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Little Eyolf


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A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1895, Berlin; Christiania Pb: 1894 Tr: 1907 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: Allmers' Estate near a fjord, Norway, late 19th c. C: 2m, 3f, 1 child (m)Alfred Allmers, a 36-year-old landowner and writer, lives on a large estate with his wife Rita and their 9-year-old crippled son Eyolf. Allmers has just returned from a trip to the mountains, a break from his ‘life's work’ on a book about ‘human responsibility’. He is welcomed home by Rita and his younger sister Asta. Allmers has decided to give up writing and devote himself to Little Eyolf. Rita is jealous of his love for Asta and Eyolf, wanting to have Allmers entirely for herself. A passing Rat Wife, who had offered to rid the estate of any vermin, is followed by Eyolf, who drowns in the fjord. Overcome by remorse, Allmers and Rita reproach each other: in a moment of sexual passion they had neglected their infant son, who had rolled off a table and injured himself. Now, Allmers insists, they must seek ‘resurrection’ through atonement. He would like to leave with Asta, because her love never changes, but discovers that she is only a half-sister. Pointing out that their relationship is also subject to change, Asta leads Allmers back to Rita and leaves with her dependable suitor, the engineer Borghejm. When Allmers threatens to leave Rita, she decides to atone by offering a home to the homeless waifs of the fjord. Allmers agrees to stay and help her.

A: Henrik Ibsen Pf: 1895, Berlin; Christiania Pb: 1894 Tr: 1907 G: Drama in 3 acts; Norwegian prose S: Allmers' Estate near a fjord, Norway, late 19th c. C: 2m, 3f, 1 child (m)

Henry James wrote of Little Eyolf: ‘He simplifies too much and too suddenly.’ Though initially more popular in its day than Hedda Gabler, it is now regarded as one of Ibsen's weaker plays: the structure is formulaic, the Rat Wife too obvious a symbol, and the happy ending unconvincing. However, it maintains other strengths characteristic of Ibsen: the gloomy Nordic setting, the probing analysis of extreme emotions, and the question of responsibility for one's past.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Henrik Ibsen (1828—1906) Norwegian dramatist


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