Henrik Ibsen Biography

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A Doll's House Author/Context

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-1906)

Born in the small town of Skien in Southern Norway, Henrik Ibsen was no stranger to social isolation and self-discovery. As the second son in a large family of six children, Henrik spent his youth gallivanting the countryside as a child of a wealthy family, for his father found early success as a merchant. However, his father suffered great financial woes and lost his entire fortune when Henrik was only seven, forcing the family to move to smaller and more obscure towns. He left school in 1843 and worked as an apothecary's assistant for seven years in Grimstad. During his time there, Ibsen began to write. He also fathered his first illegitimate son by one of the maids at his station.

Ibsen then went to Christiania (which eventually became Oslo) planning to attend the university. After so many years working as an apprentice, Ibsen intended to pursue and develop the literary talents he discovered while working with the apothecary. While he never matriculated, Ibsen did continue to write and he published his first play, Catilina, under the pseudonym of Brynjolf Bjarme. His second play, The Warrior's Barrow (also known as The Burial Mound), was produced by the Christiania Theater in 1850. People began to take notice - notably venerated violinist Ole Buff - who gave Ibsen an in at the National Theater, where he soon found a niche. Ibsen worked in the theater for years, moving around, and eventually becoming the artistic director of the Norwegian Theater in Christiania. During his theater years, he married Suzanna Thoresen and fathered their only child, Sigurd. Together, the Ibsens worked in the theater until it went bankrupt in 1862, forcing them to leave Norway. Like his father, Henrik Ibsen found financial success and soon lost it. He spent the next twenty-seven years living in various cities throughout Europe - in Germany and Italy - until his suffered a terrible stroke in 1900 rendering him incapable of working as a writer.

Ibsen is known in the literary and theatrical worlds for his contribution to the study of social isolationism and the study of individualism. His most famous works invariably illustrate strong women imprisoned by the dictates of society, trapped inside a doll's house, unable to truly find their own voices. It is this theme that has brought Ibsen international acclaim and respect, with his plays perpetually produced throughout the world since their initial production over a century ago.

According to Ibsen scholar James McFarlane, "In the group of plays of which A Doll's House and Ghosts are the defining achievements, Ibsen's attention was thus chiefly drawn to those problems stemming from the inhibitions set upon individual freedom and self-realization by social and institutional forces: by commercial hypocrisy, religious intolerance, political expediency, and all the accumulated pressures of conventional morality and established authority."

Although his themes of social isolationism in the 1879 A Doll's House and 1890 Hedda Gabler, brought his wide acclaim, he has a wide body of theatrical work. It also includes Brand, Emperor and Galilean, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, The Master Builder , John Gabriel Borkman, League of Youth, The Lady from the Sea,The Master Builder, Peer Gynt, Rosmersholm, When We Dead Awaken, and The Wild Duck.

After his stroke in 1900, Ibsen was unable to write, work in the theater, or continue his normal lifestyle. He died in 1906.


Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. Penguin Books: London, 1965.

Tornqvist, Egil, Ed. Henrik Ibsen. A Doll's House: Plays in Production. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: 1995.

Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1981.

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