Krogstad: Would you really—? Tell me, do you know my past?
Mrs. Linden: Yes.
Krogstad: And do you know what people say of me?
Didn’t you say just now that with me you could
have been another man?
Krogstad: I am sure of it.
Mrs. Linden: Is it too late?
Christina, do you know what you are doing? Yes,
do; I see it in your face. Have you the courage—?
I need someone to tend, and your children need a
mother. You need me, and I—I need you. Nils, I believe in your
better self. With you I fear nothing.
Ibsen’s hopes of Enfranchised Women.
Again, we are not told if Mrs. Linden’s experiment is successful; but Ibsen certainly gives no hint that she is likely to fail. This was in 1879. In 1885 Ibsen paid a visit to Norway and made a speech to some workingmen at Drontheim, in which this passage occurred:—
“Democracy by itself cannot solve the social question. We must introduce an aristocratic element into our life. I am not referring, of course, to an aristocracy of birth, or of purse, or even of intellect. I mean an aristocracy of character, of will, of mind. That alone can make us free. From two classes will this aristocracy I desire come to us—from our women and our workmen. The social revolution, now preparing in Europe, is chiefly concerned with the future of the workers and the women. On this I set all my hopes and expectations....”
I think it would be easy to multiply instances showing that, though Ibsen may hold that no man can save his brother’s soul, he does not extend this disability to women, but hopes and believes, on the contrary, that women will redeem mankind. On men he builds little hope. To speak roughly, men are all in Peer Gynt’s case, or Torvald Helmer’s. They are swathed in timid conventions, blindfolded with selfishness, so that they cannot perceive, and unable with their own hands to tear off these bandages. They are incapable of the highest renunciation. “No man,” says Torvald Helmer, “sacrifices his honor, even for one he loves.” Those who heard Miss Achurch deliver Nora’s reply will not easily forget it. “Millions of women have done so.” The effect in the theatre was tremendous. This sentence clinched the whole play.
Millions of women are, like Solveig, capable of renouncing all for love, of surrendering self altogether; and, as I read Ibsen, it is precisely on this power of renunciation that he builds his hope of man’s redemption. So that, unless I err greatly, the scene in Peer Gynt which Mr. Archer calls a shirking of the ethical problem, is just the solution which Ibsen has been persistent in presenting to the world.