Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Becoming Norwegian: Sigurd Ibsen in America, 1886-1888

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Becoming Norwegian: Sigurd Ibsen in America, 1886-1888

Article excerpt

ENTERING THE FOREIGN SERVICE of Sweden-Norway in 1884, Sigurd Ibsen, son of playwright Henrik Ibsen, initially impressed his colleagues as "a great father's small son."(1) Only twenty-four years old, and still years away from establishing his own public persona, he had lived most of his life outside Norway, following his father's peregrinating footsteps through a self-imposed. Growing up in Germany and Italy, he developed a continental outlook. His parents, however, made a point of raising Sigurd as a Norwegian, taking him on numerous trips to Norway, but they continued to live on the continent. In Norway, friends and family were frequently surprised that he spoke Norwegian so well. In fact, he spoke perfect Norwegian; but without a trace of dialect, it was too perfect. He was Norwegian, but non-Norwegian at the same time.(2)

In 1878, when Sigurd completed his gymnasium studies in Germany, Henrik thought of returning to Norway so his son could take his law degree there, but regulations against accepting foreign studies would have required that he repeat a year or two. This infuriated Henrik and disappointed Sigurd, who subsequently decided to study in Rome where he completed his law degree in 1882. "Han er den yngste juridiske doktor i Rom, 22 1/2 ar" [He is the youngest doctor of law in Rome, 22 1/2% years old], his father wrote proudly to Bjornstjerne Bjornson, in August, following Sigurd's successful defense of his dissertation.(3)

At a time when his father was in the midst of his most productive period, Sigurd in spite of his obvious intellectual prowess and academic success, remained restless and unsure of his calling. Fulfilling a promise Henrik had made to his son during his studies, Sigurd was given a trip to Paris where he stayed nearly two months in the spring of 1883. Writing his parents almost daily, he told of visits to museums, salons, and theaters; all the while, with typical Ibsen exactitude, keeping a careful accounting of his expenses, dutifully reporting them back home.(4)

Although the idea had been broached in correspondence with his father in 1880, during Sigurd's time in Paris he began to consider seriously the possibility of a diplomatic career.(5) The itinerant life of a diplomat could, in fact, appear quite attractive to a young man who had grown up intimate with the international milieu and speaking several languages. For a time he contemplated becoming an Italian citizen and entering the foreign service of Italy. Henrik Ibsen, however, hoping to prevent his son's giving up his Norwegian citizenship, wrote several letters to Norway and Sweden seeking support for an official position for Sigurd. In a letter of 30 November 1883 to Ole Andreas Bachke, an old friend and Minister of Justice in the Norwegian government of Christian Selmer, he underscored the seriousness of the situation:

Sigurd er nu forheredt til nar som heist at kunne indtrode i d en

italienske udenrigstjeneste. Men forinden dette kan ske, er de nodvendigt, at

han lader sig natualisere.... Det er en alvorlig sag. Det er derfor, at jeg

herved, pa min sens opfordring, gor det sidste forsog pa at bevare ham som

norsk horger, idet jeg sporger dig, om du vilde og kunde udvirke et tilsagn

eller et lofte fraregeringens side om, at min son ma komme i betragtning ved

uddelingen af et attache-stipendium, nar et sadant noste gang blir ledigt...(6)

Sigurd is ready at anytime to enlist in the Italian foreign service. Before

this can happen, however, he must be naturalized.... This is a serious

matter. Therefore, at my son's request, I am making this last attempt to

save him as a Norwegian citizen by asking if you would formulate an

assurance or promise on behalf of the government that my son will be

considered for the awarding of an attache stipend when next one is


It was, however, not until after a meeting with the new Norwegian prime minister, Johan Sverdrup, in July 1884, that Sigurd received word he had been offered a position with the Consulate Office in the Department of the Interior. …

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