Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Peer Gynt

The main thing in life is to fill one’s belly. Peer Gynt.

With Peer Gynt things are progressing very slowly and finishing in the autumn is out of the question. It is a terribly intractable subject, except in some places, such as where Solveig sings, which I have already completed. And then I have produced something for the “Hall of the mountain king“, which I literally cannot stand to listen to, it rings so of cow dung, of Norwegian-Norwegian-ness, and to thyself be enough-ness! Edvard Grieg.

Henrik Ibsen left Norway, for what he thought would be permanent exile, in the spring of 1864. In or near Rome he wrote Brand and published it in 1866. He then wandered south to Ischia and Sorrento where he worked on Peer Gynt, which was finally published in Copenhagen in 1867. He was thirty-eight years old and would not return to Norway for twenty-seven years.

Ibsen’s Norway consists mainly of a stuffy, provincial middle-class, redeemed by a smattering of upright, sometimes fiery individuals of real initiative and courage. But Peer Gynt is something else. Derived from Norwegian folk-lore, he is a single typical national type; all the defects Ibsen saw in his fellow countrymen are to be found in Peer. He is at most half-hearted about life, egotistical and characterless. He finds it impossible to commit himself to anything and seemingly drifts from one situation to another without rhyme or reason. He is a man without principle; he is mediocre and morally shabby.

But at the same time Peer Gynt is also a representative of mankind. Like King Lear, he carries within himself something of all of us. He has that anarchic trait which allows us to spin out of control, to become one with our imagination, to let go of all the constraints that imprison our spirit.

edvard munch's design

Edvard Munch's design for the Peer Gynt Playbill

My copy of Peer Gynt was published around 1909 and is an authorised translation by William and Charles Archer.

Comments are closed.