Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen, set in a small town in Norway, is the story of a well-respected man named Rosmer who recently lost his wife, Beata, to suicide. Beata’s close friend, Rebecca moved in whilst Beata is sick. Rebecca stays around even after Beata’s suicide. Amidst his grief, Rosmer's friendship with his late wife’s best friend develops, though their relationship remains platonic despite many hints that the two are in love. As he processes his wife's death and becomes friends with Rebecca, his political leanings begin to develop and he becomes less conservative and more interested in the liberal ideas of the newly elected government. This new government is nearly revolutionary and much more left-leaning. He is primarily interested in these less conservative notions because these politics leave more space for the nobility of the soul. It is less about the party for Rosmer and more about encouraging people.
Rosmer's old friend, Kroll, is very upset at Rosmer's new political developments. One day Rosmer meets a man who dresses in rags but calls himself a genius, Ulric Brendel, and Rosmer admires his political ideas. He operates based upon his ideas and his convictions—Kroll only focuses on his state of physical distress as a hallmark of his political leanings. Rosmer helps the man by providing him with money for clothes. Kroll is upset by this and other changes he sees in Rosmer, and so Kroll begins to spread rumors about Rosmer and sabotage his social standing. Curiously, both liberals and conservatives frown upon Rosmer’s “freethinking” without the base of religion.
Some of these rumors involve Rosmer's growing friendship with Rebecca as something more romantic. Other rumors blame Rebecca or Rosmer directly for his wife's suicide. These ideas begin to tear at Rosmer, who becomes distraught and leans into his friendship with Rebecca as a result. Previously, Kroll defended his former friend from gossip of this same nature—gossip that implied Rosmer cheated or that Rebecca coerced Beata into suicide. It is clear the two are in love, and Rosmer asks her to marry him but she refuses outright. She even threatens that she will meet the same fate as his wife if he asks her again. Rosmer is wracked with guilt about his wife’s death and his overlapping feelings for Rebecca. Rebecca, in an attempt to save Rosmer from his own anguish, gives a false confession, saying that she deliberately conned him to make him into a liberal, and that she told his wife she was pregnant in order to get her to commit suicide. Unable to fully conceal her real love, however, she ends the confession by telling him that, through this process of deception, she actually came to love him, and this causes Rosmer to see through her lies.
Brendel announces he is leaving town, and that he cannot be the leader of the liberal movement because of his ideals. He tells Rosmer that those without ideals gain victory and that Rosmer may, too, if Rebecca shows she is loyal. In his desperation, Rosmer becomes convinced that he must force Rebecca to prove her dedication to him, and he asks her to jump off the same bridge his wife died at if she really loves him. Rebecca agrees and Rosmer joins her, creating a tragic ending for the story.