Jacob Thomas Grein
Lille Eyolf i William Archers engelske oversettelse, utgitt av William Heinemann, anmeldt av Jacob Thomas Grein i Sunday Times i London 16. desember 1894 (No. 3,741).
IBSEN’S «LITTLE EYOLF.»(By J. T. GREIN.)
Allmers (in suppressed desperation): Yes, that is true. (Lower) I forgot the child—in your arms.
Hark! in these few words I have sounded the key-note of Ibsen’s latest tragedy. I say «tragedy,» albeit, that the atmosphere is less sombre than in «Ghosts,» or «Hedda Gabler,» or «The Master Builder.» I say «tragedy» in spite of the play ending with a ray of the light of peace breaking through the clouds; I say «tragedy» fearless of contradiction, because now that I have closed the book and endeavour to analyse some of my impressions, my soul is full of sadness.
«I forgot the child—in your arms.» Has ever such a complaint, and such a self-accusation been framed in so terse a form. It is the world’s history written in seven words. Realms have been led to perdition, thrones have fallen, might and greatness and duty have tottered and crumbled to pieces, all human responsibilities have been forgotten—in woman’s arms.
Allmers, the husband, had never loved his wife otherwise than passionately. He had wedded her because of her «gold and her green forests,» because of her entrancing beauty—but kindred souls they were not. And Rita grew jealous of her child because he took a share of his father’s love from her.
One day little Eyolf’s beautiful, passionate mother had lured her husband away. The child was lying upon the table, cosily embedded in his cushions, and while his parents were forgetting themselves and their offspring in their passion, the little baby boy fell and became a cripple for life; a living reproach.
While Eyolf lived he was the immediate cause of the estrangement of his parents, and when the poor cripple, whose highest ambition was to become a soldier (a wish that stabbed his father to the heart) is drowned, driven to death as it were under the spell of the «rat wife,» an episode which reminds us vividly of Goethe’s «Erlking,» the gulf between Rita and Allmers has become well-nigh unfathomable. The gnawing remorse of his conscience persecutes the man, and now that the child is no longer there, the wife is even unhappier than before, for she too feels guilty; and then there is Asta, whom Allmers believes to be his half sister, and who loves him as one loves those with whom no ties of blood exist.
It is not my intention to outline the story of the play; works as this must and will be read by all the civilised world, and no one has a right to destroy a masterpiece in order to satisfy the curiosity of those who are too indolent to study this drama—to ponder over every page—over every line.
Moreover, a work like «Little Eyolf,» which has been written for the purpose of being plastically represented, cannot be fairly judged until it has been seen on the stage. But what strikes one in running through the pages is, above all, the clearness, the firmness, with which all the characters are drawn; the beautiful, passionate Rita craving for love; the dreaming, thinking, restless and sensitive Allmers, a «Gruebler» if ever there were one; the sweet, womanly Asta, who possesses the strength to break away from her idol and to follow her faithful wooer, the engineer Borgheim, a commonplace young man, but the impersonation of the «joy of living.»
I do not know what to admire more in this latest creation of a master mind—the men and women whom he has taken from life and condensed body and soul in the narrow frame of a three-act drama, or the language which he has put into their mouths. For I recognise Rita and Allmers and Asta and little Eyolf as my kinsmen, as beings made of the same flesh and blood as we are made of, acting as I (or you) might act, suffering as we might suffer, struggling as we might—as we do—struggle in the straits of life. I go further; I contend that Ibsen has not only copied life in thought and action. He has done more, the most difficult thing of all. He has endowed his creatures with speech such as flows from human lips. And in this respect he towers above all his contemporaries. His characters speak—to use a German expression—«as their beaks are grown.» No fine writing here, no imagery, no grandiloquence, no high falutin (such as is cheap and effective on the stage), but the simple talk of ordinary people who have learned to observe and to reflect. Hence Ibsen’s power, hence the untoward effect of his sentences which will ring in our ears for ever and ever. I quote but a few lines to illustrate what I mean. Thus the play ends: Allmers and Rita have resolved to live a new, a higher life, and then he says:
Allmers: Now and then, perhaps, we may still—on the way through life— have a little passing glimpse of them.
Rita: Where shall we look for them, Alfred?
Allmers (fixing his eyes upon her): Upwards.
Rita (nods in approval): Yes, yes, upwards.
Allmers: Upwards—towards the peaks. Towards the great stars. And towards the great silence.
Rita (giving him her hand): Thanks!
Do you feel it? «Upwards—towards the peaks. Towards the stars. And towards the great silence.» Was ever all that is great and exalted, and— sad, described with such simplicity, with such force, in such noble form? I have chosen the one sentence which has moved me beyond description in its naked beauty, but the play abounds in simple words full of deep meaning. Read how Allmers loves his little Eyolf; read his description of his home-coming after his travel, the end of the first act; the scene between him and Asta in the overwhelming second act, read it—and whether you admire Ibsen or whether you have been taught to shun his works, you will have to bow in deference before the unaffected greatness of his creative powers.
What impression «Little Eyolf» will produce upon the stage I cannot say; in my own opinion it will be the most effective, the most vital of his plays; but this I do know, in literature it will rank high among the highest, it will live when all the detractors of the master are long gone, buried and forgotten. And let no one henceforth venture to proclaim that in this country Ibsen is the object of the admiration of a «noisy little clique.» For to-day all England is ringing with the name of the Norwegian writer. And the publication of his latest work has been acknowledged by the Press as an event of paramount importance.