Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview

HENRIK JOHAN IBSEN

(1828-1906)

Barry Jacobs


BIOGRAPHY

Born in the small town of Skien in southern Norway, Henrik Ibsen was only seven years old when his once-affluent father first went bankrupt, then sank into alcoholism; only his mother held the family together. The poor, withdrawn, and introspective child took refuge in reading, painting, and creating puppets for the tiny theater he constructed in a shed at home. Lacking funds for a better education, he apprenticed himself during seven years to an apothecary in the small town of Grimstad. The spirit of the 1848 French revolution inspired him, and his study of Latin through reading of Cicero's orations against Catiline led to his first play, the unsuccessful verse tragedy Catilina, which treats its protagonist not as a traitor to Rome, but as an idealistic reformer.

Leaving Grimstad for Christiania (now Oslo) in 1850, he worked as a journalist. His second play, Kjœmpehöjen (1850), was performed three times at the Christiania Theater, but his other projects failed. Unable to realize his dream of studying at the university, in 1851 he accepted the position of “dramatic author” in the Norwegian National Theater in Bergen, Norway, to encourage Norwegian playwrights to develop an independent dramatic tradition. In his new position he was sent abroad to study current theatrical methods, spending time at Copenhagen's Royal Theater and in Dresden. Returning to Bergen, he signed a five-year contract as “scene instructor, concerning himself with everything connected with theatrical productions. He was also obliged to write a new play each year to celebrate the anniversary of the theater's opening. Two of the four plays he wrote in Bergen, Fru Inger til Østraat (1855) and Gildet Solhaug (1856)—his first theatrical triumph—show growing mastery of the art of drama.

In Bergen he met Magdalene Thoresen, later one of Norway's first important woman authors; in 1856 her avant-garde stepdaughter, Suzannah, accepted Ibsen's marriage proposal. In 1857 he assumed the post of artistic director of the

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