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picture-poster. But this, as it seems to me, was Ibsen’s last concession to the ideal of
technique which he had acquired, in the old Bergen days, from his French masters. It
was at this point-or, more precisely, a little later, in the middle of the third act-that
Ibsen definitely outgrew the theatrical orthodox of his earlier years. When the action, in
the theatrical sense, was over, he found himself only on the threshold of the essential
drama; and in that drama, compressed into the final scene of the play, he proclaimed
his true power and his true mission.
How impossible, in his subsequent work, would be such figures as Mrs. Linden, the
confidant, and Krogstad, the villain! They are not quite the ordinary confidant and
villain, for Ibsen is always Ibsen, and his power of vitalisation is extraordinary. Yet we
clearly feel them to belong to a different order of art from that of his later plays. How
impossible, too, in the poet’s after years, would have been the little tricks of ironic
coincidence and picturesque contrast which abound in A Doll’s House! The festal
atmosphere of the whole play, the Christmas-tree, the tarantella, the masquerade ball,
with its distant sounds of music-all the shimmer and tinsel of the background, against
which Nora’s soul-torture and Rank’s despair are thrown into relief, belong to the
system of external, artificial antithesis beloved by romantic playwrights from Lope de
Vega onward, and carried to its limit by Victor Hugo. The same artificiality is apparent
in minor details. “Oh, what a wonderful thing it is to live to be happy!” cries Nora, and
instantly “The hall-door bell rings” and Krogstad’s shadow falls across the threshold.
So, too, for his second entrance, an elaborate effect of contrast is arranged, between
Nora’s gleeful romp with her children and the sinister figure which stands
unannounced in their midst. It would be too much to call these things absolutely
unnatural, but the very precision of the coincidence is eloquent of pre-arrangement. At
any rate, they belong to an order of effects which in future Ibsen sedulously eschews.
The one apparent exception to this rule which I can remember occurs in The Master
Builder, where Solness’s remark, “Presently the younger generation will come
knocking at my door,” gives the cue for Hilda’s knock and entrance. But here an
interesting distinction is to be noted. Throughout The Master Builder the poet subtly
indicates the operation of mysterious, unseen agencies-the “helpers and servers” of
whom Solness speaks, as well as the Power with which he held converse at the crisis in
his life-guiding, or at any rate tampering with, the destinies of the characters. This
being so, it is evident that the effect of pre-arrangement produced by Hilda’s appearing
exactly on the given cue was deliberately aimed at. Like so many other details in the
play, it might be a mere coincidence, or it might be a result of inscrutable design-we
were purposely left in doubt. But the suggestion of pre-arrangement which helped to
create the atmosphere of The Master Builder was wholly out of place in A Doll’s House.
In the later play it was a subtle stroke of art; in the earlier it was the effect of
imperfectly dissembled artifice.
The fact that Ibsen’s full originality first reveals itself in the latter half of the third act is
proved by the very protests, nay, the actual rebellion, which the last scene called forth.
Up to that point he had been doing, approximately, what theatrical orthodoxy
demanded of him. But when Nora, having put off her masquerade dress, returned to
make up her account with Helmer, and with marriage as Helmer understood it, the