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Evans, Mildred (ed.) / Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVIII, Number 2 (November 1918)

Felix, Marion
Ibsen and the younger generation,   pp. 40-43


Page 40

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
Ibsen and the Younger Generation
T      HERE is much controversy whether Ibsen was
pre-eminently artist or reformer. He was pre-
eminently, both, and as both he is of intense interest to
us, the younger generation, not so much for what his
ideas have accomplished in the past, but for their liv-
ing reality in the present. Ibsen was an uncompromis-
ing idealist. He gained his utterance with difficulty
after a youth whose inarticulateness caused him intense
suffering, but long before he had reached a mastery of
his form, he had seen deep into the heart of society and
been moved by an intense moral earnestness which is
the very opposite of cynical or evil. His early period
of the "well made" play is of little importance. To it
belong all those first attempts of Ibsen's in which he
was striving for a medium, searching for the ideals
which he should follow. "The Pretenders" is the fin-
est of these plays and the last. In it we see by means
of his prototype Skule, Ibsen's terrible doubt of him-
self. In this and the earlier plays most of his later
characters have their first inception. "There is almost
a half century of uninterrupted composition in which
this group of men and women disport themselves.
These types are cunningly varied, their traits so con-
cealed as to be recognized only after careful study.
But the characteristics of each are alike."
But with "Pillars of Society" Ibsen began to realize
the ideals for which he was fighting. Both this and the
"Doll's House" have as a theme "Life Founded Upon
a Lie", and in his following play "Ghosts", Ibsen,
moved to a cold analytical fury by the pretense of
society, showed the terrible consequences of sin backed
up by respectability and lies. A wide circle of critics
had already hailed Ibsen as a master, already he had
dealt with false ideals, but Nora's departure from her
home had aroused no such universal frenzy of detrac-
tion as did Oswald Alving's cry, "Give me the Sun,
Mother".
But Ibsen had too great insight to believe that hu-
manity could be saved in groups. He exalted strength
and he exalted the individual, "so to conduct one's life,"
he said, "as to realize oneself seems to me the highest
attainment possible to a human being --What is all
important is the revolution in the spirit of man". And
of that revolution Ibsen never ceased preaching. He
became the prophet of youthful radicalism, but he was
more truly the prophet of individual salvation. "Inno-
cence, in the common acceptance of the word", he
seems to say, "is nothing. Respectability is nothing.
Strength and the redemption of the individual through
his own greater nature, are everything".
With the "Wild Duck" Ibsen becomes more purely
the artist. Indeed his followers were completely upset
by the tone he took. They did not realize that Ibsen,
who had defended himself in "An Enemy of the Peo-
ple", was quietly painting their excesses. But they did
realize that he was disowning them.   "Ibsen had
qualms of conscience if ten people agreed with him",
and the "Wild Duck", besides definitely marking a
turn toward purely artistic expression, is one example of
a man deliberately scorning the comfort of a hard won
following, which it would be well for every young re-
former to consider.
Most often it is the women of the plays who have to
struggle for this principle of liberty which was Ibsen's
battle cry. Or it might be juster to say that while the
men as a rule have to struggle against internal prohibi-
tion, the women fight convention, and the social lies
which make of them toys or slaves. Ibsen insisted upon
the right of the women to own their own souls, nay,
the necessity that they own them. Yet he was not, we
are told, particularly in favour of Woman Suffrage or
of some of the other reforms for women which his doc-
trines have helped bring about. He said, "The women
will solve the question of mankind, but they must do
so as mothers". This seems a bit strange when one
remembers that Nora, leaving her squirrel-cage, leaves
not only the husband who has made of her a plaything,
but three little children as well. The world has taken
Ibsen more justly than he meant to be taken. He felt
perhaps that the question of woman's freedom was
totally a question for the individual, that no legislative
changes could greatly help it. Yet the freeing of the
individual has brought about those legislative changes,
and will yet bring about more. The modern woman,
indeed, with her ballot and her place in business, looks
after the departing Nora with a sigh and thinks--
"Rosmersholm", Ibsen's next play, is a strange, sub-
jective drama, utterly wonderful and appalling. It was
followed by the "Lady from the Sea", which makes
in very beautiful symbolism, a direct appeal for personal
freedom granted by love. All this time Ibsen's ideals
were becoming more purely artistic.
"He recognized the selfish and hollow foundations
of all 'humanitarian' movements" and he endeavored
to present life vividly as it was, and to draw no more
conclusions than life draws. "Hedda Gabler" reached
the apex of this principle, and with it this middle period
of Ibsen's work may be said to close.
One of the interesting things about Ibsen's work is
the sophistication of his characters. Nearly all of the
November, 1918
40


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