Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress Seminar Series. All welcome but please email Michelle Maciejewska to book your place and to request readings. A sandwich lunch and refreshments are provided.
Professor Narve Fulsås
In a speech given on his seventieth birthday in 1898, Henrik Ibsen said that ‘he who has won himself a home in many countries, deep down inside himself feels at home nowhere, – scarcely even in the country of his own birth.’ This could have been a statement not only on the homelessness of the ‘world author’, but also of his ‘world literature’. As Mark Sandberg has shown, the problem of housing, in an age where a sense of original belonging and authentic home had been lost, was also a persistent topic in Ibsen’s dramas. When Nora comes to understand her home as a doll-house, it becomes uninhabitable. Ibsen’s characters cannot accept to live in distanced ways (ironically, theatrically, disinterestedly) in houses that they cannot recognize as real homes. This problem is endlessly repeated, with no sense of a possibility of solution or recovery.
Ibsen’s housing problem continued after his death. In spite of being the only Norwegian author with an international name, it took a remarkably long time to turn houses were he had lived into museums. Investigating aspects of the history of the Ibsen museums in Norway (Skien, Grimstad, Oslo), I will highlight four sources of this continuing housing crisis. The first is the poetic of reticence and distance built up around Ibsen in his own time, a poetics that in the twentieth century was underpinned by the dominant trend of aesthetic formalism. According to this aesthetic, the only worthy memorial site for a great author is his work. Secondly, there is the unhousing effects of the monumental memory culture so prominent at the time of the author’s death. This culture constructed the author as a mythical hero transcending time and space. Such culture could exist alongside antiquarian ambitions but did at the very least create a tension. The third line of inquiry relates to the uneasy relationship between ‘world literature’ and ‘small nations’, bringing to the foreground the question about whose world the ‘world’ of world literature belongs to? This question becomes pertinent not least when dealing with Ibsen’s relationship to his town of birth, Skien, and home county, Telemark, a relationship that has been strained and even conflict-ridden up till this day.
Finally, the controversies around the different Ibsen houses provide material for reflecting upon the extent to which an author house / author museum is committed to the idea of ‘home’. Among the challenges for Ibsen’s memorial agents were the lost childhood home, the downward social mobility of his family, the long ‘exile’, and the preference for rented apartments. As a result, there was the risk that not a single dwelling in which Ibsen had actually lived was thought worthy of being an ‘Ibsen house’.
Narve Fulsås is professor of modern history at the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway. He has been working with cultural history, intellectual history, history of historiography, book history and Ibsen studies. He was editor of introductions and comments to the letter volumes in the new, critical edition of Ibsen’s writings, Henrik Ibsens skrifter (vols. 12-15, 2005-10). With Tore Rem, he will edit Ibsen in Context under contract with Cambridge University Press. He is chief editor of Historisk tidsskrift (Journal of History) and Chair of the Programme Board for Independent Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Research Council of Norway.