Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy

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Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is the founder of modern theater, and his plays are performed all over the world. Yet in spite of his unquestioned status as a classic of the stage, Ibsen is often dismissed as a boring old realist, whose plays are of interest only because they remain the gateway to modern theater. In Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism, Toril Moi makes a powerful case not just for Ibsen's modernity, but also for his modernism.

Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism situates Ibsen in his cultural context, emphasizes his position as a Norwegian in European culture, and shows how important painting and other visual arts were for his aesthetic education. The book rewrites literary history, reminding modern readers that idealism was the dominant aesthetic paradigm of the nineteenth century. Modernism was born in the ruins of idealism, Moi argues, thus challenging traditional theories of the opposition between realism and modernism.

By reading Ibsen's modernist plays as investigations of the fate of love in an age of skepticism, Moi shows why Ibsen still matters to us. In this book, Ibsen's plays are showed to be profoundly concerned by theater and theatricality, both on stage and in everyday life. Ibsen's unsettling explorations of women, men and marriage here emerge as chronicles of the tension between skepticism and the everyday, and between critique and utopia in modernity.

This radical new account places Ibsen in his rightful place alongside Baudelaire, Flaubert and Manet as a founder of European modernism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[Moi makes her arguments] with vigor and intellectual integrity--and with enough enthusiasm to send a reader back to the plays.... She has an impressive knowledge of nineteenth-century European literature and theory--and of Ibsen's place in both.... With much affection and scrupulous scholarship, she finds her way back to the original."--Bookforum

"One of the joys of enrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism is that it is rhetorically sophisticated and tightly argued. Moi's prose is lively and engaging, she knows her Ibsen well, and her theoretical background has enabled her to offer an interesting, intellectually rewarding reading experience."-Jan Sjavik, Modern Language Quaterly

"The best account of Ibsen's mind and stagecraaft I have read, but it does a lot more than that."--A.S.Byatt, Times Literary Supplement

"A magisterial book."--Martin Puchner, London Review of Books

"Moi has written a subtle and brilliant analysis of the plays - both poetic and realist - but she has done much more than that. She has redrawn the parameters of the distinction between realist and 'modern', in a surprising and exciting way....There are all sorts of good things in this book....It alters our idea both of Ibsen and of the world of ideas he worked in."--AS Byatt, Guardian

"Moi is full of rare insights into the arts, philosophy and culture of the nineteenth century."-- Alastair Macaulay, Financial Times

"Moi provides a blend of theory, history, and interpretation that simultaneously renders Ibsen's aesthetic development coherent and situates the great Norwegian playwright in the orbit of Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Manet as a revolutionary pioneer of European modernism. Summing Up: Highly recommended."--Choice

"This is an indispensable book, as illuminating of the painting and literature of the times as of Ibsen himself."--Paul Binding, Spectator

"A subtle and brilliant analysis... surprising and exciting.... It alters both our idea of Ibsen and of the world of ideas he worked in."--A. S. Byatt, Guardian Review Book of the Week

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199202591
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 395,108
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Toril Moi was born and raised in Norway, and worked in England in the 1980s, before moving to Duke University in 1989, where she is now the James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. Her previous books include Sexual/Textual Politics and What is a Woman? and Other Essays.

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Table of Contents

An Ibsen Chronology
Part I: Ibsen's Place in History
1. Ibsen and the Ideology of Modernism
2. Postcolonial Norway? Ibsen's Cultural Resources
3. Rethinking Literary History: Idealism, Realism, and the Birth of Modernism
4. Ibsen's Visual World: Spectacles, Painting, Theater
Part II: Ibsen's Modern Breakthrough
5. The Idealist Straitjacket: Ibsen's Early Aesthetics
6. Becoming Modern: Modernity and Theater in Emperor and Galilean
Part III: Ibsen's Modernism: Love in an Age of Skepticism
7. "First and Foremost a Human Being": Idealism, Theater, and Gender in A Doll's House
8. Losing Touch with the Everyday: Love and Language in The Wild Duck
9. Losing Faith in Language: Fantasies of Perfect Communication in Rosmersholm
10. The Art of Transformation: Art, Marriage, and Freedom in The Lady From the Sea
Epilogue: Idealism and the "Bad" Everyday
Appendix 1: Synopsis of Emperor and Galilean
Appendix 2: Translating Ibsen

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