Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580

Brand has always been a work that invites many interpretations, beginning with its stormy reception in Norway in 1866. In F. L. Lucas's 1962 book, The Drama of Ibsen and Strindberg, Lucas notes that "its effect on Norwegian pietism was like pitching a millstone into a small pond.’’ Likewise, in his 1969 book, Ibsen: A Portrait of the Artist, Hans Heiberg notes that "all over Norway the controversy raged, becoming the subject of sermons from pulpits, as well as social debate.’’ However, while many Norwegians took Ibsen's attacks personally, in Denmark, Heiberg says that the book was considered by critics "a sensational break-through of Norwegian literature.’’ The book was a popular success, and Heiberg notes that it was reprinted three times within the same year, "an almost unheard-of sales success.’’

With the success of Brand, which he wrote while on a self-imposed exile in Italy, Ibsen also achieved financial freedom. Though early reactions were mixed, the play is generally been received well now, although interpretations throughout the years have differed greatly. In 1889, Edmund Gosse of the Fortnightly Review called the play a ‘‘beautiful Puritan opera,’’ whereas, in 1931, in his book, The Life of Ibsen, Vol. 2, Halvdan Koht says that Ibsen's intended meaning of the play "was that it was not honest or worthy of a human being to do anything else than to stand alone, to be one's self.'' There was a massive amount of scholarship on Ibsen and his works in the 1960s, when critics focused on many different aspects of the play. In his 1961 article in The Lock Haven Bulletin, Irving Deer identified a sharply divided critical argument that had sprung up by that point: "Simply stated, the controversy boils down to whether Ibsen intended him to be a hero or a villain.’’ Likewise, a year later, in 1962, Lucas notes only one aspect of the play, the ambiguous voice at the end of the work, spawned at least five different interpretations by critics, including that"this voice is the Devil's,’’ it is ‘‘the voice of God’’ either condemning or welcoming Brand as a result of his adherence to his rigid faith, it is the ‘‘real or imagined’’ voice ‘‘of the dead Agnes,’’ it is ‘‘the voice of Brand's own soul,’’ and it ‘‘is what Ibsen says it is—simply a voice.’’ This assessment is representative of other aspects in the play, which have also been debated endlessly.

One of the other aspects that academics in the 1960s focused on was the connection between Brand and the writings of the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. As Heiberg notes, "Kierkegaard was undoubtedly one of the godparents of the fundamental ideas behind Brand.’’ In her 1966 book, Ibsen, The Norwegian: A Revaluation, M. C. Bradbrook also notes this, saying that "Kierkegaard too demanded that a man should give his All.’’ Heiberg notes one other idea about the play, that it ‘‘is first and foremost Ibsen's settlement with himself,’’ a sentiment that has been echoed by other critics. As biographical and critical studies have illustrated, and as Ibsen's own comments verified, Brand was a cathartic experience for the playwright, in which he explored his own views about life and religion.

Debates over the play's meaning continue today. However, regardless of how people interpret the play, there is no doubt that Brand, along with his next play, Peer Gynt, is considered one of Ibsen's major works—and the seminal work that helped lead to his immense critical and popular success both in Scandinavia and around the world.

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Critical Evaluation


Essays and Criticism