This collection is a sort of strange farrago of Ibsen's plays, from the metrical mock-epic of Peer Gynt
, to the family dramas of A Doll's House
and The Wild Duck
, and lastly Hedda Gabler
and The Master Builder
which are powerfully individual dramas. Ibsen was a very versatile play write, maybe the best since Shakespeare. Unlike Shakespeare, Ibsen has much more the novelist's sentiment, he doesn't write comedies or tragedies, or what-have-you, but rather he writes life as it is, comments on it and criticizes it. Where the bard is the master of language, Ibsen is a master of morality, particularly household morality, family morality. And most of all, Ibsen is the champion of the individual: man, woman, child, invalid, married, abandoned or alone, anyone and everyone and individual unto themselves.
Certainly A Doll's House
is Ibsen's most-read, and understandably, it is a pillar of drama. It is comedy, tragedy, satire, it is humanist and feminist, it is economic and economical. Following Nora, a faithful wife to her husband Torvald, who indebted herself to a man who lusts for her in order to care for her dying father, only to feel the alarming suffocation of that debt when it comes due: the pressure of finances, the social stigma of her forgery, the family pressures and judgments; but most of all the truth of her position. Nora realizes that she is not an equal in her marriage, she is beneath even her children in the esteem of their father, she is a simple doll. Torvald treats her, and addresses her, strictly in the diminutive, barely even capable of believing his "squirrel" of such a transgression. Nora's struggle against her husband, a man who she thought she loved and who loved her, but who supresses and dismisses her, who treats her as sub-human, sub-individual, is heartbreaking, and feels very real. While there is a beauty in the versed plays of Racine, Shakespeare, the greeks, there is a lovely poignancy in Ibsens's realistic and colloquial portrayal of Nora's (and Hedda's and Hedvig's) plight. Joyce was notably a devoted fan of Ibsens, and it is most obvious in his Dubliners
: their critical eye to society, their offhand colloquialism, and perhaps most Ibsen-esque: their moral epiphanies.
Our house has been nothing but a play-room. Here I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I used to be papa's doll-child. And the children, in their turn, have been my dolls. I thought it fun when you played with me, just as the children did when I played with them. That has been our marriage, Torvald.
Unlike in Joyce, Nora's (Hedda's, Hedvig's, Solness's, Mrs. Alving's) epiphanies are powerful enough to disrupt, the cause change: their effects are irrevocable and unavoidable. It becomes impossible for Nora to stay> Though leaving her children pains her, to stay for their sake would destroy her.Ghosts
, alongside Hedda Gabler
and Peer Gynt
was a most felicitous discovery for me. The drama whirls around the Alving family: the family-head recently deceased, an orphanage has been built and is to be named in his memory, the son suffers from dangerous seizures and so is come home where he falls in love with his nurse, Regina; his mother has deluded herself into believing the heroic mythology about her late husband, though she knows him to have been a cruel and unfaithful scoundrel and drunk. The play deals with two parallel issues: individual rights, parental rights, over life/death of a son, and the creeping of the past into the present. Ultimately Ghosts
is haunted by the mortality and impotence of the good (Oswald) and the immortality of evil (Mr. Alving's reputation, legacy). The discovery of Regina's consanguinity with the Alving's, the most wretched of Mr. Alving's legacies, brings on Oswald's most severe seizure as yet. While Oswald is weak, loving, and honest, his presence in the play is always diminished beneath the shadow of his terrible father, who grows more and more terrible. It is the ghost of Mr. Alving which is unescapable, which is to say that moral transgressions outlive us, our sins become our legacies.
I almost think we are all of us ghosts, Pastor Manders. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that "walks
with us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we cannot shake them off. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sands of the sea. And then we are, on and all, so pitifully afraid of the light.
I have read somewhere that Hedda Gabler
is considered by some to be the "female Hamlet
" - a sort of strange claim, which doesn't seem to quite follow the texts. While both Hamlet and Hedda are tremendous imaginative capacity, and both powerful individual thinkers (and hero-villains of their respective plays), Hedda's case is one of neuroticism, not of genius. Hedda's hero-villainy is not simple revenge or Machiavellian ambition, nor even true madness. She doggedly pursues what it is that she wants, but what she wants is an aberration of normal morality, her means for achieving those odd ends are even more transgressive and highly manipulative: but they adhere clearly to her own subconscious logic. She is not mad, she is without reason
, her reason is simply perverted. She is married to an Tesman, a man who bores her and offends her in his simplicity. She is the masculine figure to an unmanned husband, she is an expert horse rider, and a champion of her father's, rather than her husband's, name. When her old flame, Lovborg, returns, having achieved fame for his work in the same academic field as Tesman, she fears that he will threaten their financial security. Though he assures her that he is not interested in pursuing the professorship that Tesman has worked hard for, Hedda still manipulates him to go out drinking (he is a recovering alcoholic) with her husband and his friends. He does so, loses his manuscript for his "great sequel" to his previous work. Tesman discovers it, and Hedda, instead of returning it, convinces Lovborg to commit suicide (giving him her own gun), and then burns the manuscript. When her complicity in his suicide is discovered, she kills herself.
Hedda has a tremendous capacity for imagination, and is perhaps one of the great solipsists of drama, alongside her princely Danish friend. Like Hamlet, she is an aesthete; he view of the world is a drama in itself, and that drama is one which is proleptic to the play which we read as Hedda Gabler
, until the two converge at her suicide. Her love for Lovborg is one which is artistic, beautiful, and his death in the brothel shatters her warmly amorous conception of him, shatters the illusion of him in her eyes, and reveals to her the very real world around her: the broken pieces left behind of her beautiful design. Like Hamlet, Hedda's design is perfect, but only as it adheres to her own internal (and flawed) logic, and therefore it is incompatible to the real world. Though ultimately her goals are achieved, the effects escape her, they are not as she planned, and her design has failed her.