In 1870 he was not at the peak of his career but he was already famous and a controversial writer, a good poet and was on his way to becoming an European personality; around his 40s Henrik Ibsen could receive letters with texts of new born writers, especially women writers.
Laura Petersen, a Norwegian young writer, published a kind of sequel to Ibsen’s poetic play Brand entitled Brand’s Daughters. Michael Meyer, Ibsen’s biographer, depicts this text as “an imaginary sequel (...) an emotional contribution to the debate on women’s rights”. Today we recognize Ibsen as a 19th century champion for women rights (thanks to some of his plays of maturity), but in that time, around 1870, that wasn't a very easy subject for him. In fact, he wasn't a very open minded man about that: when he was younger and living in Italy he asked for the expulsion of some members of the Scandinavian Club in Rome who let their wives enter to the club (reserved only for men) without being noticed; and years later he used to have some lively debates with Camilla Collet, a Norwegian novelist recognized by her fighting for women rights; Collet, following Meyer’s text “... was scandalized by what she regarded as an old fashioned man about ideas on women’s place in society”.
So, when Laura Petersen sent to him her Brand’s Daughters asking for advice, one could only expect the letter would be ignored or at least rejected in a polite way. But no, something happened to Ibsen when young women writers approached to him asking for advice. Suddenly, the gentleman surged from him, and a patient and kind wise man always replied. Thanks to that attitude towards young women artists we can now read a document with some advices, coming from his own hand, directed to a young writer.
Letter to Laura Petersen (June 11, 1870):
"Are you thinking of continuing to write? (…) Much more is needed than mere talent. One must have something to create from, some genuine experience. If one lacks that, one doesn't write in the true sense, one just makes books (…) Intellectually, man is a long-sighted animal; we see most clearly from a distance; details distract; one must remove oneself from what one wishes to judge; one describes the summer best on a winter's day (…) The main thing is to be true and faithful to oneself. It is not question of willing to go in this direction or that, but of willing what one absolutely must, because one is oneself and cannot be otherwise. The rest is only lies." (*)
Laura Petersen never went out from Ibsen's life, both were linked for ever; she married later and her name changed to Laura Kieler, and a terrible real anecdote with her husband was Ibsen's inspiration for A Doll's House; Nora Hellmer was modeled on this young lady who was thinking on women rights since her adolescence.
Ibsen, with the honesty and wisdom his letter shows, was not only a good mentor to Laura Petersen but a prophet of his own future way to work.
(*) Henrik Ibsen Biography. By Michael Meyer. Page 320.
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