Henrik Ibsen's Biography
Ibsen's first forty years were a battle against poverty and failure. Although born into a wealthy family, by the time Henrik was six, his father Knud Ibsen was made bankrupt and the family were forced to move from Skien to a farm.
Henrik Ibsen, although the oldest child, was often teased and became a solitary character. He was to base characters from his dramas on certain members of his family. Daniel Heljre in The League of Youth was modelled on his father, whilst the heroine of The Wild Duck took her name from Hedwig, his sister and the only member of his family he felt close to.
Henrik Ibsen, who wanted to be a doctor, spent six miserable years as an apprentice to an apothecary in Grimstad, and he also ended up paying many years maintenance after getting pregnant a servant ten years his senior.
Henrik Ibsen started to write poems and plays. Cataline was his first full length play. It was written in verse and was published in 1850. Ibsen left Grimstad for the University of Kristiania and hoped that his writing would earn him an income. However Cataline did not sell and he continued to struggle; and meanwhile he failed his Greek and Mathematics exams.
However Ole Bull of the Bergen Theatre offered him the post of Resident Poet. Ibsen stayed there for seven years writing plays in verse.
In 1857, Henrik Ibsen moved to what is now Oslo (at the time Kristiania), where he was offered a job at the National Theatre, and in the following year married Susannah Thoresen. Here, Ibsen put on works such as Warriors (Vikings) at Helgeland, and he started experimenting with prose drama.
In 1864, he was awarded a grant for foreign travel and set sail for Copenhagen. The Danes were fighting Prussia and Ibsen resented the fact that Norway remained neutral and felt he could not return there.
He moved on to Rome. Ironically, in Henrik Ibsen's self-imposed exile he became aggressively Norwegian, and, for example, wrote, Brand in a Norwegian vernacular. By the time he completed the play in 1865 the Ibsens were facing tough financial circumstances. However Brand proved a success and touched the conscience of Norway and fortunes started to turn for Ibsen.
Peer Gynt was published in 1867. It is often regarded as Henrik Ibsen's greatest play in verse. His reputation was now established and he gradually emerged into a new artistic phase, writing 'realistic' plays that focussed on social and political issues. These works, including A Doll's House (1879), The Wild Duck (1886) and Hedda Gabler (1890), proved highly controversial and influential.
Returning to Norway in 1891, his later works, including The Master Builder (1892) were more concerned with symbolism. Henrik Ibsen suffered from strokes and in 1890 one effectively ended his literary career.
Ibsen died in 1906 in Kristiania (Oslo).
Martin Seymour Smith, in his Guide to Modern World Literature, says:
"Ibsen's influence is to be seen in every important European dramatist who came after him. Pirandello was particularly affected. Acquaintance with his work makes it clear that no aspiring playwright could fail to react to it and to learn from it. Ibsen gave European drama the depth it lacked, both by his technique (the masterly recreation of the past in terms of the present; the invention of a truly realistic dialogue) and by the diversity of his approach..."
Back to Top