By Michael Egan
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Additional info for Henrik Ibsen
The Quintessence of Ibsenism, unquestionably, was a fine, lively and intelligent book; it was most timely in its appearance and it remains a readable account of Shaw’s own intellectual development. He seized on Ibsen as a banner—the definition of Ibsenism implicitly offered (a literary campaign for moral reform through the exposure of middle-class hypocrisy) was the quintessence of Shavianism. It tells us more about Shaw and the way in which he used and misunderstood Ibsen than it tells us about the complexities of, say, Hedda Gabler or Little Eyolf.
Truth attacked Ibsen as a ‘crazy fanatic, and determined socialist’, and the Queen dismissed the play as ‘weird and gloomy’. Even Beerbohm Tree, who was later to do so much for Ibsen’s reputation in this country, warned the members of the Dramatic and Musical Benevolent Fund campaign that ‘we are approaching an epoch when love as it has hitherto been used for stage purposes will be banished, the heroine be a protoplasm and the heavy villain a piece of bacillus’. On the other hand, one or two reviewers greeted the play with moderation and even approval.
Indeed attitudes towards his work in the mid-west closely followed those in Norway. He was known, of course, and undoubtedly read by some, but on the whole his work was discounted and regarded as vastly inferior to Björnson’s—as indeed it was until the late 1860s. Yet even at this time one or two people recognized his potential and began to clear the way for him. This was especially so at Luther College, an ethnic school for immigrants’ children founded in 1861, where Lyder Siewers and Laurens Larsen, two teachers, ensured that copies of his early plays were to be found in the library.
Henrik Ibsen by Michael Egan