Alexandria Digital Research Library

Wings Well Braced with Bone : Ibsen, Gender, and the Norse Sagas

Jensen, Anna
Degree Supervisor:
Simon Williams
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Theater history, Theater, and Scandinavian studies
Norse sagas
Online resources and Dissertations, Academic
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Theater Studies
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016

Scholarship on Henrik Ibsen has long noted his extraordinary female characters and has uncovered sources and precedents for them. Although critics recognize the sagas from Norse folklore as the source material for Ibsen's early plays, their lasting influence on the characterizations of men and women in his broader body of work has been overlooked. In fact, the fearsome women of the Norse sagas shaped Ibsen's distintive female characters. His depiction of the saga woman and her chosen man is indelibly stamped with the imprint of the Norwegian nationalism that permeated Norway after its liberation from Denmark in 1814. To the Norwegian National Romantics, the Middle Ages and its literature represented a period of conquest and glory before Norway had to bend its knee to Denmark. I argue that Ibsen's saga women differ from the depiction of "woman as bearer of civilization" pervasive in works contemporary to him. This striking depiction of women in the ancient sagas lends itself both to Ibsen's early nationalist aims and his later naturalist dramas, in which the female characters' personal liberation may be read in terms of nationalist allegory.

By identifying the saga woman as an iconic "type" in Ibsen's early plays like Fru Inger til Osteraad ( Lady Inger of Osteraad, 1857) and Haermaendene paa Helgeland (The Warriors at Helgeland, 1858), it becomes easier to detect the vestiges of this character as embodied in the later Realistic prose plays. Ibsen's Valkyrie-like saga women contain the very essence of the Norwegian people; they guide the men they select towards future action even though they put the men at grave risk. They fight to have a psychological hold over the men they select, both with other women and the men themselves. However, these selected men often falter at their assigned task; when they succeed, it is because the man has attended to higher wisdom offered to him by the saga woman.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (270 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Anna Jensen
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