Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm was published in November 1886, two years after Vildanden, in what students of Ibsen have become used to thinking of as his regular biennial cycle. This notion of regularity, however, obscures the fact that all was not so carefully calculated as it may seem. Ibsen had started work on the play in late 1885, and had at first thought that it would be finished earlier than it was; but it took longer than expected for his ideas to coalesce into the final version, and in the event he had to miss his summer holiday in 1886 in order to finish it. We can see from the preserved drafts that his ideas about the relationship between the main characters – and their names – changed considerably as he went along, sometimes in mid-draft, and the minor characters too underwent wide-ranging modifications. He had particular difficulties with the character of Rosmer’s former tutor Ulrik Brendel, who appears with a number of different names and in a range of incarnations, which are so different from each other as to give him a different function in the play with each revision. In this article I shall firstly examine the development of the Brendel character from draft to draft, and then offer some suggestions about the varying problems he poses or contributions he makes to the overall unity of the play.
The first jottings for Rosmersholm were made over the period December 1885 to June 1886, and consist of three separate undated sheets of notes. Following that there are three distinct drafts of dialogue. The first undated one, probably from the spring of 1886, is entitled “White Horses”, and contains the opening of Act 1. The second, also entitled “White Horses”, was written between 25th May and 15th June 1886, and consists of Acts 1 and 2 and the beginning of Act 3. The third draft of the complete play bears the title “Rosmersholm”, and was written from 15th June to 4th August 1886. The final version followed swiftly after, being written between 6th August and 27th September.
The character who eventually becomes Ulrik Brendel is present in embryo from the beginning of Ibsen’s notes about the play. On the single sheet, probably from December 1885, on which he jots down his ideas about the characters, making Rebekka the governess to Rosmer’s two daughters, he finishes with a note: “Journalisten; geni, landstryger” (ES 81) (“The journalist, genius, vagabond.” (OI 444)). The first draft stops shortly before the entry of Brendel into the play, and there is no mention of him. However, the second and third drafts, and the final version of the play, confront us with three figures with very different intentions.
In the second draft, Brendel arrives just as he does in the final version, to interrupt the conversation between Kroll, Rosmer and Rebekka at the point where the last-mentioned declares that she is going to explain to Kroll why his ideas about getting Rosmer to edit his paper are so ludicrous – except that Kroll is Gylling and Rebekka is Mrs Rosmer. Brendel’s name has not been established; in the course of this draft he is referred to variously as Rosenhjelm, Sejerhjelm and Hekfeldt. It is interesting to note that he is the only character in the second draft whose physical appearance is described, and the description contains a fair amount of detail, so he must already have been vividly present in Ibsen’s mind: “Han har uredt hår og skæg, og er klædt som en almindelig landstryger. Ingen overfrakke; dårligt skotøj; skjorte ses ikke. Gamle sorte hansker påtrukne; en bulehat sammenklappet under armen og en stok i hånden.” (ES 97) (“He has unkempt hair and beard, and is dressed like a common tramp. No overcoat; down at heel; no shirt visible. He is wearing old black gloves, and has a wide-awake hat crumpled under his arm, and a stick in his hand.” (OI 394))
Much of the backchat between the characters connected with him is already in place here. Mrs Helset gets his name wrong, calling him Uldrik rather than Ulrik; Rosenhjelm mistakenly greets Gylling, confusing him with Rosmer, and then recognises Gylling as the man who kept him out of the Student Club (in the final version, had him thrown out of the Debating Society); Rosenhjelm declares that he can tell that Mortensgaard is an idiot from the sound of his name; Gylling is president of the Temperance Society and does not welcome the suggestion that Rosenhjelm might enrol; Rosenhjelm is tempted by the offer of a drink to warm him up until he realises Mrs Rosmer means a cup of tea; and he borrows clothes and money because his things are being sent on later. What is not present in this scene is any particular reason for Rosenhjelm to be in the area, or any specific link to Rosmer. He is spoken of before he appears as “Den forlorne Rosenhjelm” (ES 97) (“That prodigal Rosenhjelm” (OI 393)), and is not Rosmer’s former tutor but an acquaintance of whom Rosmer says: “Jeg har kendt lidt til ham i hans velmagts dage” (ES 97) (“I knew him slightly in better days” (OI 393)) – though he does address Rosmer with the familiar “du”. And his intentions in coming to town are rather vaguely “Jeg tænker nemlig på at få en aftenunderholdning i stand. (…) Hvad som bedst falder i smagen.” (ES 98) (“Actually I am thinking of organizing an evening’s entertainment. (…) Whatever suits the popular taste.” (OI 394)) There is no message he is burning to convey. After he has departed, there is quite a conversation about him; Rosmer suggests he might be rehabilitated and Gylling wonders whether his “flængende ubarmhjertige pen” (ES 101) (“slashing, merciless pen” (OI 397)) might be used in the service of his projected newspaper – provided, of course, that Brendel lives a blameless life from now on.
There is further discussion of the character in the following two acts. In Act 2, Gylling reports back to Rosmer that Ulrik Sejerhjelm has disgraced himself, pretty much as he does in the final version: he has visited “en sjofel kippe” (ES 106) (“a low tavern” (OI 401)) and got himself thrown out, pawned Rosmer’s overcoat etc. The idea that Rebekka has given him a note for Mortensgaard, and that the latter has redeemed the coat, is also in place, leading on to Gylling’s query as to whether things are going on in Rosmer’s house behind his back. In Act 3, Mortensgaard arrives to talk to Rosmer – a conversation which is moved to Act 2 in the final version. And he has more to say about Sejerhjelm, who has now become Hekfeldt. Rosmer asks if he can use Hekfeldt in his paper, and he replies: “Desværre, jeg tror det er for sent. (…) Han er ikke med i tiden; står så underlig udenfor det som rører sig. Ser på tingene med øjne som kan ha’ været radikale nok for tyve år siden – “ (ES 117). (“I’m afraid it’s too late. (…) He’s out of step with the age; he stands so strangely outside what is going on. Looks at things with eyes that might have been radical enough twenty years ago … “ (OI 410-11).) This exchange is not present in the final version, where Mortensgaard simply says he wanted to thank Rebekka for her note. The second “Brendel episode”, where he returns disillusioned in Act 4, is not included in this draft at all.
The third complete draft of the play includes both Brendel episodes, during the course of which his name settles down rather more; he has become Ulrik Hetman – the name used in the final version as Brendel’s pen-name. On his first entry he is still someone whom Rosmer knew a little in better days. His appearance has changed somewhat; from being unkempt he has become “en staselig skikkelse med gråsprængt hår og skæg” (ES 120) (“an impressive figure with grey-flecked hair and beard” (OI 413)). He clearly carries rather more authority here than in the previous version. And he has a mission; he intends to hire the hall of the Workmen’s Institute in order to embark on a lecture tour throughout the country. His mission is a political one, to attack the landowners who have appropriated the land which should be the common property of everyone: “Det er ingen som knyr imod at det faste land på kloden er i hænderne på en forholdsvis liden bande af røvere, som har udnyttet det i århundrer, som udnytter det den dag idag og som agter at udnytte det gennem al fremtid.” (ES 124) (“Nobody breathes a word against the idea of solid earth on this planet being in the hands of a relatively small band of robbers, who have exploited it for centuries, who are exploiting it today and who intend exploiting it for all eternity.” (OI 415)) Logical and practical as his message sounds, however, it is strangely mixed with an unclear and mystical sense of being chosen – by God or the devil: “Den tanke har jeg fra oven, – eller fra neden, – eller fra de dunkle usporlige magter. Jeg har den gennem en inspiration…” (ES 124) (“This idea I have from above … or from below … or from the dark inscrutable forces. It has come to me by inspiration …” (OI 415)). When Rebekka explains to him that his idea is not new, but that she and Rosmer have recently read a book which raises precisely the same issues, he collapses in despair at coming too late yet again, then rallies and decides to cut his losses by organizing a few evenings’ entertainment. After his exit, Rosmer and Gylling have a brief exchange about him in which they agree that he had once been so brilliant, “hele hovedstadens løve” (ES 127) (“the lion of the entire capital” (OI 417)), before he wrote the notorious book which ruined his career.
By the second “Brendel episode” in Act 4 of the third draft, new ideas have taken shape in the playwright’s mind. Now Rosmer has become the former pupil of Hetman, who addresses him as “min gut” and “min søn” (ES 135, 137) (“my boy”, “my son” (OI 420, 421)). He does not have the failure of his plans to report – that had already happened before he left the stage in Act 1 – but now, it appears, he is on a totally different tack. He has realised that his whole doctrine is false – but not for any social or political reason. Everything is a swindle, mankind is beyond help – because “der var en fejl ved skabelsen fra først af” (ES 135) (“there was a mistake right at the beginning of Creation” (OI 420)). He launches into an attack on “Mesteren”, the master, who had been in the wrong mood or too much of a hurry when he created mankind, realised that there was a flaw in the work but pretended not to notice. So all he can recommend to Rosmer and Rebekka is to eat, drink and be merry together. Rosmer tells him that Rebekka is in fact leaving, and then the conversation turns to Beate, and Hetman very pointedly indicates the way her successor should go:
HETMAN. Hold hende i agt og ære. Den kvinde må dog ha’ havt som et slags vinger, synes jeg.
REBEKKA. Vinger? Hvorfor vinger?
HETMAN. Hæved hun sig ikke så højt at hun kunde dø for sin kærlighed?
ROSMER. Ja dette – at kunne dø for noget.
HETMAN. Jeg skulde forsvoret at nogen eneste levende sjæl kunde det.
ROSMER. Dette – at ty til døden – for at føre vidnesbyrd om sin kærlighed.
REBEKKA. Jeg rejser ikke i nat.
ROSMER (angst). Jo rejs! Rejs!
HETMAN. Bliv De, min smukke dame. For Dem er der ingen fare på færde. Dem slipper han nok for at få lokket ned under vandene. (ES 137-38)
HETMAN. Respect and honour her. That woman must have had some sort of wings, I think.
REBECCA. Wings? Why wings?
HETMAN. Did she not raise herself so high that she could die for her love?
ROSMER. Ah! To be able to die for something!
HETMAN. I would have sworn that not a single living soul could do that.
ROSMER. Ah! to seek death … as witness to one’s love.
REBECCA. I am not leaving tonight.
ROSMER (fearfully). Yes! Go! Go!
HETMAN. Stay, my fair lady. For you there is no danger lurking. He’s not likely to lure you into deep water. (OI 422)
This exchange, with its fairly overt reference to the legend of Rosmer the merman luring the maiden beneath the waves, is excised from the final version.
Finally we come to the play in its published form. Brendel arrives in Act 1 announced by Mrs Helseth as on previous occasions, although now Rosmer acknowledges him at his former tutor from the start. He is given a more colourful past, having both been on tour with a travelling theatre group and spent some time in the workhouse, as well as having been driven out of Rosmersholm by Rosmer’s father with a horsewhip. When he appears, the description of his appearance has been refined yet more in a positive direction – he is “en stadselig, noget udtæret men rask og rørig skikkelse med gråt hår og skæg” (HU 359) (“an impressive figure, with grey hair and beard, rather gaunt, but alert and vigorous” (OI 306)) – and he now wears a threadbare frock-coat. He addresses Rosmer as “Johannes – min gut, – du, hvem jeg har elsket mest –!” (HU 360) (“Johannes … my boy … my well-beloved…” (OI 307), a greeting with distinct biblical overtones. The banter with Kroll is little changed, but Brendel’s errand in town is a different one altogether; not organizing entertainment, nor embarking on political agitation, but revealing his visionary ideas. The language he is given to describe these ideas is more flowery and self-indulgent than ever, to the point of being parodic: “når gyldne drømme daled ned over mig, – omtåged mig, – når nye, svimlende, vidtrækkende tanker fødtes i mig, – omvifted mig med bærende vinger, – da formed jeg det ud i digt, i syner, i billeder. (…) bifaldet, takken, berømmelsen, laurbærkronen, – alt har jeg indkasseret med fulde, glædeskælvende hænder.” (HU 362-63) (“whenever golden dreams came over me … enveloping me … whenever new ideas were born within me, dazzling, audacious … when I felt the rush of their beating wings … these things I formed into poems and visions and images. (…) the applause, the gratitude, the eulogies, the laurel crowns … all this I have abundantly gathered in with glad and trembling hands” (OI 309-10)). He is going to sacrifice his ideas on the altar of liberty “som en mor, der lægger unge døtre i ægtemands arme” (HU 363) (“like a mother who gives her young daughters into the arms of their husbands” (OI 310)). His rhetoric captivates Rebekka, who declares he is splendid to give the best he has – and more or less explicitly challenges Rosmer to do the same. After Brendel leaves, Rosmer defends him to Kroll more vigorously than he has in any previous version: “Han har i alle fald havt mod til at leve livet efter sit eget hode. Jeg synes ikke det er så lidet endda.” (HU 365) (“At least he has had the courage to live his life in his own way. I don’t think that’s such a small thing after all.” (OI 312))
Brendel then returns in Act 4, at the point when Rosmer is desperately asking Rebekka to give him back his faith in her love. He now presents himself as a man bereft of ideals, a bankrupt who has been superseded by the man of the future, Peter Mortensgaard. He is not quietly dejected, however, but no less histrionic and bombastic than on his first appearance: “… slig, som du i denne nat ser mig, er jeg en afsat konge på askedyngen af mit brændte slot (…) Tidens tænder havde maset den til støv.” (HU 432) (“… what you see tonight is a deposed king standing amid the ashes of his burnt-out palace (…) the mills of time had ground it all to dust” (OI 374-75)). He warns Rosmer not to build his house on shifting sand – and not to build on Rebekka, the “tiltrækkende havfrue” (HU 433) (“enchanting little mermaid” (OI 375)). She does not announce in this version that she is leaving, but Brendel tells her that Rosmer’s only hope of fulfilling his mission is if she is prepared to make a sacrifice of herself. His recommendation is startlingly concrete: “At den kvinde, som elsker ham, gladelig går ud i køkkenet og hakker sin fine rosenhvide lillefinger af, – her, – just her ved det midterste led. Item at bemeldte elskende kvinde – ligeledes gladelig – snitter af sig det så uforlignelig formede venstre øre.” (HU 433) (“That the woman who loves him goes out into the kitchen and gladly chops off her dainty, pink and white little-finger … here, just here near the middle joint. Furthermore, that the aforesaid woman in love … equally gladly … cuts off her incomparably formed left ear.” (OI 376)) He then leaves to go out into the dark night, with the biblical blessing: “Fred være med jer.” (HU 433) (“Peace be with you” (OI 376)).