I was stunned hearing their comments about Ibsen. It was 11 pm, and we were all sitting around the lunch table at work when a male co-worker said with fervor that Ibsen was «boring». In a split second I felt a hollow running through my guts, while the other Norwegians all as one nodded in silent rhytmn. Some smiled slyly and curtly laughed. Another added that «that old stuff needs some up dating». My instant reaction was not to take it seriously. I immediately said so:
«You´re joking right? One cannot say such things about Ibsen. His level and themes are universal».
My colleague´s face contorted at the unflavored comment. «Well, you see. I think Ibsen can be ok for those who are especially interested, but it gets too drab. Those are the things we had to read in school by compulsion. And there are so much better books to read. I think Saabye Christensens «Beatles» wins in comparison with Ibsen. That´s a better read!». While speaking he increasingly left his initial humorous state, his face got redder and an insisting tone took over. All though his finale about «a better read» was supposed to be funny, his underlying irritation was just below the surface. Clearly, there was not much room for argument here.
This was in fact a conspiracy against this nation´s foremost contribution to world litterature. Are´nt they proud of their cultural heritage? In the Netherlands no one would dream of saying such things against Vermeer or Van Gogh. But I just could not let this go. So I said: «but I cannot see why you think Ibsen is not relevant to our time. When you read Hedda Gabler you get a sense of the decay and facade prevalent in many a middle class marriage of today. And I think the historical setting just makes the comparison more engaging, seeing that it´s still valid»
A lady, who was smiling slyly before, interposed with a grim irony: «Yes. However, we have come a bit further since that time».
Again I was taken aback. Did they know something I did not. Being a Dutch who studied litterature, I was always taught the value of the classics. And I enjoyed Ibsen so much, spending hours at the University library in Rotterdam pouring over play after play. To me it was evident that Ibsen justly deserved his international position as one of very few Norwegian authors. But then suddenly I felt a sting of coldness in the abrupt ceasing of conversational flow. It seemed my co-workers were punishing me with an invisible hood communal reproach. As if to say that I spoiled the good fun with unfitting remarks.
I looked down to my plate focusing on the salad I had scarcely touched. And the gayness resumed. The one who had smiled slyly said: «So what about Tore. Has he gotten any job?».
The male co-worker said: «Can you imagine he ever will? For a teenager boy that is´nt to easy to begin with these days. It´s more easy for girls to get a job in a perfume shop and such. But he wants to be social as well, and frankly does´nt seem to have an ounce of will power!».
The sly one countered: «Ah, it´s hopeless. You ask teenagers nowadays to sit down at the dinner table, and one second: up comes the smart phones and they´re staring into them like this!». She made a retarded facial expression.
«And if you say to them: look, now we are actually obliged to be social, to speak with one another- that you can just forget. But actually, at the cottage last week end I got my two teenagers and their friend to play a game called "Rumour has it!" for two hours. Two hours! And they probably felt they had´nt had so much fun in years. Can you imagine? But these smart phones are really draining, The kids actually loose their ability to remain concentrated for more than 3 minutes. Here you have a snap chat and there you have gaming, and there you have Facebook. But they really loved "Rumour has it!".».
The male co-worker said: «Yes, gone are times when one could actually sit down with a book and read for two hours».
After mechanically munching my salad to an end, I got up and said in Norwegian «Thanks for lunch». It was not untill much later that I realized that for a reason Ibsen must have felt like a public enemy.
- Franziska Strier