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"Brand" by Henrik Ibsen

Thought I'd start this thread. Discussion, hopefully, to follow.

Just to say, I've been reading Brand since the start of the week and have just embarked on the final act, but I don't really feel capable of writing anything at the moment. This is very much out of my comfort zone. I've been trying to think of other things it's like, in order to get some handle on it, but the only thing that comes to mind is Dreyer's religious melodrama Ordet, and even that may not be a good comparison piece. It's certainly a work that provides a lot of food for thought. I'm on holiday next week, but will be on the board a bit and will follow discussions closely...

This is probably somewhat irrelevant, but my first meeting with BRAND was at the old Lyric Hammersmith many years ago. Brand was played by Patrick MaGoohan.  And Dilys Hamlett. I remember it well, it came across with great power. I still recall the voice from the avalanchen- HE IS A GOD OF LOVE...
I was on leave from the RAF at the time and a gentleman sitting in the next seat made a not-very-subtle proposition to me. Well, I was in uniform...

There is so much material to cope with that I am happy to discuss the play act by act. My literary experience of poetry is limited so I will confine myself to initial impressions. It is clear from the first page that Brand is a religious bigot from his various encounters throughout the opening act. The first is with a peasant and his son who are trying to reach a daughter living in a village on the other side of a mountain. When the peasant turns back from the journey Brand upbraids him for a lack of compassion. Later the same day Brand meets a contemporary of his from their schooldays. He was hoping that Einar would become his friend; instead Einar has become painter of religious subjects and taken up with a girl Agnes and they are on the way over the mountain to board a ship for warmer climes. From a motive or motives (sexual jealousy, betrayal of some kind) which are unclear at the moment Brand derides Einar’s plans and implies that his plans are selfish and unworthy of his talents. The act ends with Brand meeting a young girl from the village who is climbing up to a ‘church’ formed in the ice from a cleft in a ravine and an overhanging ice shelf. Brand would prefer that she retraced her steps and went to the village church.  
Brand seems to be so zealous in his beliefs that he wants everyone he meets to be like him and therefore has an unwillingness to consider any other way of life.
Writing of this quality is a joy on every page and I just wish I could explain in more detail how satisfying and stimulating it is.

Chib, I think Brand  is outside everyone’s comfort zone!

Just a few general observations here (I don’t have the text with me right now). Brand is certainly a fanatic, but I don’t know that I’d characterise him as a “bigot”. He says at one point that he is not sure that he is Christian: but he does believe in God – not the weak God that, in his view, everyone else worships; not the old man who is forgiving of sins and understanding of human foibles: no – Brand’s God is modelled on himself. For Brand completely unyielding, and refuses absolutely to compromise his moral and spiritual principles. (This figure – the “absolute idealist” – re-appears in Ibsen’s later, more realistic plays in various guises – Stockman in An Enemy of the People, Gregers Werle in The Wild Duck, etc. ) Brand’s God, as he puts it, is “young and strong, like Hercules”. (Ibsen later said that he had in mind Michelangelo’s depiction of Christ in The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.)

Brand is no hypocrite. He is as hard on himself as he is on everyone else. In many ways, he is admirable. And unless we see him as an admirable figure (at least in some ways) the drama will not work: it will seem merely a straightforward attack on obduracy. But Brand is much more than merely a stubborn git: he is entirely sincere in his beliefs, and causes himself as much pain as he does anyone else. He endures his own pain, and expects others to endure theirs.

If we find this loathsome, we ought to remember also the dangers of moral compromise. (Ibsen addresses this in his next work, Peer Gynt: Peer has always allowed his face to grow into the mask that is most convenient for him to wear, and by the end, he finds he has no real core, no identity. He is like the onion he peels – layer after acquired layer, but with no centre.)

A chill wind blows through this play. It is an icy feel to it, and is, I think, entirely outside everyone’s comfort zone. The play is as uncompromising as its principal character. The poetic imagery throughout is startling – but perhaps the most dominant image is the one introduced towards the end of the first act- that if the Ice Church. The last scene of the play takes us there. This is not the church of a God who is there to provide us with comfort: this is a God whose demands of mankind are more than mankind can bear. And his Church is a Church of Ice.

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