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When the lighthouse keeper’s daughter Ellida meets the widower Dr Wangel, she tries to put her long-lost first love far behind her and begin a new life as a wife and stepmother. But the tide is turning, an English ship is coming down the fjord, and the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface in this passionate and sweeping drama. Ellida must choose between the values of the land: solidity and reliability against those of the sea: mystery and fluidity.
Ibsen’s lyrical and still startlingly modern masterpiece, anticipated the emergence of psychoanalysis and talking cures. Similar to Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, The Lady from the Sea vibrantly explores the constrained social position of women, exploring themes of choice, marriage, responsibility and freedom.
(SCENE.–DOCTOR WANGEL’S house, with a large verandah garden in front of and around the house. Under the verandah a flagstaff. In the garden an arbour, with table and chairs. Hedge, with small gate at the back. Beyond, a road along the seashore. An avenue of trees along the road. Between the trees are seen the fjord, high mountain ranges and peaks. A warm and brilliantly clear summer morning.
BALLESTED, middle-aged, wearing an old velvet jacket, and a broad-brimmed artist’s hat, stands under the flagstaff, arranging the ropes. The flag is lying on the ground. A little way from him is an easel, with an outspread canvas. By the easel on a camp-stool, brushes, a palette, and box of colours.
BOLETTE WANGEL comes from the room opening on the verandah. She carries a large vase with flowers, which she puts down on the table.)
Bolette. Well, Ballested, does it work smoothly?
Ballested. Certainly, Miss Bolette, that’s easy enough. May I ask–do you expect any visitors today?
Bolette. Yes, we’re expecting Mr. Arnholm this morning. He got to town in the night.
Ballested. Arnholm? Wait a minute–wasn’t Arnholm the man who was tutor here several years ago?
Bolette. Yes, it is he.
Ballested. Oh, really! Is he coming into these parts again?
Bolette. That’s why we want to have the flag up.
Ballested. Well, that’s reasonable enough.
(BOLETTE goes into the room again. A little after LYNGSTRAND enters from the road and stands still, interested by the easel and painting gear. He is a slender youth, poorly but carefully dressed, and looks delicate.)
Lyngstrand (on the other side of the hedge). Good-morning.
Ballested (turning round). Hallo! Good-morning. (Hoists up flag). That’s it! Up goes the balloon. (Fastens the ropes, and then busies himself about the easel.) Good-morning, my dear sir. I really don’t think I’ve the pleasure of–Lyngstrand. I’m sure you’re a painter.
Ballested. Of course I am. Why shouldn’t I be?
Lyngstrand. Yes, I can see you are. May I take the liberty of coming in a moment?
Ballested. Would you like to come in and see?
Lyngstrand. I should like to immensely.
Ballested. Oh! there’s nothing much to see yet. But come in. Come a little closer.
Lyngstrand. Many thanks. (Comes in through the garden gate.)
Ballested (painting). It’s the fjord there between the islands I’m working at.
Lyngstrand. So I see.
Ballested. But the figure is still wanting. There’s not a model to be got in this town.
Lyngstrand. Is there to be a figure, too?
Ballested. Yes. Here by the rocks in the foreground a mermaid is to lie, half-dead.
Lyngstrand. Why is she to be half-dead?
Ballested. She has wandered hither from the sea, and can’t find her way out again. And so, you see, she lies there dying in the brackish water.
Lyngstrand. Ah, I see.
Ballested. The mistress of this house put it into my head to do something of the kind.
Lyngstrand. What shall you call the picture when it’s finished?
Ballested. I think of calling it “The Mermaid’s End.”
Lyngstrand. That’s capital! You’re sure to make something fine of it.
Ballested (looking at him). In the profession too, perhaps?
Lyngstrand. Do you mean a painter?
Lyngstrand. No, I’m not that; but I’m going to be a sculptor. My name is Hans Lyngstrand.
Ballested. So you’re to be a sculptor? Yes, yes; the art of sculpture is a nice, pretty art in its way. I fancy I’ve seen you in the street once or twice. Have you been staying here long?
Lyngstrand. No; I’ve only been here a fortnight. But I shall try to stop till the end of the summer.
Ballested. For the bathing?
Lyngstrand. Yes; I wanted to see if I could get a little stronger.
Ballested. Not delicate, surely?
Lyngstrand. Yes, perhaps I am a little delicate; but it’s nothing dangerous. Just a little tightness on the chest.
Ballested. Tush!–a bagatelle! You should consult a good doctor.
Lyngstrand. Yes, I thought of speaking to Doctor Wangel one of these times.
Ballested. You should. (Looks out to the left.) There’s another steamer, crowded with passengers. It’s really marvellous how travelling has increased here of late years.
Lyngstrand. Yes, there’s a good deal of traffic here, I think.
Ballested. And lots of summer visitors come here too. I often hear our good town will lose its individuality with all these foreign goings on.
Lyngstrand. Were you born in the town?
Ballested. No; but I have accla–acclimatised myself. I feel united to the place by the bonds of time and habit.
Lyngstrand. Then you’ve lived here a long time?
Ballested. Well–about seventeen or eighteen years. I came here with Skive’s Dramatic Company. But then we got into difficulties, and so the company broke up and dispersed in all directions.
Lyngstrand. But you yourself remained here?
Ballested. I remained, and I’ve done very well. I was then working chiefly as decorative artist, don’t you know.
(BOLETTE comes out with a rocking-chair, which she places on the verandah.)