Iconoclasts / A Book of Dramatists: Ibsen, Strindberg, Becque, Hauptmann, Sudermann, Hervieu, Gorky, Duse and D’Annunzio, Maeterlinck and Bernard Shaw

 

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ICONOCLASTS

A BOOK OF DRAMATISTS

IBSEN, STRINDBERG, BECQUE, HAUPTMANN,
SUDERMANN, HERVIEU, GORKY, DUSE AND
D’ANNUNZIO, MAETERLINCK AND BERNARD SHAW

BY

JAMES HUNEKER


My truth is the truth
MAX STIRNER


NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
1910

TO
JOHN FRANCIS HUNEKER

CONTENTS

I

HENRIK IBSEN


I

THE INDIVIDUALIST

The Kingdom of God is within you


I

Ferdinand Brunetière has declared that “there can be no tragedy without a struggle; nor can there be genuine emotion for the spectator unless something other and greater than life is at stake.” This so exactly defines the dramas of Henrik Ibsen that it might have been specifically written to describe their dramatic and ethical content. Whatever else Ibsen’s works may be, they are first soul dramas; the human soul is not only their shadowy protagonist, but it is the stake for which his characters breathlessly game throughout the vast halls of his poetic and historic plays and within those modern middle-class apartments, where the atmosphere seems rarefied by the intensity of the struggle. “Greater than life” means for Ibsen the immortal soul—immortal not in the theologic, but generic sense; the soul of the species, which never had a beginning and never can have an end. With this precious entity as pawn on Ibsen’s dramatic chess-board, the Brunetière dictum is perfectly fulfilled.

Let us apply to him and his plays a symbol; let us symbolize the arch-symbolist. Ibsen is an open door. The door enacts an important rôle with him. Nora Helmer, in A Doll’s House, goes out of the door to her new life, and in The Master Builder, Hilda Wangel, typifying the younger generation, enters to Solness. An open door on the chamber of the spirit is Ibsen. Through it we view the struggle of souls in pain and doubt and wrath. He himself has said that the stage should be considered as a room with the fourth wall knocked down so that the spectators could see what is going on within the enclosure. A tragic wall is this missing one, for between the listener and the actor there is interposed the soul of the playwright, the soul of Ibsen, which, prism-like, permits us to witness the refractions of his art. This open door, this absent barrier, is it not a symbol?

What does Henrik Ibsen mean to his century? Is he dramatist, symbolist, idealist, optimist, pessimist, poet, or realist? Or is he a destructive, a corroding force? Has he constructive gifts—aside from his technical genius? He has been called an anarchic preacher. He has been described as a debaser of the moral coin. He has been ranged far from the angels, and his very poetic gifts have been challenged. Yet the surface pessimism of his plays conceals a mighty belief in the ultimate goodness of mankind. Realist as he is, his dramas are shot through with a highly imaginative symbolism. A Pegasus was killed early under him, as Georg Brandes says; but there remains a rich remnant of poesy. And may there not be deduced from his complete compositions a constructive philosophy that makes for the ennoblement of his fellow-beings?

Ibsen is a reflective poet, one to whom the idea presents itself before the picture; with Shakespeare and Goethe the idea and form were simultaneously born. His art is great and varied, yet it is never exercised as a sheer play of form or colour or wit. A Romantic originally, he pays the tax to Beauty by his vivid symbolism and his rare formal perfections. And a Romantic is always a revolutionist. Embittered in youth—proud, self-contained, reticent—he waged war with life for over a half-century; fought for his artistic ideals as did Richard Wagner; and, like Wagner, he has swept the younger generation along with him. He, the greatest moral artist of his century, Tolstoy not excepted, was reviled for what he had not said or done—so difficult was it to apprehend his new, elusive method. A polemist he is, as were Byron and Shelley, Tolstoy and Dickens, Turgenev and Dostoïevsky. Born a Northman, he is melancholic, though not veritably pessimistic of temperament; moral indignation in him must not be confounded with the pessimism that sees no future hope for mankind. The North breeds mystics. Shakespeare would have made his Hamlet a Scandinavian even if the legendary Hamlet and the earlier play had not existed. The brief, white nights, the chilly climate, the rugged, awful scenery, react on sensitive natures like Ibsen’s. And then the various strains in his blood should not be forgotten,—Danish, German, Norwegian, and Scotch. Thus we get a gamut of moods,—philosophic, poetic, mystic, and analytic. And if he too frequently depicts pathologic states, is it not the fault of his epoch? Few dramatists have been more responsive to their century.

II

The drama is the domain of logic and will; Henry Becque called it “the art of sacrifices.” The Ibsen technic is rather tight in the social dramas, but the larger rhythms are nowhere missing. The most artificial of art forms, the drama, is in his hands a mirror of many reverberating lights. The transubstantiation of realities is so smoothly accomplished that one involuntarily remembers Whistler’s remark as to art being only great when all traces of the means used are vanished. Ibsen’s technic is a means to many ends. It is effortless in the later plays—it is the speech of emotion, the portrayal of character. “Qui dit drame, dit caractère,” writes André Gide. Ibsen’s content conditions his form. His art is the result of constraint. He respects the unities of time, place, action, not that he admires the pseudo-classic traditions of Boileau, but because the rigorous excision of the superfluous suits his scheme. Nor is he an extremist in this question of the unities. Like Renan, the artist in him abhors “the horrible mania of certitude.” The time-unit in his best plays ranges from one to two days; the locality is seldom shifted further than from room to garden. As he matured his theatrical canvas shrank, the number of his characters diminished. Even the action became less vivacious and various; the exteriorization of emotional states was substituted for the bustling, vigorous life of the earlier plays. Yet—always drama, dynamic not static.

His dialogue—a spoken, never a literary one—varies from extreme naturalism to the half-uttered sentences, broken phrases, and exclamations that disclose—as under a burning light—the sorrow and pain of his men and women. One recalls in reading the later pieces the saying of Maurice Barrès, “For an accomplished spirit there is but one dialogue—that between our two egos—the momentary ego that we are and the ideal one toward which we strive.” The Ibsen plays are character symphonies. His polyphonic mastery of character is unique in the history of the drama; for, as we shall presently show, there is a second—nay, a third—intention in his dialogue that give forth endless repercussions of ideas and emotions.

The mental intensity of Ibsen is relentless. Once, Arthur Symons showing Rodin some Blake drawings, told the French sculptor, “Blake used literally to see these figures; they are not mere inventions.”—”Yes,” replied Rodin, “he saw them once; he should have seen them three or four times.” Ibsen’s art presents no such wavering vision. He saw his characters not once but for many months continuously before, Paracelsus-like, he allowed them an escape from his chemical retort to the footlights. Some of them are so powerfully realized that their souls shine like living torches.

Ibsen’s symbolism is that of Baudelaire, “All nature is a temple filled with living pillars, and the pillars have tongues and speak in confused words, and man walks as through a forest of countless symbols.” The dramatist does not merely label our appetites and record our manners, but he breaks down the barrier of flesh, shows the skeleton that upholds it, and makes a sign by which we recognize, not alone the poet in the dramatist, but also the god within us. The “crooked sequence of life” has its speech wherewith truth may be imaged as beauty. Ibsen loves truth more than beauty, though he does not ignore the latter. With him a symbol is an image and not an abstraction. It is not the pure idea, barren and unadorned, but the idea clothed by an image which flashes a signal upon our consciousness. Technically we know that the Norwegian dramatist employs his symbols as a means of illuminating the devious acts and speech of his humans, binding by repetitions the disparate sections and contrasted motives of his play. These symbols are not always leading motives, though they are often so construed; his leit-motiven are to be sought rather in the modulation of character and the characteristic gestures which express it. With Rosmersholm the “white horses” indicate by an image the dark forces of heredity which operate in the catastrophe. The gold and green forest in Little Eyolf is a symbol of what Rita Allmers brought her husband Alfred, and the resultant misery of a marriage to which the man, through a mistaken idealism, had sold himself. There are such symbols and catchwords in every play. In Emperor and Galilean the conquering sun is a symbol for Julian the Apostate, whose destiny, he believes, is conducted by the joyous sun; while in Ghosts the same sun is for the agonized Oswald Alving the symbol of all he has lost,—reason, hope, and happiness. Thus the tower in The Master Builder, the open door in A Doll’s House, the ocean in The Lady from the Sea, give a homogeneity which the otherwise loose structure of the drama demands. The Ibsen play is always an organic whole.

It must not be forgotten that Henrik Ibsen, who was born in 1828,—surely under the sign of Saturn!—had passed through the flaming revolutionary epoch of 1848, when the lyric pessimism of his youthful poems was transformed into bitter denunciations of authority. He was regarded as a dangerous man; and while he may not have indulged in any marked act of rebellion, his tendencies were anarchic—a relic of his devotion to the French Revolution. But then he was a transcendentalist and an intellectual anarch. If he called the State the enemy of the individual, it was because he foresaw the day when the State might absorb the man. He advocated a bloodless revolution; it must be spiritual to compass victory. Unless men willed themselves free, there could be no real freedom. “In those days there was no King in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Ibsen confessed that the becoming was better than the being—a touch of Renan and his beloved fieri. He would have agreed with Emerson, who indignantly exclaimed, “Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit; not to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred of thousand, of the party, the section to which we belong, and our opinion predicted geographically as the North or the South?” Lord Acton’s definition that “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is in itself the highest political end,” would have pleased Ibsen. “The minority is always in the right,” he asserts.

The Ibsen plays are a long litany praising the man who wills. The weak man must be educated. Be strong, not as the “blond roaming beast” of Nietzsche, but as captain of your own soul’s citadel! Rémy de Gourmont sees the idea of liberty as an emphatic deformation of the idea of privilege. Good is an accident produced by man at the price of terrible labour. Nature has no mercy. Is there really free will? Is it not one of the most seductive forms of the universal fiction? True, answers in effect Ibsen; heredity controls our temperaments, the dead rule our actions, yet let us act as if we are truly free. Adjuring Brand “To thyself be true,” while Peer Gynt practices “To thyself be sufficient,” Ibsen proves in the case of the latter that Will, if it frees, also kills. Life is no longer an affair of the tent and tribe. The crook of a man’s finger may upset a host, so interrelated is the millet-seed with the star. A poet of affirmations, he preaches in his thunder-harsh voice as did Comte, “Submission is the base of perfection”; but this submission must be voluntary. The universal solvent is Will. Work is not the only panacea. Philosophically, Ibsen stands here between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; he has belief in the Will, though not the Frankfort philosopher’s pessimism; and the Will to Power of Nietzsche without that rhapsodist’s lyric ecstasy. Nietzsche asked: “For what is freedom? To have the will to be responsible for one’s self.” Ibsen demonstrates that a great drama must always have a great philosophic substratum. There may be no design in nature—let us believe there is. Gesture is the arrest of the flux, rendering visible the phenomena of life, for it moderates its velocity. In this hypothesis he would not be at variance with De Gourmont, who has not hesitated to ask whether intelligence itself is not an accident in the creative processes, and if it really be the goal toward which mankind finally believes itself drifting.

There is the mystic as well as the realistic chord in the Ibsen drama. His Third Kingdom, not of the flesh (Pagan) nor of the spirit (Christian), yet partaking of both, has a ring of Hegel and also of that abbot of Flores called Joachim, who was a mediæval Franciscan. The grandiloquent silhouettes of the Romantic drama, the mouthers of rhetoric, the substitution of a bric-à-brac mirage for reality, have no place in Ibsen’s art. For this avoidance of the banal he has been called a perverter of the heroic. His characters are in reality the bankruptcy of stale heroisms; he replaces the old formula with a new, vital one—Truth at all hazards He discerns a Fourth Dimension of the spirit. He has said that if mankind had time to think, there would be a new world. This opposer of current political and moral values declares that reality is itself a creation of art—each individual creates his picture of the world. An idealist he is in the best sense of the word, though some critics, after reading into the plays Socialism—picture Ibsen and “regimentation,” as Huxley dubbed it!—claim the sturdy individualist as a mere unmasker of conventionalism. How far all this is from Ibsen’s intention—who is much more than a satirist! and social reformer—may be seen in his Brand, with its austere watchword, “All or Nothing.” A prophet and a seer he is, not a glib socialist exposing municipal evils and offering ready-made prophylactics. The curve of Ibsen’s art comprises all these petty minor evils of life, it reaches across the edge of the human soul; while, ardent pilgrim that he is, he slowly mounts to the peaks from which he may see his Third Kingdom. But, like a second Moses, he has never descended into that country of ineffable visions or trod its broad and purifying landscapes.

Max Stirner’s radical and defiant egoism, expressed in his pithy axiom, “My truth is the truth,” might be answered by Ibsen with the contradictory “Le moi est haïssable” of Pascal. Indeed, an ironic self-contradiction may be gleaned from a study of Ibsen; each play seems to deny the conclusions of the previous one. But when the entire field is surveyed in retrospect the smaller irregularities and deflections from the level melt into a harmonious picture. Ibsen is complex. Ibsen is confusing. In Ibsen there rage the thinker, the artist, the critic. These sometimes fail to amalgamate, and so the artistic precipitation is cloudy. He is a true Viking who always loves stormy weather; and, as Brandes said, “God is in his heart, but the devil is in his body.” His is an emotional logic, if one may frame such an expression; and it would be in vain to search in his works for the ataraxia of the tranquil Greek philosopher. A dynamic grumbler, like Carlyle, he eventually contrives to orient himself; his dramas are only an escape from the ugly labyrinth of existence. If his characters are sick, so is latter-day life. The thinker often overrides the poet in him; and at times the dramatist, the pure Theatermensch, gets the bit between his teeth and nearly wrecks the psychologist. He acknowledges the existence of evil in the world, knows the house of evil, but has not tarried in it. Good must prevail in the end is the burden of his message, else he would not urge upon his fellow-beings the necessity of willing and doing.

The cold glamour of his moods is supplemented by the strong, sincere purpose underlying them. He feels, with Kierkegaard, that the average sensual man will ever “parry the ethical claim”; and if, in Flaubert’s eyes, “man is bad because he is stupid,” in Ibsen’s “he is stupid because he is bad.” “To will is to have to will,” says his Maximus in Emperor and Galilean. This phrase is the capstone of the Ibsen structure. If he abhors the inflated phraseology of altruism, he is one with Herbert Spencer, who spoke of a relapse into egotism as the only thing which could make altruism enduring.

Felicity, then, with Ibsen is experience itself, not the result of experience. Life is a huge misunderstanding, and the Ibsen dramas hinge on misunderstandings—the conflict between the instinctive and the acquired, between the forces of heredity and of environment. Herein lies his preference for the drama of disordered wills. And touching on this accusation of morbidity and sickness, may there not be gleaned from Shakespeare and Goethe many mad, half-mad, and brain-sick men and women? The English poet’s plays are a perfect storehouse of examples for the alienist. Hallucination that hardens into mania is delicately recorded by Ibsen; he notes with a surgeon’s skilled eye the first slight decadence and the final entombment of the will. Furthermore, the chiefest malady of our age is that of the will enfeebled by lack of exercise, by inanition due to unsound education; and as he fingers our spiritual muscles he cries aloud their flabbiness. In men the pathologic symptoms are more marked than in women; hence the number of women in his dramas who assume dominant rôles—not that Ibsen has any particular sympathy with the New Woman, but because he has seen that the modern woman marks time better with the Zeitgeist than her male complement.

Will, even though your will be disastrous in its outcome, but will, he insists; and yet demonstrates that only through self-surrender can come complete self-realization. To say “I am what I am,” is the Ibsen credo; but this “I” must be tested in the fire of self-abnegation. To the average theologian all this rings suspiciously like the old-fashioned doctrine of salvation by good works. The Scotch leaven is strong in Ibsen. In his bones he is a moralist, in practice an artist. His power is that of the artist doubled by the profound moralist, the philosopher doubled by the dramatist; the crystallization in the plays of these antagonistic qualities constitutes the triumph of his genius.

III

The stage is Ibsen’s pulpit, but he is first the artist; his moral, as in all great drama, is implicit. He is a doubter; he often answers a question with another question; and if he builds high he also digs deep. His plays may be broadly divided into three phases. First we get the national-romantic; second, the historical; third, the social dramas of revolt. In the first, under the influence of fable and folk-song, Ibsen delved into the roots of Scandinavia’s past; then follow the stirring dramas, Fru Inger of Ostraat, The Vikings at Helgeland, The Pretenders, and those two widely contrasted epics, Brand and Peer Gynt. Beginning with The Young Men’s League and ending with the dramatic epilogue, When We Dead Awake, the third period is covered. And what range, versatility, observation, poetic imagination, intellectual power! Yet this dramatist has been called provincial! Provincial—when his maiden tragedy, Catilina, begins B.C. and his epilogue ends the nineteenth century; when his characters are types as well as individuals that exist from South to North. True man of the North, he sought in Italy for his scene of action, his first hero. That his men and women are strongly Norwegian is no imputation of provincialism—Christiania is a world capital, Scandinavia is not a Bœotia. And is not human nature composed of the same soul-stuff the world over? A similar accusation might be easily brought against French, English, and German drama. Not for the sake of the phrase did M. Faguet salute Ibsen as “the greatest psychological dramatist since the time of Racine.” And remember that Faguet is a Frenchman loyal to the art traditions of his race,—logic, order, clarity of motive, and avoidance of cloudy dramatic symbolism.

There are at least three factors to be noted in the Ibsen plays—the play quâ play, that is, the drama for the sake of its surface intrigue, with its painting of manner and character; the more ulterior meanings and symbolism; and lastly, the ideologic factor, really the determining one. M. Jules Gaultier, a young French thinker, has evolved from the novels of Gustave Flaubert—greatest master of philosophic fiction—a metaphysic which is very engaging. Bovaryisme he denominates the tendency in humanity to appear other than it is. This trait has been dealt with by all world novelists and satirists; Bovaryisme has elevated it to the dignity of a Universal Fiction. We pretend to be that which we are not. It is the law of being, the one mode by which life is enabled to vary and escape the typic monotony of the species. It is the self-dupery of the race. We are all snobs of the Infinite, parvenus of the Eternal. We are doomed to dissemble, else perish as a race.

Now, apply the laws of biology to the moral world and you have the perfect flowering of the application in the Ibsen drama. The basic clash of character is that between species and individual. Each drama furnishes an illustration. In Rosmersholm we see Johann Rosmer—the last of the Rosmers, himself personifying the law of heredity—endeavouring to escape this iron law and perishing in the attempt. He drags down with him Rebekka West, who because of her tendency to variability, in an evolutionary sense, might have developed; but the Rosmer ideals poisoned her fresher nature. Halvard Solness, the Master Builder, suffers from his tyrannical conscience—nearly all of Ibsen’s characters have a morbid conscience—and not even the spiritual lift of that exotic creature, Hilda Wangel, can save him from his fate. He attempts to go beyond the law and limits of his being, and his will fails. But is it not better to fall from his giddy height than remain a builder of happy homes and churches? From her birth neurotic Hedda Gabler is hopelessly flawed in her moral nature. She succumbs to the first pressure of adverse circumstance. She, too, is not ripe for spiritual re-birth. Nora Helmer, like Hilda Wangel, like Mrs. Alving, frees herself by her variation from what we, in our ignorance of our own possibilities, call the normal. It is a cardinal doctrine of Ibsen that we alone can free ourselves; help can never come from without. This he demonstrates by his ironical flaying of the busybody reformer and idealist, Greger Werle, in The Wild Duck. Ibsen also presents here the reverse of the Ibsen medal. Ekdal, the photographer, who is utterly worthless, a fantastic liar and masquerader, like Peer Gynt, is not saved by the interference of Werle—quite the contrary; tragedy is summoned through this same Werle’s intrusion, and that most pathetic figure, Hedwig Ekdal, might have striven to self-realization had not her young existence been snuffed out by a virtuous lie. Hilda Wangel is the incarnation of the new order, Rosmersholm of the old. And, les femmes, ces êtres médiocres et magiques, as Jules Laforgue calls them, the women of Ibsen usually manage to evade the consequences of the life-lie better than the men. The secret is that, nearer nature, they instinctively will to live with more intensity of purpose. Sir Oliver Lodge thinks that the conflict between Free Will and Determinism is because we “ignore the fact that there must be a subjective partition in the universe separating the region of which we have some inkling of knowledge from the region of which we have none.” It must be that reservoir of eternal certitudes for which Maurice Maeterlinck sighs. The unknown, the subliminal forces là-has, have their share in the control of our will, though we may only judge of what we see on this side of the “misty region” of metaphysic. Be this as it may, Ibsen is content to set his puppets acting within the appreciable limits of free will allowed us by our cognition.

If this evolutionary foundation of the Ibsen drama be too deep, there is also the dialogue, externally simple, terse, natural, forcible, and in the vernacular replete with sonority, colour, and rhythm. Yet it is a stumbling-block; beneath the dramatist’s sentences are pools of uncertainty. This is the so-called “interior” or “secondary” dialogue. The plays, read in the illuminating sense of their symbolism, become other and more perplexing engines of power. They are spiritual palimpsests, through which may be dimly deciphered the hieroglyphics of another soul-continent. We peer into them like crystal-gazers and see the faint outlines of ourselves, but so seemingly distorted as to evoke a shudder. Or is our ill-suppressed horror in the presence of these haunting shapes of humanity the result of ignorance? The unknown is always disquieting. Hippolyte Taine may be right. “Our inborn human imperfection is part of the order of things, like the constant deformation of the petal in a plant.” And perhaps to Ibsen, who is ever the dramatist, the lover of dramatic effects, should be granted the license of the character painter. To heighten the facts of life is a prime office of the playwright.

But he has widened by his synthesis the domain of the theatre; he has brought to it new material for assimilation; he, in a technical sense, has accomplished miracles by transposing hopelessly undramatic ideas to the boards, and by his indomitable tenacity has transmuted them into viable dramatic events and characters. Every piece of Ibsen can be played; even Peer Gynt and its forty scenic changes. It has been played—with its epic fantasy, humour, irony, tenderness, and philosophy; Peer Gynt, the very picture of the modern inconstant man, his spiritual fount arid, his imagination riotous, his conscience nil, rank his ideals, his dodging along the line of least moral resistance, his compromising with every reality of life—this Peer Gynt is the very symbol of our shallow, callous, and material civilization.

In all the conflicting undertow of his temperament and intellect, Ibsen has maintained his equilibrium. He is his own Brand, a heaven-stormer; his own Skule, the kingly self-mis-truster, and his own Solness, the doubter of himself cowed by the thoughts of the new generation —personified in August Strindberg and Gerhart Hauptmann. The old and the new meet at a tumultuous apex of art at once grim, repellent, morose, emotional, unsocial, masterful, and gripping. And what an art! What an ant-hill of struggling, impotent humanity he has exposed! What riches for the comedians—those ever admirable exponents of Bovaryisme! They pass us slowly by, this array of Ibsen men and women, with anguish in their eyes, their features convulsed and tortured into revealing their most secret shames by their cruel master. They pass us slowly, this motley mob, with hypnotic beckoning gestures and piteous pleading glances, for their souls will be presently spilled by their implacable creator. Lady Inger, her son dead, her daughter distraught; revengeful Hjördis and bewitched Sigurd; Duke Skule, fearing Hakon’s divine right to the throne; Svanhilda freeing Falk as she goes to her martyr marriage with the unloved Gulsted; Brand, a new Adam, sacrificing wife and child to his fetich, “All or Nothing”; fascinating, inconstant Peer Gynt; Emperor Julian, that magnificent failure; the grotesque Steensgard; the whited sepulchre, Consul Bernick; Nora and her self-satisfied Helmer; Oswald Alving and his agonized mother; the doughty Stockmann, who declares that the exceptional man stands ever alone; Gina, the homely sensible, and Ekdal, the self-illusionist; Rebekka West and Johann Rosmer; Ellida Wangeland the Stranger; Hedda and Lövborg; Hilda and Solness; Asta and Rita Allmers; John Gabriel Borkman, his gloomy brows furrowed by thoughts of vengeance, accused by Ella Rentheim, whose soul he has let slip from his keeping; Rubek and Irene, the tragedy of the artist who sacrifices love for art; and the entire cohort of subsidiary characters, each one personal and alive—-is not this small world, this pictured life, a most eloquent witness to the fecundity of the northern Rembrandt! He proclaims that “The Kingdom of God is within you”; Tolstoy has preached the like. But between the depressing quietism of the Russian and the crescent individualism of the Norwegian there lies the gulf separating East and West. Tolstoy faces the past. Ibsen confronts the future.


II

YOUTHFUL PLAYS AND POEMS

Students of Ibsen are deeply indebted to Mr. William Archer, not alone for his translations—colourless though they often are—but also for his illuminative critical articles on the Norwegian master. A comparatively recent one describes Ibsen’s apprenticeship and destroys the notion that he owed anything to George Sand. He learned much of his stagecraft from Eugène Scribe, who was the artistic parent of Sardou. But as Mr. Archer wrote in an English periodical:—

If the French are determined to claim some share in the making of Ibsen, they must shift their ground a little. He did not get his ideas from George Sand, but he got a good deal of his stagecraft from Eugène Scribe and the playwrights of his school. Ideas he could not possibly get from Scribe, for the best of all reasons; but he can be proved to have been familiar, at the outset of his career, with the works of that great inventor and manipulator of situations, from whom there can be little doubt that he acquired the rudiments of dramatic construction. He ultimately outgrew his teacher, even in technical skill, and his later plays, from Ghosts onward, show the influence of Scribe mainly in the careful avoidance of his methods. Nevertheless it was in the Scribe gymnasium, so to speak, that he trained himself for his subsequent feats as a technician.

It is significant of Ibsen’s frame of mind in his extreme youth, that his first drama was called Catilina (1850) and devoted to the Roman champion of individual rights, the hater of tyrants. He studied, says his biographer Hans Jaeger, Sallust’s Catiline and Cicero’s Orations against Catiline; and Vasenius is quoted to the effect that the Catilina of Ibsen is “a true representation of the historic personage”—an opinion in which Jaeger does not coincide. Two women, Aurelia and Furia, who dispute for the possession of the hero, are the two women natures that may be found in nearly all of the dramas. It is not the purpose of this study to dwell long upon the plays not in the regular repertory. Chiefly for the historic retrospect are they mentioned; particularly in the case of Catilina, the first as it sounds the key in which the master works of the poet are generally sounded, the key of individuality, “the utmost clearness of vision and fulness of power,” to employ Ibsen’s own words.

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