>Since I had to give oral exams all day today I knew in advance that this would be a non-writing day. I decided to skim an “old style” study of Henrik Ibsen from the late sixties on my commute into work, and as I expected it’s bad. But what I wasn’t expecting is that it is bad in such an incredibly interesting way. It fits in perfectly to chapter four and the whole cluster of problems around an imagined historical model for Ibsen’s fictional character, Peer Gynt, and the insertion of that character into the actual landscape in various ways.
The book is Einar Østvedt’s Henrik Ibsen: Miljø og mennesker from 1968. He states categorically that there was an historical Peer Gynt (impossible to prove) and what’s more, he freaking went on a walking tour of the Rondane mountain range “in Peer’s footsteps” and then wrote a chapter about it it in his ostensibly academic treatise on Ibsen’s literary works. In-freaking-credible! There is virtually no distinction between this chapter and typical chapters in the handbooks on literary tourism in Britain that Watson writes about. He has long descriptive passages of the landscape, he writes about his own accommodations and travails, and he speculates wildly about what the “real” Peer must have felt and thought in the landscape. I can barely contain myself over how ridiculous and perfect this chapter is for my own analysis. Holy guacamole I wish I had been a literary scholar back in the 1960s – it is astounding what they got away with. Even his bibliography is enough to make me apoplexic. If a student of mine handed in a paper with a bibliography like that I would fail her.
I showed my (much older) colleague the book and she laughed out loud and had a rush of nostalgia. She remembered having to read it when she was a graduate student, and said she hadn’t heard or seen it in over thirty years. It’s so fun to be able to bring in a level of metacriticism, since in my project the academic reception of Peer Gynt is as much fair game for analysis as any other type of interpretation or appropriation of the text.
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