Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900

By Kirsten Shepherd-Barr | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Cross-Cultural Contexts: Ibsen's Modernism and the Theatre in England and France

Living in Norway, I could never have achieved that position in world literature that is now mine. Living in Norway, I would never have been granted the good fortune of bringing more credit to the Norwegian nation than any other Norwegian has hitherto done in the field of literature--or in any other field, for that matter. I believe I may say this without overestimating my present position. 1

By late 1889, when Ibsen wrote these lines, his plays were just beginning to be translated and staged in England and France. Although already known and accepted throughout Scandinavia and Germany, where his works were performed at the main theatres of the biggest cities, like Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, and Dresden, Ibsen was still virtually unknown in these two major European countries. When his plays were finally launched in London and Paris, both in print and on stage, it was at almost exactly the same time yet in radically different ways, for vastly different purposes, and with remarkably different reactions and consequences. The problems and issues he raised were not just literary, artistic, or moral but were bound up as well in intense cultural self-analysis and (re)definition in a way that was unique to these two countries.

Comparing the initial British and French responses to Ibsen highlights the specifically cultural issues that affected the diffusion of his influence abroad. In order to explore these fully, it will be helpful to look briefly at three important factors in Ibsen's introduction to England and France: first, the Scandinavian context and background of Ibsen's modernism; second, the events leading up to his respective breakthroughs in these two countries; and finally, the main con-

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