Sweden

July 16, 2016 THE ICE CHURCH IN IBSEN’S SECRET HEART

IceChurch

My favorite Ibsen plays aren’t the ones that deal with social issues (A Doll’s House, Enemy of the People) but the ones that deal with secrets of the heart, complicated desires most people refuse to admit – even to themselves.

The common elements to Rosmersholm, When We Dead Awaken and The Master Builder are:

  • An aging artist is artistically blocked and the thrill is long gone from his marriage.
  • A stranger from the past appears and demands payment for an unkept promise.
  • The young stranger tantalizes, provokes and ultimately inspires the aging artist to ascend to high, cold isolated peaks.
  • This perilous climb results in death. Unfortunately, in Ibsen’s world the hero must choose between living death by secure but sterile marriage or actual death by passion, romance and self-actualization.

One might assume Ibsen is the aging unhappily married artist but late in life, speaking of his wife Susannah, he said, “I could not do without her greatness. “ He never left Susannah for any of his young girls. So what was going on in Ibsen’s secret heart?

Secrect Heart2

In an early work, Brand, which also ends high in the mountains with the hero’s death via avalanche, Ibsen refers to the “Ice Church”, a human soul in which love has died. All that’s left for the couple is to “try to fill that emptiness with something. Something resembling love.” (Little Eyolf)

Ibsen Plays

In an interview about The Master Builder, Ibsen said “Solness and his wife are worthy people who aren’t happy in their life together. They don’t become what they could and should have become. They aren’t actually miserable. Although they share consideration and a kind of tenderness and love, they cramp each other. They brood perpetually because each goes his own way mentally and doesn’t share with the other. Contrast Hilde and Solness. They are not extraordinary persons but they feel spiritually akin, strongly attracted to each other. They feel they belong together and life together would be immeasurably richer. They would be better people and their relationship would give their lives greater meaning. Then the collision comes – when Solness still has a zest for life, a need for happiness, and feels unable to live in subdued resignation. And so they decide to build a castle in the air and live together in spirit.

"Castles In The Air" by Kwatsu
“Castles In The Air” by Kwatsu

This lifts him higher than before, able to do things he had not been able to do for a long time.[1] He stakes his life on his passion and is killed.”

How many married people relate to this passage, even if they’re unwilling to admit it or act on it? Is this why these plays made people of Ibsen’s era so uncomfortable?

Ibsen also said, “It is wrong to think of unhappy love as two people who love each other but don’t wind up together. No, unhappy love is when two people who love each other get married and feel they…cannot live happily together.”  I think Ibsen meant, they can’t keep their passion and romance alive – but who can? Passionate romantic love requires an element of risk, uncertainty, mystery and a leap of faith – the opposite of a long term marriage.

From "What Would Your Future Look Like If You Took a Leap of Faith?" By Victoria Cox
From “What Would Your Future Look Like If You Took a Leap of Faith?”
By Victoria Cox

That’s not to say I don’t believe in marriage. I do; I’ve been married forty years (to the same man.)  However, it’s not always easy. My novel, REPRISE, struggles with these themes in more depth and I’ll write more on this topic in future blogs.

[1] Phallic symbolism no doubt intentional.

 

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Today marks the end of an incredible tour of Russia, Germany and Scandinavia.  This is a photo of me in Germany.

Kathleen in Germany

As I journey back home, I can’t help but think about our last few days in Copenhagen.

From a quirky ’60s restaurant where we had lunch,

A '60s lunch tabletop and the restaurant wall - festooned with old reel-to-reel tape players , record players etc - some of the kids had never seen such things!
A ’60s lunch tabletop and the restaurant wall – festooned with old reel-to-reel tape players, record players etc – some of the kids had never seen such things!

to yet another castle with an interesting throne,

King's castle privy - none of the other castles included this detail.
King’s castle privy – none of the other castles included this detail.

to our crazy Marriot Hotel.

Our crazy hotel in Copenhagen.
Our crazy hotel in Copenhagen.

 

A closer look at our hotel.
A closer look at our hotel.

 

Just ASK! Just Alex, Sam and Kathleen in this photo.
Just ASK! Just Alex, Sam and Kathleen in this photo.

Here we are in a church in Copenhagen.

So many churches and castles.
So many churches and castles.
With all the walking we have been doing, It was always nice to find a place to sit down.
With all the walking we have been doing, It was always nice to find a place to sit down.

I will leave you with this last photo as I reflect upon our adventure.

Reflecting on the crown inside Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
Reflecting on the crown inside Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.


 

7/15/16 – Ibsen and I

HENRIK IBSEN
HENRIK IBSEN

Since my family and I are touring Scandinavia, it’s a perfect time to revisit my relationship with Henrik Ibsen.

Growing up in California the smart second language was Spanish, but in high school I opted for Latin. When I reached UCLA I registered for German but in less than an hour I realized what most people probably already knew – Germans don’t employ the same sentence structure as English.

Luckily, UCLA offered a plethora of languages, one of which was Swedish. As a second language its usefulness is debatable since most Swedes speak English, but it utilizes the exact same sentence structure as English. Sign me up!animated-sweden-flag-image-0024

Sign Me Up!

Today, the only Swedish I remember is “Ja kan tala da svenska mycket bra.”  Unfortunately, this translates to “I can speak Swedish very well” and since I kannot tala da svenska mycket bra, I dare not utter it to anybody who actually speaks Swedish.

REALLY WISH I KNEW HOW TO SAY WHAT I WANT TO SAY IN SWEDISH!
REALLY WISH I KNEW HOW TO SAY WHAT I WANT TO SAY IN SWEDISH!

Since a year of Swedish familiarized me with the Scandinavian languages building, I figured why not take Scandinavian Literature? The first book we read was “The Axe.” (That’s all I remember, but I’m willing to bet no one lived happily ever after.)  Next we read Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (logline – Norwegian writer starves himself to death for art) and then Barabbas

Barabbas

(not the feel-good movie version. In the Lagerkvist book, Barabbas escapes death on the cross, thinks about things but reaches no conclusions, and dies on another cross.) If you’re hooked on nihilistic hopelessness and can’t get enough tragic suicides or avalanches, Scandinavian lit is for you.

 

Modern Mythic Style

 

This brings me to Henrik Ibsen. What better way to follow up my immersion in Scandinavian lit than a ten-week four-unit course all about Ibsen, all the time? I might not know much about Strindberg but by God, I can pontificate about Ibsen as long as you can stay conscious. How important is Ibsen? He’s behind Shakespeare but ahead of Chekhov when it comes to fathering modern theater.

 

Fathering Modern Theater

 

Here are some things you might not know about Ibsen. He left Norway before he found fame as a playwright and lived most of his adult life in Italy and Germany. He had a yen for young girls (but not Polanski thirteen-year olds; Ibsen’s crushes were old enough to legally consent, although it wasn’t necessary as nothing physical was involved.)  Oddly enough, although I find the old man/ young girl thing a little repugnant, my favorite Ibsen plays are his later ones dealing – not obliquely – with old geniuses and young girls. Ibsen might be famous for A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gable, Peer Gynt and Enemy of the People but I’ll take Rosmersholm, Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken all day long.

Part two of Ibsen and I to follow tomorrow.

 

INDEED, MORE TO COME.
INDEED, MORE TO COME.

 

But, before I leave you, today, here is a collage of some of our experiences on our cruise from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

 

OUR WAY TO COPENHAGEN
ON OUR WAY TO COPENHAGEN

Two weeks later, although I have visited many wondrous places and have seen some incredible things, it is time to stop climbing the endless castle stairs.

 

No! I Don't Thinl So!

 

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