"Peer Gynt" (1936)
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Peer Gynt was originally written by Henrik Ibsen
in 1867, when he was nearly forty. Accoring to Ibsen's own comments, it was conceived in
the mood of a "Korstog-Jubel"
- a "Crusader's Song of Triumph".
The play is first and foremost a poetic fantasy and
only incidentally a satire. It is a fantasy woven out of the folklore of Ibsen's Scandinavian
embroidered by his wealth of thought and keen wit. There is philosophy to be found in it, no doubt, but Ibsen did
not set out to
write a philosophical poem, but a fantasy involving the legendary character of Peer Gynt (reputed
to have been an inhabitant of Gudbrandsdal
in the 18th Century) who is also mentioned in Asbjörnsen's
Norwegian Fairy Tales as having a penchant for fighting and conquering trolls.
On the question of his inspiration, in 1880 Ibsen wrote
To make the matter intelligible I should have to write
a whole book, and for that the time has
not yet come. Everything that I have
written has the closest possible connection with what I
have lived through, even if it
has not been my own personal experience; in every new poem
or play I have
aimed at my own spiritual emancipation and purification.
One of the outstanding features of Peer Gynt -
the characters of Aase, Peer's mother, and the incident woven around her - was derived from
Ibsen's own experiences,
for as he wrote in 1870, "This poem contains much that is reminiscent of my own youth; for Aase my mother
necessary exaggerations - served as model".
In 1876, Ibsen prepared an abridged version of Peer
Gynt for presentation at the Christiania theatre, where it was performed with Grieg's
incidental music and, in
became a feature in the repertories of the major Scandinavian theatres. Foreign language translations
German in 1881, English in 1892 and French in 1896.
Arthur Rackham's interpretation of Ibsen's classic work
retains all the characteristics of Rackham's illustrative approach, while imbibing the
images with a Scandinavian sense that is entirely complementary to Ibsen's play.
The contemporary review in "The New York Times Book Review"
(Vol. 2; 1936) included the following comment:
Henrik Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" has been ... illustrated with many
of Arthur Rackham's delightfully
impish and imaginative drawings in colour. It is seldom that
the work of artist and author is
more happily married than in this volume.