From pathos to pathology: Ibsen's English hosts, 1891–1893
The Independent Theatre's production of Ghosts at the Royalty Theatre, London in 1891 precipitated one of the most famous theatrical quarrels in European theater history. Although many have commented on the extremity of the response from the conservative reviewers, few have remarked on the fact that the majority of these reviews were laden with disease metaphors. Ibsen, in the age of the classic epidemic, comes to be perceived by his English hosts as a contagious entity. The importance of Ghosts , then, lies in its ability to "introduce into the cultural matrix a germ, a foreign body, that cannot be accounted for by its existing codes and practices" (Attridge 55–6).
In this dissertation, I examine the theatrical reviews as serious cultural artifacts in order to avoid reducing them to mere entertaining invective. In "Myth Today," Barthes powerfully concludes that "[h]owever paradoxical it may seem, myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear" (121). The myth of Ghosts was all about "making public" to such a degree that it quickly overshot its usefulness. Thus I reconsider the myth of Ghosts in order to engage with the distortions of Ibsen, of theater, of disease and of England itself in the early 1890s.
Ultimately, I trace the transmission of modern dramatic innovation from Ibsen to Arthur Wing Pinero. Pinero writes a series of plays in the 1890s distinctive both for their seriousness and their seeming similarity to Ibsen. The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith establish Pinero as both a popular and a serious writer, something Ibsen could never quite accomplish. Although it is unfair to lay the "improvements" in Pinero's method solely at the feet of Ibsen, it is fair, I think, to demonstrate that without Ibsen's boundary-breaking work, Pinero could never have produced these important plays.
British and Irish literature
0593: British and Irish literature