Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ibsen As a Dramatist

Although Ibsen’s life of embattled exile and uncompromising artistic dedication profoundly influenced such like-minded admirers as James Joyce, it has been largely his work—twenty-six plays written over fifty years—that has affected subsequent drama so decisively as to earn him the title “father of the modern theatre.”
Ibsen’s paternity has proved far-reaching indeed. Steinberg, twenty one years younger, reacted violently against him yet was impaled by this rejection toward both outdoing him in the naturalistic Vein and outflanking him in his later ante realistic style. More positively, Shaw lay down the premises of his own lifework in The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), and Chekhov, who vacillated on Ibsen’s artistic achievement, in a letter affirmed the Norwegian dramatist as “my favorite author”. The Wild Duck (Vildanden, 1884), with its ironic shifting of illusion and reality, prefigures Pirandello and the last, great plays of O’Neill.
Until recently, Ibsen’s importance was attributed to the introduction of the “social (or problem) play” to the nineteenth-century stage. This oversimplified view has yielded increasingly to a more penetrating understanding of Ibsen’s art. Neither topical propagandizing nor high-gossip biographizing can explain its enduring relevance. Ibsen was, as he himself claimed, consistently a poet in his work from beginning to end. He tempered and refined his medium from romantic lyricism into a strict and subtle economy, which sought, among other goals, to put to a kind of Socratic test those values that defined the world of the newly dominant middle class. For the series of plays beginning with Pillars of Society (1877), Ibsen devised a dramatic language that could record both the immediate psychological tremors and the larger philosophical and mythic reverberations of the modern age with almost seismographic delicacy and precision.
Before arriving at this new dramatic language, Ibsen first strove in his early saga and folk plays such as The Burial Mound (1850) and The Viking at Helgeland (1858), to bring together and transmute the two inadequate traditions available to him. From the high tradition, whose sovereign model was Shakespeare; he had derived a sense of the inexhaustible possibilities of poetry in the theatre; but this heritage, as it came down to him through Schiller, Oehlenschlager, and lesser contemporaries, had degenerated into windy, romantic rhetoric and spectacular but empty scenic effects. From the low tradition of the popular “well-made” boulevard entertainments, whose chief practitioner was Scribe, Ibsen learned effective plot construction, although it took him several apprentice plays to unlearn the mechanical intrigues and trivial characterizations that went with the scribean formula.
Ibsen was greatly influenced by Hermann Hettner’s book Das Moderne Drama (1852). Hettner believed that even the historical tragedy must be psychologically oriented: the historical characters must have motives and reactions that are recognizable to the modern audience. The commitment to reveal the great tendencies of history through psychological pressures, combined with insights drawn from probing the conflicts of his own remarkably rich personality, gives Ibsen’s plays an intensity and depth that have rarely been equaled.
Ibsen’s mood in 1864 was one of outrage over Norway’s neutrality during the Danish-Prussian War. He considered Norway’s failure to go to the aid of Denmark a moral issue, not a political one. It was in this spirit of indignation that he composed Brand (1865) a drama of fiercely austere crusader, an idealist who is willing to sacrifice every thing to achieve what he considers his God-given purpose in life. The motto of Brand is “all or nothing”; he refuses to compromise but aims instead directly at his goal, never allowing for human weakness. Though he commits himself totally to his ideals, he dies unloved and rejected by mankind. Brand is Ibsen’s first major character to embody the author’s lifelong theme of individual self-realization.
Peer Gynt (prod. 1876), Ibsen’s next play, portrays a man the exact opposite of Brand and is in a sense a complementary poetic drama. Peer represents all that Brand fought against: the indecision, the self-deceit, the opportunism the evasive spirit of compromise. The central idea of Peer Gynt is that man’s purpose in life is to become an authentic self. However, Peer’s avoidance of commitment is shown to be as potentially tragic as Brand’s blind idealism. Ibsen’s philosophy, as well as his personal indignation at all forms of compromise and hypocrisy, reflected his guarded admiration of the work of Kierkegaard, the great Danish existential philosopher and religious thinker. The influence of Kierkegaard is evident in subsequent plays wherein the characters present in miniature an image of the historically conditioned society responding to its fateful pressures. In its midst, the isolated individual struggles with the crisis of choice, thereby revealing the hidden recesses of the self as well as the tangled web of his own past.
In his continuing effort to reconstitute poetic drama, Ibsen ultimately found his solution by reversing the traditional models. In the classic theatre of Shakespeare and Racine, the stage setting is spare or nonexistent, and things for the most part have their place in poetry of words. In the contemporary theatre that Ibsen perfected, the stage setting is prescribed down to the least significant details, and words give way—partially, but not completely—to a poetry of things: Hedda Gabler’s pistols successively become her frustration, her thwarted aggressions, her attachment to her father, her masculine strain, her explosive irrationality, her eventual destructiveness, and the sinister emblems of an entire functionless, bored, doomed society. Not merely such key objects as the pistols but the entire mise-en-scene is rendered aphorical. The furnishings of the stage, the changes of lightning and of costume, the ages, physical appearances, situations, and interactions of the characters—all are employed as the vocabulary of a dramatic poem, deceptively cast in prose, that at once plausibly depicts, emotionally projects, and intellectually probes some aspect of the life and fate of the modern bourgeois individual. This pervasive transformation of material things into a figuratively meaningful stage picture that reinforces the subtle verbal exchanges is one of the chief qualities that set Ibsen’s realistic plays apart from similar works by his more literal-minded predecessors and imitators.
In the great social and psychological plays that Ibsen began writing in the late 1870s, the playwright questioned many of the axiomatic beliefs of his time. He seemed primarily concerned about opportunities for the growth of the individual, the development of man’s unique personality unhampered by the restrictions of society. He was still the man who had written Brand and Peer Gynt; his philosophy remained “Be yourself.”
A Doll House (1879), Ghosts (1881), The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler (1890) examine family life and the relation between man and woman; An Enemy of the People (1882), and Pillars of Society (1877) explore relation between the individual and society. These plays are realistic in outward style. For the most part they graphically portray upper and lower middle-class life in the cities, suburbs and small towns of Ibsen’s time in ways that strikingly and prophetically illuminate their counterparts today. With penetrating insight, Ibsen exposed deceptions and corruptions that were, and are, the basis of the modern competitive, business-oriented society, all the while probing the conflict within the individual between the desire for happiness and the demands of conscience. Nora, in A Doll House, speaks for many of his characters when she says, “I have to find who is right, society or I”
The plays of Ibsen’s last years include The Master Builder (1892), Little Eyolf (1894), John Gabriel Borkman (1896), and finally When We Dead Awaken (1899). This last group is characterized by an emphasis on symbolic elements that was evident in the early verse plays. The mountains of Norway and the power of the sea took on deepening associations of meaning throughout Ibsen’s lifetime, and he now translated these aspects of nature into poetic symbols. In addition, these dramas express the mystical side of Ibsen and indicate his intense interest in the frontiers of experience and in the workings of the unconscious. In them Ibsen returned to the question that is fundamental to all his work: Of what value is truth and idealism in human life? He did this by examining the psychological conflict man faces when forced to choose between his need for various kinds of personal fulfillment and the concern of his conscience for the welfare of others.
Catiline (1849). Blank-verse historical drama in three acts. The play sympathetically depicts Catiline that much maligned figure of Roman antiquity, concentrating on his inner torments. Bitter and vengeful, rejected by his country and incited by a fallen vestal virgin, Furia, who seeks his destruction, Catiline leads an ill-fated band of malcontents in an abortive rebellion against the corrupt and authoritarian Roman Senate. Betrayed and in disgrace, Catiline goes to his death together with his faithful and adoring wife Aurelia.
The Burial Mound/ The Warriors’s Barrow (1854). One-act dramatic poem that portrays an incident from the heroic age of Norse conquest. Landing on an island off the coast of Sicily, Gandalf, a young pagan chieftain who personifies the rough Viking tradition confront the tempering, Mediterranean influence of Christianity in young, innocent Blanka. Sworn to avenge his father’s death, Gandalf learns Blank has in fact saved his life, and he subsequently returns to Norway with her so that her faith may be “transplanted in the north”
Norma or The Loves of Politician (1851). Satiric opera in three brief acts, freely based on Bellini’s Norma, S. T. O Severus (a Liberal) simultaneously woos Adalgisa (the Government) and Norma (the Opposition) in a dim forest. His duplicity is discovered, while the parliamentary chorus of druids remains witlessly unmoved.
St. John’s Night (1853). Three-act prose comedy (with a verse prologue) that has scene and sanitation reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Julian Poulsen and Johannes Birk, students from christiania, accompany Jorgen Kvist on a visit to a farm of his aunt Mrs. Berg in Telemark. Johannes is secretly engaged to Mrs. Berg’s daughter Juliane but finds himself drawn to her stepdaughter Anne, who is believed to be simpleminded. After a midsummer night’s adventure at a fairy mound in the woods, the lovers change partners, the self-inflated nationalist Julian pairing off with the flighty, literal-minded Juliane, whereas the imaginative Johannes with Anne, their engagement, affirm the superior reality of those who see poetry as truth.
Lady Inger of Ostraat (1855) Five-act historical drama in prose, set in the early sixteenth century, when Norway was under the oppressive domination of Denmark. The play, dealing freely with actual historical personages, is a complex maze of intrigue, intercepted letters, seduction, double-dealing and rebellion. It focuses upon the battle of wits between the patriotic, politically influential Lady Inger Gyldenlove of Norway and the wily Danish Knight Nils Lykke, in which fates of both countries hang in the balance.
Caught in a web of plots and schemes, Lady Inger unwittingly orders the death of her own long lost son and, as a result, becomes at the end a broken and tragic figure.
The Feast at Solhaug (1856) Lyric medieval drama in three acts written partly in a verse form imitating the meters and style of the old Norwegian heroic ballads. Songs and stories frequently interrupt the dramatic action. The feast being celebrated is the third wedding anniversary of the unhappily married Margit, who together with her Sister Signe is infatuate with their Kinsman Gudmund. Gudmund has been unjustly outlawed and is recently arrived at Solhaug. Margit schemes to poison her aged husband Bengt, but when he is killed in a drunken brawl, she decides to enter a convent. Gudmund’s name is cleared, Signe becomes his wife, and a final song praises heaven’s justice.
Olaf Liljekrans (1857). Poetic play in three acts set in medieval Norway and based on the folktale The Grouse in Justedal Betrothed by compact to the vain and shallow. Ingeborg of Guldvik, the knight Olaf Liljekrans falls deeply in love with the innocent Alfhild, an unworldly child of nature. His mother Lady Kirsten intrigues to affect the more profitable marriage, but Olaf, at first weakly acquiescing, eventually asserts his rights and claims Alfhild in marriage. Ingeborg ends by wedding her actual favorite, the ineffectual page Hemming.
The Vikings at Helgeland (1858). Prose drama in four acts set on an island off the coast of Norway in the tenth century A.D. The play is drawn from the Icelandic family sagas and deals with honor and revenge among two mismatched couples: the peace-loving Gunnar and the valkyrie-spirited Hjordia: the warriors Sigurd and the gentle Dagny. At feast of reconciliation, Hjordis; goads the men to quarrel, forcing Dagny to reveal that her husband, not Gunnar, performed the heroic feat that won Hjordis. Sigurd and Hjordis then recognize their hopeless love; she slays him, hoping they will be united in Valhalla, learning too late he has become a Christian, and they are separated forever
Love’s Comedy (1862). Three-act verse satire on the middle-class courtships and marriages of Ibsen’s day. The young bachelor poet Falk, living in the Christiania suburbs, views with mingled disdain and amused detachment the trivial married lives of those around him. At the engagement party of his close friend Lind, he delivers a tirade against marriage, denouncing it as a mausoleum of love, and, together with his own like-minded sweetheart Svanhild, who has been courted by the wealthy, practical merchant Guldstad, resolves to seek “ the ideal,” when Guldstad convinces them that their own passion is doomed to the same mediocre date as that of the others Falk and Svanhild decide to part, accepting that only in memory can their love remain fresh and beautiful. Falk, the free spirit, joins a chorus of singers departing for the mountains. Syanhild, however, decides to marry Guldstad and accept the inevitable.
The Pretenders (1864) Prose historical drama in five acts that deals with the struggle between Haakon Haakonsson and Earl Skule, rival pretenders to the disputed throne of Norway in the early thirteenth century. When the supremely confident Haakon, under whose hand all things prosper, is declared King despite Earl Skule’s claim, he marries Margrete, the Earl’s daughter, as a conciliatory gesture. For a short time the country is at peace. However, informed by the shrewd political manipulator Bishop Nicholas that legitimacy of Haakon’s right to the throne is doubtful, Skule proclaims himself King, precipitating a new civil war. Although he is at first successful, Skule’s vacillation and self-doubt bring about his downfall. His supporters are decimated by Haakon’s forces, and Skule and his son Peter give themselves up to rebellious mob and die in quiet resignation.
Brand (1865). Titanic five-act drama, the publication of which established Ibsen’s Scandinavian reputation. Brand, a fiercely dedicated young minister whose maxim is “all or nothing” meets three representative types who, he feels, infect the world: a peasant (the faint of heart), the painter Einar and his betrothed Agnes (the light of heart), and the gypsy girl Gerd (the wild of heart). Brand’s singular courage and exalted vision are communication to Agnes, who leaves Einar and goes off with him. Later, the son born to them dies when Brand refuses to leave his mountain parish for a milder climate. Forced by Brand to give up the last mementos of the child Agnes also dies.
Brand’s inflexibility is further demonstrated by his refusal to grant his dying mother absolution unless she renounces every bit of her wealth. He afterward uses his entire inheritance to build a more spacious church, but when the moment comes to open its doors, he decides that the building is yet another form of idolatry. He exhorts his congregation to follow him up into barren mountains to be closer to God. Though they set off enthusiastically, the hardships of the journey prove too much for them. When Brand declares that in exchange for the wealth of mammon all they can expect is a crown of thorns, they turn on hi and stole him. Deserted, Brand finds release in tears just before being buried under an avalanche released by the crazed gypsy Gerd. In answer to his life, an enigmatic voice announces, “He is the God of love”
A Doll House (1879) Three-acts psychological and social drama. Nora Helmer is pampered by her complacent husband Torvald, who treats her as an adorable but scatterbrained child. She is actually leading a life bordering on desperation. Seven years preciously she had forged her father’s name in order to obtain a secret loan to finance a trip necessary for Torvald’s health, since his pride precluded borrowing money. Nora is now pressured by her unscrupulous creditor, Krogstad, an employee in the bank where her husband has become manager. Krogstad is about to be dismissed by the unsuspecting Torvaled, and Nora is in imminent danger of being exposed. When her desperate efforts to forestall the crisis fail, Krogstad sends Torvald a letter revealing Nora’s forgery. Torvald turns on her viciously, calling her immoral, hypocritical, and unfit to be the mother of his children. His blind, convention-bound reaction to her selfless gesture opens Nora’s eyes to her own intolerable position as his wife. Although he later forgives her, to his astonishment, she walks out on him, their children, and the artificial dollhouse in which she has been living, determined to seek a life in which her value as a human being can be realized.
Ghost (1881). Three-act drama dealing with the tragic effects of suppressing disturbing truths. Mrs. Widow of the admired and respected Captain Alving, has been living alone on her husband’s estate with her maid Regina, carrying on her husband’s good works in charitable projects, such as a recently completed orphanage. She is aided in this by the primly proper and naïve Pastor Manders, whom she once loved and who disapproves of her ‘Free thinking’ ideas. Her son Oswald, who has been living as an artist in Paris, returns home for the dedication of the orphanage, which is, however, burned to the ground before the ceremonies.
Returning exhausted from the fire, Oswald reveals to his mother that he is suffering from a venereal disease, the origin of which he does not understand. When he declares his intention to marry Regina, Mrs. Alving is forced to reveal what she has previously confessed to pastor Manders: captain Alving was in reality a dissipates sensualist masquerading under the guise of gentility, all his reputation and philanthropy were the result of her own industry, and Regina is actually his illegitimate daughter. Oswald now realizes that his disease is hereditary in origin. He obtains from his mother her promise to administer a deadly drug to him should he become insane. When as the play ends, Oswald’s mind disintegrates completely after a seizure, Mrs. Alving must decide whether to commit euthanasia as she has promised or to let her son go on living in his helpless, demented condition.
An Enemy of the People (1883). Caustic and high-spirited comedy in five acts in which Ibsen pays tribute to the courage of the individual conscience in opposition to the conformity of mass opinion. In a small Norwegian resort that prospers by virtue of its mineral baths, the public health officer, Dr. Stockmann, discovers that the waters are polluted and have already caused several illnesses. He determines to have the situation remedied. At first he is aided enthusiastically by the local newspaper’s editors, but the tide of reform gradually turns when the doctor’s brother, the mayor, points out the financial hardships that would result from such a program. Dr. stockman is then branded an enemy of the people’s prosperity. Majority is stoned, his daughter dismissed from her teaching position and his friends persecuted. Alone in his stand for truth and justice, Dr. Stockmann first considers emigration then resolves to found a school where he can teach his sense of values to young people. Seeing the social hypocrisy into which the people have been led by the so-called respectable elements in town, he concludes that the strongest man in the world is the one who stands most alone.
The Wild Duck (1884). Drama in five acts. The Ekdal household, impoverished but reasonably content, consists of the ineffectual dreamer Hjalmar, a photographer by trade; his practical wife Gina their adolescent daughter Hedvig and Old Ekdal, Hjalmar’s father, a childlike, bemused ex-convict who keeps in the attic a menagerie including poultry, rabbits, and a wild duck, the adored pet of Hedving. Into this ménage comes boyhood friend of Hjalmar, Gregers the idealistic son of a wealthy businessman named Werle. Gregers is determined to for his father’s corruption. Moving in with the family, he relentlessly exposes to Hjalmar the deception and illusions responsible for the Ekdal’s low estate: Old Ekdal was made a scapegoat by Werle and unjustly sentenced to prison; Gina, once a maid in the Werle household, had in reality been werle’s mistress; the little family has not been living on Hjalmar’s income as a photographer but on a stipend from Werle; and finally Hedvig, whom Hjalmar loves dearly, could very possibly be Werle’s illegitimate daughter. In the mane of truth the once peaceful household is now fragmented and destroyed. Hjalmar rejects his daughter, who is then counseled by Gregers to make some sacrificial gesture capable of rewinning her father’s love. He assumes that she will kill the wild duck, but instead Hedvig kills herself Gregers is left amid the run-ins he has caused by his idealistic meddling.
Rosmersholm (1886). Drama in four acts set in a great country estate in Norway. When Rector Kroll, brother of Johannes Rosmer’s late wife Beata, seeks to enlist Johannes’s aid in opposing the newly insurgent liberal faction in their town, he is appalled to learn that the aristocratic Rosmer has himself embraced liberal principles and has even left the church, resigning his position as clergyman. Furious, kroll accuses the master of Rosmer of illicit relation with the housekeeper Rebecca West, a close friend of Beata and supporter of Rosmer in his new philosophy. He intimates that his feelings for Rebecca drove Beata to suicide. Soon the focus of a scandal, Rosmer begins to think that he did in deed cause his wife’s death and shortly loses all confidence in himself and his goals. To erase his debilitating gait, Rebecca confesses that it was she who was responsible for his wife’s suicide. Beata had opposed Rebecca’s ambitious efforts to convert Rosmer to liberal vies. Rebecca then lied to Beata about being pregnant with Rosmer’s child. It was this that drove Beata to suicide.
After confessing the truth to Rosmer, Rebecca says she has come to love him, no longer erotically, but spiritually, for his high aspirations have transformed her into a nobler person. To prove this love, she consents to die in the same manner as Beata. Rosmer’s sense of guilt is stronger than his will to alive. He joins Rebecca in a suicide pact, and together they plunge into the same millpond that claimed Beata.
The Lady from the Sea (1888). Set in late summer on a west Norway fjord, this five-act drama relies principally on subtle character development and a poetically evocative mood. Ellida, the second wife of Dr. Wangle is restlessly dissatisfied with her marriage because she is haunted by a love vow she made to a sailor years earlier. Fascinated by the sea, she is still waiting for the mysterious who swore to come back one day and claim her. When a stranger suddenly appears, Ellida realizes that the sailor has indeed returned. She is torn between her husband and the demonic spell of this man, who both terrifies and fascinates her. When Dr. Wangle finally releases her former marriage vows, allowing her full freedom of choice, she realizes the depth of his love for her and finds the will to reject the stranger and wholeheartedly accept her marriage.
Hedda Gabler (1891). Four-act drama. Hedda, bored by trivial social amusements, has married George Tesman a devoted but rather dull scholar whom she does not love. Soon bored again, she amuses herself by playing with her father’s braced of dueling pistols and flirting with judge Brake a professional bachelor with flair for domestic triangles. Thea Elvsted, Hedda’s childhood rival appears on the scene to ask George’s assistance for a serious problem: she has deserted her husband and his children for her lover, Eilert Loevborg who was once Hedda’s suitor. Not only has Thea dared to defy conventional society but she also reclaimed Eilert from alcoholism and inspired him to write a brilliant book that will make him George’s competitor. Envious of Thea, Hedda reasserts her power over Eilert by sending him off to a drunken party at Brack’s where he succumbs to his old weakness for liquor and loses his manuscript. George finds it and entrusts it to Hedda, who vindictively burns it. Eilert is now desperate, and when Hedda gives him one of her pistols he goes to prostitute’s bedroom and shoots himself. Guessing the truth about the pistol, Brack intends to blackmail Hedda into becoming his mistress. Thea and George have agreed to reconstruct Eilert’s manuscript from surviving notes. Caught in her own trap, Hedda shoots herself.
The Master Builder (1892). Three act drama. Halvard Solness a self-taught architect who stands at the top of his profession has become aware that he possesses uncanny extrasensory powers over people and events. Unsettled by these trolls within, he believes himself to be on the verge of madness brought on by prolonged brooding over the ambiguous origin of his fame. His first success came after a disastrous fire that caused the death of his two infant sons but permitted the subdivision of his wife’s estate into lots on which he could build in accordance with his own ideas. He is tormented by the fear that he willed the fire in order to gain entry onto his profession. In fact he is afraid that whatever he wills comes to pass and that subsequently he must pay a terrible price for his wishes.
In Hilda Wangle a bewitching young woman who says she has been under his spell since childhood Solness senses a final chance for redemption. Fearful that he will be overtaken and destroyed by the younger generation personified by his talented draftsman Ragnar Brovik, Solness has always guarded his commissions. Hilda persuades him to prove that he is unafraid of competition by giving Ranger his chance. Solness meanwhile has completed the building of a new home for his wife and himself. To free his conscience and reinstate his claim to being the supreme master builder, Hilda urges him to climb the building’s high tower in order to place the dedicatory wreath. Against the warning of his wife Solness makes the ascent and falls to his death.
Little Eyolf (1894). One of Ibsen’s shortest and most sparely plotted works. Back from a recuperative stay in the mountains where he has had a mystical experience, the frail ineffectual Alfred Allmers resolves to give up philosophical writing and devote his time to his crippled son Eyolf. But Eyolf is drowned under mysterious circumstances, and Allmers and his passionate domineering wife Rita for whom he declares his love has died pass through a series of trials by crisis from grief to guilt recrimination and intended separation. Allmer’s plan to live with his deeply devoted half-sister Asta is dashed when he learns from her that they are not in fact related. When Rita proposes to dedicate her life to helping the poor children of the town Allmers decides to stay with her joining in her effort to make amends for their past self-centered lives.
John Gabriel Borkman(1896). Drama in four acts resenting the events of a single winter’s night. John Gabriel Borkman had been imprisoned for misuse of funds from the bank he once managed. Since his release eight years earlier he has lived as a recluse with his strong-willed wife Gunhild who hates him for the disgrace he has brought on her. Their son Erhart a student was raised by Gunhild’s twin sister Ella. Lately he has been studying nearby and regularly visiting mother who has urged him to rehabilitate the family mane. Ella now arrives and begs to have Erhart remain with her during the last month of her terminal illness. When she confronts Borkman with the ghost of their long-dead love affair he admits that at the time he had sacrificed his feelings for her his all-consuming ambition by giving her up to a man who could further his career.
The two sisters fight over Erhart who after demanding the right to his own life departs with Mrs. Fanny Wilton a seductive widow. Borkman momentarily inspired by Ella’s presence leaves his self-imposed prison to make up his life again. However his emergence into the cold world after so many years is too much for him refusing to the house of his confinement he walks to a snowy mountain overlook only to die realizing his abandonment of Ella for power and glory had been in Vain. The two sisters are reunited over his body.
When We Dead Awaken (1899). Drama in three acts. Arnold Rubek, a sculptor renowned for his statue “Resurrection Day” and his young wife Maja are staying at a mountain resort where Maja becomes interested in another guest, the virile bear-hunter Ulfeim. Also at the resort is Irene von Satow, whom Rubek recognizes as the model for the work that had made him famous. He learns from her that she had loved him passionately at that time. On his part, however, he had merely used her to inspire his art. Irene invites him up into the mountains, and this expedition coincides with a plan made by Maja and Ulfeim.
As they proceed, Rubek confesses to Irene that he has been tortured by the realization that his rejection of her was a denial of life, for which art has proved a poor substitute. He begs her to give him another chance, saying that his marriage with Maja has become unbearable. Irene rejects his plea, telling him that they are both dead and that there is no resurrection in his life. Urging him on to the heights, Irene leads Rubek upward. They pass the other couple, who are descending to escape an oncoming storm. Rubek now calls on his lost love to awaken so that they may live life to the fullest before they go to their graves. Striving toward the sunlit peak, Rubek and Irene are buried in an avalanche as Maja’s song of freedom rings out from farther down the mountain. 

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