The Young Henrik Ibsen
The young Henrik Ibsen was a National Romantic. His dramas from the middle of the 19th century constitute a “history” of how “the Norwegian national character” and “the Norwegian mindset” changed from the Viking Age and onwards. This book examines his dramatic production from Burial Mound in 1850, when he was 22 years old, to Brand and Peer Gynt in 1866 and 1867.
National Romanticism presupposes that the individual is formed by the nation and has obligations towards the nation. However the dialectical structures of the genre of drama lead to these positions being tested against their own antitheses. The dramas of the period pose ever more fundamental questions. The point of departure is a benevolent God who governs history for the benefit of human beings. But the costs of the historical process become increasingly unbearable. And human beings gradually acquire a responsibility towards other collectives as well as the nation – such as the family or the town – or towards one’s own personal growth, one’s own calling and one’s own opportunities.
In Brand and Peer Gynt Ibsen rejects his National Romantic mindset. He replaces it with an individualism inspired by the Christian Existentialism of Søren Kierkegaard. Thus, in the dramas analyzed in this book Ibsen moves towards the individualism of modernity. Finally, in his more famous social problem plays of the 1870s and onwards he proceeds to question even this individualism: Can one be an autonomous individual and still share one’s life with another person in love? Can one be an autonomous individual and allow moral absolutes to restrict one’s freedom? But all his individualists carry within them a longing for the infinite that is akin to Romanticism.