IBSEN by Harold Clurman


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Presenting: the Norwegian groundbreaker-dramatist as a creature of contradictions who was ""never entirely sure of anything"" rather than the traditional stern firebrand. After a brief biographical sketch and evocation of the (non)state of 19th-century Norwegian theater, Clurman takes on each of the plays chronologically, introducing private-life data when relevant (especially re the careerangst and wife-mistress triangle in Master Builder), sometimes assuming the Clurmanesque role of director in comments on stage business, but generally concentrating on Ibsen's technical development and shifting, oft-debated themes. The early works--Brand and Peer Gynt as well as less successful experiments--receive extensive quotation and analysis, but a more petulant, critical voice comes with the late masterpieces. A Doll's House is not a feminist play (Ibsen's ""plays are not tracts"") but simply an outgrowth of Ibsen's recurring preoccupation with everyone's struggle for worthiness. And Clurman rejects most Freudian interpretations of Hedda Gabler and Master Builder (""I find no sex symbolism in all this""), hearing throughout the last works a less sensational chord: the supreme value of love; to ""sacrifice it for art, career or wealth constitutes the greatest sin--'coldness of heart."" This eclectically humanistic, unjargoned (except for some Stanislavskyese) approach is admirable, and Clurman is probably right to aver that it's the ""better part of aesthetic wisdom to demystify"" Ibsen. But the demystification process here--lacking much momentum and lumbered by dull or gawky prose--results in plausible explication without real illumination, a solid but uninspiring addition to the Masters of World Literature Series.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan