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Facts about Pillars of Society

By: Jens-Morten Hanssen

Creative process

Like Ibsen`s previous play, Emperor and Galilean, Pillars of Society also underwent a long creative process. In a letter dated December 14th 1869 Ibsen reveals to Frederik Hegel that he is planning a "new, serious, contemporary drama in three acts". The first notes stem from 1870, but five years passed before Ibsen worked on these sketches again. During this period he was busy with, among other things, four publications: Poems (1871), Emperor and Galilean (1873), and new editions of Lady Inger of Østråt (1874) and Catiline (1875).

It was not until October 1875 that Ibsen started work on the play. The family had then moved from Dresden to Munich. In November the first act was finished in a fair copy, but had to be re-worked several times. For the next eighteen months the play was constantly being re-worked.

In a letter to Frederik Hegel dated June 24th 1877 Ibsen was finally able to announce that the play was finished and that he was making a fair copy. The final manuscript was then sent to Hegel in five parts between July 29th and August 20th.

First edition

Pillars of Society was published by Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag (F. Hegel & Søn) on October 11th 1877 in Copenhagen. The first edition comprised as many as 6 000 copies and was sold out in the course of seven weeks. A re-print of 4 000 copies was issued on November 30th.

The majority of the press reviews were favourable, but curiously enough, several of the Christiania papers, including Morgenbladet and Dagbladet, refrained from reviewing the book.

It was with this play that Ibsen really made his mark in Germany, and even before the end of November 1877 the German translation was available.

Reviews (not translated):

  • Nordahl Rolfsen, Bergensposten, October 24th, 26th, 28th and November 4th 1877 [read the review]
  • Arne Garborg, Fedraheimen, October 27th and November 3rd 1877 [read the review]
  • Bergens Tidende, October 27 and November 3rd 1877 [read the review]
  • Ditmar Meidell, Aftenbladet, November 3rd 1877 [read the review]
  • Kristian Elster, Dagsposten, November 13th 1877 [read the review]
  • Kristian Anastas Winterhjelm, Norsk Tidsskrift for Literatur, December 5th 1877
  • Carl Rupert Nyblom, Nordisk tidskrift för vetenskap, konst och industri, 1 (1878), pp. 180-188.

First performance

Pillars of Society was staged for the very first time at the Odense Teater by August Rasmussen`s theatre company on November 14th 1877. Ibsen had long since been performed outside Norway, but this was in fact the first world première to take place on a stage outside Norway. The production was well received both by the public and in the press.

Only four days later Det Kongelige Teater in Copenhagen had its first staging of this play. Emil Poulsen played the part of Consul Bernick. This production was also well received (see the review below).

The first performance in Norway was at Den nationale Scene in Bergen on November 30th 1877. Ibsen deliberately refrained from handing the play over to Christiania Theater in protest at the theatre`s dismissal of Ludvig Josephson. Ibsen had no regard for his successor, Johan Vibe. In a letter to Hegel dated August 23rd 1877 Ibsen writes:
"I do not intend to hand in my play to Christiania Theater at present. The new director is a completely incompetent man, and as soon as the play is on sale I shall announce in a Norwegian paper that I shall break off all connection with this theatre as long as this man is director." [see the letter in the original handwriting]

On December 13th 1877 the play had its first performance in Sweden at Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern in Stockholm.

Pillars of Society was Ibsen`s greatest theatrical success so far, above all at German theatres. According to Michael Meyer the play is said to have been staged at no fewer than 27 theatres in Germany and Austria by the end of 1878!

Reviews of the very first performance in Odense (not translated):

Reviews of the staging at Det Kongelige Teater in Copenhagen (not translated):