Henrik Pontoppidan Critical Essays


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Henrik Pontoppidan’s earliest work as a writer was a play, Hjemve (homesickness), in which he depicted his love for a young girl he had met during his stay in Switzerland in 1876. He submitted it to the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, but the play was rejected and he burnt the manuscript a few years later. During his years as a journalist, he frequently wrote about the world of the stage, producing ten articles from 1889 to 1891 and six in 1897. In these articles, Pontoppidan time and again rejects the aloof world of Romantic drama in favor of the realistic concept one finds, for example, in the works of William Shakespeare. During a visit to Berlin, he sent reviews of two performances of plays by Henrik Ibsen back to his newspaper in Copenhagen, one of which contained a rather negative critique of Hedda Gabler (1890; English translation, 1891), a play that later would serve as a source of inspiration for his own drama De vilde fugle.

Although Pontoppidan is highly regarded as a prose writer, he never became successful as a playwright. His strengths as a writer were the short story, whether ironic or poetic and evocative, and the large, epic novel, like those that make up his three cycles. Two of his three plays are adaptations of his prose works, and all three dramas lack dramatic tension as well as an eye for stage effects. Pontoppidan’s only long-lasting theatrical success was the dramatization by fellow writer Svend Leopold of the novel The Royal Guest. It was turned into a one-act comedy and set to music by Hakon Börresen. It premiered on the Royal Theater of Copenhagen in 1919 and has been performed several times since.

De vilde fugle

The play is an adaptation of the novel Højsang and shares to a great extent its plot and characters. The common theme is a glorification of passionate love—a major theme in Pontoppidan’s works—as it develops on the stormy Jutland west coast between Mrs. Lindemark, who is withering away in a tedious marriage to a noble and wealthy but wooden gentleman farmer and is desperately longing for a passionate, erotic adventure, and the local inspector of the dunes, Lieutenant von Hacke, an apparent Don Juan character, but lacking the latter’s grandeur. A third important role is played by a philosophizing character named Glob. If Pontoppidan had been a more skilled playwright, he could have used these people to create a dramatic play about the eternal love triangle. However, the potential conflict fizzles out when the lieutenant at one point thinks that Glob is the man...

(The entire section is 1059 words.)