The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen

After English actress Gemma Arterton played Hilda Wangel in The Master Builder staging of 2010 I knew I had to read the play. Gemma is an outspoken feminist in that she demands better and less superficial roles for women in the industry. She said she loved Hilda from the very beginning and that playing her was a challenging experience.

Gemma Arterton as Hilda back in 2010. From
Gemma Arterton as Hilda back in 2010. From

The Master Builder revolves around the title’s master builder, a middle-aged man who receives the visit of Hilda Wangel, someone from his past who he did not expect at all: she is asking for a kiss he promised her ten years ago. This is everything I learned about the play thanks to Gemma and it was enough to convince me. But when I started reading, everything changed. The setting and the dialogue was more complex and demanding than I had expected and I must admit I was glad to know some information about the work, otherwise… I am pretty sure I would have given up.

This is a is a really complex play that, in my humble opinion, can only be understood once it is read. It is not until you read the very last line that you get to understand the whole meaning of the work. Meanwhile, it is the development of the characters and their interactions what deserves our attention. And it takes a lot of attention to understand them!

But I would like to summarize my learning from the play with the following quote:

SOLNESS: I believe there is only one possible dwelling-place for human
happiness–and that is what I am going to build now.

HILDE: Mr. Solness–you mean our castles in the air.

SOLNESS: The castles in the air–yes.

I don’t think you can review or recommend to anyone without too much spoiling. So, all I can say is that this play was a mind-opener for me and although the process of reading was tough, I am very happy with the results. One tip is never to give up, even when you wonder what the characters are talking about, everything will fall into place eventually and even the little things will  make sense.



  • Rikki

    After I read the post with the quote the other day I had a look in our house and it turns out we have some Ibsen plays at home. Ah, the advantages of two readers living together, :). The Master Builder is one of them, so I am planning to tackle it at some time this year.

    • Elena

      Let me know when you read The Master Builder. I found it quite a “relevation” but would love to hear from the rest of you too. Maybe I’m over-reacting?

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