Strindberg's Ibsen

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Barbara Lide Michigan Technological University STRINDBERG’S IBSEN: ADMIRED, EMULATED, SCORNED, AND PARODIED In 1893, when August Strindberg was living in Berlin, he posed for a portrait painted by the Norwegian artist Christian Krogh. Krogh reportedly painted seven portraits of Strindberg at this time, one of which was purchased by Henrik Ibsen. As is well known, Ibsen hung that portrait of Strindberg on the wall of his study, and he has been quoted as saying that he could not write a line without having that “madman staring down at him with his crazy eyes.” Ibsen’s words could, of course, be taken as a lefthanded compliment, for on the one hand, while Strindberg might have provided inspiration – by perhaps furthering the spirit of competition in Ibsen – on the other hand, Strindberg represented “madness.” Also, Ibsen is reported to have said, “He is my mortal enemy, and shall hang there and watch while I write.” (Meyer, p. 266) Yet the actor and director August Lindberg tells about how he once was asked by Ibsen, who never had met Strindberg, if the portrait was a good likeness of Strindberg, and then, “in a whisper,” which, according to Lindberg, Ibsen “perhaps did not intend to be heard, muttered, ‘A remarkable man!’”(M. Meyer, III, p. 253; Lindberg, p. 308). While Strindberg had no portraits of Ibsen hanging in his study, he certainly had formed for himself an image of Ibsen – an image that underwent changes from the time he first read, and was enthralled by, Brand, (with its ruthless idealism), through the “Doll House Years,” when he condemned Ibsen for becoming a “bluestocking” and referred to him in his letters as “Fru Ibsen,” –and again through the years of stiff competition on the stages of Europe, when Strindberg, younger than Ibsen by 21 years, was trying to supercede him as the greatest writer of Scandinavian drama. One of the ironies about this competition is that frequently literary and theatre people outside Scandinavia – especially in Paris – often confused the two playwrights, lumping them together as “Scandinavians,” or even “writers from the North Pole.” (In 1893, for example, the critic Francisque Sarcey, reviewing Fröken Julie for the newspaper Le Temps, complained: „Every morning we are invited to admire some new exotic Master. M. Strindberg is the latest.“ Sarcey also referred to Strindberg as a “Norwegian genius” whom he found totally incomprehensible. (Meyer, 262).. To his dismay and frustration, Strindberg often found himself not neck-and-neck with Ibsen, but several paces behind him. For example, Jules Lemaitre wrote in Journal des Débats that Fröken Julie had been “cooked in a pseudo-Ibsen sauce,” and he concluded that Strindberg was “ten years behind the Norwegian, as he is behind us.” Strindberg did have his defenders, however, and these included André Antoine, founder of Le Théatre Libre, who wrote:“. . . Mademoiselle Julie has created an enormous sensation. Everything has gripped the public – the subject, the background, the concentration into a single act of ninety minutes of enough action to fill a full-length French play. Admittedly, there were laughter and protests, but one found onself in the presence of something completely new.” This criticism prompted Strindberg to write that he was “ha rd on Ibsen’s heels.” Still, according to Strindberg’s biographer Olof Lagercrantz, “Strindberg was tormented daily by Ibsen’s fame. Lagercrantz writes, “Ibsen was always a step ahead of him, occupying the theatres that Strindberg had hoped for. Ambition –the will to be 1

number one – affected Strindberg every hour and one gets the impression that he formed not only his view of women, but his life as well, with Ibsen in view. The more reserved and secretive Ibsen became behind his coats decorated with orders, the more enthusiastically Strindberg told those willing to listen about the inner mechanics of his work, .. . creating a myth about himself as one who bared his soul.” While he was undergoing...
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