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Henrik Ibsen




Reading Books

To Peter Hansen

Dresden, 28th October, 1870

But it is really more the story of my intellectual development that you want. Here it is, then.

Everything which I have created as a poet has had its origin in a frame of mind and a situation in life; I never wrote because I had, as they say, `found a good subject.'

Now I shall confess chronologically.

Catiline was written in a little provincial town, where it was impossible for me to give expression to all that fermented in me except by mad, riotous pranks, which brought down upon me the ill-will of all the respectable citizens, who could not enter into that world which I was wrestling with alone.

Lady Inger of Ostraat is the result of a love-affair hastily entered into and violently broken off to which several smaller poems may also be attributed, such as `Markblomster og potteplanter' (Field-flowers and pot-plants), `Fuglevise' (A Bird Song), etc., which were printed in the Nyhedsblad (and to which I take this opportunity of calling your attention).

The Vikings at Helgeland I wrote whilst I was engaged to be married. For Hjordis I had the same model as I took afterwards for Svanhild in Love's Comedy.

Not until I was married did more serious interests take possession of my life. The first outcome of this change was a long poem `Paa Vidderne' (On the Heights). The desire for emancipation which pervades this poem did not, however, receive its full expression until I wrote Love's Comedy, a book which gave rise to much talk in Norway. People mixed up my personal affairs in the discussion, and I fell greatly in public estimation. The only person at that time who approved of the book was my wife. Hers is exactly the character desiderated by a man of mind she is illogical, but has a strong poetic instinct, a broad and liberal mind, and an almost violent antipathy to all petty considerations.

All this my countrymen did not understand, and I did not choose to make them my father-confessors. So they excommunicated me. All were against me.

The fact that all were against me that there was no longer any one outside my own family circle of whom I could say: `He believes in me' must, as you can easily see, have aroused a mood which found its outlet in The Pretenders. But enough on this subject.

Exactly at the time when The Pretenders came out, Frederick VII died, and the war began. I wrote a poem, `En broder i nod' (A Brother in Need). The Norwegian Americanism which had driven me back at every point, rendered it ineffectual. Then I went into exile!

About the time of my arrival at Copenhagen, the Danes were defeated at Dybbol. In Berlin I saw King William's triumphal entry with trophies and booty. During those days Brand began to grow within me like an embryo. When I arrived in Italy, the work of unification there had already been completed by means of a spirit of self-sacrifice which knew no bounds. Add to this, Rome with its ideal peace, association with the care-free artist community, an existence in an atmosphere which can be compared only with that of Shakespeare's As You Like It and you have the conditions productive of Brand. It is a great mistake to suppose that I have depicted the life and career of Soren Kierkegaard. (I have read very little of S. K., and understood even less.) That Brand is a clergyman is really immaterial; the demand, `All or nothing,' is made in all domains of life in love, in art, etc. Brand is myself in my best moments just as certainly as it is certain that by self-analysis I brought to light many of both Peer Gynt's and Stensgaard's qualities.



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