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A magnificent new biography of Henrik Ibsen, among the greatest of modern playwrights
Henrik Ibsen (1820–1908) is arguably the most important playwright of the nineteenth century. Globally he remains the most performed playwright after Shakespeare, and Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House, Peer Gynt, and Ghosts are all masterpieces of psychological insight.
This is the first full-scale biography to take a literary as well as historical approach to the works, life, and times of Ibsen. Ivo de Figueiredo shows how, as a man, Ibsen was drawn toward authoritarianism, was absolute in his judgments over others, and resisted the ideas of equality and human rights that formed the bases of the emerging democracies in Europe. And yet as an artist, he advanced debates about the modern individual’s freedom and responsibility—and cultivated his own image accordingly. Where other biographies try to show how the artist creates the art, this book reveals how, in Ibsen’s case, the art shaped the artist.
About the Author
Ivo de Figueiredo is a prize-winning Norwegian historian, biographer, and literary critic. He is the author of numerous books and is working on a major new life of Munch. Robert Ferguson is an author and translator.
“The established facts of his life, as well as some fruitful speculations, are responsibly laid out . . . Mr. de Figueiredo does a fine job of chronicling how, in their differing ways, country after country fell under Ibsen’s spell.”—Brad Leithauser, Wall Street Journal
“[A] comprehensive portrait . . . [with] authority and scope.”—Lew Whittington, New York Journal of Books
“Ivo de Figueiredo provides a stellar life of the celebrated father of modern European drama.”—H.I. Einsohn, Choice
“Literarily and artistically, Ibsen’s greatness is undeniable, and de Figueiredo writes with commanding intelligence on the plays: all of the critical material in this book is fascinating.”—Brooke Allen, New Criterion
“Figueiredo has given English readers a superb account of the social and political atmosphere of Scandinavia in Ibsen’s time, and of Ibsen’s peculiar and inconsistent place within it.”—Andrew Katzenstein, Harper’s
“Illuminating . . . de Figueiredo displays a clear sense of why any biography of Ibsen must also, on some level, be a biography of European culture and society—so representative was the playwright of the age in which he lived.”—Morten Høi Jensen, New York Review of Books
Listed on Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles List for 2019
"Ivo de Figueiredo's luminous prose reveals the myth, the mask and the reality of the "Norwegian sphinx." Tracing Ibsen's deliberate construction of his public persona, and his careful management of his career, de Figueiredo also deftly conveys the social and cultural tensions of Ibsen's Norway while keeping his plays and their reception in close focus. An enthralling read.”—Toril Moi, author of Henrik Ibsen and The Birth of Modernism
“de Figueiredo approaches Ibsen, so elusive as both man and writer, in a spirit of intense, scrupulous inquiry in which he involves his readers. His Ibsen is therefore refreshingly freed from any conventional compartmentalisation and allowed to develop, throughout his long life, in all his seeming inconsistencies and unique self-vindicating creations. Robert Ferguson’s supple English prose matches the narrative movement and the emotional varieties of the Norwegian original.”—Paul Binding, author of Hans Christian Andersen
"de Figueiredo’s splendid biography of Ibsen ranks with those of Koht, Meyer, and Ferguson — with this difference: that he treats the man and the work as independent historical subjects so that the plays become a study of the zeitgeist, with an emphasis on their reception and transformation of European society.”—Errol Durbach, author of Ibsen the Romantic