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New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

franco moretti


Ibsen and the Spirit of Capitalism

Consider the social universe of Ibsen’s twelve-play cycle: shipbuilders, industrialists, financiers, merchants, bankers, developers, administrators, judges, managers, lawyers, doctors, headmasters, professors, engineers, pastors, journalists, photographers, designers, accountants, clerks, printers. No other writer has focused so single-mindedly on the bourgeois world. Mann; but in Mann there is a constant dialectic of bourgeois and artist (Thomas and Hanno, Lübeck and Kröger, Zeitblom and Leverkühn), and in Ibsen not quite, his one great artist—the sculptor Rubek, in When We Dead Awaken, who will ‘work until the day he dies’, and loves to be ‘lord and master over his material’—is just like all the others. [1] All quotations from Ibsen come from The Complete Major Prose Plays, translated and introduced by Rolf Fjelde, New York 1978. Many many thanks to Sarah Allison for her help with the Norwegian original.

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Franco Moretti, ‘The Grey Area’, NLR 61: £3

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