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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 42

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
ca's self-sacrifice, recognizes in her his spiritual bride
and perishes with her.
Readaption is one of the prime instincts of every
youthful and reasonably sturdy life. But youth has
not learned that despondence passes, and that morning
comes again. There is some danger perhaps that the
young in despair, seeing the outcome for characters
whose intensity grips and appeals to them, might wish
to do likewise. But there is in most of Ibsen's men at
least a feebleness of character of which the young are
supremely contemptuous. Youth takes no account of
futility. While there is anything to hold to and often
when there seems nothing, the young struggle on.
Indeed, the predominence of impotent men in Ibsen's
plays is something of a problem. Over and over he
paints half-men, who stopped progressing in their teens
and twenties, but who inflate their dead spiritual selves
with words and make them go through the motions of
life in an effort to hoodwink the world. Hence with
the exception of Brand, Dr. Stockman and one or two
others, Ibsen's heroes are dreamers, empty of the vital
ideas which they crave to express-, engaged on life
works which they hardly begin, and insufficiently self-
deceived. Hjalmar has a long list of predecessors and
descendants. We can turn to almost any one of Ib-
sen's plays and find therein some half man trying to
convince himself and others that he is a giant. One
is finally forced to cry, with Brandes, "You know,
there are sound potatoes and rotten potatoes in this
world". But Ibsen's incessant drawing of half-men
was not an exaltation of them, but an eternal protest.
He was himself anything but futile and he pointed out
with scorn, with proddings, and with a long list of ex-
amples, that from half-men one could expect nothing
but foolishness and failure.
I have purposely omitted, so far, a consideration of
Ibsen's early poetic dramas, "Brand", "Peer Gynt"
and "Emperor and Galilean", because they are akin
in spirit to the last period of Ibsen's work. They
marked for the dramatist his first real popularity and
through "Brand" and "Emperor and Galilean" one
first learns the transcendent, icy power and the moral
strength of the man. To this day Brand remains Ib-
sen's best known work in Norway. It sounded a high
note of uncompromising idealism signified by the words
"All or Nothing" on Brand's banner, and it gave a
great impetus to the thought of the rising generation of
Ibsen's own age.
The attitude of Ibsen's later work toward youth
shows a strangely pitiful yearning. He seems, with
Solness, at once to fear youth and with the Borkmans
to cling to it, asking pitifully that his light be borne on,
that his work be finished. Yet he answers himself with
characteristic grimness, that the young have no time to
carry on the lamps of the old. They have their own
wicks to keep alight.  It is an echo turned against him-
self of the poet Jatgeir's answer to Skule, "A man may
die for the life work of another, but if he is to live he
must live for his own."
Throughout all his work Ibsen has a profound and
extremely interesting symbolism which it is not my bus-
iness here to classify. But in the "Master Builder" he
touches heights which grip in us some faculty which we
hardly know, and a consideration of which is vital to
any contemplation of his influence.  The "Master
Builder" cannot be analyzed merely by our brains. It
is like strange music. It raises us to an intensity which
is almost terrible.  In speaking of it Huneker says,
"Ibsen is clairvoyant. He takes up the most familiar
material and holds it in the light of his imagination,
straightway one sees a new world, a northern dance of
death, like the ferocious and truthful pictures of his fel-
low-countryman, Edvard Munch, the painter."
But Ibsen does much more than that. He shakes in
us spiritual forces which literature, except of the great-
est religious compositions, hardly ever awakens. To the
quickening inner life of the imaginative young woman,
no book could be more stimulating. No critic can make
a greater mistake than to try to reduce its poetry to
the objective meaning of the symbolism. It is a drama
of overtones.  Degraded to the concrete it becomes
merely incomprehensible.
"Little Eyolf" and "John Gabriel Borkman" are
both intensely interesting and belong to this later period.
"When the Dead Awaken," although it sounds the
same strong note of his earlier work, marks the decline
of Ibsen's powers, and was his last play.
The thought is sometimes expressed that Ibsen is
dangerous to youth. "So is any other strong thinker."
Ideas are like weapons, they are dangerous in the hands
of the unskilled. But far more dangerous to youth are
mental inactivity, moral blindness, easy going accept-
ance of things as they are.
The vitality of the old is exhausted by the struggle
with life. Save in rare cases they settle into compromise
and are crushed by adversity or intrigued by the ap-
plause of the crowd. If it were not for the ever recur-
ring vigor of youth the world would shrivel up and
die of impotency. It is important, therefore, that youth
be taught to use its weapons, and that it be given many
that are sharp from which to choose.  Ibsen's plays
are sharp. Their message has been dulled somewhat,
by the fact that he has had many imitators, but it will
be a long time before the evils of the society which he
lays bare for us have vanished from the world. Every
young mind brought into contact with those soul strip-
ping clinical dramas, feels anew the shock of realiza-
tion which, thrilled progressive youth of Ibsen's owns
November, 1918
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