Gunnar Heiberg is the chief Norwegian dramatist after Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) and before Helge Krog (1889-1962). Although his uvre, which spans the period from 1884 to 1913, earned for him the reputation as Norway’s leading young playwright at the time, only three of his plays have survived the intervening years. The author’s first drama, the satiric social comedy Tante Ulrikke, continues to delight modern audiences. In this work, Heiberg champions the ideals of social justice, the emancipation of women, and youthful radicalism as opposed to the narrow, Philistine concerns of the older generation. The drama’s striking main character is modeled on Heiberg’s aunt, the Norwegian suffragist Aasta Hansteen (1824-1908), who also inspired Lona Hessel in Henrik Ibsen’s Samfundets støtter (pr., pb. 1877; The Pillars of Society, 1880). Both Hansteen’s life and Heiberg’s play remain an inspiration to progressive Norwegians.
Two other Heiberg plays that are still read and sometimes performed are the lyrical dramas The Balcony and The Tragedy of Love. Their timeless theme of erotic love continues to elicit interest. However, modern audiences find their highly stylized and rhetorical dialogue dated, and the primarily aesthetic concerns of their author seem foreign to readers and spectators who have been reared in the predominantly ethical and socially committed Scandinavian literary traditions.
Longum, Leif. “In the Shadow of Ibsen: His Influence on Norwegian Drama and on Literary Attitudes.” In Norway: Review of National Literatures, edited by Sverre Lyngstad. New York: Council on National Literature and Griffon House Publishers, 1983. Henrik Ibsen’s influence on writers such as Heiberg is examined in this essay.
Naess, Harald S., ed. A History of Norwegian Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. A general history of the development of literature in Norway, including drama.