The Master Builder
Part 1 out of 5
This Etext was produced by Douglas Levy.
THE MASTER BUILDER
by Henrik Ibsen
Translated by Edmund Gosse and William Archer
Introduction by William Archer
With _The Master Builder_--or _Master Builder Solness_, as the title
runs in the original--we enter upon the final stage in Ibsen's career.
"You are essentially right," the poet wrote to Count Prozor in March
1900, "when you say that the series which closes with the Epilogue
(_When We Dead Awaken_) began with _Master Builder Solness_."
"Ibsen," says Dr. Brahm, "wrote in Christiania all the four works
which he thus seems to bracket together--_Solness_, _Eyolf_,
_Borkman_, and _When We Dead Awaken_. He returned to Norway in July
1891, for a stay of indefinite length; but the restless wanderer over
Europe was destined to leave his home no more. . . . He had not
returned, however, to throw himself, as of old, into the battle of
the passing day. Polemics are entirely absent from the poetry of his
old age. He leaves the State and Society at peace. He who had
departed as the creator of Falk [in _Love's Comedy_] now, on his
return, gazes into the secret places of human nature and the wonder
of his own soul."
Dr. Brahm, however, seems to be mistaken in thinking that Ibsen
returned to Norway with no definite intention of settling down.
Dr. Julius Elias (an excellent authority) reports that shortly before
Ibsen left Munich in 1891, he remarked one day, "I must get back to
the North!" "Is that a sudden impulse?" asked Elias. "Oh no," was
the reply; "I want to be a good head of a household and have my
affairs in order. To that end I must consolidate may property, lay
it down in good securities, and get it under control--and that one
can best do where one has rights of citizenship." Some critics will
no doubt be shocked to find the poet whom they have written down an
"anarchist" confessing such bourgeois motives.
After his return to Norway, Ibsen's correspondence became very scant,
and we have no letters dating from the period when he was at work on
_The Master Builder_. On the other hand, we possess a curious
lyrical prelude to the play, which he put on paper on March 16, 1892.
It is said to have been his habit, before setting to work on a play,
to "crystallise in a poem the mood which then possessed him;" but the
following is the only one of these keynote poems which has been
published. I give it in the original language, with a literal
DE SAD DER, DE TO--
De sad der, de to, i saa lunt et hus
ved host og i venterdage,
Saa braendte huset. Alt ligger i grus.
De to faar i asken rage.
For nede id en er et smykke gemt,--
et smykke, som aldrig kan braende.
Og leder de trofast, haender det nemt
at det findes af ham eller hende.
Men finder de end, brandlidte to,
det dyre, ildfaste smykke,--
aldrig han finder sin braendte tro,
han aldrig sin braendte lykke.
THEY SAT THERE, THE TWO--
They sat there, the two, in so cosy a house, through autumn
and winter days. Then the house burned down. Everything
lies in ruins. The two must grope among the ashes.
For among them is hidden a jewel--a jewel that never can burn.
And if they search faithfully, it may easily happen that he
or she may find it.
But even should they find it, the burnt-out two--find this
precious unburnable jewel--never will she find her burnt faith,
he never his burnt happiness.
This is the latest piece of Ibsen's verse that has been given to the
world; but one of his earliest poems--first printed in 1858--was also,
in some sort, a prelude to _The Master Builder_. Of this a literal
translation may suffice. It is called
I remember as clearly as if it had been to-day the evening
when, in the paper, I saw my first poem in print. There I
sat in my den, and, with long-drawn puffs, I smoked and I
dreamed in blissful self-complacency.
"I will build a cloud-castle. It shall shine all over the
North. It shall have two wings: one little and one great.
The great wing shall shelter a deathless poet; the little
wing shall serve as a young girl's bower."
The plan seemed to me nobly harmonious; but as time went on
it fell into confusion. When the master grew reasonable, the
castle turned utterly crazy; the great wing became too little,
the little wing fell to ruin.
Thus we see that, thirty-five years before the date of _The Master
Builder_, Ibsen's imagination was preoccupied with a symbol of a
master building a castle in the air, and a young girl in one of its
There has been some competition among the poet's young lady friends
for the honour of having served as his model for Hilda. Several, no
doubt, are entitled to some share in it. One is not surprised to
learn that among the papers he left behind were sheaves upon sheaves
of letters from women. "All these ladies," says Dr. Julius Elias,
"demanded something of him--some cure for their agonies of soul,
or for the incomprehension from which they suffered; some solution
of the riddle of their nature. Almost every one of them regarded
herself as a problem to which Ibsen could not but have the time
and the interest to apply himself. They all thought they had a claim
on the creator of Nora. . . . Of this chapter of his experience, Fru
Ibsen spoke with ironic humour. 'Ibsen (I have often said to him),
Ibsen, keep these swarms of over-strained womenfolk at arm's length.'
'Oh no (he would reply), let them alone. I want to observe them
more closely.' His observations would take a longer or shorter time
as the case might be, and would always contribute to some work of art."
The principal model for Hilda was doubtless Fraulein Emilie Bardach,
of Vienna, whom he met at Gossensass in the autumn of 1889. He was
then sixty-one years of age; she is said to have been seventeen. As
the lady herself handed his letters to Dr. Brandes for publication,
there can be no indiscretion in speaking of them freely. Some
passages from them I have quoted in the introduction to _Hedda
Gabler_--passages which show that at first the poet deliberately put
aside his Gossensass impressions for use when he should stand at a
greater distance from them, and meanwhile devoted himself to work
in a totally different key. On October 15, 1889, he writes, in
his second letter to Fraulein Bardach: "I cannot repress my summer
memories, nor do I want to. I live through my experiences again
and again. To transmute it all into a poem I find, in the meantime,
impossible. In the meantime? Shall I succeed in doing so some time
in the future? And do I really wish to succeed? In the meantime,
at any rate, I do not. . . . And yet it must come in time." The
letters number twelve in all, and are couched in a tone of sentimental
regret for the brief, bright summer days of their acquaintanceship.
The keynote is struck in the inscription on the back of a photograph
which he gave her before they parted: _An die Maisonne eines
Septemberlebens--in Tirol_,(1) 27/9/89. In her album he had written
Hohes, schmerzliches Gluck--
um das Unerreichbare zu ringen!(2)
in which we may, if we like, see a foreshadowing of the Solness
frame of mind. In the fifth letter of the series he refers to her
as "an enigmatic Princess"; in the sixth he twice calls her "my dear
Princess"; but this is the only point at which the letters quite
definitely and unmistakably point forward to _The Master Builder_.
In the ninth letter (February 6, 1890) he says: "I feel it a matter of
conscience to end, or at any rate, to restrict, our correspondence."
The tenth letter, six months later, is one of kindly condolence on
the death of the young lady's father. In the eleventh (very short)
note, dated December 30, 1890, he acknowledges some small gift, but
says: "Please, for the present, do not write me again. . . . I will
soon send you my new play [_Hedda Gabler_]. Receive it in friendship,
but in silence!" This injunction she apparently obeyed. When _The
Master Builder_ appeared, it would seem that Ibsen did not even send
her a copy of the play; and we gather that he was rather annoyed when
she sent him a photograph signed "Princess of Orangia." On his
seventieth birthday, however, she telegraphed her congratulations,
to which he returned a very cordial reply. And here their relations
That she was right, however, in regarding herself as his principal
model for Hilda appears from an anecdote related by Dr. Elias.(3)
It is not an altogether pleasing anecdote, but Dr. Elias is an
unexceptionable witness, and it can by no means be omitted from an
examination into the origins of _The Master Builder_. Ibsen had come
to Berlin in February 1891 for the first performance of _Hedda Gabler_.
Such experiences were always a trial to him, and he felt greatly
relieved when they were over. Packing, too, he detested; and Elias
having helped him through this terrible ordeal, the two sat down to
lunch together, while awaiting the train. An expansive mood descended
upon Ibsen, and chuckling over his champagne glass, he said: "Do you
know, my next play is already hovering before me--of course in vague
outline. But of one thing I have got firm hold. An experience: a
woman's figure. Very interesting, very interesting indeed. Again
a spice of the devilry in it." Then he related how he had met in the
Tyrol a Viennese girl of very remarkable character. She had at once
made him her confidant. The gist of her confessions was that she
did not care a bit about one day marrying a well brought-up young
man--most likely she would never marry. What tempted and charmed
and delighted her was to lure other women's husbands away from them.
She was a little daemonic wrecker; she often appeared to him like a
little bird of prey, that would fain have made him, too, her booty.
He had studied her very, very closely. For the rest, she had had no
great success with him. "She did not get hold of me, but I got hold
of her--for my play. Then I fancy" (here he chuckled again) "she
consoled herself with some one else." Love seemed to mean for her
only a sort of morbid imagination. This, however, was only one side
of her nature. His little model had had a great deal of heart and
of womanly understanding; and thanks to the spontaneous power she
could gain over him, every woman might, if she wished it, guide some
man towards the good. "Thus Ibsen spoke," says Elias, "calmly and
coolly, gazing as it were into the far distance, like an artist
taking an objective view of some experience--like Lubek speaking of
his soul-thefts. He had stolen a soul, and put it to a double
employment. Thea Elvsted and Hilda Wangel are intimately related--
are, indeed only different expressions of the same nature." If
Ibsen actually declared Thea and Hilda to be drawn from one model,
we must of course take his word for it; but the relationship is hard
There can be no reasonable doubt, then, that the Gossensass episode
gave the primary impulse to _The Master Builder_. But it seems
pretty well established, too, that another lady, whom he met in
Christiania after his return in 1891, also contributed largely to the
character of Hilda. This may have been the reason why he resented
Fraulein Bardach's appropriating to herself the title of "Princess
The play was published in the middle of December 1892. It was acted
both in Germany and England before it was seen in the Scandinavian
capitals. Its first performance took place at the Lessing Theatre,
Berlin, January 19, 1893, with Emanuel Reicher as Solness and Frl.
Reisenhofer as Hilda. In London it was first performed at the
Trafalgar Square Theatre (now the Duke of York's) on February 20,
1893, under the direction of Mr. Herbert Waring and Miss Elizabeth
Robins, who played Solness and Hilda. This was one of the most
brilliant and successful of English Ibsen productions. Miss Robins
was almost an ideal Hilda, and Mr. Waring's Solness was exceedingly
able. Some thirty performances were give in all, and the play was
reproduced at the Opera Comique later in the season, with Mr. Lewis
Waller as Solness. In the following year Miss Robins acted Hilda in
Manchester. In Christiania and Copenhagen the play was produced on
the same evening, March 8, 1893; the Copenhagen Solness and Hilda
were Emil Poulsen and Fru Hennings. A Swedish production, by
Lindberg, soon followed, both in Stockholm and Gothenburg. In Paris
_Solness le constructeur_ was not seen until April 3, 1894, when it
was produced by "L'OEuvre" with M. Lugne-Poe as Solness. The company,
sometimes with Mme. Suzanne Despres and sometimes with Mme. Berthe
Bady as Hilda, in 1894 and 1895 presented the play in London,
Brussels, Amsterdam, Milan, and other cities. In October 1894
they visited Christiania, where Ibsen was present at one of their
performances, and is reported by Herman Bang to have been so
enraptured with it that he exclaimed, "This is the resurrection of
my play!" On this occasion Mme. Bady was the Hilda. The first
performance of the play in America took place at the Carnegie Lyceum,
New York, on January 16, 1900, with Mr. William H. Pascoe as Solness
and Miss Florence Kahn as Hilda. The performance was repeated in the
course of the same month, both at Washington and Boston.
In England, and probably elsewhere as well, _The Master Builder_
produced a curious double effect. It alienated many of the poet's
staunchest admirers, and it powerfully attracted many people who had
hitherto been hostile to him. Looking back, it is easy to see why
this should have been so; for here was certainly a new thing in drama,
which could not but set up many novel reactions. A greater contrast
could scarcely be imagined than that between the hard, cold, precise
outlines of _Hedda Gabler_ and the vague mysterious atmosphere of _The
Master Builder_, in which, though the dialogue is sternly restrained
within the limits of prose, the art of drama seems for ever on the
point of floating away to blend with the art of music. Substantially,
the play is one long dialogue between Solness and Hilda; and it would
be quite possible to analyse this dialogue in terms of music, noting
(for example) the announcement first of this theme and then of that,
the resumption and reinforcement of a theme which seemed to have been
dropped, the contrapuntal interweaving of two or more motives, a
scherzo here, a fugal passage there. Leaving this exercise to some
one more skilled in music (or less unskilled) than myself, I may note
that in _The Master Builder_ Ibsen resumes his favourite retrospective
method, from which in _Hedda Gabler_ he had in great measure departed.
But the retrospect with which we are here concerned is purely
psychological. The external events involved in it are few and
simple in comparison with the external events which are successively
unveiled in retrospective passages of _The Wild Duck_ or _Rosmersholm_.
The matter of the play is the soul-history of Halvard Solness,
recounted to an impassioned listener--so impassioned, indeed, that
the soul-changes it begets in her form an absorbing and thrilling
drama. The graduations, retardations, accelerations of Solness's
self-revealment are managed with the subtlest art, so as to keep the
interest of the spectator ever on the stretch. The technical method
was not new; it was simply that which Ibsen had been perfecting from
_Pillars of Society_ onward; but it was applied to a subject of a
nature not only new to him, but new to literature.
That the play is full of symbolism it would be futile to deny; and
the symbolism is mainly autobiographic. The churches which Solness
sets out building doubtless represent Ibsen's early romantic plays,
the "homes for human beings" his social drama; while the houses
with high towers, merging into "castles in the air," stand for those
spiritual dramas, with a wide outlook over the metaphysical
environment of humanity, on which he was henceforth to be engaged.
Perhaps it is not altogether fanciful to read a personal reference
into Solness's refusal to call himself an architect, on the ground
that his training has not been systematic--that he is a self-taught
man. Ibsen too was in all essentials self-taught; his philosophy
was entirely unsystematic; and, like Solness, he was no student of
books. There may be an introspective note also in that dread of
the younger generation to which Solness confesses. It is certain
that the old Master-Builder was not lavish of his certificates of
competence to young aspirants, though there is nothing to show that
his reticence ever depressed or quenched any rising genius.
On the whole, then, it cannot be doubted that several symbolic
motives are inwoven into the iridescent fabric of the play. But it
is a great mistake to regard it as essentially and inseparably a
piece of symbolism. Essentially it is a history of a sickly
conscience, worked out in terms of pure psychology. Or rather, it
is a study of a sickly and a robust conscience side by side. "The
conscience is very conservative," Ibsen has somewhere said; and here
Solness's conservatism is contrasted with Hilda's radicalism--or
rather would-be radicalism, for we are led to suspect, towards the
close, that the radical too is a conservative in spite or herself.
The fact that Solness cannot climb as high as he builds implies, I
take it, that he cannot act as freely as he thinks, or as Hilda would
goad him into thinking. At such an altitude his conscience would
turn dizzy, and life would become impossible to him. But here I am
straying back to the interpretation of symbols. My present purpose
is to insist that there is nothing in the play which has no meaning
on the natural-psychological plane, and absolutely requires a symbolic
interpretation to make it comprehensible. The symbols are harmonic
undertones; the psychological melody is clear and consistent without
any reference to them.(4) It is true that, in order to accept the
action on what we may call the realistic level, we must suppose
Solness to possess and to exercise, sometimes unconsciously, a
considerable measure of hypnotic power. But time is surely past
when we could reckon hypnotism among "supernatural" phenomena.
Whether the particular forms of hypnotic influence attributed to
Solness do actually exist is a question we need not determine. The
poet does not demand our absolute credence, as though he were giving
evidence in the witness-box. What he requires is our imaginative
acceptance of certain incidents which he purposely leaves hovering on
the border between the natural and the preternatural, the explained
and the unexplained. In this play, as in _The Lady from the Sea_ and
_Little Eyolf_, he shows a delicacy of art in his dalliance with the
occult which irresistibly recalls the exquisite genius of Nathaniel
The critics who insist on finding nothing but symbolism in the play
have fastened on Mrs. Solness's "nine lovely dolls," and provided the
most amazing interpretations for them. A letter which I contributed
in 1893 to the _Westminster Gazette_ records an incident which throws
a curious light on the subject and may be worth preserving. "At a
recent first night," I wrote, "I happened to be seated just behind a
well-known critic. He turned round to me and said, 'I want you to
tell me what is YOUR theory of those "nine lovely dolls." Of course
one can see that they are entirely symbolical.' 'I am not so sure
of that,' I replied, remembering a Norwegian cousin of my own who
treasured a favourite doll until she was nearer thirty than twenty.
'They of course symbolise the unsatisfied passion of motherhood in
Mrs. Solness's heart, but I have very little doubt that Ibsen makes
use of this "symbol" because he has observed a similar case, or
cases, in real life.' 'What!' cried the critic. 'He has seen a
grown-up, a middle-aged woman continuing to "live with" her dolls!'
I was about to say that it did not seem to me so very improbable,
when a lady who was seated next me, a total stranger to both of us,
leant forward and said, 'Excuse my interrupting you, but it may
perhaps interest you to know that I HAVE THREE DOLLS TO WHICH I AM
DEEPLY ATTACHED!' I will not be so rude as to conjecture this lady's
age, but we may be sure that a very young woman would not have had
the courage to make such an avowal. Does it not seem that Ibsen knows
a thing or two about human nature--English as well as Norwegian--
which we dramatic critics, though bound by our calling to be subtle
psychologists, have not yet fathomed?" In the course of the
correspondence which followed, one very apposite anecdote was quoted
from an American paper, the _Argonaut_: "An old Virginia lady said
to a friend, on finding a treasured old cup cracked by a careless
maid, 'I know of nothing to compare with the affliction of losing a
handsome piece of old china.' 'Surely,' said the friend, 'it is not
so bad as losing one's children.' 'Yes, it is,' replied the old lady,
'for when your children die, you do have the consolations of religion,
It would be a paradox to call _The Master Builder_ Ibsen's greatest
work, but one of his three or four greatest it assuredly is. Of all
his writings, it is probably the most original, the most individual,
the most unlike any other drama by any other writer. The form of
_Brand_ and _Peer Gynt_ was doubtless suggested by other dramatic
poems--notably by _Faust_. In _The Wild Duck_, in _Rosmersholm_,
in _Hedda Gabler_, even in _Little Eyolf_ and _John Gabriel Borkman_,
there remain faint traces of the French leaven which is so strong in
the earlier plays. But _The Master Builder_ had no model and has no
parallel. It shows no slightest vestige of outside influence. It
is Ibsen, and nothing but Ibsen.
(1)"To the May-sun of a September life--in Tyrol."
(2)"High, painful happiness--to struggle for the unattainable!"
(3)_Neus deutsche Rundschau_, December, 1906, p.1462.
(4)This conception I have worked out at much greater length in an
essay entitled _The Melody of the Master Builder_, appended to
the shilling edition of the play, published in 1893. I there
retell the story, transplanting it to England and making the hero
a journalist instead of an architect, in order to show that (if
we grant the reality of certain commonly-accepted phenomena of
hypnotism) there is nothing incredible or even extravagantly
improbable about it. The argument is far too long to be included
here, but the reader who is interested in the subject may find it
worth referring to.
(5)For an instance of the technical methods by which he suggested
the supernormal element in the atmosphere of the play, see
Introduction to _A Doll's House_, p. xiv.
THE MASTER BUILDER.
PLAY IN THREE ACTS.
HALVARD SOLNESS, Master Builder.
ALINE SOLNESS, his wife.
DOCTOR HERDAL, physician.
KNUT BROVIK, formerly an architect, now in SOLNESS'S employment.
RAGNAR BROVIK, his son, draughtsman.
KAIA BROVIK, his niece, book-keeper.
MISS HILDA WANGEL.
A Crowd in the street.
The action passes in and about SOLNESS'S house.
A plainly-furnished work-room in the house of HALVARD SOLNESS.
Folding doors on the left lead out to the hall. On the right
is the door leading to the inner rooms of the house. At the
back is an open door into the draughtsmen's office. In front,
on the left, a desk with books, papers and writing materials.
Further back than the folding door, a stove. In the right-
hand corner, a sofa, a table, and one or two chairs. On the
table a water-bottle and glass. A smaller table, with a
rocking-chair and arm-chair, in front on the right. Lighted
lamps, with shades, on the table in the draughtmen's office,
on the table in the corner, and on the desk.
In the draughtsmen's office sit KNUT BROVIK and his son RAGNAR,
occupied with plans and calculations. At the desk in the outer
office stands KAIA FOSLI, writing in the ledger. KNUT BROVICK
is a spare old man with white hair and beard. He wears a
rather threadbare but well-brushed black coat, with spectacles,
and a somewhat discoloured white neckcloth. RAGNAR BROVIK is
a well-dressed, light-haired man in his thirties, with a
slight stoop. KAIA FOSLI is a slightly built girl, a little
over twenty, carefully dressed, and delicate-looking. She has
a green shade over her eyes.--All three go on working for some
time in silence.
[Rises suddenly, as if in distress, from the table; breathes heavily
and laboriously as he comes forward into the doorway.] No, I can't
bear it much longer!
[Going up to him.] You are feeling very ill this evening, are you
Oh, I seem to get worse every day.
[Has risen and advances.] You ought to go home, father. Try to get
a little sleep---
[Impatiently.] Go to bed, I suppose? Would you have me stifled
Then take a little walk.
Yes, do. I will come with you.
[With warmth.] I will not go till he comes! I and determined to have
it out this evening with--[in a tone of suppressed bitterness]--with
him--with the chief.
[Anxiously.] Oh no, uncle,--do wait awhile before doing that!
Yes, better wait, father!
[Draws is breath laboriously.] Ha--ha--! _I_ haven't much time
[Listening.] Hush! I hear him on the stairs.
[All three go back to their work. A short silence.
HALVARD SOLNESS comes in through the hall door. He is a man no
longer young, but healthy and vigorous, with close-cut curly
hair, dark moustache and dark thick eyebrows. He wears a
greyish-green buttoned jacket with an upstanding collar and
broad lappels. On his head he wears a soft grey felt hat,
and he has one or two light portfolios under his arm.
[Near the door, points towards the draughtsmen's office, and asks in
a whisper:] Are they gone?
[Softly, shaking her] No.
[She takes the shade off her eyes. SOLNESS crosses the room,
throws his hat on a chair, places the portfolios on the table
by the sofa, and approaches the desk again. KAIA goes on
writing without intermission, but seems nervous and uneasy.
[Aloud.] What is that you are entering, Miss Fosli?
[Starts.] Oh, it is only something that---
Let me look at it, Miss Fosli. [Bends over her, pretends to be
looking into the ledger, and whispers:] Kaia!
[Softly, still writing.] Well?
Why do you always take that shade off when I come?
[As before.] I look so ugly with it on.
[Smiling.] Then you don't like to look ugly, Kaia?
[Half glancing up at him.] Not for all the world. Not in your eyes.
[Strokes her hair gently.] Poor, poor little Kaia---
[Bending her head.] Hush--they can hear you!
[SOLNESS strolls across the room to the right, turns and pauses
at the door of the draughtsmen's office.
Has any one been here for me?
[Rising.] Yes, the young couple who want a villa built, out at
[Growling.] Oh, those two! They must wait. I am not quite clear
about the plans yet.
[Advancing, with some hesitation.] They were very anxious to have the
drawings at once.
[As before.] Yes, of course--so they all are.
[Looks up.] They say they are longing so to get into a house of their
Yes, yes--we know all that! And so they are content to take whatever
is offered them. They get a--a roof over their heads--an address--
but nothing to call a home. No thank you! In that case, let them
apply to somebody else. Tell them that, the next time they call.
[Pushes his glasses up on to his forehead and looks in astonishment at
him.] To somebody else? Are you prepared to give up the commission?
[Impatiently.] Yes, yes, yes, devil take it! If that is to be the
way of it---. Rather that, than build away at random. [Vehemently.]
Besides, I know very little about these people as yet.
The people are safe enough. Ragnar knows them. He is a friend of
Oh, safe--safe enough! That is not at all what I mean. Good lord--
don't you understand me either? [Angrily.] I won't have anything
to do with these strangers. They may apply to whom they please, so
far as I am concerned.
[Rising.] Do you really mean that?
[Sulkily.] Yes I do.--For once in a way. [He comes forward.
[BROVIK exchanges a glance with RAGNAR, who makes a warning
gesture. Then BROVIK comes into the front room.
May I have a few words with you?
[To KAIA.] Just go in there for moment, Kaia.
[Uneasily.] Oh, but uncle---
Do as I say, child. And shut the door after you.
[KAIA goes reluctantly into the draughtsmen's office, glances
anxiously and imploringly at SOLNESS, and shuts the door.
[Lowering his voice a little.] I don't want the poor children to know
how I am.
Yes, you have been looking very poorly of late.
It will soon be all over with me. My strength is ebbing--from day
Won't you sit down?
[Placing the arm-chair more conveniently.] Here--take this chair.--
[Has seated himself with difficulty.] Well, you see, it's about
Ragnar. That is what weighs most upon me. What is to become of him?
Of course your son will stay with me as long as ever he likes.
But that is just what he does not like. He feels that he cannot
stay here any longer.
Why, I should say he was very well off here. But if he wants more
money, I should not mind---
No, no! It is not that. [Impatiently.] But sooner or later he, too,
must have a chance of doing something on his own account.
[Without looking at him.] Do you think that Ragnar has quite talent
enough to stand alone?
No, that is just the heartbreaking part of it--I have begun to have
my doubts about the boy. For you have never said so much as--as
one encouraging word about him. And yet I cannot but think there
must be something in him--he can't be without talent.
Well, but he has learnt nothing--nothing thoroughly, I mean. Except,
of course, to draw.
[Looks at him with covert hatred, and says hoarsely.] You had
learned little enough of the business when you were in my employment.
But that did not prevent you from setting to work--[breathing with
difficulty]--and pushing your way up, and taking the wind out of my
sails--mine, and so may other people's.
Yes, you see--circumstances favoured me.
You are right there. Everything favoured you. But then how can you
have the heart to let me go to my grave--without having seen what
Ragnar is fit for? And of course I am anxious to see them married,
too--before I go.
[Sharply.] Is it she who wishes it?
Not Kaia so much as Ragnar--he talks about it every day.
[Appealingly.] You must help him to get some independent work now!
I must see something that the lad has done. Do you hear?
[Peevishly.] Hang it, man, you can't expect me to drag commissions
down from the moon for him!
He has the chance of a capital commission at this very moment. A
big bit of work.
[Uneasily, startled.] Has he?
I you would give your consent.
What sort of work do you mean?
[With some hesitation.] He can have the building of that villa out
That! Why I am going to build that myself.
Oh you don't much care about doing it.
[Flaring up.] Don't care! Who dares to say that?
You said so yourself just now.
Oh, never mind what I say.--Would they give Ragnar the building of
Yes. You see, he knows the family. And then--just for the fun of
the thing--he has made drawings and estimates and so forth---
Are they pleased with the drawings? The people who will have to live
in the house?
Yes. If you would only look through them and approve of them---
Then they would let Ragnar build their home for them?
They were immensely pleased with his idea. They thought it exceedingly
original, they said.
Oho! Original! Not the old-fashioned stuff that _I_ am in the habit
of turning out!
It seemed to them different.
[With suppressed irritation.] So it was to see Ragnar that they came
here--whilst I was out!
They came to call upon you--and at the same time to ask whether you
would mind retiring---
[Angrily.] Retire? I?
In case you thought that Ragnar's drawings---
I! Retire in favour of your son!
Retire from the agreement, they meant.
Oh, it comes to the same thing. [Laughs angrily.] So that is it,
is it? Halvard Solness is to see about retiring now! To make room
for younger men! For the very youngest, perhaps! He must make room!
Why, good heavens! there is surely room for more than one single man--
Oh, there's not so very much room to spare either. But, be that as it
may--I will never retire! I will never give way to anybody! Never of
my own free will. Never in this world will I do that!
[Rise with difficulty.] Then I am to pass out of life without any
certainty? Without a gleam of happiness? Without any faith or
trust in Ragnar? Without having seen a single piece of work of his
doing? Is that to be the way of it?
[Turns half aside, and mutters.] H'm--don't ask more just now.
I must have an answer to this one question. Am I to pass out of life
in such utter poverty?
[Seems to struggle with himself; finally he says, in a low but firm
voice:] You must pass out of life as best you can.
Then be it so. [He goes up the room.
[Following him, half is desperation.] Don't you understand that I
cannot help it? I am what I am, and I cannot change my nature!
No; I suppose that you can't. [Reels and supports himself against
the sofa-table.] May I have a glass of water?
By all means. [Fills a glass and hands it to him.
Thanks. [Drinks and puts the glass down again.
[SOLNESS goes up and opens the door of the draughtsmen's office.
Ragnar--you must come and take your father home.
Ragnar rises quickly. He and KAIA come into the work-room.
What is the matter, father?
Give me your arm. Now let us go.
Very well. You had better put your things on, too, Kaia.
Miss Fosli must stay--just for a moment. There is a letter I want
[Looks at SOLNESS.] Good night. Sleep well--if you can.
[BROVIK and RAGNAR go out by the hall-door. KAIA goes to the
desk. SOLNESS stands with bent head, to the right, by the
[Dubiously.] Is there any letter?
[Curtly.] No, of course not. [Looks sternly at her.] Kaia!
[Anxiously, in a low voice.] Yes!
[Points imperatively to a spot on the floor.] Come here! At once!
[As before.] Nearer!
[Obeying.] What do you want with me?
[Looks at her for a while.] Is it you I have to thank for all this?
No, no, don't think that!
But confess now--you want to get married!
[Softly.] Ragnar and I have been engaged for four or five years,
And so you think it time there were an end of it. Is not that so?
Ragnar and Uncle say I must. So I suppose I shall have to give in.
[More gently.] Kaia, don't you really care a little bit for Ragnar,
I cared very much for Ragnar once--before I came here to you.
But you don't now? Not in the least?
[Passionately, clasping hands and holding them out towards him.] Oh,
you know very well there is only one person I care for now! I shall
never care for any one else.
Yes, you say that. And yet you go away from me--leave me alone here
with everything on my hands.
But could I not stay with you, even if Ragnar---?
[Repudiating the idea.] No, no, that is quite impossible. If Ragnar
leaves me and starts work on his own account, then of course he will
need you himself.
[Wringing her hands.] Oh, I feel as if I could not be separated
from you! It's quite, quite impossible!
Then be sure you get those foolish notions out of Ragnar's head.
Marry him as much as you please--[Alters his tone.] I mean--don't
let him throw up his good situation with me. For then I can keep
you too, my dear Kaia.
Oh yes, how lovely that would be, if it could only be managed!
[Clasps her head with his two hands and whispers.] For I cannot get
on without you, you see. I must have you with me every single day.
[In nervous exaltation.] My God! My God!
[Kisses her hair.] Kaia--Kaia!
[Sinks down before him.] Oh, how good you are to me! How unspeakably
good you are!
[Vehemently.] Get up! For goodness' sake get up! I think I hear
[He helps her to rise. She staggers over to the desk.
MRS. SOLNESS enters by the door on the right. She looks thin
and wasted with grief, but shows traces of bygone beauty.
Blonde ringlets. Dressed with good taste, wholly in black.
Speaks some-what slowly and in a plaintive voice.
[In the doorway.] Halvard!
[Turns.] Oh, are you there, my dear---?
[With a glance at KAIA.] I am afraid I am disturbing you.
Not in the least. Miss Fosli has only a short letter to write.
Yes, so I see.
What do you want with me, Aline?
I merely wanted to tell you that Dr. Herdal is in the drawing-room.
Won't you come and see him, Halvard?
[Looks suspiciously at her.]. H'm--is the doctor so very anxious to
Well, not exactly anxious. He really came to see me; but he would
like to say how-do-you-do to you at the same time.
[Laughs to himself.] Yes, I daresay. Well, you must ask him to wait
Then you will come in presently?
Perhaps I will. Presently, presently, dear. In a little while.
[Glancing again at KAIA.] Well now, don't forget, Halvard.
[Withdraws and closes the door behind her.
[Softly.] Oh dear, oh dear--I am sure Mrs. Solness thinks ill of me
in some way!
Oh, not in the least. Not more than usual at any rate. But all the
same, you had better go now, Kaia.
Yes, yes, now I must go.
[Severely.] And mind you get that matter settled for me. Do you
Oh, if it only depended on me---
I will have it settled, I say! And to-morrow too--not a day later!
[Terrified.] If there's nothing else for it, I am quite willing to
break off the engagement.
[Angrily.] Break it off. Are you mad? Would you think of breaking
[Distracted.] Yes, if necessary. For I must--I must stay here with
you! I can't leave you! That is utterly--utterly impossible!
[With a sudden outburst.] But deuce take it--how about Ragnar then!
It's Ragnar that I---
[Looks at him with terrified eyes.] It is chiefly on Ragnar's account,
[Collecting himself.] No, no, of course not! You don't understand
me either. [Gently and softly.] Of course it is you I want to keep.
--you above everything, Kaia. But for that very reason, you must
prevent Ragnar, too, from throwing up his situation. There, there,
--now go home.
Yes, yes--good-night, then.
Good night. [As she is going.] Oh, stop a moment! Are Ragnar's
drawings in there?
I did not see him take them with him.
Then just go and find them for me. I might perhaps glance over them,
[Happy.] Oh yes, please do!
For your sake, Kaia dear. Now, let me have them at once, please.
[KAIA hurries into the draughtsmen's office, searches anxiously
in the table-drawer, finds a portfolio and brings it with her.
Here are all the drawings.
Good. Put them down there on the table.
[Putting down the portfolio.] Good night, then. [Beseechingly.]
And please, please think kindly of me.
Oh, that I always do. Good-night, my dear little Kaia. [Glances
to the right.] Go, go now!
MRS. SOLNESS and DR. HERDAL enter by the door on the right.
He is a stoutish, elderly man, with a round, good-humoured
face, clean shaven, with thin, light hair, and gold spectacles.
[Still in the doorway.] Halvard, I cannot keep the doctor any longer.
Well then, come in here.
[To KAIA, who is turning down the desk-lamp.] Have you finished the
letter already, Miss Fosli?
[In confusion.] The letter---?
Yes, it was quite a short one.
It must have been very short.
You may go now, Miss Fosli. And please come in good time to-morrow
I will be sure to. Good-night, Mrs. Solness.
[She goes out by the hall door.
Are you in a hurry, doctor?
No, not at all.
May I have a little chat with you?
With the greatest of pleasure.
Then let us sit down. [He motions the doctor to take the rocking-
chair, and sits down himself in the arm-chair. Looks searchingly
at him.] Tell me--did you notice anything odd about Aline?
Do you mean just now, when she was here?
Yes, in her manner to me. Did you notice anything?
[Smiling.] Well, I admit--one couldn't well avoid noticing that
--that your wife is not particularly fond of this Miss Fosli.
Is that all? I have noticed that myself.
And I must say I am scarcely surprised at it.
That she should not exactly approve of your seeing so much of another
woman, all day and every day.
No, no, I suppose you are right there--and Aline too. But it's
impossible to make any change.
Could you not engage a clerk?
The first man that came to hand? No, thank you--that would never do
But now, if your wife---? Suppose, with her delicate health, all
this tries her too much?
Even then--I might almost say--it can make no difference. I must
keep Kaia Fosli. No one else could fill her place.
No one else?
[Curtly.] No, no one.
[Drawing his chair closer.] Now listen to me, my dear Mr. Solness.
May I ask you a question, quite between ourselves?
By all means.
Women, you see--in certain matters, they have a deucedly keen
They have, indeed. There is not the least doubt of that. But---?
Well, tell me now--if your wife can't endure this Kaia Fosli---?
Well, what then?
--may she not have just--just the least little bit of reason for this
[Looks at him and rises.] Oho!
Now don't be offended--but hasn't she?
[With curt decision.] No.
No reason of any sort?
No other than her own suspicious nature.
I know you have known a good many women in your time.
Yes, I have.
And have been a good deal taken with some of them, too.
Oh yes, I don't deny it.
But as regards Miss Fosli, then? There is nothing of that sort in
No; nothing at all--on my side.
But on her side?
I don't think you have any right to ask that question, doctor.
Well, you know, we were discussing your wife's intuition.
So we were. And for that matter--[lowers his voice]--Aline's
intuition, as you call it--in a certain sense, it has not been so
Aha! there we have it!
[Sits down.] Doctor Herdal--I am going to tell you a strange story
--if you care to listen to it.
I like listening to strange stories.
Very well then. I daresay you recollect that I took Knut Brovik and
his son into my employment--after the old man's business had gone to
Yes, so I have understood.
You see, they really are clever fellows, these two. Each of them
has talent in his own way. But then the son took it into his head
to get engaged; and the next thing, of course, was that he wanted
to get married--and begin to build on his own account. That is the
way with all these young people.
[Laughing.] Yes, they have a bad habit of wanting to marry.
Just so. But of course that did not suit my plans; for I needed
Ragnar myself--and the old man too. He is exceedingly good at
calculating bearing strains and cubic contents--and all that sort
of devilry, you know.
Oh yes, no doubt that's indispensable.
Yes, it is. But Ragnar was absolutely bent on setting to work for
himself. He would hear of nothing else.
But he has stayed with you all the same.
Yes, I'll tell you how that came about. One day this girl, Kaia
Fosli, came to see them on some errand or other. She had never
been here before. And when I saw how utterly infatuated they were
with each other, the thought occurred to me: if I cold only get her
into the office here, then perhaps Ragnar too would stay where he is.
That was not at all a bad idea.
Yes, but at the time I did not breathe a word of what was in my mind.
I merely stood and looked at her--and kept on wishing intently that
I could have her here. Then I talked to her a little, in a friendly
way--about one thing and another. And then she went away.
Well then, next day, pretty late in the evening, when old Brovik and
Ragnar had gone home, she came here again, and behaved as if I had
made an arrangement with her.
An arrangement? What about?
About the very thing my mind had been fixed on. But I hadn't said
one single word about it.
That was most extraordinary.
Yes, was it not? And now she wanted to know what she was to do here--
whether she could begin the very next morning, and so forth.
Don't you think she did it in order to be with her sweetheart?
That was what occurred to me at first. But no, that was not it.
She seemed to drift quite away from him--when once she had come
here to me.
She drifted over to you, then?
Yes, entirely. If I happen to look at her when her back is turned,
I can tell that she feels it. She quivers and trembles the moment
I come near her. What do you think of that?
H'm--that's not very hard to explain.
Well, but what about the other thing? That she believed I had said
to her what I had only wished and willed--silently--inwardly--to
myself? What do you say to that? Can you explain that, Dr. Herdal?
No, I won't undertake to do that.
I felt sure you would not; and so I have never cared to talk about
it till now.--But it's a cursed nuisance to me in the long run, you
understand. Here have I got to go on day after day, pretending---.
And it's a shame to treat her so, too, poor girl. [Vehemently.]
But I cannot do anything else. For if she runs away from me--then
Ragnar will be off too.
And you have not told your wife the rights of the story?
The why on earth don't you?
[Looks fixedly at him, and says in a low voice:] Because I seem to
find a sort of--of salutary self-torture in allowing Aline to do me
[Shakes his head.] I don't in the least understand what you mean.
Well, you see--it is like paying off a little bit of a huge,
To your wife?
Yes; and that always helps to relieve one's mind a little. One can
breathe more freely for a while, you understand.
No, goodness knows, I don't understand at all---
[Breaking off, rises again.] Well, well, well--then we won't talk
any more about it. [He saunters across the room, returns, and stops
beside the table. Looks at the doctor with a sly smile.] I suppose
you think you have drawn me out nicely now, doctor?
[With some irritation.] Drawn you out? Again I have not the
faintest notion of what you mean, Mr. Solness.
Oh come, out with it; I have seen it quite clearly, you know.
What have you seen?
[In a low voice, slowly.] That you have been quietly keeping an eye
That _I_ have! And why in all the world should I do that?
Because you think that I--- [Passionately.] Well devil take it--
you think the same of me as Aline does.
Back to Full Books