Anonym anmelder i The Times
The literary clamour which has been raised around the name of Ibsen had the effect of crowding the Vaudeville Theatre yesterday afternoon, on which occasion one of the «masters» dramas, Rosmersholm, was played for the first time in this country. It was not altogether an audience of the faithful who thus assembled, for here and there some line of the dialogue provoked a titter, especially when the author attempted to push his theories of heredity a little too far. But there was unquestionably a keen interest displayed in the new dramatic gospel understood to be preached by the Norwegian dramatist. It was not very easily discoverable, perhaps, by the ordinary Philistine what this gospel was; and if the play held the attention of the house till the end, it is also true to say that a large number of the spectators went away in a state of some perplexity, conscious only of having witnessed the proceedings of a handful of disagreeable and somewhat enigmatical personages, who had been very seriously concerned with so ordinary a matter as a difference of opinion upon political and religious questions. Some of the faithful cheerfully admit that Ibsen is a local or provincial dramatist. There is no difficulty in conceding this point, even to the extent of saying that his sentiments and views are strongly imbued with the parochial spirit. Most assuredly it is difficult to picture such men and women as his breathing the freer air and living the larger life of great cities. They are narrow sectarians, bigoted and Quixotic, as destitute of all sense of humour as they are of the chivalrous virtues. Granted that such raw material of human nature is unduly ignored in the conventional drama, is it not equally false to dwell upon it exclusively, as the author does in Rosmersholm? Is Rosmer a credible type of country gentleman? Let us see. He is the representative of a long and distinguished line of «clergymen and soldiers,» and by descent a high and dry Tory and Churchman. During his wifes illness there has come under his roof, as companion to the sick woman, a lady of uncertain antecedents, but of clear and decided views. Rebecca West is an «emancipated female» an unbeliever and a Radical. She has a secret passion for Rosmer; but the motive of this, it would seem, is not so much the ordinary female instinct as a consuming desire to enrol the object of her attentions in the ranks of «advanced» thinkers. To this end she works upon the jealousy of the dying wife with so much success that the latter soon leaves her in possession of the field by drowning herself in the neighbouring millrace. Meanwhile, Rosmer is conscious only of finding in Rebecca much sisterly help and consolation, and he has so far succumbed to her teaching that by the time the story opens for all this is supposed to take place before the rising of the curtain he readily avows himself an unbeliever as well as a partisan of the new political movement, and is living with the siren upon a strictly platonic footing, while his wifes suicide he comfortably attributes to insanity. Soon the difficulties of the position come home to him. The tongues of the neighbours begin to wag. His Tory friends tell him bluntly that he is making a fool of himself, that «an unbelieving man living with an emancipated woman» is a danger to public morality, and that there is «no great gulf between free thought and free love.» This attitude on the part of his friends surprises and distresses Rosmer. For a time he holds on bravely to his task of regenerating society upon the new lines, but he gradually realizes that his object is an unattainable one, and, as Rebecca has meanwhile confessed her share in his wifes death, he resolves to emancipate himself by suicide likewise. So far Rosmer! What is now to be said of Rebecca? She is a clear-headed, strong-willed woman. Whether love, religion, or politics is her ruling passion is not quite clear. Probably the author intends to show us, both in her case and Rosmers, the submerging of the purely social motives in the animal instinct. But there is a difficulty in the way of accepting this view, for, when Rosmer presses Rebecca, towards the close, to become his wife and silence the gossips, she refuses, for the enigmatical reason that she does not wish to share the dead womans fate. Nevertheless, after an ecstatic interview of a strongly amorous cast between these exponents of «advanced thought,» they agree, like a pair of boy and girl lovers, to end their lives together, and it is with Rebecca locked in his arms that Rosmer throws himself into the mill-stream where his wife has previously met her death. Ibsen is accustomed to lay stress upon heredity. If he hinted at the existence of a strain of insanity in his two regenerators of society, their suicide would be intelligible. But he does not do so. In death, as in life, Rosmer and Rebecca are an enigma to the unenlightened observer. Is suicide a necessary, or even a probable, sequel to the advocacy of «advanced» views in religion and politics? «It may be so in Denmark» or Norway but hardly elsewhere.
The question of heredity is raised in this play as in others from the same pen, though in what we cannot but regard as an unfortunate fashion. Rector Kroll investigates Rebeccas past, and discovers that her mother was unprincipled enough to have an illegitimate child, whereupon he tells her in so many words, «Your family antecedents are detestable; the law of heredity explains your whole conduct.» Experts in physiology will be curious to know upon what grounds Ibsen or his followers justify this dictum. Unchastity may à la rigueur be held to result from a neuropathic, and, therefore, hereditary condition, but if there is one fact better established in heredity than another it is that the transmission from parent to child of physical or moral characteristics is by no means of the simple and direct kind here implied, but is governed by a complex law of variation. The point would not be worth discussing but for the importance attached by his followers to Ibsens theories of heredity, which, in fact, are of a primitive order, long since discarded by M. Charcot and other masters of this branch of science. In A Dolls House the same mistaken view of the neuropathic diathesis is put forward, Nora Helmers lack of moral principle being attributed without any qualification whatever to her fathers dishonesty. What is really valuable in Ibsens work, and in Rosmersholm as much as in any of his plays, is his incidental sketches of character, in which no scientific theories are supposed to be exemplified. The self-sufficient Rector Kroll, the bibulous agitator Ullric Brendel, and the unscrupulous Radical editor Peter Mortensgard belong to this category. In the last-named character, indeed, there is a wholesome touch of satire. But this is by no means a speciality of Ibsens, who is at his best when he is most conventional. The two leading parts in yesterdays performance were sustained by Miss Florence Farr and Mr. F. R. Benson. Of the ladys acting it is hardly possible to speak too highly. Although a novice on the stage, she realized the character of Rebecca West most admirably. Another excellent sketch was that of Rector Kroll by Mr. Athol Forde; and Mr. Charles Hudson and Mr. Wheatman as the leaders of the people acquitted themselves satisfactorily. A second performance of Rosmersholm is to be given on an early day.