commits a tragic action, stabbing Catiline. To be sure, Catiline kills his
wife, but that action does not follow necessarily from the requirements
of the plot. No doubt Ibsen intended Catiline to be the protagonist, but
his choice of situation puts Furia in the active role, as the avenger of her
sister’s death. It is her pursuit of Catiline which sustains the action once
the plot of the conspiracy has been exhausted, which happens partway
through the last act.
Ks view of tragedy, and of the relatively greater importance of the
inner life of characters than of their external circumstances, may have
been part of what set Ibsen on a course to write the kind of drama he
eventually did write, that is, psychologically complex and focussing on a
small group of characters or on a single character. While he experimented
with many types of dramatic action in his career, the type he eventually
preferred in his mature realistic plays was the Sophoclean, such as is
found in Oedipus the King, that is, an initial situation involving a group of
characters who have been long known to one another, a situation which
conceals a terrible truth whose nature is revealed gradually through the
introduction of new information by one or more visitors who have known
some or all of the participants for a long time but have not seen them
recently. This type of action allowed him to explore the inner life of his
characters in depth without having to introduce a great deal of physical
activity. To cite just a few examples, the secret in A Doll House is that
Nora forged her father’s signature; the secret in Rosmersholm is that
Rebekka tormented Beate until she committed suicide. In both these
plays, just as in Oedipus the King, the secret worms its way out during the
course of the play and changes the relations of the main characters. In
his mature plays Ibsen handled the secret with skill. In Catilina it came
out right at the beginning, and thereby robbed the central character of
the ability to act, requiring Ibsen to use an avenger to motivate his plot.
One other detail from Ks chapter on tragedy is suggestive of Ibsen’s
play. At the end, K asks rhetorically:
At whose hand does she [Antigone] fall, then? At the hand
of the living or the dead? In a certain sense, at the hand of
the dead, and what was predicted to Hercules, that he would
be murdered not by a living person but by a dead one, applies
to her, inasmuch as the cause of her death is the recollection
of her father; in another sense, at the hand of the living, inasmuch as her unhappy love is the occasion for the recollection
to slay her.187
This view of the causes of Antigone’s death is similar to what is prophesied for Catiline by the ghost of Sulla: “Though thou shalt fall by thine
own hand, yet shall another strike thee down.”188
The purpose of the chapter of Either/Or entitled “The Immediate Erotic
Stages” is to demonstrate why Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the best possible
opera. The argument is that music is the best medium for the expression
of the sensuous (as opposed to the spiritual) aspect of human nature, and
that Don Juan is the incarnation of the sensuous.
As long ago as 1921, Erik Kihlmann observed that Ibsen’s Catiline is a
Don Juan figure.189 By reputation the historical Catiline was a libertine,
but Ibsen’s version of the character emphasizes this aspect of his nature
more than do the historical sources. He is sexually involved with all
three of the named female characters in the play and spends more time
onstage with the two who are alive than with the conspirators. Moreover,
he dies not for his political actions but for seducing Tullia.
In a discussion of non-musical versions of the Don Juan story, K makes
the observation that while there have been many interpretations of the
Faust legend, there have been few of the Don Juan legend:190
. . . [N]early all the interpretations of Don Juan . . . have
clung to the element of the idea that as an erotic he must be
triumphant. If, on the other hand, the other side is stressed,
only then, I believe, is there any prospect of a significant interpretation of Don Juan that would form a counterpart to
the musical Don Juan.191
Ibsen’s Catilina could be read as a version of the Don Juan legend in
which the erotic is not triumphant. To be sure, in the tradition Don Juan
dies at the end, but not through any human agency. The Commander
returns as a ghost and hales him down to hell. Ibsen’s Catiline, however,
is murdered by a living person in revenge for one of his seductions.
Speaking of the Commander, the ghost of Sulla in Ibsen’s play could
have been inspired by Ks discussion of the ghost of the Commander in
Don Giovanni.192 The ghost of Sulla performs a function similar to the
ghost of the Commander by providing a moralizing perspective on the
actions of the main character. This is how K describes the function of the
ghost of the Commander:
The second time he [the Commander] appears as spirit,
and the thunderous voice of heaven sounds in his earnest,
solemn voice. But just as he himself is transfigured, so his
voice is transfigured into something more than a human voice;
he no longer speaks, he passes judgment.193
The third chapter of Either/Or that appears to have a connection with
Ibsen’s play is entitled “Silhouettes”. It is about portraying the inner state
of a character, specifically one who has experienced the emotion K refers
to as “sorrow,” but might also be called “grief,” or “loss”. “Silhouettes”
describes three female characters whose response to their situation shows
them, in Ks terms, to be capable of achieving tragic nobility. The first
character described is Marie Beaumarchais, who was abandoned by her
fiancé in Goethe’s Clavigo. The second is Donna Elvira, who was seduced and abandoned by Don Juan. The third is Margrete, who was
seduced and abandoned by Faust in Goethe’s Faust. K provides an interior monologue for each of the three characters in the aftermath of her
abandonment. Each character is alone, remembering the past and imagining or fantasizing about the future. The differences between the imaginations of the three characters show the difference in their natures. That
is, in keeping with Ks emphasis on the psychology of the tragic character,
they are portrayed not so much through their actions as through their
One can speculate that Ibsen took the advice recommended by
Johannes Climacus (Ks persona in Part I of Either/Or) at the beginning of
“Silhouettes,” and substituted other names for those of the three women
described.194 Aurelia, who continues to love despite evidence of betrayal,
might correspond to Marie, who still loves the man who left her; Furia,
the vestal virgin who seeks revenge for her dead sister, might correspond
to Donna Elvira, the nun who calls down the vengeance of heaven on the
head of her seducer; and Tullia, who commits suicide after being seduced
and abandoned by Catiline, might correspond to Margrete, who kills her
child after being seduced and abandoned by Faust.
It is not quite that simple. The temperaments and circumstances of the
three female characters in Catilina do not correspond exactly to those described by K. Ibsen seems to have taken from K the idea of three different
types of women who have been deceived in love and then to have used
details from the descriptions of Marie, Elvira, and Margrete in portraying
his own female characters. He did not borrow these details consistently,
however. For example, Elvira, the avenging character, plans to weave a
garland of curses made out of everything that reminds her of Don Juan,
just as Ibsen’s avenging character Furia weaves a garland of poppies for
Catiline before she stabs him. It is Marie, however, the forgiving type, who
imagines herself to be buried alive in “Silhouettes,” while it is Furia, the
avenging type, who is buried alive in the play. Both Margrete and Tullia are
types of women who internalize the aggression directed against them by
committing a self-destructive action. We learn so little about Tullia, however, that Ibsen may have appropriated merely the idea of the type itself.195
There are enough echoes of “Silhouettes” in Ibsen’s play to allow us to
suppose that he was thinking of Ks female characters as he was fashioning his version of the Catiline story. It is as though he posed to himself
the questions: what would happen if the same man were to seduce three
different types of women, and what if that man were Catiline?
The notion that Ibsen had Ks essay in mind is corroborated by the
fact that the female characters in his play are not similar to those in
Sallust. The Roman historian said of Aurelia that no respectable man
ever found anything in her to praise except her beauty.196 Ibsen, by contrast, made of her such a virtuous and loving person that she is the agent
of her husband’s salvation, even after he has stabbed her. Fulvia (the
original name for Furia in Ibsen’s outline) is not a vestal virgin in Sallust
but a courtesan. Ibsen made her a vestal virgin, the Roman equivalent of
a nun, and the very opposite of a courtesan. Ibsen appears to have invented the character of Tullia, although not her name. Cicero’s patronymic was Tullius, and he had a daughter named Tullia. Catiline supposedly had affairs with a number of women, but there is no evidence that
any of them committed suicide after being seduced by him.
All of these choices have the effect of making the relevant parts of
Ibsen’s play more closely resemble Ks model of three types of women
reacting to their rejection. The effects of making Catiline the man who
seduced all three women were, first, to focus the motivations of all three
women on one person, the main character, and second, to strengthen the
aspect of libertinism in his character, to make him more of a seducer, or
The play as a whole has two different main actions: the plot of the
conspiracy, which is handled as a conventional intrigue, and the competition of Aurelia and Furia for possession of Catiline’s will, which is portrayed as a contest between competing fantasies of his future. Aurelia
wants him to leave Rome with her and live a quiet life in the country.
Furia encourages his ambitions for power, in the hope that they will lead
to his destruction. The plot of the conspiracy is over partway through
the last act; for the remainder of the play the action is a tug-of-war between the two women for control of Catiline’s will. Catiline’s dream of
two women playing chess for his destiny is a way of illustrating this action. By the end of the play the political theme has been forgotten, and
the question is whether when Catiline dies he will go with Aurelia to
Elysium, the heaven of the classical world, or with Furia to Tartarus, the
One other element of the play may derive from Ibsen’s reading of K,
its ending. In the final confrontation among the three main characters,
Catiline rejects Aurelia’s love; he feels confined by it and chases her offstage and stabs her. When he returns, Furia fulfills her revenge by stabbing him, but then Aurelia drags herself back onstage and declares that
her love will save him. While at first Catiline is astonished by her appearance and replies that she will go to Elysium while he must descend to
Tartarus, she insists on the power of her love to save him. She repeats
the word twice:
“[M]y love (Kjærlighed) for you did give me strength at point
of death, . . .”
“[F]or ever love (Kjærlighed) dispels the terrors and the gloom
Catiline is evidently impressed by the fact that Aurelia loves him even
after he has mortally wounded her. He recalls the end of his dream,
where the darkness is dispelled by light. In his final line he says to her:
“All the powers of darkness you have vanquished with your love”
(Kjærlighed). Furia withdraws into the background and disappears, tacitly accepting her defeat in the contest over possession of his soul.
This ending is reminiscent of the endings of at least two of Ibsen’s
other plays: Peer Gynt and Rosmersholm. After wandering the world for
his whole life Peer realizes that his home has always been in Solveig’s
“faith, hope and love.” At the end of Rosmersholm, Rosmer says that the
only way he can believe Rebekka again is if she “goes the way Beate
went,” i.e., if she gives up her life for him, just as Beate had done. Both
plays contain the theme of sacrificial love expressed by a woman for a
Due says that he, Schulerud and Ibsen read Ks Works of Love in
Grimstad. That book, published in September of 1847, deals with the
varieties of love or rather with the stages of love. There are two words for
love in Danish, elskov, which is physical, and for K can indicate either
erotic love or affection, and kjærlighed, which is spiritual love and can
mean either idealized love or friendliness. Both of these words are used
in the play, but the latter is the only one used in its last scene.
K argues that most love is self-love, whether it is disguised or recognized, and that the great contribution of Christianity is the introduction
of the conception of love as neighborliness, a love which must be ex-
tended to everyone, to the people one sees. He notes in Either/Or that it
was Christianity which first “posited the sensuous-erotic as a principle.”197
Before Christianity sensuality had existed but was not reflective, not conscious. Christianity made people aware of their sensuality, and simultaneously distinguished it from the realm of spirit.
As several scholars have observed, the final act of Catilina transpires
in an increasingly symbolic landscape.198 Catiline’s dream, the prophecy
of the ghost, and the narrowing focus on the state-of-soul of the main
character, all are intended to be received for their spiritual values. The
political action of the play ends partway through the act, and the remaining issue is the spiritual destiny of the hero, first whether he will belong
to good or evil, and, after he is mortally wounded, whether his soul will
be saved or damned.
Ibsen’s hero has spent the whole play in a post-Aristotelian consciousness, i.e., in the recognition of his own guilt. The resolution cannot,
therefore, have recognition in the traditional sense of that term. Catiline’s
recalling of the ending of his dream, however, where light triumphs over
darkness, and his acceptance of the saving power of Aurelia’s love, may
be intended as a new kind of recognition, one that has no practical consequences but that demonstrates that his consciousness has reached a new
level, in which the power of Nemesis that earlier held him captive is
vanquished by a higher conception of love, the kind represented by Ks
conception of kjærlighed in Works of Love. In other words, Don Juan has
recognized the limitations of sensual love and has accepted the reality of
spiritual love. To that extent, and to use Ks language, the play is a new
interpretation of the Don Juan legend in which the erotic is not triumphant.
This conclusion does not imply that Ibsen himself has become a Christian or even a Kierkegaardian.199 The new consciousness that Catiline
expresses at the end is precisely that, his consciousness. Ibsen wants to
show that Catiline learns a higher kind of love in the moment of his
death. The forces of sensuality and vengeance represented by Furia are
not disarmed, however, and the evidence of Catiline’s guilt for his various crimes is not suppressed in the play’s ending. In the play’s terms the
conclusion makes sense. Catiline has enough good in him so that merely
allowing Furia’s revenge to take his life, merely allowing his political and
sexual crimes to determine the play’s ending, and thereby confirm the
judgment of history, would not be a satisfactory ending to the argument
of the play as a whole.
While the idea for the setting and the political theme of the play, i.e.,
ancient Rome and the Catilinarian conspiracy respectively, are derived
from the Latin authors Cicero and especially Sallust, the psychological
relations of the characters, and to a great extent the characters themselves, are adaptations of what Kierkegaard has to say about the Don
Juan legend in Either/Or. Ks theory of the modern tragic character also
appears to have influenced the play’s basic situation, in that the protagonist is guilty and conscious of it from the beginning. Catiline’s moral
paralysis causes him to vacillate between the fantasies of the two women.
When Aurelia’s fantasy of escape prevails in his mind, he declines leadership of the conspiracy. When Furia recalls to him his desire for freedom,
he changes his mind and accepts the leadership.
Because Catilina was written in a small provincial Norwegian town by
a young man who until then had produced only four surviving lyric poems, it has sometimes been taken as an anomaly, or explained on the
basis of its author’s later production. Some scholars have considered it to
be an almost accidental creative outburst, the result of Ibsen’s brief Sturmund-Drang period, or have attributed it to unconscious forces in the poet’s
psyche.200 Ibsen himself has contributed to such interpretations by describing his supposedly revolutionary mood at the time the play was composed and by neglecting to acknowledge the extent and nature of his
reading. The evidence, however, shows that his conscious dramatic design in the play was derived from reading Ks theory of tragedy, and his
discussion of the Don Juan legend, and from interweaving these elements with the story of the Catilinarian conspiracy, a story he found in
the Latin authors Cicero and Sallust, but which he might also have had in
one or more earlier dramatizations. Beyond this, details in the play can
be traced to other earlier literature, both dramatic and non-dramatic.
However, because such other sources are often used fragmentarily, or
because the details from them are changed, they are difficult to establish
Considering the fact that Catilina is Ibsen’s first play, it is an impressive achievement, especially if understood not only as an interpretation
of the historical materials, which he “read through” in order to discover a
different conception of the main character than they had preserved, but
also as an application of ideas about the drama and of characters from Ks
Either-Or. Kierkegaard is a first-rate philosopher, with a historically novel
view of tragedy, and one can only imagine the excitement his ideas pro-
duced when they were new. Ibsen’s ability to assimilate and apply these
ideas in the construction of his drama is remarkable. The play’s many
apparent borrowings from other literature, both dramatic and non-dramatic, not all of which may as yet have been identified, demonstrate the
breadth of the poet’s reading. Finally, his practice of synthesizing and
transforming materials from a variety of sources, historical, dramatic,
poetic, and philosophical is typical of what would be his procedure for
the next twenty-five years, until he made the transition to writing social
problem plays in a contemporary setting.
IBSEN’S LAST YEAR IN GRIMSTAD,
APRIL 1849-APRIL 1850
Henrik Ibsen finished writing Catilina in March or April of 1849. The
draft manuscript contained many interlinear corrections, as well as several additional pages glued into it.201 Christopher Due undertook to produce a fair copy, which Ole Schulerud carried with him when he left
Grimstad to return to Christiania in late August or early September.
Schulerud’s intention was to find a theatre to produce the play, but when
this failed he decided to publish it instead. When he could not find a
publisher willing to take the play, he had it published at his own expense.
It appeared on 12 April 1850, about a year after it was finished, and just a
few days before Ibsen himself left Grimstad for the capital.
Writing Catilina was Ibsen’s most important creative achievement to
date. It changed his life. The surviving evidence of his activities during
his last year in Grimstad suggests that by then he had already decided to
become a writer. While nominally still preparing for the university entrance examination, Ibsen’s literary activity continued as well and became more diverse. In the year before the composition of Catilina, Ibsen
had written only 4 surviving lyric poems; from the year following, April
1849-April 1850, there are at least 22 poems. Ibsen also composed the
draft of a one-act play, “Normannerne” (“The Normans”), which he revised into “Kjæmpehøien” (“The Warrior’s Barrow”) the following May,
after he had arrived in Christiania. He also drafted the first few pages of
a novel, “Fangen paa Akershus” (“The Prisoner of Akershus”), although
he set it aside to begin a play about Olaf Tryggvason, none of which has
Before Ibsen left Grimstad he gathered the 22 lyric poems, together
with the 4 he had written earlier, into a notebook entitled “Blandede
Digtninger fra Aarene 1848, 1849, 1850” (“Mixed Poems from the years
1848, 1849, 1850”).203 He took this notebook with him when he left for
Christiania, hoping to find a publisher, but in this he was unsuccessful.
Since most of these poems are unknown in the English-speaking world,
both the originals and prose English translations of all the poems in
“Mixed Poems” are included on the website.204
The poems in “Mixed Poems” appear to be arranged in order of composition; at the least they are grouped according to the year in which
they were written. More than half of the poems are love lyrics addressed
either explicitly or implicitly to a young woman named Clara Ebbell. The
titles of the lyrics that can be associated with her are:
“Høstaftenen” (“Autumn Evening”),
“Sjælens Solglimt” (“The Soul’s Glimpse of the Sun”),
“Maaneskinsfart paa Havet” (“Moonlight Cruise on the Sea”),
“Midnatsstemning” (“Midnight Mood”),
“Til Stjernen” (“Tilegnet C: E:”) (“To the Star” (“Dedicated to C: E)”),
“Aftenvandring i Skoven” (“Evening Stroll in the Forest”),
“I Høsten” (“In the Autumn,” published in Christiania-Posten,
“Vaarens Minde” (“The Memory of Spring”),
“Balminder. Et Livsfragment i Poesi og Prosa” (“Memories of a Ball.
A Fragment of Life in Poetry and Prose”),
“Det er forbi!” (“It is finished!”),
“I Natten” (“In the Night”),
“Maaneskinsstemning (Leveret den 7de April)” (“Moonlight Mood
(Presented the 7th of April (1850))”), and
“Maaneskinsvandring efter et Bal (Skrevet paa Opfordring af Sophie
Holst og Cathrine Martini)” (“Moonlight Stroll after a Ball (Written
at the request of Sophie Holst and Cathrine Martini)”).205
Clara Ebbell was a member of one of the established families in
Grimstad, to which Ibsen ordinarily did not have access. In the summer
of 1849, however, possibly through the intercession of his friend Christopher Due, he was invited to join some of the other young people of the
town for Sunday boating trips, and it may have been on one of these
excursions that he noticed Clara. She was then 20 years old, talented in
music, and of a spiritual temperament; later in life she became a pietist.
She evidently did not love him, but she did allow him to give her some of
his poems. Between the late summer of 1849 and his departure from
Grimstad in April 1850, he produced the series of poems listed above.
They document the birth, flowering, disappointment, and death of his
love, as well as his subsequent desire to forget it. These love lyrics are
the first of three “waves” of such lyrics that he was to write, each one
associated with a young woman with whom he was at the time in love.206
Interspersed with the love poems in “Mixed Poems” is a variety of
other poems written during the same period. They include: a memory
poem, a graveyard poem in which skeletons come to life and dance in a
ring, a few experiments in the trend of National Romanticism, a poem
honoring the embattled Magyars in their struggle for independence from
the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a series of sonnets addressed to the king,
Oskar I, urging him to go to the aid of the Danes in the Schleswig-Holstein dispute, and a memorial poem at the death of Adam
Oehlenschlæger. There are also a conceit addressed to a perhaps imaginary young lady, offering her the opportunity to set up housekeeping
in his heart, and two occasional poems dedicated to individuals other
than Clara Ebbell.
The titles of these poems, in the order mentioned, are:
memory poem: “Erindringskilden” (“The Spring of Memory”);
graveyard poem: “Dødningeballet” (“The Ball of the Dead”);
National Romantic poems: “Til Norges Skjalde” (“To the Poets of
Norway”), and “Møllergutten” (“The Miller Boy”);
poem to the Magyars: “Til Ungarn” (“To Hungary”);
sonnets to King Oskar: “Vaagner Skandinaver!” (“Awake
memorial poem to Oehlenschlæger: “Skjalden i Valhal,
ved Efterretningen om Oehlenschlægers Død”
(“The Skald in Valhalla, at the news of Oehlenschlæger’s death”);
conceit: “Ledigt Logis” (“Vacant Lodgings”);
poems addressed to individuals: “Afskedens Minde, ved O. Schuleruds
Afreise” (“Memories of Leave-Taking, at O. Schulerud’s departure”);
“Maaneskinsvandring efter et Bal, skrevet paa Opfordring af Sophie
Holst og Cathrine Martini” (“Moonlight Stroll after a Ball, written at
the request of Sophie Holst and Cathrine Martini”).207
The last poem appears in both the Ebbell list and the non-Ebbell list
above, because it was probably written with Clara Ebbell in mind, even
though it was not addressed to her. This poem is reproduced and discussed later in the chapter.
Anyone interested in studying these poems should perhaps read them
not in the order they are given in “Mixed Poems,” but rather in the order
given in the two lists presented above. Their order in the collection tends
to obscure the fact that some of them deal with the poet’s personal
emotions, while others deal with aesthetic or political issues, or are occasional poems, in which the feelings expressed are formal or formalized.
In the fall of 1849 Ibsen composed the first draft of what would become his second play, “Kjæmpehøien” (“The Warrior’s Barrow”), about
the Christianization of Norway. It features a thematic contrast between
the harshness of the Viking code and the gentleness of the Christian ideal
of life. These two tendencies are harmonized in the conclusion through
the union of Gandalf, the Viking king, with Blanka, a young Christian
woman. This play shows evidence of the influence of Adam
Oehlenschlæger not only in its conception but also in its verse, setting,
and theatrical style.208
Three letters to Ole Schulerud from this period survive. He was by
then in Christiania.209 The first of these (dated 15 October 1849) deals
mainly with the writer’s desire that his correspondent excuse him for the
tone of an earlier letter, now lost, in which he evidently expressed suspicion of his friend’s actions with respect to Catilina. Ibsen was deeply
concerned about the fate of the play and was apparently impatient at
what seemed to him to be a delay in its acceptance by one of the theatres
in Christiania. In the second letter (dated 5 January 1850), Ibsen mentions that he is working on a play about Olaf Tryggvason, a Norwegian
king who had Christianized the Faroe Islands about the year 1000. Ibsen
did not finish this play, and no trace of it survives. In the same letter he
reports starting to write a novel about Christian Lofthuus, a man from
the Christianssand area who had led a peasant rebellion against the Danes
in the eighteenth century. Lofthuus was the grandfather of the unfortunate Else Sophie Jensdatter, the mother of Ibsen’s illegitimate son. Only
the first few pages of the novel, which is entitled “Prisoner of Akershus,”
survive. The third letter (10 February, 1850) accompanied a copy of
“Skjalden i Valhal,” which Ibsen requested Schulerud to submit for publication to Christiania-Posten.
The variety of this production and the circumstances that only the poems were actually completed, and that the only pieces published were two
of the poems, show that Ibsen was casting about, searching for an appropriate form for his literary abilities. There might have been several reasons for this variety, not to say aimlessness, of invention. In the first place,
while Ibsen was proud of his first play and believed in it, he was quite
naturally surprised at its sudden appearance, and perhaps a little frightened as well. It is a responsibility to have talent, and perhaps Ibsen was
not ready yet to accept it, or did not quite know what to do with it. In the
second place, since he had been out of school for six years, what he knew
about contemporary Norwegian literature was based primarily on what he
had read on his own, either in books he had bought or borrowed or in
newspapers and magazines that had come into his hands. The several
genres that he attempted during his last year in Grimstad were therefore
in some cases experiments, modelled after recently published works of
various kinds, to see whether he too could produce a marketable piece of
work. Ibsen must have recognized that Catilina was to some extent sui
generis, or at the least unfashionable, and that this had influenced its reception both by theatres and by publishers. In the third place, he was in
love during the summer and fall of 1849 and writing poems addressed to
the object of his affections. In these poems his feelings are often anxious
and overwrought, and he sometimes writes in a style he hopes his beloved
will like, rather than one that reflects his tastes. Some of these poems
convey a peculiar impression that they have been written by a ventriloquist, by someone who can imitate the voices of other poets with great and
even disconcerting facility. By January 1850 he was describing his feelings for Clara as an “imagined infatuation.”210 That may have been because
at the Christmas season she had become engaged to another man, who
was in fact her uncle, Henning Junghans Bie, and was 17 years her senior.
Clara Ebbell was a fan of the Danish poet Adam Oehlenschlæger. According to one account, on a certain occasion, in Ibsen’s presence, she
read his poem “Skjalden i Valhal” (“The Skald in Valhalla”), which had
been written on the occasion of Oehlenschlæger’s death, and in imitation of the archaistic style the lattter had sometimes affected; it had been
published in Christiania-Posten (16 February 1850). After reading it she
expressed her approval of it to him. We are entitled to imagine that Ibsen
himself had handed her the poem to read. In order for her to have done
so while in the same room with him, she would have had to continue to
associate with him even after she was engaged to marry someone else.
We do not know what that occasion was.
Ibsen had signed the poem with a pseudonym, “Brynjolf Bjarme,” but
something that showed in his face as she was praising the poem made
her say: “Oh, you are Brynjolf Bjarme.” He at first asked her not to reveal
his secret, and then, since she now knew who Brynjolf Bjarme was, he
looked around to be sure that nobody else was listening, and confided
that he was about to publish a play, Catilina, under the same pseudonym,
and asked whether she would allow him to dedicate the play to her. She
supposedly replied, “No, give up such tricks!” (“Nei, la slige streger fare!”)211
She could not allow her name to be associated with him publicly, not
merely because his play was about a notorious libertine, but also because
she was engaged to marry someone else.
He did not dedicate the play to her, but neither did he altogether give
up such tricks. A number of scholars have speculated that Clara was a
model for the character of Blanka in his second play, the one-act “The
Warrior’s Barrow,” whose first draft, “The Normans,” dates from the fall
of 1849, and whose form is strongly influenced by Oehlenschlæger, her
favorite poet. Since Blanka is a positive character, the portrait of her, and
indeed the whole play, can be construed as a compliment to Clara. She
had reportedly attempted to convert Ibsen to Christianity, just as Blanka
does Gandalf in the play.212
Clara was present in the audience when the play was first performed
at the Christiania Theater in Christiania, on 26 September 1850, where
she saw the young man she had known as a pharmacist’s apprentice and
had rejected as a suitor applauded by an audience in the capital. The
play was received with approbation despite the fact that it was much
inferior to Catilina, which earlier had been rejected by the same theatre.
By then she had broken off her engagement to Henning Bie, although
she later married him. After Ibsen saw her in Christiania he sent another series of poems to her.213
In 1849, at the same time that he was in love, he was also playing the
role of a rebel and critic of society. As has already been mentioned, at a
“reform banquet” he gave “a fire-breathing speech against all kaisers and
kings, these monsters of society, and for the republic, the ‘only possible’
form of government.”214 The person he was on such an occasion was
very different from the person he was at work, or the person he was
while trying to communicate with Clara. The person who wrote poetry
was also someone else, not only different from his other personae, but
also different from one poem to the next. His changing self-concept is
reflected in the changing styles and subject matter of the works he wrote
at this time. In the space of a few short weeks in December and January
of 1849-50, probably just after Clara became engaged to someone else, he
apparently wrote both of his most political poems, “Til Ungarn” (“To Hungary”) and “Vaagner Skandinaver!” (“Awake Scandinavians!”) as well as
“Til Norges Skjalde” (“To the Poets of Norway”), an exhortatory poem about
what Norwegian poetry ought to be like:
Hvi sværmer I, Skjalde! For Fortidens Fjerne,
For skrinlagte Old med de smuldrende Minder, --
Et Billed saa mat som den Lysning der rinder
I dæmrende Nat fra en skysløret Stjerne? -Er ikke den Gnist som I eie da kun
En Gave jer skjænket til Nytte for Folket,
Der kræver af Skjaldens begeistrede Mund
Sin smærte, sin Lyst og sin Længsel fortolket.
I sang jo saatit om “de kneisende Fjelde”,
Hvor Granskoven voxer og Jøklen har hjemme,
Men syner og Drømme som storme med Vælde
I Brødernes Hjerter, -- dem kunde I glemme!
Hvi lytte I ei til den Brusning, som rigt
Fra Sjælene bæver før stille det vorder?
Hvi flette I Synerne ei til et Digt,
Hvi former I Tonerne ei til Accorder?
O, fagre Gestalter i Nuet jo vinke, -Fra Dalen, fra Fjeldet, fra Vinter og Sommer.
Ha, see I ei Skatten saa glimrende blinke,
En Folkelivsdigtning med deilige Blommer!
De luftige Billeder kræve et Liv
I skildrende Kvæder, Tilværelsens Panter,
De savne kun Skjaldens beeandende: Bliv!
For herligt at klædes i Kvadets Gevandter!
[Poets, why do you daydream for the distant past, for entombed age with its crumbling memories, a picture as feeble
as the light that rises at dawn from a cloud-veiled star? Is not
the spark which you possess then merely a gift bestowed on
you to use for the people, who demand that the skald's inspired mouth interpret its sorrow, its delight and its longing?
You sang so often about "the towering mountain," where
the spruce forest grows and the glacier has a home, but visions and dreams that storm majestically in your brothers'
hearts, -- those you could forget! Why do you not listen to the
rushing, which trembles richly from the soul before it grows
calm? Why do you not weave the visions into a poem, why
do you not form the sounds into chords?
Beautiful shapes beckon here-and-now, you know, -- from
the valley, from the mountain, from winter and summer. Do
you not see the treasure so brilliantly sparkling, -- a poetic
work of folk life with delightful flowers! Those fleeting images demand a life in descriptive poems, symbols of experience, they lack only the skald's inspiring: "Come into being!"
to be dressed magnificently in the poem's draperies!]
To dwell on the memories of a glorious past does not lead to genuine
poetic inspiration. Images of present life can be just as poetic as those of
the past, especially images found in nature. This affirmation, which is
standard Romantic poetic theory, is almost immediately questioned by
the poet himself in the most elegant poem from Grimstad, “Møllergutten”
(“The Miller Boy”), composed during the Christmas holidays of 1849-50.
In the second letter to Schulerud (5 January 1850) Ibsen reports
I have used a few stories and descriptions from Telemark to
write some short poems, adapted to fit well-known folk melodies, and have thus had a shot at nationalistic writing.
In fact, the only poem from the project in nationalistic writing which
survives is this one:
Hvor Fossen suser i Sommernat
Henover Elvebundens Stene,
Mens Taagen glider ad Elv og Krat,
Der sidder Møllergutten ene; -Imellem Oreløvet titter ind
En sneebleg Lysning udaf Maaneskin,
Venligt sit Skjær
Henover Nattens tause Scene.
Det er saa sildig en Thorsdagskvel,
Fra Fjeldet Hulderslotten klinger,
Og Fossegrimmen i Strømmens Væld
De gyldne Harpestrænge svinger, -Og Møllergutten lytter til dens Spil,
Tys, hør! da bæver, som en Gjenlyd mild,
Let baaren hen paa Nattens Vinger.
Og det er Thorgjerd som lokker fram
Sin Feles underlige Kvæde,
For han har offret det sorte Lam
Til Fossegrimmen hist dernede,
Og derfor har han ogsaa Spillet lært,
Og derfor lyder fra hans Bue sært
Med Hulderlok og Lurens Kvæde!
Men Livet tykkes ham koldt og mat
Og uden Gammen nu derhjemme,
Thi hvad han hørte og saa inat
Det kan han aldrig mere glemme, -Og derfor strømmer fra hans Strænge hvad
Hans Længsel sang for ham, -- et sorgfuldt Kvad;
Tolke den Drøm
Midtsommernatten lod ham nemme! -[On a summer night, where the waterfall roars across the
river-bottom's stones, while the mist glides by river and thicket,
there sits the miller boy alone; among alder foliage a snowpale
dawn of moonlight peeps in, spreading its pleasant gleam
across the night's silent scene.
It is late one Thursday evening; from the mountain echoes the hulder's air, and in the stream's torrent the fossegrim
plucks the golden harpstrings, and the miller boy listens to
its playing. Hush, listen! Then, like a gentle echo, the hulder's
song trembles, and the waterfall-harp's sound is lightly carried away on wings of night.
It is Thorgjerd who calls forth his fiddle's marvellous lay,
because he has sacrificed the black lamb to the fossegrim there
below, and therefore too he has learned the magical playing,
and therefore from his bow are heard strangely the foresttop's sighs, the mountain-brook's roar, with hulder-call and
But life at home seems to him cold and weak and joyless
now, since what he heard and saw last night he can never
forget, and therefore from his strings pours what his yearning
sang for him; a sorrowful song; the tones' stream interprets
the dream that the midsummer night let him perceive!]
This poem is modelled fairly closely on a poem of the same name by
Johan Sebastian Welhaven which had appeared in Norsk Folkekalender in
December of 1849:
ved J. S. Welhaven
Møllergutten sad ved Kværnehuset
under Haukeliens Fjeld,
og han hørte der i Elvesuset
Hallingslaatten fra det dybe Væld.
Fossegrimmen sine Strænge rørte,
Skummet sprang og hvirvlede dertil;
Ingen uden Møllergutten hørte
hvordan Elven gik med Strængespil.
Og han kunde siden med sin Bue
stryge Fossegrimmens Dands.
Aldrig før i Hytte og paa Tue
var der hørt saa gjevt et Spil som hans;
aldrig gik der over Gulv og Enge
saadan Halling som hvor han gav Klang;
men han har vel og med sine Strænge
gjort det stilt i Laget mangengang.
Og der kom, hvorom han aldrig drømte,
skjønt han gik saa tankefuld,
Brev og Bud til ham fra den berømte,
vidt bereiste Mester Ole Bull.
Han, der turde selv ved Kongetronger
Lade Slaatten over Strængen gaae,
han erindred, at dens bedste Toner
lød paa Fjeldet i en Hyttevraa.
Og da lod han Møllergutten bytte
denne Hytte med en Hal,
hvor vel Fler end Tusind kunde lytte
til de underbare Toners Fald.
Møllergutten sad som naar man stirrer
overbøiet paa et Elvdybs Pragt,
og som Broen, hvor man dvæler, dirrer,
saadan rysted Sædet ved hans Takt.
Men hans Spil var og som Fossefaldet,
der i stride Hvirvler gaaer,
og ved Spillet blev hver Tanke kaldet
did hvor Fossegrimmen Harpen slaaer;
kaldet fjernt hen til de grønne Dale,
som har Kilder fra et snedækt Fjeld,
hvor vor Kunst i Toner som i Tale
altid finde kan sit friske Væld.
The miller boy sat by the grinding mill under Houkelien’s
Mountain, and he heard in the river’s sigh the Halling-dance
from the deep spring. The fossegrim touched his strings, the
foam gushed and whirled; nobody but the miller boy heard
how the river flowed with the violin music.
He was allowed then to accompany the fossegrim’s dance
with his bow. Never before, in hut or on hillock, was heard
such splendid playing as his. Never did there sound over
floor and meadow such a Halling-dance as what he gave forth.
Without a doubt he has many times silenced the company
where he has played.
And there came (what he had never dreamed of; it was so
beautiful that he went thankfully) a letter and offer to him
from the famous widely-travelled Master Ole Bull. He, who
dared before the king’s throne to let the bow pass over the
strings, --he remembered that the best sounds were heard on
the mountain in the corner of a hut.
And then the miller boy was permitted to exchange his
hut for a hall, where more than a thousand people could lis-
ten to the wonderful sounds cascade. The millery boy sat as
when one gazes bent over on a river’s deep splendor, -- and as
when one pauses on a bridge, trembling, so the company
trembled at his bowstroke.
But his playing was like the waterfall, which goes whirling in torrents, and by that playing every thought was drawn
away to where the fossegrim plucks the harp, --drawn far away
to the green valley, which has springs from a snow-covered
mountain, where our art, in music as in speech, can always
find its refreshing power.]
Several scholars have remarked upon the similarity in theme of the
two poems, but their sentiments are quite different. Both poems are
based on a historical character, Thorgeir Augundson, a fiddle-player from
Telemark who had been brought to Christiania the previous season and
who had charmed an audience with his playing at a concert on 15 January 1849. In Welhaven’s poem the musician’s close connection with nature is stressed, as is the idea that genine poetic inspiration comes from
such a connection. Welhaven’s fiddle player is a representative of the
natural man, a personification of the artist according to Welhaven’s aesthetic theory. In Ibsen’s poem, by contrast, there is the implication that
creative talent involves a pact with the devil, represented as the fossegrim,
a sprite who lives under waterfalls and to whom the fiddle player supposedly sacrifices a black lamb in order to acquire his musical ability. Ibsen’s
poem also describes how the artist feels after the moment of inspiration
is passed: lonely, exhausted, and disillusioned. Welhaven is interested
in the miller boy as a symbol of the relationship between art and nature.
Ibsen’s miller boy has symbolic value as well, but his real-life situation is
also represented. The information Ibsen incorporates about the black
lamb and about the miller boy’s impoverished background comes from
articles published in the Christiania newspapers the previous winter.215
He invents nothing in the legend surrounding the miller boy, but he does
include information not used by Welhaven that provides a more realistic
and individualized portrait.
The labor organizer Marcus Thrane visited Grimstad on 2 September
1849, during a dispute that local shipyard workers were having with their
employers. Some of Thrane’s strongest supporters were among apprentices, whose working conditions at the time were among the worst of any
laborers in Norway. Ibsen had been an apprentice himself and conse-
quently could have been sympathetic to Thrane’s goals, even though he
considered himself to be an aristocrat rather than a member of the working class. As a matter of fact, while he lived in Christiania in 1850-51 he
had a job writing for the newspaper of the Thrane movement. One can
write articles without necessarily believing in the positions they take,
but it seems likely that with at least part of himself Ibsen was a supporter
of Marcus Thrane. With this in mind, the two poems about the miller
boy can be read in a way to reflect the differing class perspectives of the
two poets: Welhaven was a leader of the so-called embetskultur, whose
goal was to elevate the lower classes through education and the leadership of the upper classes. While Ibsen was never a populist in the way
that Thrane was, his own experience could have made him skeptical of
the well-to-do, who often take for granted their advantages and privileges.
From the same period as “The Miller Boy” comes “Balminder. Et
livsfragment i Poesi og Prosa” (“Memories of a Ball. A fragment of life
in poetry and prose”), a long, overwrought mostly-prose poem in the style
of Henrik Wergeland, with perhaps some influence from Søren
Kierkegaard, about a young man disappointed in love who contemplates
suicide. He also wrote “Det er Forbi” (“It is finished!”), a poem that
memorializes the death of hope, and the death of love.
Slukt er Haabet! Ja, for evigt slukket
I min Barm hvor nys det flammed’ klart,
Trylleborgens Blomsterport er lukket, -Hulde Drøm! hvi flygted du saasnart?
Harpetoner gjennem Sjælen vifted,
Dybt i Aandens Tempel var Sabbat;
Ak, nu har jo Tonebølgen skiften
Med et Dødssuk gjennem Hjertets Nat! -Aandeborgen ligger i Ruiner
Steen ved Steen paa Hjertets golde Grund;
Men naar ind dens Herskerinde Triner
Reiser Hallen sig i Nattens Stund; -Fra det Svundnes veemodsfulde Rige
Rækker hun mig blidt den fyldte Kalk
Og de blege Mindeskygger stige
Ætherlet fra deres Catafalk. -- -- -- --
O, saa vil jeg drømme blidt og vanke
Gjennem Borgen i den tause Nat, -Fromme Mindeblommer vil jeg sanke,
Gjemme dem, som Hjertets bedste Skat;
Kom da, kolde Nu! med al din Smærte,
Læg dig vinterligt om Barmen kun, -Vaarligt staaer et Tempel i mit Hjerte,
Der har Mindet bygget sit Paulun!
[Hope is quenched! Yes, forever quenched in my bosom
where just now it blazed brightly; the enchanted castle's flowered gate is shut. Lovely dream! why fled you so soon? Harp
notes wafted through the soul, deep in the mind's temple it
was sabbath; now the tone-wave has changed with a deathly
sigh through the heart's night!
The mind-castle lies in ruins stone upon stone on the
heart's barren soil; but now at its mistress' steps the hall rises
in the hour of night; from that mournful vanished kingdom
she reaches me gently that full chalice and the pale clouds of
memory ascend ethereally from their catafalque.
Oh, then I shall dream gently and ramble through the castle
in the silent night, pious memory blossoms I shall pluck, to
keep them, as the heart's best treasure. Come then, cold
Present! with all your pain, settle winter-like around my breast;
a temple stands spring-like in my heart; there has memory
built its tent!]
It appears that even in poems not addressed to Clara Ebbell, Ibsen
was using or at any rate reacting to the experience of love, and in some
poems perhaps trying to impress her. The period of December 1849January 1850 is remarkable for the number and variety of poems Ibsen
wrote. At that time he was responding to the fact of Clara’s engagement
to another man and also waiting to hear the fate of his first play, which he
described on 5 January 1850 as its “death sentence.” This was the time of
the one and only ball he attended in Grimstad, wearing a new suit and in
the company of Sophie Holst, where they reportedly danced the gallop.
While the poems addressed either directly or indirectly to Clara Ebbell
document the birth, passion, disappointment, and death of the poet’s hopes,
they are written in a private code meant for her in particular. She was not
so much a lover for him as a muse; what he wanted from her was a stimulus for and a response to his writing. He was a very private and emotionally withdrawn young man, despite (or perhaps because of) his early exposure to physical love. Clara was an intelligent, spirited and talented young
woman, but she was not accessible to him as a potential life-partner. She
was a member of one of the good families of Grimstad and was related to
others. He was a mere pharmacist’s apprentice, and so was not perceived
by her, and especially not by her family, as of her social class. He had also
disgraced himself both through fathering an illegitimate child and through
carrying on wild pranks in the streets at night.
The last poem in “Blandede Digtninger” is “Maaneskinsvandring efter
et Bal (Skrevet paa Opfordring af Sophie Holst og Cathrine Martini)”
(“Moonlight Stroll after a Ball (Written at the request of Sophie Holst and
Cathrine Martini)”) and dated 12 April 1850, the day before Ibsen left
Tys, hvor stille! -- hist fra Salen lyder Glæden ikke længer,
Ingen Stemme, ingen Tone gjennem Nattens Stille trænger.
Langt i Vester kaster Maanen snart det sidste Blik henover
Jorden, som i Glemselsdrømme under Sneens Lillier sover.
Endt er Ballet; men i Tanken seer jeg end iblandt de hvide
Skikkelser, som svæve gjennem Rækkerne, en let Sylphide!
Snart er Maanen dalet, da skal Søvnens Arme mig omfatte,
Da kan Sjælen glide frit paa Drømmens Hav med Mindets Skatte!
[Hush, how still! Yonder from the ballroom the pleasure sounds
no longer, no voice, no tone penetrates the night’s calm.
Far in the West the moon shortly will cast its last glance across
the earth, which sleeps under the snow-lilies in dreams of
The ball is ended; but in thought I still see among those white
figures that glide through the ranks a graceful young sylph!
Soon the moon will set, then sleep’s arms will embrace me,
then the soul could drift freely on the sea of dreams with
We know Ibsen went to a ball accompanied by Sophie Holst, a good
friend of his although not a sweetheart. This poem was written, or at any
rate presented, several months after that ball, however, and appears to
recreate a moment after the ball, during their walk home together afterwards. It is possible that he walked home with both of the young ladies to
whom the poem is addressed, as would be proper. The focus of attention
is not the walk, however, but rather the memory of one “graceful young
sylph” inside the ballroom, whom the poet looks forward to remembering in his dreams, and whom without too much difficulty we can take to
be Clara Ebbell.
Ibsen left Grimstad on 13 April 1850. He spent two weeks in Skien
with his family before continuing on to Christiania. He was not sure he
would be welcome at home, but when his sister Hedvig wrote to invite
him, he agreed at once. While he was in Skien, he went for a long walk
with her. She reported in a letter written more than 50 years later that
during the course of the walk, when they reached the top of Kapitelberget,
she had asked him about his plans. According to her, he had replied that
he wanted to achieve complete fulfillment “in greatness and in insight
[klarhet].” “And when you have done that?” she asked. “Then I want to
die,” he said.217
What made him think, at the age of 22, having just spent six years
confined in a small Norwegian town, that he could achieve greatness?
One is entitled to wonder. All the same, the years in Grimstad were
important for Ibsen, and for an understanding of his later achievement.
What he wrote there offers clues to his later production, but also is of
significance because something about the town itself, about what he experienced there, made him a writer. He had close friends in Grimstad
with whom he could share his thoughts, a circumstance that in later years
was to be the case only rarely, and then only for brief periods. He used
the opportunity imposed upon him by his physical confinement to read,
and he must have had good advice about what to read: from Georgina
Crawfurd, from his tutors, from Ole Schulerud, and no doubt from others
dramatists: Ludvig Holberg, Adam Oehlenschlæger,
Friedrich Schiller, Alexander Dumas pére,
Christen Hostrup, and others;
poets: Johan Sebastian Welhaven, Henrik Wergeland,
Andreas Munch, Friedrich Paludan-Müller, and others;
the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard;
the Latin authors Sallust, Cicero and Julius Caesar.
the historian Peter Andreas Munch.
He must have read some of the novels in the Grimstad reading society as well, or he would not have begun writing his own novel, “The
Prisoner in Akershus,” which is in the style of popular Romantic fiction
of the time, and which Michael Meyer, his British biographer, describes
as “Dickensian,” and Oskar Mosfjeld compares to the style of the first
Norwegian novelist, Maurits Hansen.218 Did he actually see any plays in
performance? We do not know, but we can say that plays were being
performed in Grimstad while he lived there. He did have a serious personal disaster when he fathered an illegitimate child at the age of 18, but
he also had the chance to be in love, in his own way, with a real young
woman, Clara Ebbell, even if he did not win her in the end.
It is necessary to bear in mind that all his life Henrik Ibsen was different from everybody around him. He was more perceptive, more intelligent, more gifted than everybody around him, and usually withdrawn at
the same time. He could not easily find friends who could understand
him. He was already in the minority as a member of the small Norwegian aristocracy, but when his father lost his money and his social standing, Henrik became déclassé as well and had to reconstitute himself completely on his own, without resources, position, or much education. In
Grimstad he was treated as a working-class person, a shop clerk, when he
knew he was better than that. He was born for better things, and he was
gifted for better things. His character Catiline has been read as a selfprojection. Surely there is a lot of Henrik Ibsen in his first protagonist,
but he is not merely a positive figure. He is, a criminal, a libertine, and a
wastrel who yet aspires to greatness.
One poem from the early period more than any other defines the
course and the character of Ibsen’s future career: “Bjergmanden” (“The
Miner”). Although the earliest version of the poem is in the group of six
poems that he sent to Clara Ebbell in late 1850, about eight months after
he had left Grimstad, it was probably composed in Grimstad, because as
already mentioned Due reports that while he was living in Grimstad Ibsen
advocated the study of primitive miners.219 Since it is his first really good
poem, and one that he continued to revise and republish, to the extent
that it became in a way his signature poem, there may be no better way
to end this study than with a translation of it. What follows is a translation of the first version (1850); the last version appeared in Digte (1871):
Klippe! brist med Larm og Brag
For mit tunge Hammerslag;
Nedad maa jeg Veien bane
Mod det Maal jeg kun tør ahne.
Dybt i Fjeldets stille Nat
Vinker mig den rige Skat,
Diamant og Edelstene
Mellem Guldets lyse Grene.
Her i Dybet er der Fred,
Fred og Nat fra Evighed,
Snart i Jordens Hjertekammer
Lyder Slaget af min Hammer.
Engang sad som Barn jeg glad
Under Himlens Stjernerad,
Sad paa Vaarens Blomsterleie,
Havde Himlens Fred i Eie.
Men jeg glemte Vaarens Pragt
I den midnatsdunkle Schakt,
Glemte Fuglens flade Sange
Dybt i Fjeldets hvalte Gange.
Dengang først jeg steg herind
Tænkte jeg med barnligt Sind:
Dybets Aander skulle raade
For mig Livets dunkle Gaade.
De skal lære mig hvordan
Blomsterknoppen spire kan,
Hvorfor Engens fagre Blommer
Sygne hen naar Høsten kommer.
Men mit Blik blev sløvt og mat
I den evig dunkle Nat;
Kun forstenede og døde
Saa jeg Dybets Skatte gløde.
End har ingen Aand mig lært
Hvad mig tykkedes saa sært,
End er ingen Sol oprunden,
Som belyser det fra Grunden.
Har jeg feilet? Fører ei
Da til Klarhed denne Vei?
Hvis Jeg søger i det Høie
Blænder Lyset jo mit Øie!
Nei, i Dybet maa jeg ned;
Det er Nat fra Evighed, -Ban mig Veien, tunge Hammer!
Til Naturens Hjertekammer!
-- -- -- -Saadan gaar det Slag i Slag
Til han segner træt og svag, -Ingen Morgenstraale skinner,
Ingen Klarheds Sol oprinder!
[Cliff! burst with noise and crash under my heavy hammerblow; downwards I must make my way towards the goal I
only dare suspect.
Deep in the mountain's silent night the rich treasure beckons
to me, diamonds and precious stones among the bright veins
Here in the depths there is peace, peace and eternal night;
close to the earth’s heartchamber the stroke of my hammer
Once as a child I sat happily under heaven's starry row, I sat
on springtime's flowerbed, I had heaven's peace in my possession.
But I forgot the spring's splendor in the midnight-dark shaft,
forgot the bird's happy song deep in the mountain's suffocating tunnels.
When first I strode in here I thought with a childlike mind:
the spirits of the deep would master life's dark riddle for me.
They would teach me how the flowerbud can spring forth,
how the meadow's colorful flowers fall away when Autumn
But my sight became dulled and feeble in the eternally dark
night; the treasure in the depth glowed dead and fossilized.
No spirit has yet taught me what then seemed to me so certain, no sun has yet dawned, to illuminate it to the bottom.
Have I failed? Does this way not lead to insight? If I search
in the heights the light blinds my eye!
No, I must down into the depths; there is eternal night; make
my way, heavy hammer! To Nature's heartchamber!
-- -- -- -So it goes blow by blow until he collapses weary and weak, -no morning beam shines, no sun of insight dawns!]
The miner is a laborer, but he has the temperament of a certain kind
of artist, and to that extent he is a self-portrait. This artist is on a quest,
but he does not search merely for beauty, although beauty attracts him.
He searches also for insight. Paradoxically, he does not search in the
light of day but deep in the earth, in the darkness, in the self. He aspires
continually, although he doubts and has lost hope of illumination. The
state-of-mind of Ibsen’s miner may owe something to Kierkegaard’s con-
ception of anxiety as the condition of the modern tragic character. It is
reminiscent of John Keats’s definition of “what quality went to form a
Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare
possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a
man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any
irritable reaching after fact and reason. . .”.220
The theme of the miner was common in the literature of the time and
the character-type of the miner is familiar to us from the fairy tale “Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs.” An early portrait of the type can be found
in Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1800), a primitive novel by the German poet
Novalis. The miner became a symbol of the working man in the early
modern industrial period. Adam Oehlenschlæger had written a poem on
the miner, as had several Norwegian poets, specifically Maurits Hansen
and M. A. Bøye.221 Oehlenschlæger’s miner is a natural hero, honored by
the king for his discoveries yet indifferent to his own gain. In Hansen’s
version he is happy-go-lucky. In Bøye’s version also he is cheerful and
even sings while he works. Ibsen’s poem is a different version of the
theme from his predecessors’. It refers to earlier versions but also departs from them through the characterization of the miner as an artist.
Ibsen’s portrait is neither glorified nor sentimentalized. His is the only
miner with a mind of his own.
The poem is an allegory, like most of Ibsen’s works. An allegory is a
text or image that can be apprehended in one way literally, and is also
designed to be interpreted to reveal a deeper meaning. It contains a
hidden message, or teaches a moral truth. It is a kind of parable. Parables
are allegories, the most famous being Jesus’ parables of “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son.” The former on the literal level is a
story about a traveller who is set upon by thieves, and left for dead beside
the road. He is rescued by a Samaritan, a member of a despised race,
when more acceptable people have passed him by. This story has been
interpreted as an allegory of how a Christian expresses brotherly love.
The latter is a story which on the literal level is about an errant son who
wastes his inheritance, and at last comes home and throws himself on his
father’s mercy. This has been interpreted as an allegory to help people
understand the love of God for the sinner.
Despite his reputation as a social reformer, Ibsen was a craftsman
rather than a polemicist. He proceeded from the recognition that readers or viewers apprehend a text symbolically, not rationally, and that
interpretation is an essential part of reading or viewing a text. One of the
most important factors constituting Ibsen’s “modernity” is this recognition. Ibsen’s texts have been subjected to many interpretations, but it is
important to remember that any given interpretation is only that: an
interpretation. It is not the original text, or even necessarily an explanation or illumination of that text. It is only another version, a separate
artifact that points to it.
In interpreting a text by Ibsen, one is only doing what one has been
invited to do by the poet in the allegorical form of the piece. If one
wishes to understand Ibsen’s art, one must have a way of seeing beyond
interpretation to the workings of his craft. On the literal level, the miner’s
activity of digging is a search for gold or precious stones, but on the allegorical level it is a search for insight, or illumination. In other Ibsenian
texts where resurrection is sought, it is usually not found, and if it is
found it is monstrous. So here, when illumination is sought, it is not
found, although the quest for meaning does not for that reason come to
In this study the procedure for achieving leverage on Ibsen’s creative
process has been to try to show his reading and his early cultural environment as they might have influenced his concerns, his themes, or the
details of his works. The following section provides information about
his reading and early cultural environment, in order to stimulate and
perhaps facilitate further research.
KEY TO WEBSITE
The materials listed here have been loaded into a website: http://
Ibsen.org/larson/ These materials are copyrighted, and are for the use
of individuals and educational institutions only. Any commercial use
requires the permission of the author.
RESOURCES IN IBSEN’S EARLY ENVIRONMENT.
Henrik Ibsen was born in 1828 in Skien, where he lived until the turn
of the year 1843-44, when he was 15 years old. At that time he left his
family and moved about 75 miles down the coast to Grimstad, where he
lived until 1850, when he was 22 years old.
The early years of a poet’s life are important for his or her education,
and for establishing the form and direction his or her talent will take.
Therefore it would be valuable to know as much as possible about Ibsen’s
early years, especially as regards the character and quality of his surroundings. It is unlikely that he could have reached the heights of intellectual and artistic achievement that he attained in his maturity unless
his surroundings in his early years had offered him significant cultural
resources. What were these resources?
This database provides at least a partial answer to that question in
that it presents the results of field research in the two small towns where
Ibsen lived as he was growing up. The database includes lists of plays
that were performed in his area by travelling Danish theatre companies,
and lists of books that were available in collections to which he possibly,
probably, or certainly had access. English translations of several Danish
and Norwegian plays that were performed in his area are included, plus
a few examples of contemporary journalistic writing, excerpts from a history of Gjerpen parish by Terje Christensen, and most of a memoir published in 1909 by Christopher Due, who had been a friend of Ibsen’s in
Grimstad. Some of Ibsen’s earliest writings in poetry and prose that have
never before been translated into English are also included. A bibliography of Ibsen scholarship that covers the years 1828-1850 is also supplied.
The full contents of any file can be downloaded. Simply access the
website on the Internet at http://Ibsen.org/larson/ then click on the highlighted and underlined word or phrase in each title.
I. From Terje Christensen. Gjerpen Bygds Historie (“History of
Gjerpen Parish”). Bygdehistorie Bind II: Fra Omkring 1700 til
1964. Skien: Utgitt av Skien Kommune, 1978, 562 ff; 578 ff.
Translations of passages dealing with Gjerpen parish: its religious life and educational system, including Ibsen’s possible
II. Textbooks used in Skien’s lærd skole (“Latin school”) in 1840.
From Norske Universitets- og Skole-Annaler. Udgivne af H. J. Thue.
Anden Række. Første Bind. Christiania: Forlagt av J. Chr.
Adelsted, 1842, 212-15.
III. The book collection of the Løvenskiold family of Skien in 1844.
From an unpublished bibliography prepared in 1961 by Anne
Grete Holm Olsen.
IV. Plays advertised for performance in the newspapers of Skien,
V. Erik Bøgh. “En rejsende Teaterselskab” (“A travelling theatre
company”). Erindringer fra mine unge dage. København:
Gyldendal, 1894, 303-26. Translation of an account of a season
spent by the actor, later writer and critic Erik Bøgh, in a theatre
company that had earlier visited Skien.
VI. Johan Ludvig Heiberg. Elverhøj (“Elves’ Hill”). Elverhøi,
Aprilsnarrene, De Uadskillelige, af Johan Ludvig Heiberg. Udgivet
med noter ved Henning Fonsmark. København: Hans Reitzel,
1965, 5-82. The first English translation of Heiberg’s most famous play.
VII. Andreas Munch. “Donna Clara, en Natscene (1840).” A. Munch.
Samlede Skrifter. Udgivne af Prof. M. J. Monrad og Hartvig
Lassen. Vol. 2. Kjøbenhavn: Forlagt af Universitetsboghandler
G. E. C. Gad, 1888, 287-324. The first English translation.
VIII. Henrik Hertz. Indqvarteringen (“The Billeting”). Dramatiske
Værker af Henrik Hertz. Vol. 1. Kjøbenhavn: C. A. Reitzels Bo
og Arvinger, 1854, 253-347. The first English translation.
IX. Reviews of the 1843 theatre season in Skien, published in
X. “Ferdinand and Isabella,” from Hans Arch. Kofod. Nyere
Historie. Anden Deel. Kjøbenhavn, 1816, 321-4. Translation of
a possible source of Ibsen’s puppet play from 1840-41.
XI. Chr[istopher] Due. Erindringer fra Henrik Ibsens Ungdomsaar
(“Recollections of Henrik Ibsen’s youthful years”). København:
Græbes Bogtrykkeri, 1909. Translation of a memoir of Ibsen in
Grimstad by one of his best friends there.
XII. The acquisitions record of the Grimstad Reading Society, 18351850. From the handwritten original in the Grimstad Public
Library. Ibsen is thought to have had access to this collection
while he lived in Grimstad, 1844-50.
XIII. Ibsen’s essays in Norwegian composition (1848). From
Hundreårsutgaven. Henrik Ibsen Samlede Verker. Ved Francis Bull,
Halvdan Koht, Didrik Arup Seip. Vol. 15. Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk
Forlag, 1930, 21-7. The originals, and English translations.
XIV. Marcus J. Monrad. “Den Skandinaviske Idé” (“The Scandinavian Idea”). Morgenbladet, September 1844. English translation.
XV. Plays advertised in newspapers in Christianssand and Arendal,
for performance in Sørlandet, 1844-1850. Sometimes the touring companies that appeared in the larger towns up and down
the coast stopped at Grimstad and performed part of their repertoire, although it is not known which plays.
XVI. Jørgen Moe. “Indledning” (“Introduction”). Samling af Sange,
Folkeviser og Stev. Norske Almuedialekter. Christiania: P. T.
Mallings Forlag, 1840, v-xii. English translation of the introduction to a collection to which Ibsen is thought to have had access
XVII. Poems Ibsen wrote in Grimstad. From Hundreårsutgaven.
Henrik Ibsen Samlede Verker. Ved Francis Bull, Halvdan Koht,
Didrik Arup Seip. Vol. 14. Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1937, 43-87.
The originals, and English translations.
The Western Canon. The Books and School of the Ages (New York: Harcourt
Brace, 1994) 355.
The first half of the nineteenth century in Denmark is called Guldalderen
(“the Golden Age”) because it featured significant achievements in many
fields, including philosophy, poetry, fiction, theatre, and dance.
Michael Meyer, Ibsen, a Biography (New York: Doubleday, 1971) 17.
Erindringer fra Henrik Ibsens Ungdomsaar (København: Græbes
Bogtrykkeri, 1909) 36. A translation of most of this book is on the website:
http://ibsen.org/larson/ (click Due)
Henrik Jæger, Henrik Ibsen 1828-1888: Et literært livsbillede (København,
1888). English language edition: Henrik Ibsen 1828-1888, a Critical Biography, trans. William Morton Payne (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1890;
repr. New York: Haskell House, 1972).
Halvdan Koht, Henrik Ibsen: Eit diktarliv (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1928). English language edition: The Life of Ibsen, trans. Ruth Lima McMahon and
Hanna Astrup Larsen, 2 vols. (London: Allen and Unwin, 1931; New
York: W. W. Norton, 1931). Ny omarb. utg. (Oslo, 1954). This edition
trans. and ed. Einar Haugen and A. E. Santaniello, pub. as Life of Ibsen.
Halvdan Koht (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1971).
Michael Meyer, see above, n. 3.
See pp. 12-16.
In 1902 Koht provided the “Bibliografiske Oplysninger” for vol. 10 of
Henrik Ibsen Samlede Værker (København: Gyldendal). In 1904, together
with the German scholar Julias Elias, he published the first edition of
Ibsen’s letters: Breve fra Henrik Ibsen, udgivne med indledning og
oplysninger af Halvdan Koht og Julias Elias, 2 vols. (København og
Kristiania: Gyldendal). In 1909, again with Elias, he issued Henrik Ibsen
Efterladte Skrifter, udgivne af Halvdan Koht og Julias Elias, 3 vols. (Kristiania
og København: Gyldendal). He was also a co-editor of Hundreårsutgaven,
Henrik Ibsens Samlede Verker, ved Francis Bull, Halvdan Koht, Didrik Arup
Seip, 21 vols. (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1928-57).
Oskar Mosfjeld, Henrik Ibsen og Skien (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1949).
See Francis Bull, A. Winsnes, H. Koht, “Henrik Ibsen og Skien. Innlegg
ved lektor Oskar Mosfjeld’s doktordisputas ,” Edda 51 (1951) 81-121.
See above, n. 4.
H[ans] Eitrem, Ibsen og Grimstad [utg. av Hallvard Lie] (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1940).
The address of the website is: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ See “Key to
Website,” above 129.
Haugen and Santaniello 24.
Henrik Jæger, trans. Payne (1972) 18-24.
“Fossum” means “by the waterfall.”
Haugen and Santaniello 29.
Olaf Gjerlow, Stattholder Severin Løvenskiold, (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1948).
Theodor Fossum, En beskrivelse av Fossum Jernverk i 1868 (Skien: Skavan,
Mosfjeld 89; 223.
Terje Christensen produced a three-volume history of Gjerpen parish:
Gjerpen Bygds Historie (Skien: Utgavet av Skien kommune, 1971-79). A
translation of portions of vol. 2 of this work can be found on the website:
http:Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Christensen)
Because there is an English translation on the website of that portion of
Christensen’s history of Gjerpen parish that deals with the educational
opportunities in the parish, that subject will not be reviewed here. For
the website address, see n. 23.
Haugen and Santaniello 33.
From Bratsberg Amtstidende (23 Feb., 1841) 2: “Vi tage os herved den
Frihed at bekjendtgjøre, at vor Drenge-og Pige-Skole vil, da et temmelig
betydeligt Antal allerede har tegnet sig, tage sin Begyndelse
førstkommende 15de Marts, paa hvilken dag Drengene anmødes om at
møde kl. 9 formiddag, Pigerne kl. 3 eftermiddag, medtagende de af dem
hidtil benyttede Bøger, hvorhos De, der fremdeles kunne ønske at intræde,
bedes godhedsfuldt at melde sig inden benævnte Tid. W. F. Stockfleth,
Cand. Theol.; Johan Hansen, Cand. Theol.”
A complete list of the books used in Skien’s Latin school in 1840 can be
found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click textbooks)
An English translation of this article, entitled “On the Heroic Ballad and
its Significance for Literature,” appears in The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 672-684.
“Fra Bygderne,” in Fædrelandet (1878) nos. 40, 45.
Henrik Ibsen 1828-1888. Et Litterært Livsbillede (København, 1888) 22.
J. B. Halvorsen, Norsk Forfatter-Lexikon 1814-1880, 6 vols. (Kristiania:
Den Norske forlagsforening, 1885-1908); vol. 3 (1892) 3n.
Sandhed til gudfrygtighed, udi en eenfoldig Forklaring over sal. D. Morten
Luthers liden Catechismo (København, 1737). There are several English
translations, e.g., Epitome of Erick Pontoppidan’s explanation of Martin
Luther’s small catechism, translated from the Norwegian by Edmund Balfour
See n. 23. Part of Christensen’s history deals with Rode’s tenure as
parish priest in Gjerpen.
Fr. Rode, Forklaring til Dr. M. Luthers Catechismus.
Haugen and Santaniello 36.
See n. 23.
Haugen and Santaniello 31.
Peer Gynt, for example, contains more than 270 allusions. See Henri
Logeman, A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Norwegian text of
Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, its language, literary associations, and folklore, The
Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1917.
An English translation of that essay is included later in this chapter,
Jæger, Henrik Ibsen, trans. Payne (1972) 29.
Norske Folkeviser, samlede og udgivne av M. B. Landstad (Christiania,
1853). Some of the ballads whose details can be detected in Gildet paa
Solhaug are “Liti Kersti,” “Margit Hjukse,” “Gudmund og Signelita,” “Gaute
og Magnhild,” “Bendik og Aarolilja,” “Kong Endel,” “Herre Per og Stolt
Marget,” “Knut i Borgi,” “Storebror og Lillebror,” and perhaps “Dei tvo
Systar.” See Philip E. Larson, Vision and Structure in Ibsen’s Early Plays
(Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989).
The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1: Early Plays, trans. and ed. by James Walter
McFarlane and Graham Orton (London: Oxford UP, 1970) 373.
Rolf Fjelde, tr., Henrik Ibsen. The Complete Major Prose Plays (New York:
New American Library, 1978) 393.
A complete catalog of the surviving books in the Løvenskiolds’ collection that are old enough to have been in that collection during Ibsen’s
time in Skien, can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/
Halvdan Koht, The Life of Ibsen, trans. McMahon and Larsen, vol. 1, 19.
A complete list of the plays advertised in the Skien newspapers between 1832 and 1843 can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/
larson/ (click plays)
An English translation of a memoir by the Danish author Erik Bøgh of
a season he spent as an actor in one of the companies that visited Skien
can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Bøgh)
An English translation of Elverhøj (“Elves’ Hill”) can be found on the
website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Heiberg)
Haugen and Santaniello 60.
Original title: Le verre d’eau, ou Les effets et les causes, comedie en cinq
actes (Paris, 1840). An English translation, under the title A Glass of
Water, appears in Camille and other plays, with an introduction to the wellmade play, by Stephen S. Stanton (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957).
Original title: Kean, ou Desordre et genie, comedie en cinq actes, melée
de chants, par M. Alexandre Dumas, representée pour la première fois, a
Paris, sur la théâtre des Varietés, le 31 aout 1836 (Paris, 1836). The play
was adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre as Kean (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), and
translated into English as Kean: Disorder and genius, by Jean-Paul Sartre,
based on the play by Alexandre Dumas, translated from the French by
Kitty Black (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1954).
An English translation of “Donna Clara, en natscene,” can be found on
the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Munch)
An English translation of Indqvarteringen (“The Billeting”) can be found
on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Hertz)
An English translation of the play reviews published in Skiensposten in
1843 can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Reviews)
For the repertoire of the Bergen theatre during Ibsen’s time, see The
Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 670-2.
Jæger, Henrik Ibsen, trans. Payne (1972) 29.
Henrik Ibsen og hans Barndomshjem i Skien og Gjerpen (Skien: Rasmussen,
Nyere Historie, vol. 2 (København, 1816), 321-4.
An English translation of Kofod’s version of the story of Ferdinand and
Isabella can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click
Ferdinand and Isabella)
Ellen Schjervig, Henrik Ibsens dukketeater (Skien: Skien Kommune, 1995)
The puppet play in Don Quixote is in Book Two, Chapter 26.
The most recent translation was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Den
sindrige Adelsmand Don Quixote af Mancha’s Levnet og Bedrifter, oversatt
fra det Spanske af Fred. Schaldemose, 4 vols. (København, 1829-31).
In Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Marionettheater (København, 1814) 1-94. This
volume also includes Pottemager Walter.
J. M. Thiele (København, 1821).
See above, n. 31.
See Anne Holtsmark, “Ibsen og J. B. Halvorsen,” Edda 28 (1928) 136-40.
Chapter 1, verse 2.
“Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are
full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23. 27, The Holy
Bible, Revised Standard Version (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1946) 29.
See The Book of Enoch, Chs. VI-XXVII.
Brand, trans. Michael Meyer (New York: Anchor, 1960) 105-6.
A description of Grimstad in 1845 appears at the beginning of Christopher Due’s memoir, Erindringer fra Henrik Ibsens Ungdomsaar (København:
Græbes Bogtrykkeri, 1909), a translation of which can be found on the
website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Due)
Samlede Verker, vol. 16, 23.
It had been translated by K. L. Rahbek, for example.
W. von Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen mit der eiserne hand. Ein Schauspiel
in funf Acten (Leipzig, n.d.). G. E. Lessing, Emilia Galotti. Ein Trauerspiel
in funf Aufzugen (Leipzig, n.d.). G. E. Lessing, Nathan der Weise. Ein
Dramatisches Gedicht in funf Aufzugen (Leipzig, n.d.). Fr. von Schiller,
Die Jungfrau von Orleans. Eine romantische Tragödie (Leipzig, n.d.). Fr.
von Schiller, Maria Stuart. Ein Trauerspiel (Leipzig, n.d.). Fr. von Schiller,
Der Neffe als Onkel. Lystspiel in drei Aufzugen, aus dem Französischen
des Picard (Leipzig, n.d.).
Ibsen og Grimstad 24.
For example, Pharmacopoeia Danica, a compendium of information about
medicines first published in 1804. See G. Peter Bakke, “Nogen minder
om Ibsens ungdomsår i farmacien,” Norsk farmaceutisk tidsskrift (1928)
81-6; Eivind Koren, “Fra Henrik Ibsens farmaceuttid,” Pharmacia (Kristiania) 3 (1906) 6-8.
The Dahlske Skole had been established in 1796 with an endowment
from a sea captain and ship owner named Peter Dahl. By 1817 the school
could no longer be maintained with the proceeds of the endowment, and
it was closed, not to reopen until 1857.
Grimstad Bys Historie, paa kommunal foranstaltning utgit ved en komité
(Grimstad: Grimstad Bymuseum (Grondahl), 1927) 688-9.
A complete list of the books acquired by the Grimstad Reading Society
between 1835 and 1850 can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/
larson/ (click Reading Society)
This is the original language of the verse, as quoted from memory by
“Skjær min pen,” siger Gundersen.
“Jeg har ikke stunder,” siger Gunder.
“Er det dit alvor?” siger Halvor.
“Kom at spise,” siger Anne Lise.
“Retterne er just ikke fine,” siger Anne Kristine.
Samlede Verker, vol. 14, 10-11. (For full citation, see n. 7.) The passage
quoted by Seip is from Terland’s article “Ibsens Grimstad-tid,” in
Medlemskrift 10 (Grimstad: Selskapet for Grimstad Bys Vel, 1930) 20 ff.
Grimstad Bys Historie 694-6.
See Harald Noreng, Henrik Ibsen og Billed-Bibelen i Grimstad (Grimstad:
Ibsenhuset - Grimstad Bymuseum, 1990). The text of this monograph
can be found on the Internet, at http://Ibsen.org/noreng/
The court served the counties of Nedenes and Råbyggelaget.
See Per Kristian Heggelund Dahl, “Nytt stoff om Ibsens mørke år,”
Aftenposten, 24 March, 1996.
He was not always able to meet his responsibilities for child support.
In 1850-51, while he was living in Christiania, Else pursued him through
the courts. The record of this action has been published in the article
cited in the previous note.
Ibsen og Grimstad 27.
Ibsen og Grimstad 40.
The Crawfurd family lived in two adjoining houses on Bryggegaten,
near the foot of Storgaten, not far from the Reimann pharmacy. Georgina
worked in a tobacco shop there, and according to Marie Thomsen she
gave the pharmacist’s wife some food one Christmas when they had none
(Ibsen og Grimstad 25). She was therefore aware of Ibsen even during his
first three years in Grimstad, and could have loaned him books during
those years as well.
Hans Eitrem, “Henrik Ibsen-Henrik Wergeland,” Maal og Minne
(Kristiania, 1910) 47.
For the German plays, see n. 82. Shakespeare’s plays were available in
William Shakespeare’s Selected plays, from the last edition of Johnson and
Steevens; with brief explanatory notes, extracted from various commentators, 6 vols. (Avignon, 1809).
Haugen and Santaniello 40.
Halvdan Koht is of the opinion that Ibsen had been writing poetry for
several years before he kept any of it. See Haugen and Santaniello 39.
“I Høsten” was published on 28 September, 1849; “Skjalden i Valhal,” a
memorial poem written at the death of Oehlenschlæger, was published
on 16 February, 1850.
The poems Ibsen wrote in Grimstad are printed in Samlede Verker, vol.
14 (1937) 43-87. All English translations of them in this text are by the
Læsebog i Modersmaalet for Norske og Danske, tilligemed en Exempelsamling
af den svenske Literatur og med æsthetiske og literaturhistoriske Oplysninger,
udgiven af H. J. Thue, konstitueret Overlærer og Bestyrer af Arendals
Middel- og Realskole (Christiania, 1846).
According to his literary executor Marcus J. Monrad, who mentions
this fact in his biographical preface to Efterladte Arbeider i Vers og Prosa af
Henning Junghans Thue (Christiania, 1853) iii.
Grimstad Bys Historie 631. See also the next note.
Clara Thue Ebbell, I Ungdomsbyen med Henrik Ibsen (Grimstad:
Grimstad Bymuseum, 1966) 33.
Thue, Læsebog 3.
An English translation of these three essays in Norwegian composition
can be found on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click essays) The
originals are published in Samlede Verker, vol. 15: Artikler og Taler (1930)
Earlier scholars have pointed to many similarities between Ibsen’s poems and Welhaven’s. On the basis of these similarities it can be assumed
that Ibsen had access to several collections of Welhaven’s poetry in
Grimstad, including Norges Dæmring (1834), Digte (1839), Nyere Digte
(1845), and Halvhundre Digte (1848).
Johan Sebastian Welhaven, Samlede Verker, utgitt med innledning og
kommentarer av Ingard Hauge, vol. 1 (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1990) 152.
From the preface to the second edition of Catilina (1875), quoted in
The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 112.
Translated from Hauge, vol. 2 (1990) 142-3.
See above, 42.
Translated from John Sanness, Patrioter Intelligens og Skandinaver, Norske
reaksjoner på skandinavismen før 1848 (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1959) 50.
Norges, Sveriges, og Danmarks Historie til Skolebrug (Christiania, 1838).
In 1857 Ibsen wrote an article on the heroic ballad which does discuss the
racial aspects of Munch’s theory of the origins of the Teutonic race. See n. 30.
Ibsen was a strong supporter of Scandinavianism from 1848 until he
left Norway in 1864. After this period his interest in the movement seems
to have yielded to what he called “pan-Germanism.” However, after he
returned to Norway to live, on 19 February, 1903, in an interview published in the newspaper Örebladet (Kristiania), Ibsen was quoted to have
said, “The idea of a unified Scandinavia has my complete support.” This
interview is published in Samlede Verker, vol. 15 (1930) 442-3.
The German thinker Johann Gottfried Herder is sometimes credited
with having first conceptualized this trend. According to one recent study,
“Herder . . . vigorously opposed the notion of literature as an adornment
for a ruler’s court, and as a game of intellectuals. Genuine literature
springs from the Volk itself, the ethnic community that is the true cultural unit and the source for creative energy. Without such social and
cultural community, based on a common language, there cannot be a
nation, but only artificial and power-hungry states . . . . Folk songs and
other forms of folk literature preserve the spirit of a Volk.” Wulf Koepke,
Johann Gottfried Herder (Boston: Twayne, 1987), preface, n.p.
See Nicolay Wergeland, En sandfærdig Beretning om Danmarks politiske
Forbrudelse imod Kongeriget Norge fra Aar 955 indtil 1814 (Christiania, 1816).
“Den Skandinaviske Idé.” A translation of this article can be found on
the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Monrad)
In the preface to the second edition of his first play, Catilina (København,
1875). See above, 86-6.
For a translation of Due’s memoir, see n. 4.
Justice Preus had heard the paternity suit against Ibsen in 1846.
Joh. K. Bergwitz, Grimstad 1800-1850 som type paa norsk smaaby, med
en indledning: “Henrik Ibsens ophold i Grimstad 1844-1850” (Kristiania og
København: Gyldendal, 1916) 18.
Clara Thue Ebbell, I Ungdomsbyen med Henrik Ibsen (Grimstad:
Grimstad Bymuseum, 1966) 88.
Morten Smith Petersen’s wife Cathrine was a cousin of Ibsen’s father,
although they apparently did not recognize the connection while he lived
in Grimstad. See Harald Noreng, “Samfundets Støtter—Henrik Ibsens
Grimstad-stykke” (Grimstad: Ibsenhuset og Grimstad Bymuseum, 1994) 22.
See Noreng (1994).
Haugen and Santaniello 43.
H[ans]. Terland, “Ibsens Grimstad-tid,” in Medlemsskrift 10 (Grimstad:
Selskapet for Grimstad Bys Vel, 1930) 33-4.
Haugen and Santaniello 43.
By Christen Hostrup (København, 1844).
Samlede Verker, vol. 14, 12.
Ibsen og Grimstad 45.
In 1909, when Eitrem visited Grimstad, there were two trunks full of
playscripts that had belonged to the theatrical society, but they have since
disappeared. Ibsen og Grimstad 45.
Ibsen og Grimstad 45.
Halfdan Gundersen, “Hoteller og Festivalets-Lokale,” in Grimstad Bys
A list of the plays advertised for performance in Arendal and Christianssand between 1844 and 1848 can be found on the website: http://
Ibsen.org/larson/ (click Sørlandet)
The repertoire of Det kongelige Theater was published in paperback
The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 109-110.
Some scholars contend that Ibsen’s first Latin tutor was Søren Christian Monrad, a theology student at the university with connections in
Grimstad. In the early 1840s he had conducted a school in the town, and
had also been tutor to the children of the Smith Petersen family. Others
dispute this contention, however, on the grounds that at the time in question (1847-8) Monrad was elsewhere.
In “Kjeldone til Ibsens Catilina,” Edda 21 (1924) 70-90.
Roman Woerner may have been the first to point this out, in Henrik
Ibsens Jugenddramen (München: C. H. Beck, 1895) 21 ff.
Edda 21 (1924) 86-90.
Henrik Jæger, trans. Payne (1972) 49.
For a discussion of Ibsen’s relationship with Anders Isachsen, see Harald
Noreng, Samfundets støtter - Henrik Ibsens Grimstad-stykke (Grimstad:
Ibsenhuset -Grimstad bymuseum, 1994) 6 ff.
To the Third Empire: Ibsen’s Early Drama (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1980) 44.
The volumes of the first collected edition (Værker) appeared between 1831
and 1848; another edition (Samlede Værker) came out between 1841 and 1850.
Notably Samuel G. McLellan, in “On Catilina: A Structural Examination of Ibsen’s First Play and its Sources,” Scandinavian Studies 55 (Winter, 1983) 39-54. He argues for the special relevance of Stærkodder, and
also mentions Balder hin Gode. Thomas Van Laan, however, in Henrik
Ibsen, Catiline and The Burial Mound (New York: Garland, 1992), notes
more similarities between Stærkodder and Catilina than are mentioned
by McLellan, and also argues (65-8) for similarities with several other of
the Danish dramatist’s plays, especially Axel og Valborg and Væringerne i
See McLellan 42 ff.
Åse Hiorth Lervik has written an article entitled “Ibsens verskunst i
Catilina,” that addresses the possible influence of Oehlenschlæger and
others in the matter of the play’s verse. The article is in Edda 63 (1963)
269-86. Sigurd Bretteville-Jensen has written two articles on the imagery
in Catilina: “Blomstersymbolikken i Catilina,” Ibsen Årbok (1967), 61-71;
and “Lys og Mørke i Catilina,” Edda 66 (1966) 225-35.
See Van Laan 63-4.
Josef Faaland, Ibsen og Antikken (Oslo: Tanum, 1943) 46-7. Ibsen mentions the title “Wilhelm Tell” in a letter to Poul Lieungh from May 1844.
Since the Dano-Norwegian spelling would have been “Vilhelm,” it is reasonable to suppose that he was referring to Schiller’s play. The letter is
published in Samlede Verker, vol. 16 (1940) 23.
In Bull’s introduction to Catilina in Francis Bull, Halvdan Koht, and
Didrik Arup Seip, Ibsens Drama: Innledninger til Hundreårsutgaven av
Henrik Ibsens Samlede Verker (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1972) 11.
See Bull 9; also Haugen and Santaniello 44.
“(Ibsen’s) reading was much wider than his location and circumstances
would lead one to suppose . . .”. Van Laan 59.
The seven earlier Catiline plays not mentioned in this essay are: M.
l’abbé [Simon-Joseph] Pellegrin, Catilina (Paris, 1742); Prosper Jolyot de
Crèbillon, Catilina (Paris, 1749); Voltaire, Rome Sauvée, òu Catilina (Paris,
1754); A. von Perglas, Katilina (Heidelberg, 1808); George Croly, Catilina
(London, 1822); Henry M. Milner, Lucius Catiline, the Roman traitor (London, 1827); Catiline, “by the author of The Indian Merchant” (London,
1833). There is also a volume of Catiline’s letters, Catilinariske Bref, ed.
A. I. Arvidsson (Uppsala, 1844). See also Hermann B. G. Speck, Katilina
im Drama der Weltliteratur (Leipzig: Hesse, 1906). Christopher Due mentions that they were reading Voltaire in Grimstad, but probably not his
Catiline play. The likeliest text of Voltaire’s would have been Candide,
which was his most famous work to readers outside of France. There is
nothing Ibsen wrote in Grimstad that shows the influence of Candide,
although Peer Gynt from 1867 may reflect his reading of that work.
Haugen and Santaniello 44.
The first edition is a pamphlet, and while it bears the date of the first
performance on the title page, there is no indication of the date of publication. The likeliest date would be soon after the première.
Edmund Gosse, Henrik Ibsen (New York: Scribner, 1908) 25-6.
Haugen and Santaniello 44.
Sallust, The Jugurthine War; The Conspiracy of Catiline, trans. S. A.
Handford (London: Penguin, 1963) 184.
The Life of Ibsen, trans. McMahon and Larsen, vol. 1 (1931) 39. This
reference does not appear in the translation of the revised edition (1954)
by Haugen and Santaniello (1971).
It is worth noting that the issue of the Danish satirical magazine Corsaren
for 9 February 1849 contains an article entitled “The Catilinarian Conspiracy,” which gives a brief summary of the historical facts, followed by
a comparison of them with contemporary political events in Denmark.
If in fact Ibsen began work on his play at the Christmas holidays 1848, he
could not have seen this article before he started writing, but the tactic of
using history as an analogy for contemporary events might have encouraged him. Corsaren was in the collection of the Grimstad reading society, which was kept in the Dahlske School, where one of the members of
Ibsen’s circle of friends, Andreas Isachsen lived. The same building housed
the collection of the inactive Dahlske Skole, which included single copies
of plays by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, and Johan
Wolfgang von Goethe.
Bull (1972) 11.
Søren Kierkegaard, Enten-eller: et livs-fragment, 2 vols. (Kjøbenhavn:
C. A. Reitzel).
The viewpoint expressed in Part I is not necessarily Kierkegaard’s,
since he is writing under the persona of a character who is an aesthete.
He also writes Part II under a persona, that of a judge who is an ethicist.
Ks whole view is presumably a synthesis of both viewpoints, or a third
viewpoint that includes and transcends them both.
Bernard F. Dukore, Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski
(New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1974) 549.
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Part I, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong
and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987) 144.
The Norwegian Herman Wessel, an eighteenth-century writer resident in Copenhagen, had written a parody of neo-classical French tragedy called Kjærlighed uden Strømper (“Love Without Stockings”), and according to Due, he and Ibsen joked about this title in referring to the
latter’s own lack of socks.
A similar situation is found in Henrik Wergeland’s Sinclars Død (1828).
The hero of that play, a Scottish nobleman named George Sinclair, while
on a military campaign in Norway, falls in love with a young woman
named Ragnhild Seiglestad, the daughter of a leader of the Norwegian
resistance. Sinclair does not at first tell her his name or his purpose in
Norway, and when he does, the disclosure places the lovers in a situation
of deadly enmity.
A review by Carl Müller published in Norsk Tidsskrift in October 1850
calls Catiline “weak and without character,” and “his whole being is an
indeterminate groping and longing for something he himself is not clear
about.” The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 582.
The Oxford Ibsen, vol. 1, 89.
“Det kan här påpekas, att Ibsens Catilina ej blott är en Schillersk
rövarhjälte utan även en Don Juan.” Ur Ibsen-Dramatikens Idéhistorie
(Helsingfors: Söderström, 1921) 206n.
K mentions the versions by Molière, J. L. Heiberg, Carsten Hauch, and
Lord Byron, among others. Either/Or 105 ff.
It is also worth noting that Molière’s Don Juan had been performed in
Christianssand and Arendal in the summer of 1847. Sometimes the travelling Danish theatre companies that toured the area stopped at Grimstad
and performed part of their repertoire.
The only specific information we have about Ibsen’s Tullia is that after her
affair with Catiline she committed suicide by leaping into the Tiber, where she is
described as floating on the surface wearing a wreath of green reeds. This image
is strikingly reminiscent of the drowned Ophelia in Hamlet, who is described as
floating on the water among the flowers with which she has adorned herself.
See Van Laan 86.
Not everyone considered what K said about love to be good doctrine.
K himself was evidently convinced that one of those for whom the work
had been especially intended, Bishop Mynster, did not approve of it. See
Works of Love, by Søren Kierkegaard, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and
Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995) xvi.
Pavel Fraenkl, Ibsens vei til drama, en undersøkelse av dramatikerens
genesis (Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1955).
This draft survives, and is in the University Library, Oslo.
In addition to these creative projects, three letters to Ole Schulerud
from this year survive. Published in Samlede Verker, vol. 16 (1940) 26-30.
Norwegian studies of the early lyrics include Pavel Fraenkl, Ibsens vei
til drama, en underøkelse av dramatikerens genesis (Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk
Forlag, 1955); Herleiv Dahl, Bergmannen og Byggmesteren. Henrik Ibsen
som lyriker (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1958). Both of these writers adopt the tactic of analyzing the poems from the perspective of psychological theories. For a discussion in English of two of the poems in “Blandede
Digtninger,” “Aftenvandring i Skoven” and “Møllergutten,” see Philip E.
Larson, “On Ibsen’s procedures of composition in two of his early lyrics,”
in Proceedings of the Seventh International Ibsen Conference, Grimstad 1993
(Oslo: Center for Ibsen Studies, 1994).
Click poems on the website: http://Ibsen.org/larson/ Verse English
translations by John Northam of the poems written in Grimstad have
recently been published in Ibsen at the Centre for Advanced Study, edited
by Vigdis Ystad, Oslo, Scandinavian University Press, 1997, 17-60.
All of these poems, as well as the others cited below, are published in
Samlede Værker, vol. 14 (1937) 3-87.
The other two “waves” of love lyrics were written in Bergen in 1853 and
1856-57, and were associated with Rikke Holst and Suzannah Thoresen, respectively. See H(ans) Eitrem, “Henrik Ibsens Stellanea,” Edda 3.5 (1915) 68-92.
For publication information, see the note before the previous one.
An English translation of “Kjæmpehøien” is published in The Oxford
Ibsen, vol. 1, 127-152.
English translations of most of the text of the first two letters can be
found in Meyer’s biography, 45-7.
Letter to Ole Schulerud, 5 January 1850.
Clara Thue Ebbell, 121-2.
These poems are: “Ungdomsdrømme” (“Youthful Dream”); “Sonetter”
(“Indledning til et Foredrag i den litterære Forening”), (“Sonnets” (“Introduction to a lecture at the literary society”)); “Bjergmanden” (“The Miner”);
“I Natten” (“In the Night”); “Fugl og Fuglefænger” (“Bird and Birdcatcher”);
“Blandt Ruiner” (“Among Ruins”). Published in Samlede Verker vol. 14
The idea of the fiddle player’s pact with the devil is from an article in
Christiania-Posten (12 January 1849); the idea that his life is poor and
miserable is from another article, by Theodor Kjerulf, in the same issue.
The idea that the fiddle player’s music is “sorrowful” comes from an article in Morgenbladet (19 January 1849) by A. O. Vinje. This contrasts
with the music mentioned in Welhaven’s poem, which is a Halling-dance,
and is lively rather than sad.
The date is assigned to the poem by Meyer 50.
The Life of Ibsen, trans. by McMahon and Larsen, vol. 1 (1931) 24.
Meyer, 49; Mosfjeld, 144.
“Til Jomfru Clara Ebbell” (1850). Manuscript in the University Library, Oslo. For publication information, see above, n. 213.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats, 21 December, 1817. Quoted in
English Romantic Poetry and Prose, selected and edited with essays and
notes by Russell Noyes (New York: Oxford UP, 1956) 1211.
Oehlenschlæger’s poem was entitled “Bergmands Liv, efter Novalis”
(“The Miner’s Life, after Novalis”); Hansen’s was entitled “Bergmannen”
(“The Miner”); Bøye’s was “Bergmandssang” (“The Miner’s Song”). Both
of the latter poems had been published in Bien, a journal in the collection
of the Grimstad reading society.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HENRIK IBSEN, 1828-50.
Ibsen, Henrik. Henrik Ibsen Brev 1845-1905. Ny Samling. Ved Øyvind
Anker. 2 vols. I. Brevteksten. II. Kommentarene. Registre. Oslo:
Universitetsforlaget, 1979; 1980.
- - - - Early Plays: Catiline, The Warrior’s Barrow, Olaf Liljekrans, by Henrik
Ibsen. Trans. Anders Orbeck. New York: The American-Scandinavian
Foundation; London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford UP, 1921.
- - - - Henrik Ibsen. Catiline and The Burial Mound. Trans. with intro. by
Thomas F. Van Laan. New York: Garland, 1990.
- - - - Henrik Ibsen. The Oxford Ibsen. 8 vols. Trans. and ed. James Walter
McFarlane, et al. London: Oxford UP, 1960-1977. Vol. 1: The Early
Plays. Trans. and ed. James Walter McFarlane and Graham Orton, 1970.
- - - - Henrik Ibsens norske stilebog fra 1848. Forord av Brikt Jensen. Oslo:
- - - - Henrik Ibsen. Ouevres complètes. Trans. P[ierre] G[eorget] La Chesnais.
Vol. 1 only. Paris: La Nouvelle revue française, 1914. Contents: Introduction: “La litteratur et la société en Norvège vers 1850.” “Ouevres de
Grimstad (1847-1850).” “Notice biographique.” “Poèmes.” “Le prisonnier
d’Akershus,” fragment. “Catilina.” Appendices: I. “Souvenirs d’enfance.”
II. “Compositions norvégiennes.” A complete edition in 16 volumes was
published later. Paris: Plon, 1930-45.
- - - - Henrik Ibsen. Samlede Verker. Ved Francis Bull, Halvdan Koht, Didrik
Arup Seip. 21 vols. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1928-57. See esp. vol. 1 (1928):
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(1930): Artikler og Taler, 21-32; vol. 16 (1940): Brev 1844-1871.
- - - - Henrik Ibsen. Speeches and New Letters. Trans. Arne Kildal, intro. Lee
M. Hollander. Boston: R. G. Badger, 1909; London: Frank Palmer, 1911.
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- - - - “Ibsen og Skien.” Edda 30 (1930): 60-80.
- - - - “Ibsens barndomshjem og slekten.” Aftenposten 14 Mar. 1928.
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- - - - “Ibsens reise fra hjembyen: noen bemerkninger i anledning av
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- - - - ”Nogen trekk fra Ibsen-familiens liv i 1820- og 30-årene.” Historielaget
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Paasche, Fredrik. “Ibsen og nationalromantikken. Ibsens efterlatte
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Swensen, Wilhelm. “Ibsen-huset på Snipetorp i Skien.” Ibsen-Årbok (1954):
Terland, H[ans]. “Ibsens Grimstad-tid.” Medlemsskrift 10 (Grimstad:
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Thorsen, Leif. “Cicero eller Ibsen—hvem var ret?” Magasin fra Det
Kongelige Bibliotek og Universitetsbibliotek 1.1-2 (1986): 33-6.
Tresvig, Archie. “Henrik Ibsens ungdomsforelskelse.” Ibsen-Årbok (1957): 182-4.
Van Laan, Thomas F. “Ibsen and Shakespeare.” Scandinavian Studies 67
- - - - “Ibsen’s beginnings.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 3.2
Vessby, Hadar. “Ibsen och skandinavismen.” Nordisk Tidskrift för vetenskap,
konst och industri 48 (1972): 152-6.
Westphal, Merold. “Ibsen, Hegel and Nietzsche.” Clio; an interdisciplinary journal of literature, history and the philosophy of history [Kenosha,
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Zieler, Gustav. “Ibsens Jugendwerke.” Die Gesellschaft [Dresden] 16 (Feb.
Østvedt, Einar. “Gustav Adolph Lammers som modell til Ibsens Brand.”
Ibsen-Årbok (1952): 68-91.
- - - - “Henrik Ibsen og hans hjemby.” Varden [Skien] 26 Mai 1956.
- - - - “Henrik Ibsen og kammerjunker Christian Holst: seks ukjente
Ibsen-brev.” Ibsen-Årbok (1954): 146-55.
- - - - “Henrik Ibsen og slekten Paus: et ukjent Ibsen-brev.” Ibsen-Årbok
- - - - “Henrik Ibsen og Telemark.” Årbok for Telemark (1956).
- - - - “Henrik Ibsens billedbok fra gutteårene på Venstøp.” Varden [Skien]
13 Mar. 1956.
- - - - “Ibsen og malerkunsten.” Nordisk tidskrift för vetenskap, kunst och
industri 18 (1942): 202-11.
- - - - “Mørkeloftet og miljøet i Vildanden.” Ibsen-Årbok (1957): 93-108.
Øverland, O. A. “Fra Henrik Ibsen’s Ungdom: I. Catilina og Kritiken. II.
Ibsen som Maler.” Folkebladet [Kristiania] 19 (1898): 69-77.
Abildgaard, Nicolai A. 184
Aeschylus 33, 97
The Libation Bearers 97
Antigone 95 - 98.
apocalypse 42, 43, 68
Arendal 11, 48, 55, 58, 83, 132
Aristotle 96, 97
The Poetics 96, 97
Augundson, Thorgeir 118
Bie, Emil 58, 86, 93
Bie, Henning Junghans 111, 112
Bjarme, Brynjolf (pseud.):
Henrik Ibsen 111
Bjerregaard, Henrik 67
“Ynglingen i Stormnatten” 67
Bloom, Harold 9
Bull, Francis 90, 93, 131, 132
Bøye, M. A. 127
Beaumarchais, Marie 100.
Caron de 81
Marriage of Figaro, The 81
Bergen 8, 31, 35, 36, 89
Bergwitz, Joseph 78
Bible 26, 30, 43, 44, 50, 68
Book of Enoch 43
angel 15, 26, 32, 42, 43, 50, 115
Jesus 43, 127
Joshua 32, 50, 51
Ecclesiastes, book of 43
Genesis, book of 42
Caesar, Julius 88, 90, 123
Gallic Wars 88
Calderon de la Barca, Pedro 40
catechism, Lutheran 27
Cervantes, Miguel de
Don Quixote 40, 41
Christensen, Terje 21, 27, 130
Christiania 9, 11, 21, 27, 32, 35, 48,
49, 51, 56, 57, 59, 72, 84, 90, 92,
93, 107, 108, 110 - 112, 118, 119,
122, 130, 132, 184
Christiania-Posten 48, 57, 92, 108,
Christianity 27, 44, 102, 103, 112
Gjerpen 26, 27, 29
Cicero 86 - 88
comedy, fairy-tale 35
Cooper, James Fenimore 48
Copenhagen 9, 15, 35, 40, 49,
71 - 73, 81, 83, 184
Crawfurd, Georgina 56, 58, 84, 122
Crawfurd, Jens Pharo 56
“embetsmen’s culture” 119
Empire, Austro-Hungarian 109
England 48, 71
Eve, St. John’s 19
university entrance 21, 22, 56, 84,
86, 88, 90, 107
examen artium 56
Dahl, Johan Christian 184
Demant, Christian 81, 83
Demants Sal 81
Denmark 9, 34, 48, 49, 68, 71 - 74
Dickens, Charles 48
Due, Christopher 10, 11, 14, 19, 74,
76, 79 - 81, 84, 86, 89, 91 - 93,
102, 107 - 110, 127, 130, 132
Dumas père, Alexandre and
Dumas père, Alexandre 35, 36, 48,
91 - 93, 122
Kean 35, 36
Dutchman, the Flying 31
Ebbell, Clara 8, 35, 36, 75, 108, 109,
111, 112, 120 - 123, 131
Ebbell, Oluf Oppen 75
Eckstorm, Theodor 37
Eidsvoll 71, 72
Eitrem, Hans 11, 47, 55, 56, 81
Elverhøj See Heiberg, Johan Ludvig
Elvira, Donna See Mozart,
Faaland, Josef 90
Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain 37,
38, 40, 41, 131
Flasrud, Iver 16
Flintoe, Johannes 184
Fossum Estate 7, 20, 21, 23, 33, 34
Fossum Ironworks, painting by
Peter Wergmann (ill.) 25
France 48, 71, 91, 92
Germany 21, 48, 68 - 72, 89, 90
Gjerpen parish. See parish, Gjerpen
Goethe, Johan Wolfgang von 33, 47,
56, 90, 100
Beaumarchais, Marie 100
Götz von Berlichingen 90
Iphigenie auf Tauris 90
Goldschmidt, Meir 49
Gordon, George, Lord Byron 90
Gosse, Edmund 91
Grimstad 7 - 11, 17, 21, 32, 45 - 50,
52 - 58, 68, 74, 76 - 79, 82, 85 - 89,
91, 93 - 95, 105, 109 - 111, 113,
118, 121, 123 - 127, 132
Guichard, C. E. 92, 93
Catilina Romantique 92
Gundersen, Anne Elisabeth 49, 50, 75
Gundersen, Anne Kristine 49, 50
Gundersen, Mathias 49, 50, 75
Halvorsen, Jens Bragge 184
Hansen, Johan 7, 21, 22, 26
Hansen, Maurits 48, 123, 127
Harryson’s History of London 31
Hasseldalen 50, 75
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 31
Heiberg, Johan Ludvig 34 - 36, 40,
81, 83, 130, 131
Elverhøj 34, 130
Heiberg, Johanne Luise 34
Henriksen, Hans Jacob 51, 52
Hertz, Henrik 31, 35, 36, 83, 131
Indqvarteringen 35, 36, 131
Svend Dyrings Hus 31
Holberg, Ludvig 33, 36, 48, 81, 88, 122
Holst, Christian 76
Holst, Gunder 49
Holst, Jakob 74 - 76, 79, 92
Holst, Sophie 75, 108, 109, 120, 121, 122
Holstein 68, 72 - 74, 109
Hostrup, Christen 36, 83, 123
Hungarians 85, 109
Hungary 85, 109, 112
Haanshus, Ole Andreas 51
Ibsen family 13, 20, 27, 33, 36
Ibsen, Hedvig 27, 38, 68, 122
dream essay 41
“Labor is its own reward” 60
“On the importance of
“Why should a nation seed to
preserve the language and
memory of its ancestors?” 60
“Prisoner of Akershus” 107, 110
Joshua and the Angel 50 (ill.) 32
Brand 43, 44
Catiline 36, 57, 73, 83 - 86,
88 - 90, 93, 98 - 100, 103, 104,
107, 110 - 112
Aurelia 90, 100 - 104
Catiline 73, 86 - 88, 90 - 93,
95 - 104, 123
Emissaries, Allobrogian 87,
Fulvia 87, 101
Furia 87, 88, 90, 91, 96, 97,
100 - 104
Sulla, ghost of 91, 92, 94,
Tullia 96, 97, 99 - 101
Doll House, A 98
Feast at Solhaug, The 30, 31, 36
Lady Inger of Østråt 36
“The Normans” 107, 112
Olaf Liljekrans 35
Peer Gynt 36, 54, 102
Woman, Green 54
Gynt, Peer 31, 102
Pillars of Society 75
Pretenders, The 22
puppet play 37, 40, 41, 131
Rosmersholm 98, 102
Rebekka 98, 102
Beate 98, 102
St. John’s Night 35
Vikings in Helgeland, The 35, 36
“Warrior’s Barrow, The” 107,
Blanka 110, 112
Gandalf 110, 112
Wild Duck, The 33
Ekdal, Hedvig 31
Ekdal, Old 33
Werle, Old 33
“In the Autumn” 11, 108
“Autumn Evening” 108
“Awake Scandinavians!” 73, 109,
“The Ball of the Dead” 109
“By the Sea” 60
“To Denmark” 72
“Doubt and Hope” 64, 65
“Evening Stroll in the Forest” 108
“The Giant Oak Tree” 68
“To Hungary” 109, 112
“It is Finished” 108, 109
“Memories of a Ball. A
Fragment of Life in Poetry
and Prose” 108
“Memory of Leave-Taking, at O.
Schulerud’s Departure” 109
“Memory of Spring” 108
“Midnight Mood” 108
“The Miller Boy” 109, 114, 115,
“The Miner” 123, 124
“Mixed Poems from the Years 1848,
1849, 1850” 56, 107 - 109
“Moonlight Cruise on the Sea” 108
“Moonlight Mood” 108
“Moonlight Stroll after a Ball”
108, 109, 121
“In the Night” 108
“To Norway’s Skalds” 109, 112
“Sigurd Von Finkelbeck’s
Cemetery Plot” 79
“The Skald in Valhalla, at the
News of Oehlenschlæger’s
“The Soul’s Glimpse of
the Sun” 108
“The Spring of Memory” 109
“To the Star (Dedicated to C. E.)”
“Vacant Lodging” 109
Follestad Estate 23, (ill.) 28
Ibsen, Knud 13, 20, 22, 33, 34, 38
Ibsen, Marichen 27, 34, 36, 38
ideology 70, 72, 73, 74
Ironworks, Fossum 20, 23, (ill.) 25
Isachsen, Anders 48, 58, 74
Isachsen, Andreas 74, 89
Isaksen, Hans 20, 21
Jensdatter, Else Sophie 51, 52, 54, 110
Johnston, Brian 89
Jonson, Ben 90, 91, 93
Catiline his Conspiracy 90, 91
Jæger, Henrik 10, 26, 88
Keats, John 127
Kiel, Treaty of 71
Kierkegaard, Søren 31, 84, 93 - 104,
119, 123, 126
Either/Or 93, 98 - 100, 103, 104
Works of Love 93, 102, 103
Kihlmann, Erik 99
Kofod, Hans A. 40, 40, 131
Koht, Halvdan 10, 20, 91, 131, 132
Kotzebue, August Friedrich
Ferdinand von 81
Kuffner, Christophe 91, 93
Gjerpen church and parish house
Lofthuus, Christian 110
Lorentzen, Christian A. 184
Lund, Christen 8, 21, 38, 72
Lutheranism 26, 27
Løvenskiold, Ernst 20
Løvenskiold family 20, 21, 130
Løvenskiold, Severin 19, 20, 27, 73
Laios 96, 97
Lammers, Gustav Adolf 27, 68
Landstad, M. B. 31
Languages 9, 21, 22, 48, 93
Danish 11, 22, 31, 33 - 37, 40, 41,
47, 48, 68, 71 - 73, 78, 83, 84,
88 - 90, 93, 95, 102, 111, 129
English 7, 33, 56, 58, 71, 93, 108,
129 - 132
French 21, 22, 44, 47, 56, 71, 83,
90 - 92
German 16, 21, 22, 26, 33, 40, 44,
47, 48, 56, 68 - 73, 89 - 91, 127
Latin 14, 16, 21, 22, 26, 40, 44, 47,
56, 58, 60, 86, 88, 91, 93, 104,
Modersmaalet 22, 56, 58
Norwegian 7, 8, 9, 11, 15, 19, 22,
26, 31, 35, 36, 40, 41, 47, 56, 70,
71, 73, 84, 88, 91, 95, 104, 110, 112, 122, 123, 127, 129, 131
Lassen, Hartvig 131
Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 33, 47, 56
Lie, Hallvard 11
Lieungh, Hedevall 46
Lieungh, Poul 45
Linaae, Paul, watercolor
Macquet, Auguste 91 - 93
Mandt, Mikkel 184
Marryat, Captain 48
Martini, Cathrine 108, 109, 121
Martini, Daniel 74, 76, 78, 79, 108,
Meyer, Michael 10, 123
Moe, Jørgen 132
Molière 9, 33
Monrad, Marcus Jacob 22, 58, 72, 131
Monrad, Søren Christian 58
Morgenbladet 48, 72, 73, 132
Mosfjeld, Oskar 10, 21, 123
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus 98
Don Giovanni 98, 99
Elvira, Donna 100
Munch, Andreas 8, 35, 36, 84, 123,
“Donna Clara, en natscene” 8, 35,
Munch, Edvard 27
Munch, Peter Andreas 22, 70, 123
Nielsen, Ida Katrine 56
Nielsen, Lars 48, 55, 76
Nielsen, Niels Peter 48, 56
Novalis (pseud.): Friedrich von
Oedipus 34, 95 - 98
Oehlenschlæger, Adam 33, 71,
88 - 90, 95, 109 - 112, 122, 127
Axel og Valborg 89
Balder hin Gode 89
Hakon Jarl 89
Væringerne i Miklagard 89
Olsen, Anne Grete Holm 130
O’Neill, Eugene 89
Ording, J. F. 23, 24, 26, 41
Oslo 7, 8, 9, 11, 21, 28, 131
Overskou, Thomas 83
Paludan-Müller, Friedrich 88, 123
parish, Gjerpen 20, 26, 27, 29, 36,
Paulsen, Benedikte 37
Paulsen, Ole 38
Pedersen, Peder Lund 38
Petersen, Morten Smith 75
Nielsen 10, 81, 84
Reimann (ill.) 53, 83
pietism 7, 26, 27, 68
play of chivalry 40, 41
Ploug, Carl 73
Pontoppidan, Erik 26
Preus, Johan Casper 51, 52, 74
Printzlau, Frederick 83
Racine, Jean 33
Rahbek, K. L. 48
Reading Society, Grimstad 48, 49, 83,
84, 89, 123, 131
Reimann, Jens Arup 51, 46, 48, 51,
52, 81, 83
revolution 74, 85, 88, 104
Rode, Fredrik 26, 27
Romanticism, National 109
Russia 69, 70, 71
Sallust 86 - 88, 91, 92, 94, 101, 104, 123
Conspiracy of Catiline, The 86, 87
Catiline 87, 94
Scandinavia 22, 68, 70 - 74, 89, 95,
109, 112, 131
Scandinavianism 68, 70 - 74
Schiller, Friedrich 33, 47, 56, 89,
Die Räuber 90
Wilhelm Tell 90
Schlegel, August Wilhelm 40
Schleswig 68, 72 - 74, 85, 109
Dahl´s 48, 58, 75
Fossum 20, 21
Latin 14, 16, 21, 22, 40, 130
morking-class 21, 48, 58
Schulerud, Ole Carelius 74, 76, 81,
84, 91 - 93, 102, 107, 109, 110, 114,
Schweigaard, Anton M. 22
Scott, Walter 48
Scribe, Eugene 35
Glass of Water, A 35
Seip, Didrik Arup 49, 131, 132
Shakespeare, William 9, 31, 33, 56,
103, 110, 127
Richard III 31
Skard, Eiliv 87
Skien 7 - 11, 13 - 15, 18 -23, 27,
34 - 37, 40, 41, 45 - 47, 52, 56, 68,
70, 122, 129 - 131, 184
Smith, Gude 74
Sophocles 33, 34, 95, 96
Oedipus the King 34, 96 - 98
Stockfleth, W. F. 21, 30, 41
Stockmann’s Court 14
Strindberg, August 89
Stub, Paul 59
Sweden 19, 20, 70, 71, 73
Telemark 7, 8, 13, 25, 27, 29, 34,
39, 114, 118
Terland, Hans 11, 13, 49, 75, 78
Testament, New 43
Testament, Old 43
Theater, Christiania 112
Danish 34, 35, 37, 41, 83, 129
Theatre, The Norwegian (Bergen)
Theatre, The Royal (Copenhagen)
34, 35, 40, 83
Thiele, J. M.
Kjærlighed og Heltemod 41
Thomsen, Maria 47
Thrane, Marcus 73, 118, 119
Thue, Henning Junghans 58, 59,
63, 67, 130
“tragedy of fate” 90
Tryggvason, Olaf 107, 110
Tysker, Peter 16
Vega, Lope de 40
Venstøp 13, (ill.) 17, 20, 21, 31, 33, 37,
Vestlandske Tidende 48
virgin, vestal 88, 91, 100, 101
Wars, Napoleonic 71
website 8, 11, 12, 108, 129, 130
Welhaven, Johan Sebastian 48, 61,
63, 64, 67, 72, 84, 116 - 119, 123
“Møllergutten” 116, 117
Norges Dæmring 72
Wergeland, Henrik 48, 72, 84, 90,
Sinclars Død 90
Wergeland, Nicolay 72
Wergmann, Peter 25
Winther, Christian 48
Ørbeck, Sigurd 74, 76, 79, 80
Ørn, Knud 16, 22
Østvedt, Einar 37
Aamodt, Carl 46, 47
Ugeblad for Skien og Omegn 34
Addendum on Ibsen's Education in Drawing and Painting
When the present work was in the final stages of typesetting, and it was too late to
introduce new material into the main text, I came across the following passage in a
letter Ibsen wrote in 1889 to J. B. Halvorsen, the editor of a Norwegian biographical
As a boy I attended drawing school at Skien for a year and learned a
little pencil drawing. At the same time, or a little later, I had some
instruction in oil painting from a young landscape painter, Mandt, from
Telemark, who sometimes stayed at Skien.a
Mikkel Mandt (1822-82) was 20 years old in 1842, when he is thought to have
been Ibsen's teacher. That same year he himself had received instruction from
Johannes Flintoe (1786/87-1870), a teacher at Tegneskolen in Christiania.b While
Mandt was a competent if not outstanding landscape painter, Flintoe's reputation
has risen in the present century with the recognition that he was the founder of the
Norwegian school of Romantic landscape painting, and the precursor of the much
more famous painter Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), whom Ibsen sought out during a visit to Dresden in 1852. Dahl treated some of the same scenes as Flintoe,
although the former's treatments were usually more passionate than the latter's.
Flintoe had been educated at Kunstakadamiet in Copenhagen, where his teachers
were Christian A. Lorentzen and Nicolai A. Abildgaard. Flintoe retained some characteristics of the classical style of landscape painting, called “prospect” painting,
which tended usually to be dispassionate, while at the same time he showed the way
towards a more Romantic, or emotional treatment of nature.c
Since Mandt must have been Flintoe's student immediately before becoming
Ibsen's teacher, it is not unlikely that he shared some of his fresh impressions of the
ideas of his teacher with his own young student, whether or not he himself agreed
with them, or could carry them out. A comparison of Mandt's landscapes with Ibsen's
shows similarities of technique and subject matter, although Mandt's paintings often
have figures in them, Ibsen's almost never. Ibsen was a copyist in painting just as he
was to be in his early poems and plays. Many of his early poems are, indeed, “painterly.” The fact that Ibsen studied drawing and painting probably contributed to his
recognition of the importance of the stage setting, and to his careful descriptions of
the setting in his later stage directions. Whether his conception of the stage space
itself, or his metaphoric landscape, owes anything to what he knew about Romantic
landscape painting is another question.
P. E. L.
Ibsen Letters and Speeches, edited by Evert Sprinchorn, New York, Hill and Wang, 1964, p. 14.
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