by Wildcat Dianne
July 18, 2009
While attending school at the University of Idaho, I had to take a Literature of Western Civilization class for my core requirements towards my Bachelor's Degree in History. Among the must reads for the class was Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House which was one of Ibsen's most popular and controversial works that slammed the stiff and very prudish Victorian society of the mid-19th Century to early-20th Century. The protagonist, Mona, is stuck in a loveless marriage to a man who cheats on her and treats her like trash. Their son has syphillis because the husband fooled around and then got Mona pregnant. Mona had been forced into the marriage because their pastor advised them to marry thinking that the husband was a good man, but Mona confesses to the pastor years later that the husband isn't what he's snuffed up to be. Most of Ibsen's work takes on that dark tone throughout several of his works and from Ibsen's difficult early life. I didn't have a very dreary childhood like Ibsen did, but during my adulthood, I knew some women who lived in relationships with men who treated them like servants and they were miserable and seeing that and reading, A Doll's House and seeing Hedda Gabler on Masterpiece Theater made me relate to the plights of Mona and Hedda.
When I found out through my Norwegian cousins that Ibsen had been born in nearby Skein, Norway and spent his teens and twenties in Grimstad as a pharmacist and if I would like to visit his home that had been turned into a museum, it didn't take me very long to say, JA! So on a slightly rainy June afternoon, Jon Aksel, Anne Cecile, Jon Andre, made the short ride to Grimstad and the Henrik Ibsen Home and Museum. Located on Grimstad's main street, the home and museum have been preserved to its 19th Century architecture complete with appliances, furniture, and clothing that Ibsen wore and used during his time in Grimstad. There is a huge portrait of Ibsen in the living room when you walk into the tiny home that permeates the place with Ibsen's presence and spirit.
The museum is a great place for one to learn about Ibsen's life before, during, and after Grimstad. Ibsen was born on 20 March 1828 in Skein, a town in Telemark, Norway into a wealthy merchant family. Shortly after Ibsen's birth, the family's fortunes took a nose dive, and his mother became very religous and distant while his father suffered from depression. At the age of 15, Ibsen left home to become a pharmacist's apprentice in Grimstad and settled at the above-mentioned home. Soon after arriving in Grimstad, Ibsen began writing plays and also fathered an illegitimate son with a servant girl. Ibsen never met his son, but paid child support for 14 years before the son became a poor blacksmith.
Ibsen wrote several plays during his lifetime and after Grimstad, he lived in Bergen and Oslo (then Christiania), but being a famous playwright kept Ibsen and his wife Suzannah very poor, and Ibsen grew sick of life in Norway and moved to Italy and Germany from 1864-1891.
Henrik Ibsen died in Christiania on 23 May 1906 after many strokes and is buried in the Var Freslers gravlund in Oslo. Although Ibsen only spent a short time of his life in Grimstad, he has left an indelible mark on the place and it's worth the small admissions fee to see the Henrik Ibsen Home and Museum for yourself when you visit Southeastern Norway.
From journal Arendal and Grimstad, Norway: Discovering My Roots