Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

Survey of Articles on Ibsen, 2011

Academic journal article Ibsen News and Comment

Survey of Articles on Ibsen, 2011

Article excerpt

Abbreviations: IS (Ibsen Studies)', CD (Comparative Drama)', MLR {Modern Language Review)', Global Ibsen (Global Ibsen: Performing Multiple Modernities, ed. Erika Fischer-Lichte, Barbara Gronau, Christel Weiler. New York: Routledge, 2011. 292 pages. $138.00.)

The 2011 IS contains a startling, groundbreaking article, Narve Fulsâs's "Ibsen Misrepresented: Canonization, Oblivion, and the Need for History" (1). Fulsâs, an historian and the editor of Ibsen's letters in Henrik Ibsens Skrifter, attacks what we could call the "creation myth" of Ibsen studies: Ibsen's departure from stultifying Norway in 1964 marked a definitive break that allowed him to find himself as a writer. Citing a number of scholars, Fulsâs writes, "What we constantly hear ... are stories about all the setbacks that Ibsen encountered in Norway, or, at best, how little the Norwegian context meant to Ibsen's writing." He signals out Helge Running's pithy remark in Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism that Ibsen was "a European dramatist who happened to be born in Norway," and argues that this notion is a sacred cow. He treats us to a fascinating account of the distribution process of Ibsen's books in Norway during his exile, his enormous popularity in his home country, and, most importantly, the hard figures that prove that threequarters of Ibsen's earnings came from the Scandinavian book market. This is not a point about money; it means that the majority of Ibsen's readers lived in this "backward" country. We are also given a corrective to the high point of Ibsen's rejection by his countrymen, the 1881 scandal of Ghosts. That the Christiania booksellers sent back their copies to Gyldendal was mild compared to the later storm in London, Fulsâs points out, and August Lindberg enjoyed great success when he toured with Ghosts throughout Scandinavia as early as 1883. In contrast, in Germany and France, the play could only be put on in private productions or at "free" theatres not subject to government censorship. A second important point is that the plays Ibsen wrote abroad do not reflect the literature, culture, or politics surrounding him. Scholars have long known this, but in the context of Fulsâs' thesis, it takes on a new significance. Fulsâs, to his credit, is not seeking to disprove "Ibsen's difficult and conflict-ridden relations with his native land," but to show that scholars have been prevented from arriving at the whole truth by a "selective bias" caused by: the self-positioning of the writers of the modern breakthrough as "European"; the modernist notion of the author as a lonely hero (cf. Joyce and Rilke on Ibsen, for example); the similar notion that the author is an individual working in a void rather than in a historical and cultural context; and canonization, which places the writer in a de-historicized heaven, communing with Shakespeare. Fulsâs' argument is convincing, but I wish that he had demonstrated his assertion that "Ibsen developed in step with and as a product of Norwegian-Scandinavian literary, cultural and political trends." Even a short precis would have been very helpful. One last comment: There is a sense in which Ronning's mot that "Ibsen was a European dramatist who happened to be born in Norway" is true; in Ronning's context of modernism, "European" signals a largeness of mind that goes beyond the local and the provincial even if, as Fulsâs has conclusively demonstrated, Norway's role as the villain in Ibsen's career is an unwarranted truism. I hope very much that Fulsâs will give us a book in which he will have room to write fully about what he has shown to be the complex subject of the relation between Ibsen and his country. We need this. Meanwhile, this article is a revelation.

Giuliano D'Amico's essay in IS, "Marketing Ibsen: A Study of the First Italian Reception, 1883-1891" (2), like Fulsâs' article, is a scrupulously researched historical account that makes use of a mass of scholarship, including hitherto unknown sources, to construct an essay of record on its subject. …

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