here come the girls

Ibsen got tagged as a feminist when Nora (A Doll’s House) shut that door with a resonance that was heard around the world. Well, I guess my and subsequent generations cast him as a feminist. It wasn’t so clear to his contemporaries. I’ll show you a couple of lines from John Gabriel Borkman, which I’ve been thinking about.

In the first one, Borkman speaks to the woman he loved and left for one more helpful to his career: "You must remember that I am a man. As a woman, you were the dearest thing in the world to me. But if the worst comes to the worst, one woman can always take the place of another."

The audience groaned at that one. I have a feeling that they attributed Borkman’s opinion to Ibsen himself and not to the character he created.

lHere’s another one, Borkman speaking again, to his friend, Foldal:

Borkman. Oh, these women! They wreck and ruin life for us! Play the devil with our whole destiny--our triumphal progress.

FOLDAL. Not all of them!

BORKMAN. Indeed? Can you tell me of a single one that is good for anything?"

FOLDAL. No, that is the trouble. The few that I know are good for nothing.

BORKMAN. [With a snort of scorn.] Well then, what is the good of it? What is the good of such women existing--if you never know them?

 FOLDAL. [Warmly.] Yes, John Gabriel, there is good in it, I assure you. It is such a blessed, beneficial thought that here or there in the world, somewhere, far away--the true woman exists after all.

BORKMAN. [Moving impatiently on the sofa.] Oh, do spare me that poetical nonsense.

The audience responded even more noisily to those comments. Just think about it, though, first, how far we’ve come, that we (they) react so unfavourably to those male chauvinist sentiments. After that, go through Borkman back to the person who wrote his lines. Ibsen knew what he was saying. He just had to wait for the world to catch up to him. I quoted from a script provided on Google, public domain of course. I noticed, when I looked up the plays and their chronology that An Enemy of the People is billed as a comedy. Right on, though many people, including actors, directors and critics, think it is a serious drama. it is serious, but its intent is to change thinking, not to reinforce old habits and attitudes. Dr. Stockman’s assessment of his struggle is pragmatic and rueful:

"You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth."