Little Eyolf by Henrik Ibsen.

Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf) is quite possibly the most bleak of Ibsen's plays that I've read. It was first performed in January 1895 and is centred on the death of a child: Little Eyolf.

Eyolf is the nine year old son of Alfred and Rita Allmers and appears in the first act: he's a sweet child and sadly half-paralysed, and wants nothing more than to lead a normal life and play with other children, even be a soldier when he grows up, but his disability prevents it so Alfred encourages him into a more academic life. Meanwhile we learn of the rift between Alfred and Rita, that Alfred has emotionally and sexually withdrawn from her leaving their marriage rather dysfunctional and Rita showing jealousy of both Eyolf and Asta Allmers, Alfred's half-sister.

One day the Rat-Wife appears: a kind of rat-catcher who is able to encourage rats down to the fjord where they will drown. There are no rats, but Eyolf is rather drawn to her and so follows her down to the fjord. There he drowns, and his body is never found.

This about sums up the first act: there are three acts in Little Eyolf and the remaining two deal with the family's loss and how they cope when they're already so fragmented. It is an impossible task, it seems, and it is a very painful and powerful read. Unlike many other of Ibsen's plays the tragedy occurs more or less at the beginning and we see the characters making sense of it, something we don't always see in Ibsen's plays, so for that reason there's a curiosity, I thought, about Little Eyolf. Like any great Greek tragedy we also learn something of human nature; Ibsen is a master at this. My problem is I've been going through quite an Ibsen phase of late (I've read five since November) and I think I'm growing tired of the onslaught of human pain. I have another four of Ibsen's plays left on my Classic Club list: GhostsA Public EnemyJohn Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Wake, but I'm finding myself yearning for something light and fun, perhaps a Tudor comedy. This alters my plans a little: I did want to finish the remaining four within a month, but Little Eyolf has just about finished me off! I'll leave the rest until some point in 2018, for now I think it may be time for some John Lyly...


  1. i've speculated(to myself) in the past about the effect the northern climate( varying light and dark seasons) might have on people... do they get depressed in the winter with no sunlight? anyway, maybe these plays fit into a kind of moroseness the indigenes like... or maybe not...

    1. I've heard that said before. There may be some truth in it, but I've not read nearly enough Scandinavian lit to comment. Ibsen's very dark, though. A part of me wishes I could battle through and finish those four, but I wonder if it's best to wait until spring!


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