Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen.

Rosmersholm is one of Henrik Ibsen's later plays written in 1886, around the time of The Wild Duck (1884) and The Lady from the Sea (1888). I'm starting to think that this is the best era for Ibsen, though having read very few of his pre-The League of Youth (1869) plays I should really hold my judgement. Whatever the case, I would say Rosmersholm is my new favourite Ibsen play.

It's about two people living in Rosmersholm, which is described in the stage directions as "an old properly near a little town on a fjord in the west of Norway". They are Johannes Rosmer and Rebekka West (the author Rebecca West, born Cicely Isabel Fairfield six years after the play was written in 1892, took the name Rebecca West as a pseudonym from Ibsen's play). Rosmer, the owner of Rosmersholm, is a recent widow, his wife Beata committing suicide a year before the play begins. It would seem she did so because she was unable to have children and carry on the Rosmer name, important in the town for Rosmer's role as a clergyman.

Like The League of Youth, politics and change plays a strong role in this play. Rosmer supports the new liberal, reformist government, which others, Kroll in particular (his brother-in-law) see as a betrayal of his roots. Kroll, to undermine him, publicly uses his relationship with Rebekka against him: this relationship, Rosmer insists, is one of friendship however it is perfectly apparent to all that there is more between them than that. As this plays out, we learn of the guilt they both feel - Rebekka's in the part she played in Beata's suicide, and Rosmer's in believing he was the reason for her suicide.

As with many of Ibsen's plays, guilt is a prominent theme, as is the idea of being haunted by past mistakes, which (as shown in this play) is not necessarily the same thing. The characters punish themselves throughout the play as tensions build, and the climax I can only say is so very Ibsen. It's a very strong and moving play, and, as I've said, it's a new favourite.

Comments

  1. i've seen one or two of the most popular plays, but haven't read much of Ibsen otherwise... how many plays did he write? i have a copy of "Brand", which i've been meaning to get to but haven't yet...

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    Replies
    1. I think he wrote 26. Brand came before Peer Gynt. Not got that one. Just finished The Master Builder, which I liked but it's definitely not as good at Rosmersholm :)

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