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THE META.PHYSICS OF IBSENISM H. STEINHAUER ' 'IBSEN'S apparently inexhaustible capa~ity for cb~­ tradicting himself ha~ .sorely tried the patience of ' commentators and CrItICS. Take, for example, the most characteristic of all Ibsen themes: the right of the individual to realize his self-so characteristic, that it has practically "become synonymous with the name Ibsen. Yet just what is Ibsen's conviction on this question? Brand,written in 1866, is a vigorous denunciation bf self-" sacrifice and a plea for self-realization. Peer Gynt, which appeared the very next year, exposes the villainy of.self-:realization . A Doll's House, ,Ghosts, Rosmersholm advocate self-realization. But Pillars .oj Society, An Enemy oj the People, The Wild Duck and Hedda Gabler preach self-sacrifice. ' One of the ideas which f~equently recur in Ibsen's dramas'is the thought that a life of lies may bring moral ruin upon an individual .or a whole society. "I love my native town so much" says Dr. Stockman in An 'Enemy oj the People; "that I had rather ruin it than see it flourish on a lie. All men who live on lies must be exterminated like vermin." Lona Hessel in Pillars oj Society fights a bitter fight agaInst Consul Bernick's life of lies and hypocrisy.. Ghosts shows how Mrs. Alving's happiness has been destroyed by her willingne&s to 'act upon Pastor Manders' advice .and build up a whole network of lies, designed to protect her degenerate husband's reputation.·The same view·is taken 'in Hedda Gabler and Rosmersholm. Yet in The Wild Duck Ibsen advocates the very opposite point of view. The tragedy, so Ibsen would have' us believe through his spokesman ReIling, is caused by Gregers Werle, because he will not allow his friend to go 74 THE METAPHYSICS OF IBSENISM on living a life'of lies and deceit. Now where does Ibsen himself stand, with Stockman or with ReIling, for or against truth? _ Anothet favourite Ibsen problem is the question of the -ideal marriage. Should a woman marry for love or from expedience? In a number of plays (The Feast at Solhaug, Pillars oj Society, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler) -Ibsen exposes the evils -of marriage which is entered on for material advantage, and advocates a "true marriag~". On the other hand, we find a whole series of marriages based on love; which turn out just as unhappiJy (The Comedy oj Love, A Doll's !-louse, The-Ladyjrom the Sea). _ At times Ibsen frankly advocates marriage from interest; and in The Wild Duck ReIling ventures to doubt whether there is such a thing as a "true marriage". Indeed a summary of Ibsen's views on marriage would yiele;! some such results as the following: a marriage from prudence is not a true marriage - (Mrs. Alving, Hedda Gabler, Corisul Bernick); a marriage for love is equally bad (Nora Helmer, Wangel); the husband should try -to_ educate his wife (Wangel, Bernick); the wife should educate herself (Nora); when the marriage turns out - unhappily and.is not a"true marriage") the ~ife should -leave her husband (Nora, Ellida Wangel); she should stay on with her husband and try to'. convert him -(Mrs. Bernick); a marriage should be dissolved whenever one of the parties disagrees (Nora, Mrs.-Alving, Ellida, Mrs. Elvsted); -a man who abandons his wife commits a - heinous crime -(Bernick, Werle); there is no "true marriage" (ReIling) t This resume of Ibsen's views 'on marriage was made -by Max N9rdau, in his notorious book Degeneration, which .appeared in 1893. If we remember that he was writing at a time when the mere mention of Ibsen's name 7S I ' THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY was enough to send a pious jrisson through the souls of all good English, French and German citizens; when Clement Scott, the official legislator on th'e British Parnassus, was shocked into using foul language about' Ibsen and Ibsen's admirers, we can almost forgive Nordau for concluding that Ibsen was a degenerate maniac"who should be locked up in an insane asylum, along with Wagner, Nietzsche, Swinburne and the other decadents. Now that Ibsen has been canonized and given a place beside Aeschylus, Soph...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 74-91
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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