The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen.

The Master Builder (Bygmester Solness) is one of Ibsen's final plays; after this he only wrote three more (Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Awaken). It was first published in 1892 and first performed a month later in January 1893, two years after Hedda Gabler, and it tells the story of Halvard Solness, the 'master builder' of the title.

Halvard Solness is a middle aged and well respected self-taught architect, however, as with so many of Ibsen's characters, his life is thrown into turmoil with the return of someone from his past. This 'someone' is Hilda Wangel who Solness had met ten years previous when Hilda was just 13. Solness, she says, had kissed her and promised her a "kingdom"; being as she was, indeed is, so young she believes him and has returned accordingly. Solness takes her on as an employee (for household duties and the like) and the two become close. 

As this plays out we learn more of Solness and his family: his wife Aline is very fragile; her family home burned down and she lost her twin babies shortly after. Nevertheless she worries about Solness' mental health, even confiding in the local doctor Dr. Herdal (I notice that many of Ibsen's plays have a doctor). Solness' employers are also featured: Knut Brovik, who trained Solness, his son Ragnar Brovik, and Kaja Fosli who is engaged to marry Ragnar however is in love with Solness. Solness has at some stage manipulated them all, putting Knut Brovik out of business and then interfering with Ragnar's plans to set up his own business.

As with so many of Ibsen's plays, it all ends in tragedy. Solness' vanity from the attentions of this young woman leads to his destruction; his own life and successes had been built on the backs of others' misfortune, and so it seems quite fitting. It's also quite a perplexing play and I dare say it would be more enjoyable to watch than read. But, nonetheless, it's very powerful and I would say well done. It was, unsurprisingly, rather controversial at its time: The Pall Mall Gazette began its review by remarking,
The blunder has been made. "Master-Builder Solness" has been played upon the London stage. The enemies of Ibsen may well rejoice over what the friends of Ibsen must needs call a calamity.
To me, that makes it all the more interesting to read!


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