Biography of Famous Playwrights: Henrik Ibsen Part 1

About the famous Scandanavian playwright Henrik Ibsen, biography and history of the drama master.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt.

- A Doll's House, Act I

The career of Scandinavia's great playwright was directly influenced by his unhappy childhood. In later years, he remembered only a tyrannical, embittered father, forced by business reverses to move the family to a rundown farm outside Skien, Norway. Ibsen's mother, no longer welcomed in the homes of her wealthy friends, became subject to fits of melancholy. At 16, the young Ibsen left home, apprenticed for 5 years to an apothecary in Grimstad, and 2 years later he found himself in more trouble for fathering an illegitimate son by a 28-year-old servant girl. His parents, outraged by the event, gave him such a feeling of guilt that Ibsen never wrote to them again.

Failure, for Ibsen, became a way of life. Catalina, his 1st literary attempt, was un-salable. The privately printed and unbound sheets eventually were sold as wrapping paper to a grocer. He sought admission to the university in Oslo and failed the entrance examinations. He tried a career as a journalist, without success. As a stage manager, 1st in Bergen, then in Oslo, he fared better, but lost the latter job when the theater went bankrupt. The experience was not altogether wasted. At Bergen, Ibsen's contract required him to provide one new play each year, and although none of the 5 he produced was notably received, the requirement forced him to learn the mechanics of his trade.

In 1864, Ibsen took his wife and infant son to Rome, where they spent 5 years living in poverty. He became a long-haired bohemian, complete with sideburns, a wide-brimmed hat, and a huge cloak that he threw around his short, shaggy body. Teetering on the brink of starvation, he wrote Brand, dwelling on the subject he knew best: failure on an epic scale. Six months after he submitted Brand to Danish publishers, his fortunes had changed radically. The play was hesitantly brought out in March, 1866, becoming an immediate success. With it and Peer Gynt, written in the same period, Ibsen won recognition at last. Awarded an annual stipend and the title of national poet by Norway, he dropped the bohemian appearance and became a well-dressed, neatly barbered, dignified man-of-letters in keeping with his new station.

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