Henrik Ibsen: The Man and the Mask by Ivo de Figueiredo (Translated by Robert Ferguson) - review by Marie Wells

Marie Wells

First Among Realists

Henrik Ibsen: The Man and the Mask


Yale University Press 694pp £30 order from our bookshop

This book is the abridged English translation of two volumes that originally appeared in Norwegian, the first in 2006 – the centenary of Ibsen’s death – and the second in 2007. It is the fourth major biography of Ibsen to appear in English since 1931. All four are quite hefty volumes, de Figueiredo’s not least, weighing just under 3 lbs.

Each new biography has added to the mass of information about Ibsen, but at this stage that is not perhaps the main purpose of such a work. Rather, it is to show that there are new ways of interpreting the information. De Figueiredo’s argument is that Ibsen felt uncomfortable in the world, that somehow he was ‘different’. From an early age he was creative, and this creativity soon developed into the urge to become a writer. De Figueiredo is not interested in any social factors in Ibsen’s childhood that might have made him feel different. He sees him as a ‘physically insignificant man, asocial, inhibited and silent’, but believes he used these weaknesses to his advantage to become a sharp-eyed observer and critic.

But Ibsen also created myths about himself: for example, that he was driven into exile. The prevailing view has been that Ibsen’s life until he left Norway was a long struggle that ended in defeat. And in many ways it was: the Christiania Norwegian Theatre, where he had

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