George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 30
Ibsenist and Ibsenite

THE DECADE, 1880-1890, REGISTERS THE FIRST FAINT STIRRINGS OF INTEREST IN Ibsen as a dramatist. In 1880, according to William Archer, there were "probably not more than half-a-dozen people in England to whom the name of Ibsen conveyed any meaning"; and the only one known to Archer was Edmund Gosse. The first English version of "Et dukkehjem" ( A Doll Home), published in Copenhagen in 1879, was an excruciatingly funny literal translation, by a Danish schoolteacher with only a dictionary knowledge of English, titled "Nora; a play in three acts, from the Norwegian by T. Weber. Copenhagen. Published by Weber's academy, 1880." It is dedicated (surely without her permission!)

TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
ALEXANDRA
PRINCESS OF WALES,
YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS'S MOST HUMBLE SERVANT
T. WEBER.

At the climax of the obligatory scene, Nora hesitantly reveals to Helmer the "miracle" that must happen:

NORA: That you and I changed ourselves in such a manner that--O, Thorvald, I no longer believe in anything wonderful.

HELMER: But I will believe in it. Tell it me! Change ourselves in such a manner that--?

NORA: That cohabitation between you and me might become a matrimony. Good-bye.1

When Archer witnessed a production of Ghosts in 1883 or 1884, he said to himself: "That play could not possibly be produced on the English stage." Singularly enough, three men who later became his friends were closely identified with the movement to acquaint the English reading and theater- going public with Ibsen, both as poet and dramatist. Although Henrietta Fran

____________________
1
"Nora: a play in three acts," by William Archer, Time II ( 1890), 57-59. See Harley Granville Barker , "The Coming of Ibsen," in The Eighteen Eighties ( Cambridge, 1930); and Clarence R. Decker, The Victorian Conscience, chapter "'Enemy of the People': Ibsen in England" ( New York, 1952), pp. 115-130.

-403-

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