Tag Archives: Henrik Ibsen

Der Grufulde and Passionate Freedom

“I don’t see much difference between our life and the life of the carp in the pond there. They have the fiord close beside them, where the great free shoals of fish sweep out and in. But the poor tame house-fishes know nothing of all that; and they can never join in.” – Henrik Ibsen, The Lady From the Sea (40)


Catfish sculpture by my son Eric Accardi (2014)

This spring I was deeply engaged in making an impassioned argument for the inclusion of literature in philosophical inquiry. One of the texts that I cited in my final paper used Ibsen’s plays- in particular The Lady From the Sea as a source. I had never read that particular play, but I was intrigued on two accounts. One was that the text that was included in the source described an artist that tries to convince a young girl to bind herself to him, with a promise to  “think of him.” He would go off and develop his art, but her thoughts would be a muse  for him. Callously disregarding what effect this might have on her life- emotionally (as well by antiquated ideas of a betrothal’s fetters) to be pledged to a man that had no intention of fulfilling her desires.

Lyngstrand: She too must live for his art. I should think that must be such happiness for a woman.
Boletta: H’m–I’m not so sure–

The second account was that it was argued that this play did not entail moral reasoning and therefore could not seriously be considered ‘philosophical.’

I promptly added it to my summer reading list.

Ellida: [looks after him a while] Of my own free will, he said! Think of that – he said that I should go with him of my own free will (56).

While writing the paper, as well as subsequently, I have yet to discover any piece of literature that does not involve moral reasoning – in fact, I enlisted all of my friends in the pursuit, and if you can name one, I would be most interested.

But, meanwhile,   The Lady By the Sea…oh Ibsen…what a wonderful humanitarian, feminist, and writer…

Ellida: You call that my own life! Oh no, my own true life slid into a wrong groove when I joined it to yours (76).

The play, while ever so slightly too neat, is an extraordinary anachronism.  Ibsen was writing, through the telescope of a female perspective the true meaning of ‘freedom.’  An internal state that is stronger than any temporal ‘moral’ strain imposed from an ‘authority.’

The Stranger: Do you not feel as I do, that we two belong to each other?
Ellida: Do you mean because of that promise?
The Stranger: Promises bind no one: neither man nor woman. If I hold to you persistently, it is because I cannot do otherwise (87).

The distortions of subjugation is the theme of this play. No life is complete, fulfilled, or worthy of sharing,  without complete freedom. Ellida must be free, as a woman, as a human, to choose her destiny…it seems a problem of the past, but in fact, it is not. Societal ‘norms’ dictate what is valued, who gets to choose, what is ‘moral.’ But individuals don’t stop feeling just because they ought not, or are perniciously told not to. Ellida insists her husband (a marriage, she feels, that was of mercenary convenience) must release her, just so that she can decide for herself if she must leave him for The Stranger. She can’t know while she is bound.

Wangel: [looks anxiously at her] Ellida! I feel it – there is something behind this.
Ellida: All that allures is behind it.
Wangel: All that allures–?
Ellida: That man is like the sea (53).

Det grufulde: ‘the terrible,’ what frightens and fascinates. Ellida cannot understand her own life until it is truly her own life. Ibsen had a genius for understanding the subtle but very real harm experienced by the lack of freedom women experience.

Ellida: You can never prevent my choosing; neither you nor anyone else. You can forbid me to go away with him– to cast my lot with him – if I should choose that. You can forcibly detain me here, against my will. That you can do. But the choice in my innermost soul–my choice of him not you,–in case I should and must choose so,–that you cannot prevent (75).

Ibsen bravely expresses the force of one’s heart. It never yields, it only buries itself far away from anyone’s touch. Once free to choose, a true love will out. Rather than forced to react like a caged animal, Ellida, as her own woman, can give her whole heart, at last, to the husband she’s come to love, because she is finally free to choose that love for her free heart’s content.

*title from footnote on pg. 70.

*The Eleonora Duse series of plays, translated by Mrs. Frances E. Archer.





Truth be Told


We have finished reading A Doll House in my literature class. We are watching a movie of the play with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins. I was very distracted watching the film by my inability to remember how I knew of Claire Bloom. Sadly, I knew that it was a husband of hers that I associated her name with, but beyond that, I was at a loss (she was Philip Roth’s wife for five years and Rod Steiger’s for 10, there was another, but I don’t know anything about him and she did not stay married to any of them so…). And then the actor whom played the character of Nils: he was in the movie Indiana Jones– I had to suppress the urge to shout out my joyful recognition when it came to me. Nils is a great character, flawed but essentially sweet, the kind of crushed man you hope someone will save by love.
But, why I have this sort of information in my head is beyond me. Why can I not remember a brilliant line I read recently, but I know most of the names of the Kardashian sisters…well, maybe not their actual names but at least I know that there is a preponderance of ‘k’ sounds in their names. Damn supermarket check out line- literally stealing real estate in my mind.

We didn’t get past the first act. I really would have like to to see Act III. The moment I went back to (while reading) the play was when Nora realizes the gig is up. I was interested in Ibsen’s interpretation of that seminal moment. Some people have said that the action of the third act happens too quickly, but all it takes is a moment, no? Once she knows: she knows. It is that quick. To put a revelation of that order back inside is impossible. Her quiet, stiff truth is, I imagine,  unfathomable to someone whom has not experienced that sort of thing.

I am sorry to admit to the plethora of useless knowledge swirling about my mind, curling around factoids and cheap images; but it is the the startlingly real knowing lurching forward that alters lives. I don’t know how people go back and feign ignorance once they know. That is something Ibsen understood well: The gravity of truth.

Re-reading Life

My Literature teacher mentioned that she had a passion for macaroons. We are reading Ibsen’s A Doll House in class and of course Nora has a forbidden passion for them as well.

Unfortunately I have read both the plays in this section of the class many times (A Doll House and Raisin in the Sun). But actually, I don’t mind too much. I wish I had time to re-read more. It’s just there are so many books to read…will I ever get to re-read Middlemarch? I think I’ll have to read Anna Karenina again because, even though I’ve already read it more than once, I love it.

I wonder how prevalent re-reading is? In my book group we’ve read a few of the books twice (Heart of Darkness because it’s obtuse,  Crime and Punishment because we wanted to see how different translations affected the read- I loved it both times, but the second Norton press translation was superior, maybe that was all: I can’t quite recall). But normally I don’t read a book and then immediately re-read it again (maybe just sections or paragraphs that moved me strongly). There are some I read every few years (Jane Eyre, one of the first books I fell in love with), and of course I love to strum through others periodically, but as I have all but stopped buying books I do this less often. Some books I have that are essays like Meditations or epistolary like Rilke and Andreas Salomé: A Love Story in Letters, or  the wild Gertrude Stein my Step father gave me for Christmas are good to keep on the night stand when you just want a little taste. I like to illuminate all of life’s important questions in the spirit of a character in Wilkie Collin’s Moonstone: whenever he had a question of import he would randomly open and point to a section of Robinson Crusoe to guide him…I’ve always loved that detail, I mean, why not?

I  saw The Doll House performed many years ago, I don’t remember loving it, I think the lead actress was whiney and it bothered me, but of course  my perspective is different now. The nuance and depth of disharmony in Nora and Torvald’s marriage is, read at my age (with my experience) seen in a totally different light. Life is complicated. The layers reveal themselves with age whether you want them to or not. I wish I had understood Ibsen better when I was 16, I really do.

My professor wrote a recommendation for me (as well as my math professor) that contributed to me being awarded a nice little scholarship for next year, so I wanted to make them both cookies. I guess that’s pretty lame on my part. Coincidentally, (or maybe not: maybe I could actually name the cookie of choice of all my female acquaintances, it seems a popular subject) they have both mentioned their favorite cookies (my Stats professor loves chocolate chip- I can do that).  But if I can satiate a jones for macaroons or chocolate chip I will. The questions is, what did she mean by macaroon? Nora must have meant almond, but what if my professor meant coconut? What to do? I’m, again, with Nora here: I love almond macaroons, but I just have this feeling that when most Americans say macaroon they mean coconut. Anyway I found an interesting recipe (involving pineapple) that I will test on my children, if they pass the test (and if you knew my children you would respect the formidable challenge therein) that is what she will get.