Ibsen and His Discontents

He was as rabidly hostile to conventional family life as Marx or Engels, but he was a much more effective and powerful critic, because his criticism did not remain on the level of philosophical abstraction. On the contrary, he laid bare the factions and revolutions of family life, its lies and miseries, in compelling and believable dramas; and while it has always been open to the reader or viewer to ascribe the moral pathology exhibited in these plays to the particular characters or neuroses of their dramatis personae alone, clearly this was not Ibsen‘sintention. He was not a forerunner of Jerry Springer; his aim was not titillation or a mere display of the grotesque. He intends us to regard the morbidity his plays anatomize as typical and quintessential (to use Shaw‘sword), the inevitable consequence of certain social conventions and institutions. He invites us implicitly, and explicitly in A Doll‘sHouse and Ghosts, to consider alternative ways of living in order to eliminate what he considers the avoidable misery of the pathology he brings to light.


When, as I have, you have met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people abandoned in their childhood by one or both of their parents, on essentially the same grounds (?I need my own space?), and you have seen the lasting despair and damage that such abandonment causes, you cannot read or see A Doll‘sHouse without anger and revulsion. Now we see what Ibsen meant when he said that women‘srights were of no fundamental interest to him. He was out to promote something much more important: universal egotism. —Theodore DalrympleIbsen and His Discontents (City Journal)

Dalrymple, a psychiatrist who works in prisons, is critical of many cultural values often found in modern literature. That’s not to say he dislikes literature; rather, he questions the habit of literary critics who romanticize the notions that the disengaged cultural elites hold about the underclass that their literature claims to celebrate.