Writing the Writer Project Blog

Tracing and documenting the genesis of a biographical screenplay


Dining at the terrace of Siri´s cabin

The thinking dramatist

Between talks, we do walks

Workshop nr 1: Siri´s cabin at Fagerstrand, August 2023

Participants, the writers: Ole Christian Solbakken, Susanne Skogstad, Siri Senje


The idea for this workshop was a soft start and free roaming about in our raw material as well as its context.

(see Workshop 1 powerpoint for schedule). We had an agenda, but we allowed ourselves to keep veering away from it. This is the way of writers, people of many words, and the way of the imagination as it approaches the new arena on which it will engage and unfold.


We had decided not to start working on anything concrete like a storyline or synopsis, too early. We were to allow for a period of creative chaos. But we are dramatists. We cannot resist seeing things in scenes, and scenes tend to spring from each other and quickly begin to link together and become stories.


Note to self: As we roam about, we - the dramatists - are not, as one would imagine, hearing things in words/dialogue, rather, we are seeing things in visual/physical settings and situational contexts. In these, action takes place, usually action revealing something beneath, an inner, emotional timbre, a symbolic charge, a metaphor. Something - a something that cannot be expressed in words alone -  is evoked through the words describing a scene. This is the nature of our multilayered craft. The dramatist´s tools are images, situations, actions, pauses, vibes, tone, style, subtextual content, and more. Words, in the form of dialogue, of course, also come into play, but they often come late, or last.


Ole Christian now envisions the scene in which Henrik (we are on first name terms now), after the success of Brand and the advent of his new, steady income, goes to a professional barber in Rome, for the first time in a long time. Changes his style. Cleans up. No longer the bohemian. We all love this scene in the Roman barbershop.


Day 1: Context and main character

Discussion themes, context: 


Discussion themes, raw material:

What is “the original impulse”, the electrical current, in this material for us?


The idea of “having a sense of one´s own genius”. The poem he wrote about becoming "an immortal man" and the line written down from the walk with sister Hedvig in 1850:

"Jeg vil nå opp til det høyeste i storhet og klarhet. Og så vil jeg dø." (I want to reach the highest point of greatness and clarity. Then I want to die.")

The insistence on not giving up, even 15 years after his debut as a dramatist, when he has still not had a true breakthrough.

Crazy genius man never gives up, even in the face of overwhelming and never ending obstacles, simply because he senses he does indeed have genius.


Is it possible to have a “merverdskompleks” – "superiority complex" – in spite of intense insecurity, in spite of all trials and setbacks? A vague sense  of intellectual superiority combined with introversion and lack of social competence.


His friend and rival Bjørnson applauded Henrik Ibsen´s ability to THINK.  "Ibsen is the best as THINKER", he wrote to Clemens Petersen. 


The question of why Ibsen chose the theatre  - of all literary genres/platforms - as his arena comes up?

Renowned biographer Michael Meyer: "A mere coincidence that he ended in the theatre." (the name of the coincidence, according to Meyer, was Ole Bull)!

Ibsen expert academic Narve Fulsås: "The theatre provided the right circumstances for public expression at the time." (they also write that Ibsen left the theatre and became a writer of books, first and foremost. Books = income). The only public arena?

Hmmm. What were his actual choices? 


Siri notes to this discourse, in which biographer and Ibsen experts insist that Ibsen chose the theatre "by accident" or due to external circumstances only: 

THIS IS NOT TRUE. Rahter, it is an example of how biographers  also (by necessity) interpret and filter historical information.Henrik Ibsen began writing drama in Grimstad at the age of 20. I venture that this was not a coincidence. Grimstad had no stage, no context in which he could have hoped to have his dramatic text realized. Artistic talent and expression are rarely that random. We also know that Henrik had a small puppet theatre in the barn when he was a boy, made the dolls, and put on performances for a paying audience. It is known that he made his living mostly from book sales of his dramas, but the theatres at the time werre unreliable when it came to paying for rights - copyright lawas were not developed. Long after he left his practical theatre career, Ibsen staye involved in productions of this plays, wrote to directors about casting, and gave advice concerning acting style ("keep it natural" was his mantra). 

Conclusion: Henrik Ibsen was a man of the theatre, all his life (says Siri, a woman of the theatre). 

Siri: During all my 35 years experience of working with writers, I have observed that the "dramatic talent" is a specific one, not possessed by every good writer. 


Next: Our discussion about “who is my Ibsen”

Siri: The psychologist. How he probes the depths of our souls and hearts.

Susanne: The thinker, a dramatist of ideas, value conflicts. Expert in making ideas manifest themselves in stories.

Ole Christian: The social critic, attacking the bourgeoisie, conventions, establishment, and the Church.

A political writer? No, he absolutely refused to be. Don´t make me a spokesperson for women´s liberation. I am a portrait painter.

No party, no side in politics. Suzannah says he does not vote.

“Freedom of thought and speech are the only things I can take to the streets for.”


The expert dramaturg/technician: Doll´s house, Hedda Gabler, the amazing clockwork structures of the psychological-realistic plays


Ibsen in Egypt: Ole Christian is inspired by the story of Henrik Ibsen being the King´s representative at the opening of the Suez canal. How he walks away from the others, alone in the desert, always a man apart. A strong image. We check and this happened in 1869. It is a few years after the period we cover, after his success, which brought him such privileges as this. Can we imagine it as a “rammehistorie” – a framing story? Could it be our “Einstein moment”? Or an equivalent of the young, lonely man aboard the ship in the first Ibsen series?

The Oslo fjord, near the cabin

Inspiration all around

The young Henrik Ibsen, ca 1863

Oslo fjord from the terrace

Swings are good for thinking

Wild raspberries 

Day 1, Second session

We now devote our time to CHARACTER. The plan is to discuss all the important ones, but we have not covered enough ground in our research yet, so concentrate on our main character, our man Henrik. 

We brush past Laurie Hutzlers character types, for the fun of it, for inspiration:


Laurie´  7 character types:











We conclude that Henrik Johan Ibsen comes closest to a “power of truth” character, but that there are also strong elements of “power of ambition.” There is evidence in poems and plays of an insistent search for an "existential truth". His concern with being "true to oneself", his sharp attacks on all forms of individual and societal hypocrisy, his relentless soulsearching after his characters´(and his own) true motives for their actions, his portraits of our illusions and self-deceptions, his invention of the concept of the "life-lie". His plays are full of lies that bring his characters into intense dilemmas. They meet terrible destinies because of their lies.

Now, we take off into the world of personality tests. We take it upon ourselves to answer the endless questionnaire on Henrik´s behalf.  It takes one hour to complete, we are exhausted by it.  The exercise of putting ourselves in his shoes and answering the multiple test questions as HIM, is quite fascinating. Ole tells us that the Oppenheimer script is written in first person.

We now have our reward:

Ibsen´s personality type is: TURBULENT ARCHITECT – one of the rarest personality types!

This result, and the description of the type, is so interesting and to the point that we begin to believe in personality tests then and there. Thus, I include here a short intro to Ibsen as  the personality type  "Turbulent Architect":

An Architect (INTJ) is a person with the Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging personality traits. These thoughtful tacticians love perfecting the details of life, applying creativity and rationality to everything they do. Their inner world is often a private, complex one.

“Thought constitutes the greatness of man. Man is a reed, the feeblest thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed.”

It can be lonely at the top. As one of the rarest personality types – and one of the most capable – Architects (INTJs) know this all too well. Rational and quick-witted, Architects pride themselves on their ability to think for themselves, not to mention their uncanny knack for seeing right through phoniness and hypocrisy. But because their minds are never at rest, Architects may struggle to find people who can keep up with their nonstop analysis of everything around them.

A Pioneering Spirit

Architects question everything. Many personality types trust the status quo, relying on conventional wisdom and other people’s expertise to guide their lives. But ever-skeptical Architects prefer to make their own discoveries. In their quest to find better ways of doing things, they aren’t afraid to break the rules or risk disapproval – in fact, they rather enjoy it.

But as anyone with this personality type would tell you, a new idea isn’t worth anything unless it actually works. Architects want to be successful, not just inventive. They bring a single-minded drive to their work, applying the full force of their insight, logic, and willpower. And heaven help anyone who tries to slow them down by enforcing pointless rules or offering poorly thought-out criticism.

Architects, independent to the core, want to shake off other people’s expectations and pursue their own ideas.

This personality type comes with a strong independent streak. Architects don’t mind acting alone, perhaps because they don’t like waiting around for others to catch up with them. They also generally prefer making decisions without asking for anyone else’s input. At times, this lone-wolf behavior can come across as insensitive, as it fails to take into consideration other people’s thoughts, desires, and plans. It would be a mistake, however, to view Architects as uncaring. Whatever the stereotypes about their stoic intellect, these personalities feel deeply. When things go wrong or when they hurt others, Architects are personally affected and spend much time and energy trying to figure out why things happened the way that 

they did. They may not always value emotion as a decision-making tool, but they are authentically human.

A Thirst for Knowledge 

Architects can be both the boldest of dreamers and the bitterest of pessimists. They believe that, through willpower and intelligence, they can achieve even the most challenging goals. But these personalities may be cynical about human nature more generally, assuming that most people are lazy, unimaginative, or simply doomed to mediocrity.

People with the Architect personality type derive much of their self-esteem from their knowledge and mental acuity. In school, they may have been called “bookworms” or “nerds.” But rather than taking these labels as insults, many Architects embrace them. They recognize their own ability to teach themselves about – and master – any topic that interests them, whether that’s coding or capoeira or classical music.

Architects don’t just learn new things for show – they genuinely enjoy expanding the limits of their knowledge.

Architects can be single-minded, with little patience for frivolity, distractions, or idle gossip. That said, they’re far from dull or humorless. Many Architects are known for their irreverent wit, and beneath their serious exteriors, they often have a sharp, delightfully sarcastic sense of humor.

Social Frustrations 

Architects aren’t known for being warm and fuzzy. They tend to prioritize rationality and success over politeness and pleasantries – in other words, they’d rather be right than popular. This may explain why so many fictional villains are modeled on this personality type. Because Architects value truth and depth, many common social practices – from small talk to white lies – may seem pointless or downright stupid to them. As a result, they may inadvertently come across as rude or even offensive when they’re only trying to be honest.

At times, Architects may wonder whether dealing with other people is even worth the frustration.

Wow. Our feeling is that all of this fits almost too well the character that we envision Henrik Ibsen to have been.

A sense of smugness, pleased with our experiment. We can take a break and enjoy the outdoors now.

Fagerstrand meadow

Fagerstrand, Oslo fjord by night

Evening by the fjord

Wild foxgloves in the garden

Fagerheim - Siri´s writer´s retreat

The cabin by night

We also discuss, a little, the colorful character of Susannah´s young stepmother Magdalene Thoresen. Susannah lost her biological mother, Sara Daae Thoresen,  when she was four years old. She dies in chldrbirth with her fifth child, leaving her husband, the minister Hans Conrad Thoresen, a widower (for the second time). Not long after, he married Magdalene, their Danish governess, who was 18 years younger than him. 

Susannah´s relationship with her strong, young stepmother appears to have been ambivalent, but she surely learned something from Magdalene, who was an ambitious writer, about the ways of modern womanhood. 

We also touch upon Susannah´s  childhood friend, later to become one of the couple´s closest friends in Rome, art historian Lorentz Dietrichson. He and his artist wife Mathilde, a painter, play a part in the Ibsens´  lives for a long time.

Also, Sigurd´s first private tutor (Rome, 1866) was a young German, Schneekloth, wrote dramatic and derogatory descriptions of the Ibsen family in his private diary, later published when his journal was published after his death. We plan to read Dietrichson´s memoirs (5 volumes...) and Siri orders Schneekloth´s diaries from Denmark on the spot.

Evening, Day 1:

Ole Christian has proposed that we read the relevant series of plays, written in "our" period og Ibsens´sW life, aloud together. We now begin our own series of Writing the Writer table reads, starting with Love´s Comedy -  Ibsen´s satirical verse play from 1862 (then 34 years of age and three years married), which is a high-spirited, comedic and philosophical play. The action takes place in a beautiful garden in Christiania (now Oslo) over two light, Nordic summer nights. 

It is challenging to read verse in old style "Danish-Norwegian", but we rather enjoy our time with Falck and Svanhild, the latter modeled on Suzannah. The reading takes three hours and two evenings. We now highlight  the value conflict between an artist´s calling and the everyday world of human interaction, family life, daily necessities, material demands and trivialities. How could true, pure love and ordinary, everyday married life possibly unite? Or poetry and family life? Or the clarity and idealism of the heights, to which Falck aspires, and the duties and responsibilities of life in the valley? 

That is a major theme for Henrik Ibsen in the period we are writing about.

Day 2: Timeline work

Where are we now, in our search for the story and spirit of Henrik Ibsen?

We have all read Ivo de Figueiredo´s biography. Siri has also read Michael Meyer´s and Astrid Sæther´s on "Suzannah" (this is how she spelled her name later in life). In addition, several other works (make list). 


Our next step is a look at our Ibsen timeline, the one we presented for NRK in June. It covers the years from 1851 to 1867,  from 21 to 37 years of age. The turbulent years.  The artist´s learning years and his struggle for recognition. We are determined not to start working out a story this early, but we cannot resist. Our minds work in scenes, dialogue and storytelling on a timeline. “Sculpting in time” as Tarkovski said. We start sculpting just a little, on the sly, as we go through some of the biographical raw material that we have covered. This is our trade. 


We have covered:

-       a timeline of the works he created in our time period.

-       a timeline of the events and localities

-       a timeline of his inner development toward becoming the person – the artist – he is to become.

After reading Astrid Sæther´s book on Suzannah Ibsen, Siri is all fired up about how a woman writes biography so differently from the men, those historical/literary authorities who have written Henrik Ibsen´s story. Of course, she had another subject, a woman, a private person, not a writer. But her probing into details of daily life, family matters and emotional reactions is fruitful and inspiring. It brings the characters to life in a way that the writing style and content orientation of the male biographers does not. Meyer, for example, hardly mentions Henrik Ibsen´s meeting Susannah, an encounter that changed his life completely. A great love story - his passion for the kind of personality she represented is described in the poem TIL DEN ENESTE (To the Only One) which he wrote some time after they met.


We are determined not to start shaping or cutting, not yet, but we still cannot get around the fact that 16 years and four distinct time periods/place periods are altogether too much material. We will need to eliminate, select, focus. Siri is a bit impatient about this. 


We talk about solving this by zooming in on the main relationship in his life, his marriage to Suzannah. They met when they were 26 and 18. They spent most of their lives together. They were symbiotic yet had frequent tempestuous confrontations. She represented his will, his character. He was weak-willed on his own. She even said this, to Bergljot (daughter in law, daughter of Bjørnson). He needed her to write – he said this clearly in his celebratory poem of a marriage proposal. 


If you will be mine, I will become a great writer. Be my wife, my muse. 


He delivered. But it took a lot longer and demanded a far tougher struggle than Suzannah had probably imagined. 

Since there are no long-time, close relations in Henrik´s life before her, no true intimacy, we have an intuitive sense that our series should start near the point where he meets his wife to be and everything in his life changes. 

The year 1855, most likely. He wrote, several years later, to a friend that his life really began with his marriage, that is when it tryly became weighty and meaningful.


This means that our “status quo” in 1855 could be: “Unhappy, lonely and artistically unsatisfying days for ambitious, but doubtful, “student Ibsen” at the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen.


What just happened, 1854-5, in his personal life (the circumstances, like what an actor imagines before he/she makes her entrance): 

The catastrophe of the engagement to 16-year old Rikke Holst, being chastised and caught by her furious father, who forbade the relationship altogether. 

Losing his love.

Status quo: What just happened, in his working life 1851-1855: 

The premières of his yearly plays, neither of them going well. Even the first, historical play, Fru Inger Til Østraat.

Conflicts at the theatre. Loneliness. Introversion and shyness keeping him from connecting and making friends in Bergen, like he had in Grimstad and Christiania.

Now we are in flow. Suddenly, without having planned it, we are working ourselves through the years around Henrik and Susanne´s (her name then) first meeting, marriage and first years together.


We are imagining for the screen. We are envisioning the story as it unfolds. We are doing what screenwriters do best. 


A new timeline, the Henrik-Susannah timeline emerges bit by bit as we read, quote, freely associate.  We refer to Sæther´s book, to Figueiredo, to Meyer. We imagine their first meeting in Bergen, the engagement, the 18 months that passed (apart) and Henrik´s final job offer in Christiania (artistic director of Christiania New Theatre) in 1858 that made it possible for them to marry. 


We follow the couple to Christiania and through the first year of their marriage. That year must have been so full of hope and dreams! They have their first (only) child.  He is the head of a new, true Norwegian theatre. He is cut out to participate in the building of a new nation through his work on the new Norwegian drama. 

We also explore the place – Rigshospitalet - where Suzannah gave birth, among poor women and prostitutes, and possibly found it a nightmare. Astrid Sæther writes about this. What did it do to Susannah? In the aftermath, we find Camilla Collett´s published story of the place, where she describes it as a brutal place devoid of empathy or respect for women.


Ole Christian imagines two scenes:

In one of them, Suzannah is in a shop in town. The shopkeeper suggests weighing her long hair, the one who can guess the weight gets a bag of fresh apples. Henrik Ibsen is watching. He gives the closest guess and gets the bag of apples. (Susannah´s hair was famous and it was actualy weighed in public once)


In the aftermath of the workshop, Siri continues the timeline and adds more material. 


Have we really cut out the first year (1850-51) in Christiania and the first three in Bergen (1852-1855)? Possibly, we have. That period  is full of juicy action - like Henrik being called to forced labor, Henrik meeting his beau from Grimstad, Clara Ebbell again, Henrik teaching workers´ children for free, Henrik as the editor/illustrator of a satirical magazine -  but the material is all episodic and anecdotal. The scenes do not lead to other scenes. sAnd we know we have far too much material for a dynamic mini-series.


Have we already made a drastic decision? Are we approaching an “ekteskapsdrama” – “the drama of a marriage”? Possibly. 

But this is not just any marriage, it is the marriage that was the very pre-condition for the development of Henrik Johan Ibsen as a dramatist. The man and his muse. The man and his conscience. The man and his will power. These were all in Susannah´s hands.


If only you will be mine, I will become a great writer. An immortal man. Beloved Susannah, be my wife. 

A pact.

This is our end note after the first workshop.

Susannah Thoresen Ibsen, probably around 1866, at the age of 34. We take note of her large, dreamy eyes. Her long, thick hair was a legend in Bergen in her youth. A sense of sensuality and sensitivity in her face. We can only imagine what she looked like when smiling. But it is well documented that Susannah had a sense of humor.

The proposal after the ball in 1856:

"To the only one" - "Til den eneste". Henrik´s  first poem to Susannah.

Til den eneste

Henrik Ibsen til Susanne* Thoresen

Bergen, januar 1856

Salen er strålende smykket

Ballet har alt begynt

I brokede klynger beveger seg

Damer i luftig pynt

Fra orkesteret lyder

Tonenes koglende** hær

Hver herre har festlig mine

Hver lampe har festlig skjær.

Hør, blot, hvor der kurtiseres

Hvor hviskes der, blødt og ømt

Om alt hva i hast man finner 

Om alt man har hørt og drømt

Og damene smiler så listig

til alle de søte ord

Gjemmer i minnets stambok

tirader, som ingen tror.

Og der er latter og glede

over den ganske sal

Der er ikke én der fatter

Hvor verden er led og fatal

Der er ikke én som fatter

Der er ikke én som kan se

at under den slørende jubel

skjuler seg tomhetens ve.

Dog, jo, én eneste er der

I mellom dem alle, kun én

I øyet bor lønnlig smerte

Dér skjuler seg sorg, og mén

Dér skjuler seg drømmende tanker

som vugger seg opp og ned

Et hjerte som higer og banker

og får ikke livsens fred.

Du unge drømmende gåde

turde jeg grunde dig ud,

turde jeg kækt dig kåre

til mine tankers brud,

turde jeg dukke mig ned i

dit rige åndige væld,

turde jeg skue tilbunds i

din blomstrende barnesjæl.


Da skulle fagre dikte

svinge sig fra mit bryst,

da skulle frit jeg seile

som fuglen mod skyens kyst.

Og alle de spredte syner

ble til en enhetens klang

for livets fagreste syner

blandet seg da i min sang.

Du unge, drømmende gåte

turde jeg grunne deg ut

Turde jeg kjekt deg kåre

til mine tankers brud.

*- she was baptized Susanne. Later changed to Susannah, then Suzannah.

**= lokkende, berusende

Screenwriters at work, imagining.

Blog nr. 2. COPENHAGEN, SCRIPT MEETING, November 2023

Writing the Writer Project Log - written on the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, November 11th 2023


I am writing this as I leave Copenhagen on a train toward Hamburg, after my first meeting with our project dramaturg/script consultant Iben Gylling. We are just crossing the waters on the train bridge between Danish islands Sjælland (where Copenhagen lies) and Fyn, which will eventually connect us to the Danish mainland, Jylland. This is a route that both our main characters, Henrik and Suzannah, must have taken, separately, in 1864, perhaps including ferries at that time. Suzannah had left her husband and Christiania behind the autumn of 1863, leaving him to attend the longed-for première of his play, The Pretenders (“Kongsemnerne”), staged by himself, at Christiania Theater in January 1864 alone. 

Exactly why she left may be an open question, but after the bankruptcy of Christiania Norwegian Theatre the Ibsen family had only a minimal income, about 1/4 of what they had had while Ibsen was artistic director at CNT. In spite of his good salary there, the family (= the father of the family) had accrued significant debts. They had lost several apartment leases due to rent not being paid. Their furniture and belongings were now in storage in an attic at CNTs rivalling theatre, Christiania Theatre, from which they were never retrieved. It really appears as if the family no longer had a roof over their heads at this time. What was Suzannah and her 5 year old son Sigurd to do? Was her leaving Christiania controversial? Probably not, but it may still have been painful and driven by conflict. Suzannah and little Sigurd stayed with her stepmother Magdalene Thoresen and several siblings in Copenhagen for several months. Astrid Sæther indicates in her book that Suzannah might actually have rebelled and left her husband, at least temporarily. I myself am not so sure of that, as I perceive her loyalty to her husband and his life project as incredibly strong. Suzannah also studied Italian while staying with Magdalene, indicating that her arrival in Rome was already planned. 

Ibsen had received a 400 SPD travel grant. After the première, he left Norway 1 april 1864 with the first steamer to break through the winter ice, rescuing the town from its winter isolation. Henrik stayed with his family at Magdalena´s in Copenhagen for two weeks, then took off with his stipend (lucky man!) for a continental tour of, Berlin and Firenze, among other cities, before he arrived in Rome in June 1864. Here, he was met by the famous Scandinavian "consul Bravo", the hub of the Scandinavian community in Rome and head of the Circolo Scandinavo, the Scandinavian artists´ and scientists´ Circle in Rome.  His first guide to the eternal city was his acquaintance, art historian Lorentz Dietrichson - Suzannah´s childhood friend from Bergen. 

My trip from Copenhagen to Rome will have taken 29 hours when I arrive in Rome tomorrow evening (note to self, find out about the route and the number of hours on 1864 trains!).


Soon, our train will change directions from Westwards to Southwards, heading toward Germany, Denmark´s big and powerful continental neighbor, now ally. We will cross Slesvig-Holstein – the few square kilometers of land that were once Danish but became German in 1863 after an invasion by the powerful Prussian army chased the Danes away. Ibsen raged against this attack by a big country on a smaller neighbour and proclaimed the lowly shame of Norway and Sweden who did not come to the rescue, for years afterwards (he was 35 at the time, but certainly did not enlist, as some Norwegians did). 

As the November evening grows darker I sense the presence of a kind of tribal grief for today´s war-torn European continent, where our bloody history now repeats itself after decades of peace.


Preparing to meet our dramaturg

This morning, I approached my first meeting with Iben Gylling, our screenwriter/script consultant, with some trepidation. Having taught my annual intensive dramaturgy course daily for almost 4 weeks, I had not had sufficient time to prepare for a normal “script meeting”. Nor did we have a script to discuss; we are still in a phase of research and conceptualization. The original idea was to include Iben at a later stage, when our actual writing had begun. But Iben lives in Copenhagen, so how could I pass her city on my way to Rome without meeting with her, including her in the conceptual phase and starting a collaboration I have so looked forward to? Iben, who is herself a screenwriter, has held workshops for our screenwriting students in Oslo for a few years, and served as advisor/mentor for several Bachelor final projects. Also, a meeting now while I was in the neighborhood was sound project economy, indeed. It has been a long time since my last contact with the writing team, who are now off doing other projects. I needed to move Henrik and Susanna from the back of my mind to the forefront as I now will reenter their worlds. That way, they will be my closest companions when I arrive, tomorrow, in Rome, beloved home of their young family years. Later, I hope to get even closer to them and their lives in the well-preserved villages of Genzano and Arricia by Lake Nemi, in the Calle Albano (Albane Mountains), outside the eternal city. I am bristling with expectations before my expedition.


But I have not completely abandoned my hero and heroine during the past weeks. While waiting for the next time slot to devote to the project, I have been reading the oldest accounts and memoirs of “life with Henrik Ibsen”, written long after he achieved his fame by a handful of men who proudly recount how they managed to get close to him during certain times of his life. These writings include the years in Bergen, 1852-58 (Peter Blytt), and the years in Italy, 1864-67 (Lorentz Dietrichson, Vilhelm Bergsøe, Paul Schneekloth - see my notes from these works).


Unfortunately, the years in between Bergen and Italy, when Henrik and Susanna went through their most traumatic and turbulent period (Christiania 1858-1863), have not produced any similar memoirs (although there are some letters that I have not yet gotten to.) Possibly, the Ibsens had much less time for social activity during his artistic directorship and her intensive, early mothering years? There is, of course, Paul Botten-Hansen and the “Hollenderkrets” of intellectuals, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson lingering in the background (need to find out more), and a friend of Suzannah´s who writes fondly of evenings in the apartment building Malteby, where they lived before their address changes to several, far less favorable locations. The friend mentions social gatherings and    Suzannah´s excellent “fiskepudding” (fish pudding, a Bergen specialty). But there were no literary friends who could later grace themselves with published memories of a world celebrity.


So what could I bring to my meeting with Iben today? A new time-line, the reflections/log from the first writers´ workshop, and the notes/images I have summarized from the writings of Ibsen´s oldest friends. In addition, we have both read biographical works now. Iben has expressed great enthusiasm for the project. I have sent her a summary of the direction the project is now taking: 

We have limited our exploration to the years between Henrik´s first encounters with his wife-to be, Susanne (spelling changed later) ca 1856, and his first, significant success, Brand, ten years later. The reading of Astrid Sæther´s interesting biography of Susanne Thoresen Ibsen gave significant new input and I had a wonderful meeting with its author, Astrid Sæther, before I left.


Our reasoning, behind this choice: Before Susanne´s entry into Henrik´s life, he had few close relations. He had already broken all contact with his family 6 years earlier. His first years in Bergen must have been quite lonely (with the exception of short, exuberant the love-affair with 16-year old Henrikke Holst which ended badly and abruptly). The encounter and engagement with Susanne must have come as a major life change. According to henrik himself, his life became "serious" - took on a new meaning, a weightier quality, after his marriage. It is also believed that her influence on his work, and his ability to carry it out, was major. 

These elements, taken together, convinced us that the core of our biographical story for the screen may be a marital drama.  Also, this is a story that has not been told before. When Iben received the first workshop log, in which we moved slowly toward the shorter time period and the marital drama, and ended up quoting the poem written to his young fiancée in 1856, she wrote:

Imponerende spennende arbeide dere har lagd til nå. Både dokumentet med Tidslinjen og hele workshop-dokumentet er utrolig fengslende lesning. 

Og uten at være helt nede i materialet ennå, så tror jeg at dere har lagt det perfekte snit i tiden : Ibsens streven etter anerkendelse : fra at være en nobody > Succesen med Brand. Og supert at det rent faktisk korresponderer med Susannes indtog i livet hans. 

Jeg tenker at dere med dette snitt vil få bedste setting for eksposition av alle facettene av personligheten hans - som dere beskriver så perfektt  i workshop-papirene: " Is it possible to have a “merverdskompleks” – superiority complex – in spite of intense insecurity, in spite of all trials and setbacks? A vague sense of intellectual superiority."

Til det kan jeg bare si - (som dere sikkert allerede vet ) - at ja, så absolutt. 

Merverdskompleks kombinert med mindreverdskompleks er narcissistens kennetegn.  Så i forelskelsesfasen med Susanne vil dere få rik lejlighed til at skape scener med The Full Monty av narcisstens personlighet; lissom hans hungren etter bekreftelse som forfatter , vil rumme de samme utfordringer for ham: Det vil være bratte skift mellem storhet og mindreverd - og dere vil kunne vise en personlighet med evig tørst etter annerkennelse på alle parametre. 

I am, of course, thrilled to receive this reponse as the very first feedback on the project. We are on to something!

The first script consultant meeting with Iben Gylling

The Red Lounge

Hotel Alexandra, Copenhagen, Friday November 10th 2023.

Blog text written on the train, on my way back from this mindblowing expedition to Ibsens Italy

Reflections on concept

Iben and I begin our meeting by talking about the documents from our first writers´ workshop. Our basic story is the story of Henrik Ibsens´s extremely long (16 years) struggle to become a recognized dramatist who can actually call his writing his profession, and make a living from it. The trajectory in his “calling” (to him it was indeed a “calling”) is from “writing used as wrapping paper” (his debut work Catilina) and Ibsen as reject, to writing as “honorable, serious activity that harvests admiration, fame and material wealth”. It looks like a classical bio-pic hero-story in the “male-white-disadvantaged-but-exceptionally-talented-hero suffers, struggles and overcomes all” tradition. We can do that. Also, there is a truth in it. But it does not take long before the subject of Susanne/Suzannah (why on earth did he have to change the spelling of her name?) enters our conversation. I have already told Iben that reading Astrid Sæther´s biography on Suzannah, Mrs Ibsen was a turning point for me. The realization that Henrik´s encounter with Susannah, his life´s first deep, personal relation, will be the inciting incident in our first chapter is already established.


But the turning point in our writer/script consultant exchange happens when we talk about how this encounter might have happened and how what Astrid Sæther calls their “Pact” began. This pact, according to Sæther, was the implicit agreement that Suzannah dedicated her life to inspiring and supporting Henrik Johan Ibsen in his calling, his mission to become a “great poet” (“poet”was the term applied to all writers). The turn in our conversation starts when I exclaim that Susannah was only eighteen when she met him and only twenty when she had to leave absolutely everything she knew. Her home town, her house, her family, her siblings, her friends. She left it all, only a week after having lost her dear, beloved father, the remakable man and minister, Hans Conrad Thoresen, who died at the age of 55.


Iben looks at me. “When you talk about her, your face is filled with emotion,” she says, “in a way it is not when you talk about him.” I am a bit dumbstruck. Do I feel so much more for her than I do for him? We have spoken/written so much about “empathy” (empati, innlevelse) in this project and its context. We have talked about the fact that because we, ourselves, are dramatists, we may have special qualifications for a  deeper understanding, an empathy, with the tortured writer as we write him. The three of us know at least something about being in his shoes. About writing itself, as a practice, about tits loneliness, about the sense of ownership/kinship to the written work and characters one has given birth to, about  the sensitivity to rejection (which inevitably happens in any artist´s life) and so on. This is our auto-ethnographic angle on our story, and on the act of writing the writer. Our lens is the writer´s lens.


I still believe this to have significance and truth, but Iben has disclosed something else in me now, an emotional core I was not aware of. My feelings for Susannah, whq marries a “turbulent architect” of a man, a potential genius, a complex and tortured personality, a blatant narcissist even (?), who will always place himself first, but who needs her intensely to be able to fulfill his mission. He needs, actually, to be saved by her. 


“Du unge, drømmende gaate, kunne jeg grunne deg ut, turde jeg kjekt deg kaare til mine drømmers brud! Da skulle mine sange...."

Before we know it, Iben and I, two experienced women in the webs and traps of love relations, are deeply entrenched in an exchange about the joys, excitement, struggles and traumas of being the life partner of a narcissist. A life on the edge, always. This is an entanglement I have found myself in more than once during my serial monogamy journey through life, and so has Iben. We exchange multiple stories that are too personal to be shared here, but I have opened a Pandora´s box and its darkness and complexity is a rich treasure indeed. The little, red room at Hotel Alexandria turns hot and the air stirs. My own auto-ethnographic angle, the lens through which I look into Henrik and Suzannah´s story changes on the spot, thanks to Iben´s powers of observation. (As a side thought, this reminds me of how a screenwriter colleague - Kjersti Wøien Håland - after one of my lectures on our crooked feedback culture, told me of a producer who looked closely at her after a pitch and said, “But this isn´t the story you really want to write, is it?”). Great kudos and honor from me to the rare, wise dialogue partners amongst the world´s script consultants.

Dramaturgical considerations

Once we emerge from our personal worlds and turn back to more methodical terrain, we discuss how  Suzannah´s story might form our emotional entrance into the drama, the point of anchorage and identification for our audience. What if we see, feel and experience the story through Suzannah´s eyes? While “Henrik the writer hero”´s story remains the engine, the power that will propel our dramatic tale forward. This does not mean that Henrik-the-struggling-genius-hero gets any less screentime. It is still his writer´s trajectory that powers the external plot-line.

I have just finished teaching my annual, classical dramaturgy course to our first-year screenwriting students. Now I am reminded of my own lecturing on how the word “protagonist” can also be used as a “technical term”, for the character who propels the plot, while the expression  “main character” is more general and denotes one, or several, characters that form our base of identification. Of course, the function can also be “two in one”, where emotional arc and arc of action go hand in hand. The example I often use to illustrate this for my students is Lukas Moodyson´s Fucking Åmål, one of the first films they analyze dramaturgically. They often start out choosing the lonely Agnes as their protagonist, because she is the more mature, more sympathetic character, they like her more and she suffers most, largely because of her outsider role in the small town. They empathize deeply with her. But the one who fights the most intense struggle and goes through the biggest change is, of course Elin, who propels the plot almost all alone. She also has considerably more to lose, as she has a high social position to defend, which Agnes does not. 

Another example I love to use is Little Miss Sunshine, an ensemble film in which there are five main characters. Here, the person we definitely do not empathize/identify with, the person we like the least, namely, the father, is still the “technical protagonist” who drives the film´s plot.  He is the only one who really believes, against all odds, that poor, little 6-year old Olive could and should win the Miss Sunshine competition. He is also the only one who actually believes winning is I itself the goal and essence of human life. Through him, the film´s essential conflict of values is made visible. The father is the one who needs to go through a complete change and an anagnorisis in this respect, as he must change his while world view completely in order to survive as a whole human being. As does Elin, who finally gathers enough courage to dare to stand out from the crowd and be her true self.

Iben and I now talk excitedly about how Henrik´s character might be worked out as the technical protagonist and Susannah´s our strongest point of identification. Our emotional anchor. This strongly confirms the inklings we – the three writers – already had at the first workshop, about Suzannah´s role. Only now I am newly aware of my own strong points of identification with her. This stems from from my marriage and from other love relationships, but first and foremost from my growing up with a writer for a father. A self-appointed writer-hero, burdened with the traumas of a terrible childhood, he occupied a whole bedroom in our small rowhouse (inhabited by a family of five) for an office in which to write, think and rest, even though he had a full time teaching job at the time. I recalled then and there how we all had to tiptoe around the house when he worked or had his after-dinner nap in this sacred space. How he threw a tantrum when we didn´t. Which he also did on numerous other occasions. He turned completely irrational when he flew into these wild rages of temper. We all loved him (and feared him), even though he regularly behaved like an overgrown 5-year old. He was always excused by my mother, based on the fact that he grew up an orphan, in a mythically horrid Baptist orphanage. He was beaten every morning. He had to struggle alone against poverty and adversity in order to achieve a seemingly unattainable academic status and build such a good middle class life as he - we - now had. His class journey had been a bit of a miracle and the costs were no doubt very high. So were ours. 

A feminine lens

Seeing the story through Susannah´s lens changes things.  We now enter into a discussion of where the relationship begins - the “falling in love” moment of Henrik´s  and Susannah´s story. If the emotional core is a marital drama, the inciting incident of the story is the encounter where the couple-to-be discover each other. The biographical facts do not help us much here. There seems to be little substance in the romantic tale of them meeting at a ball (Ibsen´s first in Bergen, they say – come on - after almost 4 years?!), talking in a window sill for 6 hours, after which he runs home, authors the lovely poem “For the only one” (Til den eneste) and, lo and behold, they are engaged. 

The poem (below) no doubt holds a significant story, but I am not interested in propagating this pretentious and sentimental myth. Rather, I wish to find the essence of what they found and fell for in each other. Not “love at first sight” because of the other´s charisma, beauty or charm, but love at the discovery of something invisible, some reflection in the deep waters of the soul of the other. That moment. I think this takes more time, and, as Astrid Sæther has shown, they knew each other for some time before and were engaged longer than what has been believed by earlier biographers.

A feminist take on our story? DALL- E (AI)s version of a young heroine carrying a baby (the infant writer genius?) and a child. We definitely want to avoid normative feminism, but why does DALL-E refuse to give us an image of "a woman carrying a man"? 

I am tempted to be a little snide now, so here goes: 

The Ibsen biographers, after all, are all male. For the early ones, Susannah – the most important person/relation in the writer´s life and the one he depended on completely to become what he became - is hardly present. Who cares about how the dramatist genius met his soulmate and what he fell in love with in her and vice versa? Who cares about a mere love relation in a grand, suffering artist hero´s life?  After all, love and relations are private things belonging to the sphere of the home, the family. The female sphere. The insignificant sphere, in the greater context of the life of achievement and fame expected of and sought by great male heroes. The male biographers separate love and work, with far greater emphasis on the latter  - and not on the fact that it actually depended on the former and was fueled by it every day. Thus, the tales – including Henrik´s own - of the first encounter between Henrik Ibsen and Susannah Thoresen are sketchy at best. But we do have the lovely, inspired poem. And we have the 1859 play The Comedy of Love Kjærlighetens Komedie – in which Ibsen was clearly inspired by Susannah in the character of Svanhild and said so. We also have our own experiences of falling in love, as well as our writers´ imaginations. 

Iben says: "The feminist angle on this story has never before been taken". I agree. I am not sure we have a feminist angle, not yet, but there are certainly elements of it, and Astrid Sæther´s book was an eye-opener in that respect. How we see things differently through the auto-ethnographic lenses of our biological and social gender and time! An awareness of this is essential, thus it is chronicled here. We will write a Susannah and a Henrik drawn in their own time, but of course, understood also through the lens of ours.

Iben asks me what the young Susannah sees in Henrik. What he sees in her, is actually largely expressed, in the poem and also in the play: She is the young woman who stands out from the crowd because she shuns the superficiality, the vanity, the bourgeois attitudes and posturing of balls, dinners and social conventions (which he abhors). The young woman with an intellect, with opinions, with a literary mind and sphere of interest, with a strong will and an independent spirit. The young woman who is different, almost an outsider. Like himself.

 Susannah had all these qualities. She grew up on a windblown island on the weather-beaten Northwest coast of Norway (Herøy). She experienced grief and loss, as she lost her dear mother at the age of four. She has had the independent, intellectual, young Magdalene as her stepmother for ten years. At home, she loves to write and put on plays with her friends. She is the ideal Ibsen mate-for-life.

I see a scene now, in which Ibsen comes to the Thoresen home, where the writer Magdalene Thoresen, Susannah´s stepmother, author of several plays performed at his place of employment, the Norwegian Theatre in Bergen, lived. I can see him as he waits for Magdalene in a study, to talk about the casting of her latest play which he is to stage. The set, the costumes. Through the open door he now glimpses one of the performances in which Susannah, with her ankle-length hair and dreamy eyes, performs like a great diva in a dramatic role, doing a monologue. Henrik stares, intrigued. Magdalene arrives. Young Ibsen has now discovered the minister´s daughter. Is he introduced? Perhaps the flirtatious Magdalene is even a bit out-staged? Anyway, she is an exciting character, back to her later.

Ibsen´s status quo at this time may be more than a bit dark. He is lonely, he is not a success at the theatre. His “secret” historical play Fru Inger til Østraat, handed to the theatre under a pseudonym, has been his best work so far. He must have had high hopes for its reception, but it has not been a success. But guess who loved the play and  instantly recognized  its qualities? We will need to find an occasion for her to tell him this. Possibly the same occasion as the witnessing of the exuberant rehearsal. Who knows. The far weaker next play, The Feast at Solhoug, was written in an exuberant mood (in love with Susannah?) and, suddenly, success was a fact. Suzannah looked right through this success and said so: Fru Inger til Østraat was a far better play. Oh, how writers – like ourselves - would appreciate such insight and such a critical view of mass opinion.

The love story

But what qualities did young Susanne see in the young playwright? Iben keeps asking me this question. We both attempt to contact and resurrect our own moments of falling in love (an auto-ethnographic process I will have to continue…). Iben asks, wisely: Is it a glimpse of that inner pain of the soul she intuits, that loneliness in the world, that outsider feeling (“hvor verden er led og fatal”)? A depth of darkness and pain in him? Can she mirror herself in that, see her reflection? Does the existence of that part in him mean that he will be able to see my depths, my inner pain? To really see me as I truly am? Falling in love with someone´s pain. Falling in love with someone´s artistic talent. I know something about this. And about the profound responsibility of trying to alleviate the pain  of others.

When does it say “click," Iben asks. Because it does. It must. We have to find the complete, fulfilling “empathy-point” between them. Is it when he tells her the story of his dark past (the “illegitimate child” and how it has haunted him, tortured his conscience), and is deeply grateful when she still wants him? Or do we save that moment for later? Would Henrik want to come clean, once he has found his brilliant, young soulmate? My instinct about him says “yes”. “Brand is myself in my best moments”. Would he not want to be at his best when courting this exceptional young woman? The woman he believes could save him and release his poetic gift? He is not an ideal marriage partner or son-in-law candidate, not yet. “It was only when I got married that my life achieved weightiness and became substantial” – paraphrased quote.

The story of Henrik and Susannah´s marriage is a story of a pure love match. They do not marry for money, family relations, business purposes, convenience, time running out or any other such thing that was quite normal at the time. Susannah was definitely not in a hurry. She wanted Henrik and Henrik only, she chose him. So. It is a great love story. It goes wrong in the end, as many great love stories do – but that is 40 years ahead. It is, after all, a difficult time in which to build an equal, harmonious relation between a man and a woman. Just check what Camilla Collett, friend of the Ibsen household at a later time, says about this. Camilla became a friend of the couple, especially of Susannah´s,  many years later.

Iben and I talk about Susannah´s gains, her wonderful, exceptionally close (smothering?) relation to her only child, Sigurd. Their long walks, their world. We talk about how she must have felt betrayed when the male head of the household could not even manage to feed his wife and son. Yet he always – in Christiania anyway – wore elegant clothes, had a perfect façade. Possibly he bought his friends rounds of drinks on the town? Playing the great man? “He is elegant (“fin”), but expensive”, four year old Sigurd is quoted to have said. Iben tells me the story of a man who, after a period of economic disaster and poverty, buys something completely impractical, irrelevant and costly  - for himself. How she manages to give the object back and get a refund. Good Susannah story, that one.

Iben and I complete our exchange by talking a little about form. As always, I believe content comes first and then chooses its own form. We know more about our content now. Iben points out that there is nothing hindering us from including material from a later point in their long marriage. As part of the story, as epilogue, as frame narrative. I think about the concept of “post-classical narration” introduced by Eletheria Thanouli in her interesting essay and book ("Cinema and History - a tale of two disciplines"). A free, playful dramaturgy with Aristotelian substance at the core. I have been teaching my last two dramaturgy classes about this new category/dramaturgical model. Iben mentions also what Linda Aronson (we both attended her seminars on alternative structures) has written about her “instigating protagonist”. We must look up Aronson again. But form is not the main issue yet.

I leave our meeting with a distinct feeling of a deeper understanding of our task.

Blog nr. 3: SUSANNE SKOGSTAD´S RESPONSE to Blog nr. 2, December 2023

Susanne´s e-mail to Siri and Ole Christian after the second blog post (Norwegian original e-mail below)

"Fantastically nice and moving report from the meeting with Iben!

 Interesting debate about the role of protagonist vs main character. As mentioned in Little Miss Sunshine, and in e.g. The Graduate, the main characters function as a catalyst for change in others, but remain partly static in their own world view.

The idea of ​​Susanne as an emotional entrance point sounds better and better. We talked last time about how Ibsen's goals, dreams and drive are completely, completely exceptional. How do you get the audience to understand and identify with Herr Ibsen, this unfulfilled genius who was to become world famous? Aren't we, pitted against such a person, wretched onlookers, all of us? Is it Susanne's look at Henrik that is our joint gaze?


There is a lot of identification and emotional angles/entrances into Henrik´s inner life  with his whole, turbulent personality and his difficulties in his own family and social life. But on one level, I feel that the choice to go more into Susanna's perspective is also a choice between maintaining, to a certain extent, the sphinx Henrik Ibsen, or not. Because I also feel, even though I can recognize much of Ibsen's drive, dreams and world of ideas, that there is a kind of "here but not any farther", in my ability to place myself inside Henrik's innermost being that I have not been able to break through yet .

All the best,


Susanne, mid-session at Fagerheim


Fantastisk fin og rørande rapport fra møtet med Iben!


Interessant debatt om rollen som protagonist vs main character. Som nevt i Little Miss Sunshine, og i f.eks The Graduate, fungerar jo hovudkarakterane som ein katalysator for endring hos andre, men forblir til dels statiske i sitt verdssyn sjølv. 

Ideen om Susanne som ein emosjonell inngang lyd betre og betre. Vi snakka jo sist om korleis Ibsens mål, draumar og driv er heilt, heilt eksepsjonelle. Korleis skal man få publikum til å forstå og identifisere seg med Herr Ibsen, dette uoppfylte geniet som skulle bli verdsberømt? Er vi ikkje, satt opp mot eit slikt menneske, skarve tilskodarar alle saman? Er det Susannes blikk på Henrik som er vårt felles blikk? 


Det finst mykje identifikasjon og emosjonelle innganger til Henrik med heile hans turbulente personlighet og hans vanskar i eiget familie- og sosiale liv. Men på eit plan føler eg at valget om å gå meir inn i Susannas perspektiv også er eit valg mellom å, til ein viss grad, opprettholde sfinxen Henrik Ibsen, eller ikkje. For eg kjenner også på, sjølv om eg kan kjenne igjen mykje av Ibsens driv, draumar og ideverden, at det finst eit hit men ikkje lenger, i min evne til å plassere meg inn i Henriks innerste som eg ikkje har klart å bryte gjennom enno. 


Alt godt,


Hamburg Hauptbahnhof- hub of European railways


After my meeting with Iben in Copenhagen, I go on to the Hovedbanegård – Copenhagen central station – and catch my train to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, bracing myself for a train travel marathon of 36 hours duration. I expect the Ibsens´ train travel, also from Copenhagen to Rome, took considerably longer (remember to check the speed of coal and steam locomotives in the 1800s). My thoughts dwell mostly on Susannah and four-year-old Sigurd, since the father of the family made the trip on his own, footloose and fancy free, a few months before them, in several legs, including stays in Berlin, Trieste, Venezia, Firenze, Milano, before he probably caught the boat to Civitavecchia from Genova.


Actually, I travelled the distance from Copenhagen to Northern Italy with a four-year-old myself in the Spring of 1996. I had rented a house in Northern Italy after my daughter had had two hospitals stays and several bouts with severe pneumonia. I felt she needed a stay in the South and an extended Spring to recover. Susannah and Sigurd, inexperienced travellers and on a budget, must have taken the shortest distance possible. Most likely they arrived from the North through Hamburg, like myself, then on to Austria and Milano. They started out at the same place in Copenhagen as I do, but in a different station as the present Hovedbanegård came up in 1906. I can only imagine young Susannah´s trepidation at her first major, international trip. Having travelled by steamboat from Christiania to Copenhagen almost a year before, this was her first experience of travelling by train. She knew German and had studied Italian while in Copenhagen, but she was nowhere near the routine travel skills that I have as a dedicated train traveler.

The steam engine and the construction of the railroad system from the 1830ies on revolutionized travel in Europe. It is hard to imagine the extensive Southward travel of Scandinavian artists and writers before this efficient kind mobility came into play. There were no sleeping cars at the time (Pullman introduced this feature in the US - the Pullman sleeper - in 1865), so I imagine the 26-year-old Susannah and her little son rocking away in a hard seat just like I do as I leave Hamburg that first night on the Hamburg-Basel night train, where the sleepers are all sold out. Did Sigurd have his own seat, like my daughter did, or sit on her lap? I expect he did, to save the fare. My heart goes out to them both as I leave Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, hub of Europe´s railroad system. With main services to a multitude of European capitals, its departure board reads like traveler´s poetry: Wien, Budapest, Sofia, Istanbul, Milano, Buchuresti. During the night I have the questionable pleasure of the company of a bunch of drunk, aging German football hooligans who are fond of singing in the night. Lucky me.

First night in Trastevere


Arriving in Roma Termini about 24 hours later, I am exhausted, but expectant. Like Henrik Ibsen on his first night in Roma, I am headed for a restaurant in Trastevere with a friend, as soon as I have dropped my backpack and suitcase in Vittoria del Prati. On that first evening in Rome, art historian Lorentz Dietrichson gave Henrik an art history tour of the city, then took him to dine in a small osteria, La Fornarina, by the river in Trastevere. Dietrichson writes so poetically of this that it brings tears to my eyes:


"When the sun went down and we felt the mild Italian evening air sweep through the little garden, where we sat under the vines of the pergola with a foglietta of Roman wine in front of us, while the Trasteverines came to enjoy the coolness of the river which flowed just below the wall of the garden, while the little dwarf improvised on his mandolin under the vine leaves that hung over the river, while the lamps were lit at the tables in the garden and the lights out there on the other bank of the Palazzo Farnese and around the old, great city were reflected in the river; - yes, then, for a while, we were two happy young people, so certain that life was beautiful and rich, and that its best fruits beckoned to us in the future."


Original: “Da solen gikk ned og vi følte den milde, italienske aftenluften stryke gjennom den lille haven, hvor vi satt i vinløvet under pergolaen med en foglietta romersk vin foran oss, mens Trasteverinerne kom for å nyte kjøligheten fra floden, som fløt like under havens mur, mens den lille dvergen improviserte til sin mandolin under vinløvet som hang utover floden, mens lampene tentes ved bordene i haven og lysene der ute på den andre bredden i Palazzo Farnese og rundt i den gamle, store by speilet seg i floden, ja, da var vi for en stund to lykkelige unge mennesker, sikre på, at livet var skjønt og rikt, og at dets beste frukter vinket til oss i fremtiden.»


Trastevere, an engaging blend of old and new urbanism

I have been to Rome thrice before, very briefly each time, and have no geographical “feel” of the city. My goal this time is to get to the point where I have drawn an inner map of the central areas, in order to imagine Henrik´s and Susannah´s paths through the city. His daytime wanderings to admire classical, Renaissance and Baroque art as it displays itself on practically every Roman corner. His evening walks with the artist guys to osterias in Trastevere, along the Corso, down the Tritone, and in the area around the Spanish steps, where the family (and most foreigners and artists) lived. Also, I want to picture Susannah´s daily walks with her little boy when they were banished from the two small rooms in Via di Capo le Case every morning as father sat down to write for four hours. Looking at stately baroque churches, stopping at Campo Fiori to buy vegetables, walking in the park around the Villa Borghese, perhaps sauntering along the river or even walking outside the city gates into the campagna. At the end of my 7 days in Rome, I have achieved my goal, mostly by walking on foot (averaging 15- 20 000 steps each day), but also by navigating the bus and metro system through an instructional app Susannah, with her no doubt sore feet, might have loved.

Trastevere is quite an experience. My colleague from the Norwegian Theatre Academy of twenty years ago, now settled for his golden years with a small apartment in Rome and a large house with a garden in Ciro, has suggested we meet in the piazza by Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome´s eldest churches with construction elements from 300 AD. It is a beautiful, softspoken building, characterized by a number of different construction periods, very unlike the many ostentatiously decorated Baroque buildings I will visit in the next few days. Rome, as my friend teaches me when he takes me on one of his art history tours a few days later, is, above all the city of the Baroque. While Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson admired the classical and Renaissance art, Henrik Ibsen felt it so perfection oriented as to be impersonal – he fell for the Baroque period, and writes to his friend:


Michelangelo, Bernini and his school I understand better; those fellows had the guts to do something crazy once in a while. The architecture has gripped me more, but neither the antique nor its later heirs appeal to me as much as the Gothic; for me, the church in Milan stands as the most overwhelming thing I can think of in this field; the man who has been able to conceive the plan of such a work, could certainly on a whim in his spare time happen to create a moon and throw it into the space of the heavens.


(Michelangelo, Bernini og hans Skole forstår jeg bedre; de karene hadde mot til at gjøre en galskap engang imellom. Arkitekturen har grepet meg mere, men hverken den antikke eller dens senere arvinger tiltaler meg dog så meget som gotikken; for meg står kirken i Milano som det mest Overveldende jeg på dette felt kan tenke mig; den mann som har kunnet unnfange planen til et slikt verk, han måtte kunnet falle på i sine fritimer å skape en måne og kaste den ut i himmelrommet.)

Tiber twilight

Augusto Mausoleo, "Circolo Scandinavo" was located right next to this building from antiquity

Colors of Rome

But back to Trastevere. As we walk through the famous, picturesque, cobbled stone streets after dinner, I am hard pressed to be able to imagine Henrik Ibsen and Lorentz Dietrichson´s peaceful, idyllic night in their osteria by the flowing river of Tiber. We are queueing in the narrow streets, and ninety percent of our fellow queuers are under twenty-two and mildly intoxicated. What was once a workers´ living area and a favorite area for artists´ seeking an atmosphere of informality and freedom, as well as inexpensive food and drink, has become a hub for tourists seeking “authenticity” and a young, hipster crowd seeking all night partying possibilities. We have our dinner and update of the theatre world and our lives in front of the lovely basilica, while I silently thank another friend who told me to not even think of living in crowded, noisy Trastevere.

I swear to come back in the early morning to be able to get a sense of the Ibsens´ Trastevere of 160 years ago. After all, the narrow cobbled stone streets and a number of the old buildings are the same. The Tiber river has been dammed and cleaned up, of course. The romance of enjoying your foglietta under vineleaves  in the  river breeze is forever gone, except from my imagination.

Trastevere church

Street of Trastevere, early morning

Sculptor´s workshop, Trastevere

Tracing the steps of Henrik, Susannah and Sigurd in Rome

The next few days I spend crisscrossing the city center, on foot, visiting the places where the Ibsens lived, the sights they must have admired, streets they walked. Via Capo del Case near the Spanish steps, Monte Pincio where Ibsen watched the sunset and one day met Vilhelm Bergsøe for the first time, The Corso where the ladies took their evening walks, Via Tritone where a favorite Osteria was located, Campo Fiori where Susanna bought fruit and little trinkets to brighten up their simple rooms, Caffe Greco, and Piazza del Popolo where the Scandinavians played drinking games after a night on the town. I also visit the major sights that I know all three of them must have walked by and admired hundreds of times, such as Fontana di Trevi, Fontana di Tritone, Forum Romanum, St Peter´s Basilica, and a number of piazzas, buildings and churches I am sure they stepped into in order to admire the artistic treasures when they walked by.

Why is it so important to me as a writer to walk these streets, experience these visual  and cultural surroundings, imagine the atmosphere in which our characters lived and breathed? To me, writing for the screen is a tactile, physical and visual process, fueled by imagery, colors, sounds and shapes. When I wrote the previous series, I had studied the four houses and habitats in which Henrik Ibsen had lived for his first 20 years, two in Skien (the third burned down ages ago), two in Grimstad. I wrote the scenes literally "from room to room" imagining all the time the actual spaces in which the action unfolded. I knew every room in each house, and I visited them mentally as I wrote. I knew exactly where my characters stood and sat. These detailed, mental maps would never be visible, in the end, on any screen; still, they feed into my imagination, trigger ideas and make it possible to hear and see what the characters say and do in those rooms, in which I spy on them.


Of course, my search for the spirit of the Ibsens´ beloved city of Rome is hampered by two of the most invasive phenomena of our time, the private automobile and the advent of mass tourism. In the Centro Storico there are queues in the streets most of the day. Before the monuments, the crowds are so overwhelming one can hardly glimpse what one has come to see. Mass tourism has clearly accelerated significantly since I was here last, in 2010.  In order to catch at least a whiff of the past, I have to do what Stefan Zweig once describes as “squinting”  - reducing the scope of your glance - ignoring the modern trappings of cars and advertising boards and letting your imagination dress your surroundings in the cloudy sepia we associate with the past, especially the Roman past. 

Also, I figure out certain techniques, such as coming in the early morning or cutting into side streets where I have no idea of where I am, in order to escape the swarms and temporarily lose my way. The last is surprisingly easy, as 90% of the tourists do not veer from the main drag. As soon as I venture into a narrow passageway, I am almost alone, or, at least, amongst Romans, especially if it is after dark. Since the historical center is fairly small, I allow myself to improvise and get lost, the way I imagine that Susannah and her little boy Sigurd must have done, every morning, when they had to leave the small rooms for four hours while father was working.

I also walk into a large number of churches, as I imagine Henrik Ibsen would have done, not to worship (a phenomenon he was adverse to), but to gaze at the often stunning art works. After all, he was himself a visual artist, who did not give up his painting activities until Susannah threw his painting things out (in a rage?) and commanded the writer to write.


I to imagine the overwhelming, visual feast that must have struck the Northerners eyes when they arrived in Rome in the 1860ies. Especially the Norwegians, whose country was the least wealthy and whose capital was the puny town of Christiania (now Oslo) with its 40 000 inhabitants, multiple wooden houses, and few monumental buildings. Our forefathers had not been exposed to millions of images via film and photography; today, even those who have never been to Rome know full well what is in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The young Henrik Ibsen must have really seen Michelangelo´s paintings for the first time. Also, he did not have to share his impressions with a huge crowd after standing in line for 3 hours. He describes how he liked walking the streets, just looking. How he would lay in the grass and digest his impressions, feeling that this seeming idleness was not a waste of precious time (although he wrote little during his first Roman year). He writes to his friend Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson of how the statue of the tragic muse in the Vatican enlightened him as to the whole history of tragedy. His epiphany in St Peter´s Basilica, in which he in a flash realized how his great work Brand should be conceived, is well known and described in a letter to Bjørnson. At times during my own wanderings, my sense of this loss in our modern times is as overwhelming as his sense of visual richness must have been.

The building that housed the Ibsens´ first home in Via Capo Le Casa is torn down and replaced. Around the corner, however, a later home of theirs can be found in the present Hotel Cecil. There, I am received with great enthusiasm when I tell them of my profession and my mission. I am shown around and they have great pride in the history of their building. A plaque on the façade commemorates the Ibsens´ residence, on the fourth floor. I walk reverently up the marble steps, listening for their ghosts.

The two places in which I actually sensed “the ghosts” were Piazza del Popolo in the evening twilight and the Borghese park on Monte Pincio at sunset. Both of these locations are free of car traffic. Also, they are large enough for the hordes not to crowd them up completely. I spend hours in both places, admiring the view, imagining the drinking games of the Scandinavian painters, writers and sculptors. They used to stop here on their way home from a night on the town, arranging competitions which involved a blindfold. The goal was to walk a straight line from the Popolo obelisque and end up in the middle archway across. Apparently, no one ever managed that task succesfully.

Above the mighty piazza, in the park og Borghese on the Monte Pincio, Ibsen himself is said to have loved to sit and admire the view of the piazza and the city, especially at sunset. When the sun sets, the panorama and the skyline crowned by St Peter´s is no less than spectacular.  I cannot tear myself away and I gravitate toward the spot several evenings, well aware that after the show of golden clouds, Rome will quickly get dark, and I am certain to worry about navigating to my small apartment at the outskirts of the Centro.

Roman sunset as seen from Monte Pincio, by the Borghese Park

Piazza del Popolo, site of the blindfolded games of the Scandinavian artist community, as seen from Ibsen´s favorite spot on Monte Pincio. 

Caffe Greco, only artist hangout still intact.

Tritone fountain by Bernini, Piazza Barberini, near one of the artists´ favorite drinking spots (no longer, there today), "Tritonekneipen".

First home address in Rome, 1863

Blog nr. 5. TRACING MORE ITALIAN STEPS; The ancient villages of the Calle Albano,  November 2023

an off-season adventure in two traditional destinations of the European "grand tour" of the 19th century bourgeoisie

One important goal of my trip had been to visit Genzano and Ariccia in the Albano mountains South of Rome. In the first, Ibsen spent the summer of 1864 with Lorentz Dietrichson and his family (before Susannahs arrival in Italy that autumn) also enjoying the company of the widow Lina Bruun and two of her grown children. The summer in Genzano was not fruitful for Ibsen where writing was concerned; possibly living in a room behind a local osteria was an obstacle.

The next year, 1865, after Susannah and Sigurd had arrived, the family chose a neighboring town, Ariccia, without the group of artists and drinking buddies. Here, Brand was almost completed during their two months stay. My hope is that these small towns had maintained more of their original atmosphere than the Roman neighborhoods. The villages of the Calle Albano were frequently among stops on the “Grand Tour” of Italy expected to be undertaken as an educational ritual by young men of the European bourgeoisie, especially the British, from the 18th century on. Thus, the area was well known and much talked about amongst travellers.


Neither Ariccia nor Genzano has a railroad station. I spend much time on TrenItalias webpages trying to figure out where the nearest station is and whether the distance to the two villages is walkable. Henrik, Sigurd and Susannah walked the paths in these mountains extensively (though not together) during the summer of 1865 and 1866. They found their way on foot between the towns. All three Ibsen family members were wanderers (like me); daily walks were a natural part of their everyday life. When Susannah reflects in a letter upon summers spent “in the country” she comments that the Italians have a completely different way of country summer living than the Scandinavians. The latter, being nature lovers and sunshine worshippers, engage in a great deal of walking and outdoor life. The native Italians stay put and spend a lot of daytime hours inside, finding the sun to be bothersome. The evenings are spent socializing and enjoying big meals with their families.

G. Inness: Lago di Albano

Engineering feat of the antique Via Appia

Franz Ludwig Catel: View of Ariccia

Genzano Mansion

I determine that the nearest station is Albano Lazio, the distance to Ariccia from there seems to be only two kilometers. The railway line might have existed in 1865, since both Dietrichson and Ibsen report making short trips for errands in Rome during their stays in the Calle Albano villages. There is another station about 7 kilometers from Genzano; I book a ticket there but decide the walk will take two much of my available daylight hours on this excursion. My style of travel, avoiding both airplanes and cars, is as close to the 1860-ies customs as I can get. The distance between Ariccia and Genzano appears to be a walkable four kilometers.


I leave Roma Termini in the early morning, catching an 08.00 train to Albano Lazio. The ride is a most inspiring hour. The exquisite advantage of train travel, of course, is the visual pleasure of the shifting landscape outside the windows. I am lost in imaginings about the Scandinavian artists and their frequent visits to the campagna around Rome, outside the city walls, for walks and picnics. It is what we Northerners would call a “blidt” (friendly, smiling) landscape, soft with meadows and leafy trees, fertile, walkable and without hills or rocks. As the train, which is almost empty, plods on, we reach forests, still leafy and green in November. After forty-five minutes we are ascending into the Albano mountains. The Calle Albano area of Italy has been inhabited since ancient times, and there are multiple signs of Roman presence, such as the engineer´s wonder of the ancient, Appian way. 

I suddenly spot a lake on the train´s left side, deep down in the valley, and realize that we are approaching the famous village of Castel Gandolfo, the Pope´s summer residence for many years. Castel Gandolfo is also the location of the famous story in which Henrik and Lorentz once arrived riding on stubborn and ill-behaved mules to admire the Pope´s ritualistic, annual arrival) Castel Gandolfo houses his residence, Villa Barberini, which is quite the tourist attraction during the season. So is the beautiful lake Albano shining its deep blue eye from a volcanic crater.


My only fellow passengers get off here, presumably to admire the tourist attraction of the castle. A few minutes later I am in Albano Lazio, getting off the train as the only passenger in a deadly quiet little town. Optimistically, I begin to ask a few locals about the road route to Ariccia, only to have them stare at me like the crazy, careless person I am. I capitulate and consult the battery-hungry Google Maps. As I begin my hike, which inevitably leads me along asphalted roads rather than the Ibsens´ reported paths through lovely, green landscapes, I catch myself wondering how good the maps were back then.

Roma Termini to Albano Lazio

Campagna di Roma, from the train

My hiking map of the day

Ariccia mansion

As a writer and cinematic biographer, I observe that I am somewhat obsessed with doing things in the order of my characters themselves. Therefore, it irks me that the geographical and railroad circumstances force me to visit the village of Ariccia before that of Genzano di Roma, when Henrik Ibsen did this the opposite way. It is as if I want Genzano to leave its impressions on me before I let Ariccia do the same. However, all I can do is to change the order of the visits in this blog text, a consciously deceitful solution. So here is yet another sliver of proof that cinematic biographers are not to be trusted. We sculpt reality and edit truth in order to craft an engaging and unified tale. But this sculpting and  editing - even in our research - are also tools we employ to facilitate the subconscious practices of our imaginations. 

Genzano di Roma

Genzano, church I imagine Ibsen to have visited

Lakeside trattoria, off-season - a view he must have cherished

Town Centre Piazza - in which I imagine he sat by the central fountain in the evening with Lorentz and the guys

The walk to Genzano is beautiful, although - unlike the Ibsens -  I have to share the road with cars. After 45 minutes of hiking along a narrow road bordered by immense pine trees I arrive in Genzano di Roma. It is a golden, classic Italian small town, with antique origins, perched on the height above the volcanic crater that cradles Lago Nemi – the lake earlier named after the goddess Diana who reportedly adored roaming in the lush forests of the area. Strangely, the Roman emperor Caligula had two large, wooden ships built here in 1 century AD, later sunk in the deep lake. The ships, widely spoken of (and plundered) by local fishermen for years, were legendary and became “real” when recovered by Mussolini in the thirties.


Genzano still has its stunning lake view. During the time of the ancient Romans, the area around Genzano was used by wealthy Roman citizens for its clean air, uncontaminated water and cooler temperatures during the hot summer months.  Goethe and Byron both lived in Nemi and noted the reflection of the moon the centre of the lake during summer. This phenomenon is the source of the Roman name for the lake, Speculum Dianae – Mirror of Diana. 

But Genzano is no longer anything like the small village in which Henrik Ibsen, the Dietrichsons and the Bruuns spent their summer away from Rome in 1865. The town has multiplied several times in size and become swamped with traffic. It is clearly a tourist town, but the tourists have gone for the year, and a melancholy emptiness has settled. There are few people in the streets, but multiple cars. Since there is no information to be found on Ibsen´s address, other than the fact that his rented room was behind an osteria known for its good wine, I spend time walking about and photographing the central piazza with its obligatory fountain, which is sure to be older than 1865, and a few of the older buildings. My next goal is the Lago Nemi,  a favorite spot for Henrik Ibsen and Lorentz Dietrichson during their 1864 Genzano summer.

Lago Nemi - Goddess Diana´s mirror - and playground

I am determined to experience the lake itself,  a cherished place for Lorentz and Henrik to walk in the afternoons, read in the grassy meadows or enjoy a foglietta of white wine in an osteria by the lakeside. This turns out to be more complicated than projected. When I ask people - such as the owner of the (quiet, almost empty) restaurant Bernoni in which I have lunch - for the path down, they give me strange looks and shrug. Lakeside walks seem to have gone entirely our of style. I finally set out on my own,  only to find the downhill path closed with a barrier on which is hung prohibition and danger signs - vietato accesso - access forbidden. What exactly is the danger here, I wonder, how bad can it really be? Henrik and Lorentz walked down here almost every evening, young, strong and unconcerned about the climb up again along the steep path of the volcanic crater. I take a quick look around to check whether I have witnesses -  and begin walking down the forbidden path. 

My adventure does not last long. As it turns out, present-day Genzano citizens have been using the slope down to Diana´s lovely mirror, not for walks, but as a garbage dump. The path is ill-maintained and sadly littered with plastics and other waste, making it next to impossible to conjure up the leisurely, pastoral summer walks of 1865. Between the path and the lake is a wild jungle of bushes and shrubs, impenetrable even for an intrepid, Norwegian hiker accustomed to walking through thick forest since childhood. As I make my humble retreat, I ponder Ibsen´s central idea of “waking the people and teaching them to think grandly”.  The central idea of so much of his work is the liberation of the human spirit and the necessary battle for individual freedom. Surely, at this sad sight he would have concluded that, in our time,  the human family does not always seem to have used our hard-won freedoms  for the best purposes.  The signs of human freedom  to neglect, exploit and damage our natural surroundings are visible everywhere we go.


Back in the town, I google-map myself to another route down the crater, seductively named Via Diana. That approach turns out to be closed off as well. More determined than ever to reach the lake, I repeat my civil disobedience and begin a descent along the winding road, asphalted this time.  But alas, again, I have to give up my idea of resting and reading in Diana´s meadows, Henrik and Lorentz style. Again, the jungle between road and lake is impenetrable.  After a couple of kilometers (and concern about the way back uphill and the early twilight approaching), I resign myself to taking numerous photographs and make my way back.  The high points of my Genzano adventure have been the views of the lake and the juicy, grilled beef with rosemary of the Bernoni, the only open lakeside tavern. Its only guests are three local elderly gentlemen, who are eagerly catered to by the owner/waiter. They occupy one table each, staring at a televised football game. They also stare at the lone lady in hiking gear and backpack in an unashamedly curious, but friendly, manner. I sneak a photo of one of their tables when I discover that this is the only place I have visited where Italians still serve the local wine in fogliettas, like they did in Ibsen´s times.

"Vietato l´accesso", but surely not for curious writers

A memorial for an unfortunate motorcyclisto (of whom the Madonna is the protectress)

Abandoned path to Lago Nemi, 2023, unfortunately turned into a garbage dump farther down

A closed Via Diana 

Lunch at the only open restaurant, the Bernoni; a high point of Genzano visit. I send a thought to the Ibsen family, living off of bread, cheese and one half of a foglietta of wine during their Arricia months

Impenetrable jungle of shrub between me and Diana´s Mirror

Melancholy terrace of lakeside restaurant Bernoni in November. But the reception inside was warm and welcoming to a wandering writer

Sneaking a shot of my neighbour´s foglietta - still a traditional way to serve local wine here

Arricia - the village in which Brand was born

Entering Ariccia by the aqueduct.

Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta by Bernini

Ariccia was the Ibsens´ Calle Albano home for three months during the summer of of 1865. The summer of Brand. Painters and writers of the Grand Tour era travelling throughout Italy often visited Ariccia for its exceptional location, landscape views and architectural landmarks. 

I arrive in the small town on foot, having walked from the train station in Albano Lazio. On the way I pass ancient ruins that must have been visible also from the Ibsen´s walking tours. The impressive (and much painted/photographed) aqueduct is the stately entranceway to the little town.  It is reported from the summer of 1864 that Henrik and Lorentz, on their evening walks from Genzano to Ariccia, sometimes met the Pope himself, who was taking his evening walk from nearby Castel Gandolfo, in the opposite direction. When the locals encountered him on the majestic bridge of Ariccia, they fell to their knees. The two Norwegians are said to have merely bowed. 

The small, mediaeval town of Ariccia is one of  Calle Albano´s main landmarks, redesigned in the 1700s by Bernini, the ever-present sculptor and architect. The Palazzo di Chigi,  the Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta and the Piazza Corte are all thought out by this man, a master of townscapes. The Ibsens came to Ariccia without the usual, merry group of Scandinavian artists and writers from the Roman Circolo Scandinavo. I expect this was a plan. No repeat of the carefree summer feast of Genzano 1864. Susannah has imposed restrictions. Henrik has a tight schedule to keep, and there will be no lively nights in the local osterias. 

Between Albano Lazio and Aricccia

The town´s proud places of interest - including the Ibsens´ residence Locanda Martorelli - now decorated by our contemporaries

Lovely landscape of Ariccia as seen from the aqueduct

I am pleased to note that Ariccia has remained much the small town it once was. There is a modern centre, but I stay in the old town, soaking in the atmosphere. The central square with its majestic design and monumental buildings now has a main road with constant car traffic running right through it - the Italian way, indeed. But the Piazza Corte, with Bernini´s Chigi Palace on one side and Church of the Assumption on the other, remains as it was in 1865. Or, possibly not, having gained 160 years in age. The run-down buildings are probably far from the impressive structures Henrik, Susannah and Sigurd could observe from their residence in the Locanda Martorelli every day. Here, on the church steps, is where Henrik Ibsen sat every quiet evening, resting after a day of writing, possibly pondering the stately lines of the Chigi Palace and admiring the beautiful, rounded dome of the Chiesa. When Bernini designed it, he had recently restored the Pantheon and was inspired by its magnificent dome.  

To the South, the square is framed by a row of buildings, among them the now dilapidated Locanda Martorelli, the pensione where poets and artists, including the Ibsens, stayed. Here,  most of Brand was conceived and written. The museum the building contains is normally open once a week, but is now closed for the season. The old pensione itself is a wizened version of its former self, windows rotting, a pharmacy occupying its first floor. Hanging around the square in the morning chill are a number of town folk, meaning town men. They have the look of people who have little better to do, possibly they are out of work, and live lives as materially destitute as the Ibsens´. During the Ariccia summer of 1865, Susannah wrote to her sister that their everyday life was "not just poor, but downright impoverished".  

At this time,  the summer of 1865, Ibsen´s stipend had run out, the monthly transfers from Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson´s collected funds had stopped, and Ibsen had not completed a dramatic work since The Pretenders (Kongsemnerne) in 1863. A new work was conceived and underway. Tension was probably high. It was now or never.  The writer rose every day at four, had his morning tea, wrote for five hours while Sigurd and Susannah,  took their daily walks in the beautiful Albano mountains. The monumental dramatic work Brand, destined to change the family´s life forever, was written here, in the short time span of three months.  Susannah´s decision to keep Henrik away from the lively artist community of Rome had fruitful consequences. When they returned in september, Brand was almost finished.

Plaque of famous guests - on the wall of Locanda Martorelli

Locanda Martorelli - the Ibsens´ residence in the summer of 1865, a pensione, where artists often stayed.

I spend the morning wandering  Ariccias ancient narrow streets, sitting on stone walls and benches, soaking in the peaceful atmosphere, admiring the wide views of the lush, surrounding landscape. Surely, one can find one´s writing flow in such a place. 

The old town is a cluster of buildings on a steep mountainside. The stunning view of the surrounding fields, gardens and hills is visible from every nook and corner.  The air is fresh. Yes, the town has probably seen better days, but its peace and visual attractions are intact. As is the scent of the local specialty, porchetta,  emanating from small holes-in-the-wall equipped with ovens, where this sumptuous rolls of pork filled with herbs and roasted to delectable crispness is prepared. In 1865, Ibsen had humbled himself by writing home, to Bjørnson and others, for more money.  The coffers are empty and there is no income in sight. I imagine SUsaannah picking wild berries on her mountain walks. A day´s ration for the family now consisted  - as mentioned - of bread, a little cheese, and half a foglietta of wine. During their summer of poverty,  they must have taken in that scent of meat every day, probably without ever tasting it. (I decide my writer´s empathy does not extend this far and that I will buy some porchetta on my way home this evening, given that the hole-in-the-wall next to Locanda is still open when I return from my walk to Genzano).

After exploring the Palace, I wish to enter the enormous Chigi Palace park, also known as Goddess Diana´s sacred forest. Henrik Ibsen was given the key to the gate and took frequent walks there. But alas, the park is cosed, "for security reasons" - it is even more of a jungle now than it was 150 years ago. I resolve to come back here and to attempt to attain, in writing, a special permission to enter,  like my hero must have done. After all, Italy adores its artists and writers, as long as they abide by its bureaucratic idiosyncracies.

Before leaving Ariccia for Genzano, I sit for a while on Ibsen´s  favored church steps. Imagining. I look pensive enough for one of the locals to offer to take my photo. She gives it an arty diagonal, and looks smugly pleased with herself when she gives my mobile phone back.

A view of the secretive, forbidden Chigi park from the courtyard

Another writer on the church steps 158 years later (photo courtesy of a local, young mother)

The Chigi Park covers 57 hectares; a secretive and wild-growing forest. Ibsen got a key to the gates and special permission to take daily walks here

Bernini´s Piazza Corte as viewed from above

I leave Ariccia for Genzano the only possible way, across the aquaduct on the other side. This is an ancient road, I imagine some of the all pine trees were here when the Ibsens took their walks here.  I intend to return to before darkness falls.

Leaving Ariccia for a walk to Genzano

Fragrant and crisp porchetta, culinary specialty of the Ariccia region. A delicacy the Ibsens could not afford in 1865, when they were living on scraps and Ibsen was begging Bjørnson to send more money

After my visit to Genzano, I return to Ariccia, my definitive favorite of the two Calle Albano towns. Soft twilight now lingers over the Piazza Corte, mildening the impression of the buildings´ decay and heightening the sense of Arriccia as a village where time has stood still and history whispers.  Light is switched on in multiple lanterns and traffic has abated. This is my time to complete my Calla Albano visit by doing what my writer hero so often did: enjoy a glass of the inexpensive, local white wine in the peaceful square. A place to indulge in a little twilight dreaming. 

Ariccia by night

Chiesa di Maria Assunta, evening. Local café under the parasols.

A pond in the enchanted Chigi park forest, borrowe photo

Aquaduct, nighttime

Local wine by the church

It is getting dark. Time to return and hope for a train back to Rome from the neighboring town of Albano Lazio. The porchetta man is still at work, as it turns out. He is not alone; the delicious smell of grilled meat with herbs is everywhere in the village center. I enter the hole-in-the-wall shop, after respectfully waiting for the last person to complete her shopping. The tiny place takes only one customer at a time. 

The friendly shopkeeper wields a huge knife and cuts me 300 grams of thin porchetta slices. I then spot a grand wheel of Pecorino cheese, made from sheep´s milk, which I cannot resist. This delicacy is so expensive outside Italy today that it is mostly to be dreamed of, even for a more fortunate writer from the oil-rich North. 

And yes, it is beyond delicious, I find, when I test it on the (completely empty) train back. I pray that this delicacy was dirt cheap in the 1860ies and that it was a staple of the poverty-stricken Ibsen family´s daily diet. After all, they are known to have subsisted on bread and cheese. Sheep´s milk was not yet a rarity in those days. 

The porchetta is to inspire a scene in Episode four, sketched out in my Roman B&B that evening. The hero of that scene is Sigurd Ibsen, a six years old boy, who walks out of Locanda Martorelli every evening  to buy the Ibsens´ daily bread & cheese evening meal and happens to stop, dreamily, in front of one of the porchetta shops.

I return to Rome enriched with a treasure chest of impressions.

Blog nr. 6: WRITERS´ WINTER WORKSHOP,  Fagerstrand. December 2023

Writer´s cave, December

Norwegian wood & fireplace writing

Preparing the ground

This year our Nordic winter starts unusually early.  We have temperatures below zero from October.  Snow falls - and, surprisingly, stays  on the ground - from November on.  I am hopeful and expectant, as it looks as if we are building up to a classic, romantic, white Christmas, an unusual phenomenon in Southern Norway during these the past 10-15 years of climate change. Wintertime inspires us to stay inside, and the physical act of writing is an indoor activity  - but it is all a bit of a shock for a wandering screenwriter returning from a balmy Italian autumn, with temperatures of +20 C and the new habit of having lunch and dinner outside every day. I reset my seasonal clock and prepare for cocooning, fireplace contemplation and, hopefully, writing. We have a workshop scheduled in December to integrate Italian impressions with ongoing timeline work and to continue to shape our characters and story.

The day before I set off for the cabin to prepare ( = receive deliveries and warm up the icy house for our team), it snows endlessly. Thirty centimeters of virginal white carpeting cover the ground when I arrive. I wade through the snow with my heavy backpack, wondering how on earth groceries for three days can be delivered up those snow-buried stairs.  Clearly, there will be no writing that evening, as I have at least three hours of shoveling ahead of me.  After what feels like considerable shoveling and sweating our brave delivery guys arrive and do not complain about the limited parking space or the narrow, slippery path I have managed to dig out. No writing happened that evening, however. Later in our stay, we will have further challenges imposed on us by wintry mother nature.

Ole Christian and Susanne will arrive tomorrow morning. The agenda for the next two days is centred on our protagonist. Or, protagonists, as they now turn out to be.  Iben and I talked about a "double journey". My report from the travels and from meeting Iben are the first points on our agenda.  Last time we met, it was late summer, we had our talks outside, and we landed on "a marital drama".  Now we will continue our reflections in a cold world, surrounded by snow. I am quite certain that these environmental factors have an effect on our thinking and our writing. As well as the enigmatic  workings of our imaginations.  

Ready for  the writers´ arrival

First Day: Exploring the value conflict and our new main character.

How to find Susanne´s character? Millions of pages are written about her husband; multiple memoirs, dozens of biographies, thousands of articles and hundreds of scholarly books. On Susanne and her life, very little existed until Astrid Sæther´s book came in 2008. Her groundbreaking work includes extracts from letters never before published and even an account of Susanne´s possibly traumatic birth experience (less than two weeks after the birth, Susanne declared, at the age of 22, that she would never have another child).

Henrik and Susanne´s love story and relationship appear to have been irrelevant - even a distraction or an embarrassment - to many of the all-male biographers. Surely, Henrik Ibsen, a genius of a man - super-intelligent, uniquely talented and inscrutably introvert  - could not actually fall in love, or engage in the trivial pursuit of bonding with and caring for someone, could he?  In reading the biographies, I am constantly surprised at how little the scholars make of the fact that Henrik and Susanne met and fell in love, that he wrote a wildly romantic (although poetically weak) poem to win her "blossoming, childlike soul", and that her appearance in his life caused a profound change in him: 

"Only after I  got married did my life take on a real weightiness." 

Susanne was, by all accounts, his life´s only truly intimate relation. Henrik Ibsen had few close friends. He complained bitterly in his later years about not being truly close even to his son, Sigurd – with whom Susanne had quite a symbiotic relation. Also, he is also known to have said (in his letters) he had problems being close and intimate with people in general. There is no doubt about the fact that Susanne´s presence for 48 years of Henrik Ibsens´s life sustained him, gave him an emotional anchor,  built his character, sheltered him from a world that often overwhelmed him, and made his intensively productive writing life possible. Yet the biographers are suprisingly quiet about her.

The central value conflict

The tree of us are truly different in our approach to our craft. Our own Susanne, the team member and writer, thrives in the world of ideas. She keeps asking the team what the “central value conflict” of our story might be. Ole, on the other hand,  keeps imagining scenes and storylines. While I am itching to start writing, sensing that in the writing process itself possibilities emerge and creative choices happen. Clearly we have different approaches, which is enriching to the project, I think. 

Maybe our central value conflict is this:

Is it possible to create “great art” and truly love at the same time? Not just adore or be fond of, but be an actively loving person for those who are close to you, be it a lover, children, parents or friends? In "When we dead awaken", recently read for the umpteenth time, Henrik holds what he calls "doomsday over himself". He brutally answers "no" to the question and passes a crushing judgment on his main character, the sculptor Rubek: "You have not loved, therefore you have never truly lived ." Sixty-year-old Rubek has created works the whole world admires, yet he begs for another chance at this wonder we call life.  The last play - the "dramatic epilogue" called "When we dead awaken" is, perhaps, more than the psychological-realistic plays a "drama of ideas", in the spirit of co-writer Susanne. But the characters in the play never really come to life, they appear to be mere representations and they discuss the play´s themes in a spelled-out, one-to-one manner that I would probably give critical feedback on with my screenwriting students ("this dialogue comes out a bit on-the-nose"...).

But how to externalize such a conflict of values, how to bring it to life,  ​​in a simple screenplay for television?  Similar questions may have been what the 71 year old Ibsen was grappling with in 1899,  one year before what is believed to be his first serious stroke and seven years before his death.  

This is the bedrock we have to drill in the months to come.

Susanne´s character

To warm up, we decide to expose our Susanne character to the same procedure we did with our Henrik, the "16 Personalities" test. This fails miserably. Early on in the endless round of questions, we realize that we do not know our heroine well enough yet, this was entirely premature. Our Susanne ends up with the same character type as Henrik, The Architect, albeit without the "turbulent" characterization. We all sense intuitively that this character description does not capture the essence of Susanne/Susannah/Suzannah ( yes, she used all three spellings of her name). 

We do know: She was a very private person, she did not want to attend great public events with her husband, she had no desire to shine next to him or share the glory. She burnt a large number of letters and papers. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and is told to have said when he was under siege publicly (as he frequently was) something like: "What do you care about those small minds, you, with your genius!"  In the biographies, she sometimes appears to be what in Norwegian would be called "et rivjern" - meaning a kind of stern, strict "iron lady" who controls her husband and keeps him in place.  There are stories of her kicking out his friends from parties at home and coming to fetch him when he was out drinking. Her possible femininity is absent from all descriptions. However, the view that her looks were not an asset seems, regrettably, to penetrate most descriptions.  True to their times, most writers who knew her permit themselves to comment mercilessly on her looks, as if physical looks were synonymous with a woman´s  very identity as well as her main "capital" on the marriage market (unless she was rich).  Also, possibly because there are so few descriptions of her, the negative view of the young, Danish critic Clemens Petersen (close friend to Bjørnson) has become dominant and is quoted in numerous biographies. Surprisingly, he seems to be considered an authoritative source of information about a woman he met only for a few hours in Copenhagen in 1864. Susanne was 28, she had a 4 year old boy with her, and she had been separated from her husband for six months, clearly a period of considerably stress. 

When reading family members´ and friends´ descriptions (L. Dietrichson, Mathilde, Bergljot Bjørnson Ibsen, Joen Bille) Petersen´s  portrait of an uncharming woman is corrected: Susanne is warm, nurturing, wise, loving, a great hostess, a sharp intellect and an extremely strong-willed character, something her husband was not. Do the biographers believe this alternative view to be rose-colored and biased? Petersen, on the other hand, only met Susanne once, and complains disgustedly that she  lacked femininity and (God forbid) licked her fingers during a meal. A cardinal sin.  In the same breath, some biographers comment that Peterson was homosexual, as if that disqualifies him or means he doesn´t like women at all.  This is clearly wrong, as Petersen was a close friend of Caroline - Bjørnson´s wife . The biographers also note that he later had to flee Denmark when his relations with "children" - apparently they were younger men, possibly students - were revealed. (Note to self: Biographers and historians are not objective sources, any more than screenwriters and  filmmakers.)

Then there is the lesser known, young Susanne. The one who is described ( by stepmother Magdalene and best friend Caroline) to be dreamy, dramatic, emotional, spontaneous, passionately engaged in literature to the extent of losing her sense of reality. The one who is referred to in Henrik´s first poem as possessing  "a blossoming, childlike soul" and whose mind is "a rich, spiritual well". What happened to her? This was a Susanne described by her family members as "a great storyteller" and conversation partner.  Befriended by central characters of her time such as Camilla Collett and Ellen Keys. According to her husband, Susanne´s sense of justice was extremely  keen and strong. Her engagement in the ideal, in the higher things in life is intense, and she shows great disdain for what Henrik calls "all petty concerns".  That Susanne is one I have not yet seen on my inner screen. Working on it.... On what historical novelist Hilary Mantell calls "resurrecting" the dead. In order to perform that act of resurrection, the writer of biographical fiction has to do all the necessary research, then envision the characters and enter into their worlds. To do this, what I now call "en empati-sti " - an empathy-path - has to be constructed and shaped.

I am wondering whether this, in my case, happens only through the actual writing process. Not through avid research, interesting thematic discussions, the sorting of endless raw material, the creation of story outlines, but rather, through my fingers dancing on the keyboard while the mind and heart are present, are there, with the characters, in their location, with eyes and ears alert, all senses open. To quote myself in an earlier article: a significant part of a dramatist’s work happens in the act of writing down what she sees and hears in the theatre – or movie theatre – of her mind. So, here is the case for writing as creation in-the-moment, the improvisatory element that is an integral part of almost all artistic creation. 

Fireplaces are writer-friendly, even inspiring

Real life winter drama

Writers must eat. Especially when we work hard. It is an explicit philosophy of our early workshops that we shall move away from our everyday lives, stay somewhere beautiful, and live well while we immerse ourselves in the depths of our writing project. This is especially important in the phase of early, creative chaos. I learned this from the amazing Ellen Win Wendel, head and builder of the unique script development program eQuinoxe Europe. The eQuinoxe concept is to invite a group of screenwriters and a group of international script consultants for 8 days to a lovely abode far, far away, such as an alpine castle or an historical, Norwegian fjord hotel. I have had the thrilling experience of screenwriters´workshops in both of these sample eQuinoxe locations. In the eQuinoxe concept, once you and your project are accepted,  all expenses are covered. Also, the advisors, who are world class, do not get paid. What they get, and sign up for, is the lovely location, the excellent food & wine,  and - above all -  the unique creative exchange that takes place in the advisors´ collegium between their sessions with the writers. In my third round at eQuinoxe I took part in the advisors´ collective and got a chance to experience just that; a unique, creative exchange on the art and craft of screenwriting.

As a believer in Ellen´s vision of how screenwriters at work should be treated, I  am crushed when I realize there is not enough fresh filet of cod in my refrigerator to make the  creamy "gratin" with fresh codfish I have planned for the evening meal of our first day.  So, after our first session, Susanne and I set off in her borrowed car to the grocery store a few kilometers away. On the way back, we decide on the more scenic route, a narrow road winding through virginal white landscapes between small farms and fields. After all, we are adventurous and imaginative types. There is a lot of snow and I joke happily about how the worst thing that can happen is "we get stuck in a snowdrift". 

Which, of course, we do. In fact, worse than that. In avoiding a meeting car on the narrow road, Susanne performs a minimal maneuver to the right. The snow-covered road is extremely slippery. The few centimeters are enough to end our scenic winter  journey in the ditch. A deep ditch, packed with heavy snow. Both right side wheels are stuck. We have absolutely no chance of getting out on our own. 

It is getting dark. It is fifteen degrees below zero, centigrade. Oh, yes, the fish filet we just bought will no doubt stay fresh. But the two of us cannot stay out here for very long in our city clothes.

Stuck in the snow on Agnorveien

Ladies in distress, but resisting photography

What to do now? I sum up our three options: Call a car rescue company (involves a price of a couple of thousand NKr), wait for someone with rescuing skills and a four-wheel drive or tractor to come by (fat chance in the evening on a distant country road), or call my dear friend and neighbor, 74, a brilliant painter who possesses both the vehicle and the expert skills, but who is suffering from a chronic condition that keeps him inside, in pain, and horizontal much of the time. A dramatic dilemma indeed.

We explore the first option, but decide to put it on hold - it also involves a long, cold wait on a night like this. The car is borrowed; it would be nice to avoid an escalation. Option two: The sweet part of this story is that, as we spend an hour waiting for a miracle, every single car that passes stops to talk or offer help. Wintertime road solidarity is a bit like solidarity at sea; we become members of the great, human family and everyone stands by you. But I also know from experience that we are in a bad situation that, given the wrong kind of assistance, easily can get worse. So, the most eager offer from the small car of two young, Polish men with a fervent desire to rescue two vulnerable women in distress is almost accepted, but then not quite. On my inner movie screen, two cars on top of each other in the ditch appear.  "Thank you, but I think we have another solution."  They look truly disappointed as they drive away, denied the chance to be winter road heroes. But I worry about the low weight of their car, their over-confident attitude, their uncertain winter road skills. Oh, what a rogue and chauvinist Norwegian am I. But people from less snowy countries do tend to underestimate the demands of winter driving in Norway.  

Susanne and I are now  freezing and it is time for the emergency choice; the phone call to my loyal artist friend. "Let me get dressed. And find some "ballast". Give me half an hour."  Guilt-ridden, but relieved, we  jump happily up and down in the icy cold for another thirty minutes as darkness mercilessly descends.  On the dot, the blinding lights of a pick-up truck appear. It is equipped with a huge water tank in the back for ballast weight. In front is the most skillful driver I know. Our artist rescuer gracefully turns 360 degrees on the narrow, slippery road and positions himself expertly behind Susanne´s car.  "What a man, " she whispers, "he really knows his stuff!" But, as it turns out, his truck needs even more weight. Our hero now folds down the high back hatch on the pick-up truck and orders us to climb up and sit on it.  We silently obey - what else could we do? We are both shivering with cold, legs now dangling in the air a meter above ground, freaking out, not daring to look at each other, our souls and bodies reduced to ballast weight. 

Rescue operation ensues. The pick-up´s engine groans painfully with the weight, vehicle teetering over toward the ditch alarmingly, ballast bodies thrown about on high shelf,  clinging deseprately to hatch and to each other. Featured in the movie theatre of my mind: I now envision two blonde screenwriters in the ditch, crushed to pulp in the snow by three tons of pick-up truck. A bloody, but possibly dramatically interesting image; all that red on the virginal white.  A tragedy in the name of art. Oh, yes, possessing a lively imagination can be a bit of an occupational hazard.  But after a few more tries,  and just before my overheated imagination has completed the footage of the heartbreaking burial ceremony with all our friends and screenwriting students present,  the car is back on the road, my dear friend on his way back to bed, and Susanne back behind the wheel. 

Shaken by our small, real life drama, we humbly carry the humiliating stamp of useless intellectuals after our encounter with a man of physical skills and action. I am reminded of Henrik Ibsen´s lack of physical courage and skills when he failed as a mountain climber at the island of Ischia (Vilhelm Bergsøe´s memoir) and rolled helplessly down a hill in a cloud of dust. Oh, well. Warmth, wine,  and food are within reach now. We accept we must all play our roles in this life as we happily return to our safe haven where Ole Christian, starved for to-die-for fresh fish, waits in front of the fire for his dinner.  

The survived cook and the candlelit dinner table

Hard-won codfish au gratin, private recipe, highly appreciated by team. Possibly worth risking one´s life for.

Winter workshop conclusion

Are we any closer to our main characters after two days of creative exchange and dialogue, interspersed with a reminder of our own physical vulnerability in the form of a small winter drama? Perhaps a little. But we are also overwhelmed by how much more there is to study, read, dive into, in order to know as much about our characters as possible.  In order to treat them fairly,  attempt an ethical "resurrection" (admired novelist Hilary Mantel calls fictional biography "resurrection"), blend the solid granite with the compelling and evasive rainbow (Virginia Woolf). 

In addition to main characters Henrik and Susanne, there are at least a dozen supporting characters who are central to our story.  Susanne´s father Hans Conrad Thoresen and her exceptional stepmother Magdalene Kragh Thoresen. Her two sisters (and two elder brothers, plus her four, smaller half-siblings). Henrik´s friends,  among them Aasmund O. Vinje and Paul Botten-Hansen, both rebellious intellectuals who eventually became prominent citizens. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson,  successful writer (Nobel Prize 1903), Henrik Ibsen´s best friend and worst critic/rival. Bjørnstjerne´s  wife Caroline, who happened to be Susanne´s best childhood friend in Bergen. Henrik´s group of rebellious intellectuals in Christiania (Oslo) and his artist buddies in Rome. Little Sigurd, a child among adults only for so many years. These peoples have their own stories, biographies, letters, memoirs, mentions in the writings of others.  I envy the writers of The Crown who command their own extensive team of researchers.  

After our return, I dive into the lives of Magdalene Thoresen (author, playwright and Susanne´s stepmother), Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Caroline Reimers Bjørnson, Lorentz Dietrichson (close family friend in Rome and Susanne´s childhood friend). I cannot find Jorunn Hareide´s voluminous biography on Magdalene anywhere, so I order it from the library.  I order several of Ibsen scholar Erik Edvard Henningsens books through used books shops. I also find Joen Bille´s  (great grandchild of Ibsens & Bjørnsons) personal family memoir in the library. Earlier, I have read the memoirs of John Paulsen, Vilhelm Bergsøe, Lorentz Dietrichson, and Martin Schneekloth (briefly the tutor of Sigurd Ibsen, age 7-8 in Rome). Reading Joen Bille is a great pleasure, even though I expect much of the material to be anecdotal, as it does not always match historical facts that are safely ingrained in my brain by now. But he writes with such love and passion about these people, they come alive before me. I am especially thrilled when he covers modern day (he is still alive, a man of 80) and mentions my classmate from high school, Hedda Ibsen, and his visit to her family´s summer house in Blindleia, Southern Norway. Hedda is Henrik and Susanne´s great-great grandchild and I recently attended her wedding (I read TO THE ONLY ONE - Henrik Ibsen´s first poem to Susanne -  as part of the performance her new husband put on in the Ibsen museum on the evening of the ceremony). Hedda has told me so much about that house; now, all of a sudden, her family comes alive in my living room. Hareide´s book on Magdalene is also a great inspiration. Understanding more of Magdalene´s character means diving into Susanne´s inner world. Magdalene was a writer and Susanne´s stepmother from the age of 6; she must have been a unique role model. The two kept up a lively correspondence all their lives. 

Our writers´ team  work from within and from without, at the same time: After the workshop, we begin working out a written pitch document of our "new" drama series. It is no longer called Born an Artist . That title  was a quote from Ibsen´s  own "dramatic epilogue" When We Dead Awaken,  which can be seen as an epilogue to his oevre, but also his life. Our story is now officially renamed HENRIK & SUSANNE.  It is an important, symbolic act, this renaming.  (Google Sites refuses to change the name in the menu on this web page. I will put up a fight later.)

And thus the snowy landscape with its stillness and sternness has changed our outlook. 

Winter walk

POST WINTER WORKSHOP: Writing the first pitch 

After New Year´s, we begin working on a pitch. This is initially a request from a possible producer, Maipo, who are considering our project and want a document to discuss. As often before, I find that being forced to articulate a vision in a short format and attempting to "sell it in" is a tool in rediscovering the true DNA of a story.  I work through at least seven versions of the document, with Ole and Susanne constantly contributing with comments. 

The core of the pitch - or, the original impulse -  is the intense encounter at the ball, the night when Henrik and Susanne fall in love. Two outsiders finding each other, finding a haven in the world. It is the start of a strong and turbulent love story. A love story later  to be - as I see it - murdered by several of Henrik Ibsen´s biographers. 

When we feel the text is starting to take off a little, we bring in our institute production teacher, Olav Øen. He is one of Norway´s most experienced producers, and our consultant in development. We ask him to give the pitch a read.

Olav keeps telling us he is "a simple soul" and has "a superficial angle" on this, but we know better. He is a man who has sought out, developed and realized a large number of successful, audiovisual tales for the big and the small screen. His comments counteract my tendency toward too many words, too much descriptive detail. He has a keen eye for what the ordinary audience member might find exciting and moving in a story. 

After our feedback session with Olav, the pitch is pared down to half of its original length.  Next, we send the text to our script consultant, Iben Gylling.  She contributes a number of final touches and the first pitch  for the drama series "Henrik & Susanne"  is on the table. It will, no doubt, be rewritten in a number of versions. 

But, yes, there is one among them

The one and only, it´s plain

Her eye shows a secret sorrow

I read there both grief and pain

I read there those dreams whose churning

and wavering never cease,

a heart that will throb with with yearning

never to find any peace.

From THE ONE AND ONLY, Henrik´s first poem to Susanne before their engagement

Henrik & Susanne, pitch

Project presentation document

«Henrik & Susanne»


Siri Senje

Susanne Skogstad

Ole Christian Solbakken


Idea and background                               

He trashed the bourgeoisie, let Nora leave her children, and wrote about syphilis and incest while those words were still unmentionable in public. Henrik Ibsen was a fiery social critic who challenged his audience. His dramas still engage the whole world, and he is Norway's best-known artist internationally. In four years, the 200th birthday of the world-famous dramatist will be celebrated world-wide. The anniversary provides a perfect opportunity to tell the hitherto unknown story of Norway's most famous writer and, not least, of the extraordinary woman by his side.

Ibsen became a world celebrity in his own time, but the story of his younger years and turbulent road to recognition is unknown to most. In the “chaotic years" between his debut and breakthrough, the writer struggled with poverty, threats of the penitentiary, debts, alcohol abuse and theater bankruptcy. The sense of outsiderness and ostracism in Norway came to characterize his relationship with his home country so strongly that he and his family chose exile for almost three decades. It would take a full fifteen years from Ibsen's debut as a playwright to his breakthrough with Brand in 1866. But the reviled and mocked poet never gave up along the way. What forces and resources in him and in his life made this possible?

In "Henrik and Susanne", we will highlight the woman Henrik Ibsen chose to live his life with. His wife Susanne (renamed Suzannah after his wish) – the poet's mentor, weapon bearer, dialogue partner and great love – was a richly gifted person who appears as a mere bystander in most recognized Ibsen biographies. The drama series will challenge the existing Ibsen narrative and depict "the chaotic years" from the point of view of the Ibsens´ marriage. Our perspective on Henrik Ibsen's story will thus differ markedly from what is current in Ibsen literature and add a modern take at the widely accepted mythology of the artist.

In "Henrik and Susanne", we will also challenge the challenger. We will address the poet's nagging doubts and expose his demons. We will scrutinize his close relations and ask what the price for the realization of his genius was. We will seek a narrative language that breaks with the bio-drama's conventional hero narrative, not least through the choice of a "double journey" dramaturgy in which Susanne and Henrik are both protagonists. We will draw inspiration from a selected innovative drama series and aim to create an intimate portrait of the years before Henrik became "Ibsen".

Writers´ motivation

In his very last play, Ibsen mercilessly confronts himself and the artist myth when he lets his main character, a famous sculptor, proclaim that he has devoted his life to his art, but "never lived".

What is the true price for the realization of a great talent? Can choosing the artist´s way - or any other personal ambition - become a kind of calling that by necessity must push everything else in a human life aside? Is it possible to reach great artistic achievement and still realize one´s own ability to love? Does a particularly gifted person have a right to constantly put him- or herself first, with the lofty goal of managing and realizing his own abilities? How do we, ordinary humans, manage the balance between ambition and love in our lives?

"We choose to ask; our call is not to answer." Henrik Ibsen in Peer Gynt, 1867


Drama series, 4 x 60 minutes



Bergen, Norway 1856

Two young people meet at a ball. They don't fly across the dance floor, but the conversation between them takes wings. Susanne Thoresen is 19, Henrik Ibsen 27. She is a minister´s daughter, so deeply involved in the world of literature that some claim she hardly inhabits our own. He is a writer and director at the town's theatre, with so little success that he is now under the board´s constant supervision. Susanne has a dreamy nature, a fierce temper and a strong sense of fairness. Henrik is cripplingly shy and therefore lonely, but lofty ambitions dwell behind his timorous facade.

The night after the ball, Henrik writes the romantic poem “To the only one”. Here he eulogizes their meeting at the ball but shuns the time´s usual phrases about female grace. Instead, he mocks the social conventions of the bourgeois ball, where seductive music and superficial flirting form a false veil of joy over "the woe of emptiness". Henrik feels alone in seeing through the hypocrisy, until he meets a young woman's gaze: "No, wait, a single one there is, amongst them all, just one!" Henrik Ibsen has found the woman who, if she attaches herself to him for life, can make poetry "soar from his chest".

The poem hits Susanne right in the heart. A few days after the ball, the couple are engaged.

In retrospect, everything suggests that this besotted young man was right: Susanne was the person who could match his intellect, stimulate his writer´s imagination and, not least, build the framework he depended on to be able to create. After fifteen years of hardship and struggle, Henrik Ibsen realized his dream of becoming what he had once called "an immortal man". Could it have happened without Susanne?

The drama series “Henrik and Susanne” tells the story of Henrik and Suzannah Ibsen. It is the story of a young woman who makes a life pact, who devotes herself – not just to a man – but to the unique literary talent she firmly believes him to possess. She is not a victim, nor does she make a sacrifice: For Susanne, this is a meaningful calling. His literary works are something they own together. But when, at the age of barely 20, she leaves everything she holds dear – her home, her siblings, her stepmother and her hometown – she does not yet know the price of this pact, nor of the turmoil to come. Together, she and her poet will face rejection, ridicule, public humiliation, alcohol abuse, poverty, hunger, multiple lawsuits, and bottomless debt. She will love a man who senses his own genius, but who is constantly torn between arrogance and the darkest of doubts. Ten chaotic years will pass for the two of them before the breakthrough finally comes.

“Henrik and Susanne” is the unknown story of Norway's most famous writer, and of the woman who loved both him and his genius.


Episode overview & character descriptions not yet translated.

Blog nr. 7: SPRING WRITERS´ WORKSHOP, Fagerstrand. April 2024

Taste of spring

Boats in their winter sleep

Walking the Coastal Path

April in Norway.  Temperatures are around 15 degrees C.  Still no leaves on the trees,  a naked landscape greets us. Little patches of snow remain in a few places, but soon the first spring flowers will light up the roadside. A perfect season for reflective walks.

The narrative DNA

Storylining. That is the main task for our spring workshop.  We need to take a step forward from our research and conceptualization work and begin to dip our toes into the deep, dark waters of story.  Yes, we are still discussing conceptual and narrative style issues; we are still studying and researching our multiple characters. Simultaneously, the work on the pitch has helped us concentrate and sharpen the thematic core and content, and we have the external framework for where our narrative begins and ends.  I consider that a positive side  effect of working in a genre that is, due to the costs and practicalities of audiovisual production, dependent on certain commercial demands.  In order to facilitate our upcoming dance with the devil, we have managed to describe something that looks/feels like a narrative end product; the tale of Henrik and Susanne´s troubled love. Given that a script doesn´t exist yet, the pitch is  - like every other pitch - a hypothesis, such is the uncertain  status quo of the screenwriter´s deliveries in the world of audiovisual production.  We are also  intensely aware that the material is too extensive, still. Even with our cutting down from 15 to 10 years of historical time and zooming in thematically on the relationship between our two main characters, there is far too much material.  I am meeting with script consultant Iben in Copenhagen next week and I would like to have some concrete story outlines to discuss.  

It is not a classical question of "what is our story".  We are not working from pure scratch this time (are we ever?). The story material is there, in the lives our characters actually lived, in the historical material, in my collected factual timelines.  Rather, the question is what will be our narrative.  "A story is the series of events at issue, while narrative is the story “mediated” through how the teller presents it" (Porter Abbott, 2008).  We are Henrik and Susanne´s  mediators. We have appointed ourselves as their representatives.  Our position is potentially powerful, our responsibility great. That is why the requirement of identification and empathy ("innlevelse") has been at the core of our search.  While we struggled to find a way to "get close" to young Henrik Ibsen, we quickly found an empathetic connection to Susanne, which became a "way in".

The ethical dilemmas in writing someone else´s life - someone we will never be able to meet for interviews -  are ever-present. I reject the notion that, in the name of artistic freedom of expression,  total narrative and inventive  freedom should be claimed.  To me, this is not just a question of establishing ethical boundaries and framework,  it is an artistic issue.  I simply cannot see the point in writing fiction based on real human beings and events if the essence of the "mediated core narrative" itself  is pure invention.  Invention is, of course, necessary.  Metaphoric truth exists. We can trace the outlines of our characters lives, but not their emotional content or the everyday detail.  That gives the screenwriter a tremendous amount of imaginative and inventive freedom, I find. But what if invention is the very essence of that narrative core,  what if it is the driving force of the screenwriter´s plot, while it is certain that the actual events did not unfold that way?  Why not write a completely original story, enjoying 100% creative freedom? Why not leave the historical characters   - and the audience´s genuine and legitimate desire to gain knowledge and understanding of them - alone? 

A case in point is the Norwegian drama series Harry & Charles from 2009,  a costly, high quality drama series produced by the NRK - the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The two main characters were prince Carl of Denmark (Charles) and the British princess Maud (Harry) , who became the new King and Queen of Norway when that country tore away from the union with Sweden in 1905 and needed their own royal family to match their independence.  A truly fascinating story, with considerable drama embedded in the events that actually took place and the real characters who lived through them.  For example, an intense father- son drama might have been played out when young Carl became king of Norway while his aging father remained crown prince of Denmark,  still listlessly waiting to take over the throne at the age of 61. When he became king, a year after his son was granted that title,  he got a brief six years on the throne before he died at the age of 68.  Imagine, if British "spare" prince Harry had been offered the throne of, say, Iceland, while crown prince Charles was still waiting for his seemingly immortal mother to die. The situation would have been similar. And dramatically thrilling, methinks. 

However, the screenwriter Jonas Cornell must have decided that there was not sufficient dramatic material in the real story, since he invented a 100% fictional love triangle between prince Carl, princess Maud, and the princess´ chamber maid.  This triangle, which became the core narrative of the drama series,  never actually existed. Sure, love triangles can be dramatically exciting. This one was not, it appeared every bit as constructed as it actually was. Further, the erotic chemistry between the two straying characters was absent. Add the fact that the production cast the stunning Maria Bonnevie as princess Maud and the rather more down-to-earth Tulla Carstensen as the maid. An inorganic fabrication was the end result - a perfect example of what historian Robert Rosenstone would called "false invention" as opposed to the "true" kind. (Back to the definition of those two concepts later).

The "arrangement of the incidents".

When we have defined the core,  in our series as a whole and in each episode,  it is time to weave the narrative from within. At the moment, looking at the four  factual timelines, one for each 60 minute episode, that task appears a bit overwhelming. How to define the  underlying, electric current  in each chain of events? When I wrote the first drama series about Henrik Ibsen years ago, I found the dramatic tension in his family relations. The series covered his childhood and youth until he, at age 21, left his home town and never saw his family again. When I realized how brutal and complete that break actually was, I seacrhed for my electric current, above all,  in the relationship between the son and his father.  His need for acceptance and understanding, his need to break free when they did not occur.

We now start digging into the extensive timeline documents I have made,looing for the inner story (stories) hidden in the external chain of events.Our goal is to work out a structure for the first and second episodes during our two and a half days. We do this in a fashion typical for screenwriters: We divide the timelines into scene titles and write them in bold letters on on sheets of paper. Only the most important scenes qualify for inclusion.  "Key scenes" ("nøkkelscener"), we call them. Each scene gets a brief title:

"Henrik works intensely on his play Lady Inger of Østraat"

"Susanne is  entranced at the opening night of  Lady Inger of Østraat".  

"Henrik and Susanne meet and discover each other at the ball."  

Chain of events.  Beats.  Externalized, visible action.  Simple sentences describing them. Outlines are dry and terse. Only in the actual dramatic writing format do the subtext and thematic core material come to light. So we postpone the digging deep a little longer, letting things ferment and mature under our blatant sheets of paper with letters on them. 

This process reminds me of my work in staging of a play,  in my former life as a stage director: We would do the table reads, the talking and exchange, present the director´s interpretation. Then on to the physical blocking, the walking around the rehearsal room with scripts in hand, moving about on the surface of the material. A bit like dipping your toes in the deep water before diving in for real, immersing yourself, starting to swim.  Always a scary thing, that act of diving in, committing yourself to immersion. Letting go  - let´s see what happens if...

Storylining Episode 1: The One and Only 

After working out the sheets and the title-making, the physical-visual labor begins. We tape the sheets in sequence up on the wall, testing out the chronology and the effect the various events and actions have on each other.  We are a bt like movie editors now.  We stare at our key scene sheets, we rearrange them, we move them around. We discover new connections. We remove one, add another, as we contemplate chronology and interrelationships between events. We are in the movie theater of our minds, visualizing our narrative for the first time. We are having a screenwriters´ narrative feast. This is a work day that demonstrates the advantages of being a team, a creative collective.  I would not experience the same lively and spontaneous imagining if working in solitude as I am used to do.

Birches on our way

"The arrangement of the incidents."

In his Poetics,  Aritotle names  "the arrangement of the incidents" - also known as the plot - as the most fundamental element of drama.  Chronology is paramount to audiovisual storytelling, as we tell our tales on a timeline. A drama series of four 60 minute episodes has the same amount of timeline to be filled as three feature films. No surprise we are a bit overwhelmed. Also, as an NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) executive said to me; writing about Henrik Ibsen, it´s like writing about the King.  We are dipping our toes into the real life material of this king and his queen,  dividing it up into meaningful bits, putting them in sequence, imbuing them with meaning as we go. For a full day we rearrange, move about, discuss, cut, add. Slowly, we are  creating a skeleton for Episode 1.  A skeleton we eventually can imagine the flesh, bloods, muscles of our characters and their story onto. 

Re-energizing on the Coastal Path

No, we cannot stop staring at the incidents of Episode 1. 

At the end of the first day,  an episode is gradually appearing before us.  The idea is that, after the workshop sessions, I will go home and write out a synopsis of the pilot - Episode 1 - based on our structuring work. That will give us  a starting point, "something to make changes to" as one of my stage director colleagues used to say (about the first attempted blocking sketch of a mise-èn-scene).  Our outline will no doubt be rearranged and changed, again and again.  Screenwriting work is often a matter of "layering". I always tell my screenwriting students that, at the outset,  it is important to put together a bunch of ingredients into a large piece of "dough". Only when you have that concrete  dough in your hands can you start moulding, shaping, searching for its final form.

Episode 1, the pilot, now has a name. It is called "Den Eneste" - "The One and Only" .  That is the title of  the poem Henrik wrote to Susanne after their encounter at the ball (it appears obvious that the two  had met before this, certain biographers are wrong about that fact). That is what we imagine as the moment when they actually fell in love, when their true bonding began.  The key scene of Episode 1 is that encounter.  I shiver a bit at the thought of writing it. Iben´s question, "what did Susanne see in him that she fell in love with"?  keeps ringing in my mind. What he saw in her, is all described in the poem. 

My favorite local building

Playreading: Lady Inger

On the first evening, we do a reading together, as usual. This time we choose Fru Inger til Østraat - Lady Inger of Oestraat. This historical play, written in 1855/56 when Henrik was 27  years old, was his fifth dramatic work.  It is an important work for us, for several reasons: He wrote it in "our period"; it has been considered his "best play so far"; it is still being staged (a film was also made); he lied about its authorship (written by "a friend if mine"); insisted on being anonymous when it was discovered; it was not very well received, but Henrik´s wife-to-be, Susanne, liked it very much and placed it far above his next play, The Feast at Solhoug, which did become a success.

Lady Inger is a rich and wordy play text, studded wth intense monologues in which the characters sometimes loudly speak both the plot and their own subtext. Henrik Ibsen is here still a student of playwriting, but the drama, the emotional undercurrents and the characterizations are strong.  The reading is an intense experience,  there is fire in the veins of these characters and much tragedy in the narrative.  Lady Inger and Eline are strong Ibsen women with minds and wills of their own. Imagine the small, shy, introvert young man i Bergen, conceiving this plot,  describing these intense passions, visualizing the strong, power-hungry mother´s tragedy and her daughter´s erotic entanglements; all of it with the oppression of a nation as a framework.  

Surely, Henrik Ibsen freely employed dramatic invention (the real Lady Inger might have had an illegitimate child, but this is not in the history books) and used the historical events rather freely to underpin his dramatic themes.  Since the historical events unfolded 400 years earlier and the characters were not well known,  that did not  elicit much criticism at the time.  For our writing team, however, it is  a piece of meta candy.

A plot summary in English offered by Goodreads (!) and amended by me: 

This historical prose drama in five acts, is set in Norway in 1528. The plot is very complex. Lady Inger, a widow and an influential noblewoman, is under encouragement to lead a Norwegian rebellion against the Danish overlords who exploit the country under Denmarks 400 year rule of Norway. A Swedish rebel by the name of Sten Sturesson, is expected at her castle. However, the stranger who arrives is not Sten but a Danish politician and nobleman, Nils Lykke. His goal is to curb the rebellion and capture and assassinate Sten. Lykke is known as a notorious Casanova type and has previously seduced Lady Inger's elder daughter Lucia. And guess what, as an upshot of this abrupt seduction, Lucia has killed herself. But would that daunt Lykke? Far from it. As soon as Lady Inger leaves the room, he seduces Lucia´s younger sister, Eline. A second stranger arrives, whom Lady Inger presumes to be Sten Sturesson. Lady Inger first hides him, then after being convinced he is somene else, has him murdered so that his half-brother Sten Stensson, her own  illicit son, can become King instead. Nevertheless, to everyone’s surprise, this stranger turns out to have been her son, Sten Stensson, whom she has longed for, but not seen since he was a child. Simultaneously, Eline discovers that her new lover was her sister's hated seducer. Eline takes her own life. Lady Inger despairs and dies by her son's coffin.  Lykke walks out, his mission consummated. Evil has prevailed. 

Lady Inger, the movie.

Lady Inger´s estate, today. - one of Norway´s eldest and largest. Only some fundaments remain of the 16th century building, but the name, location and size are the same. Current building mostly from the 17th century. 

Day 2: Storylining  Episode 2, The Pact

While the first episode contains the inciting incident of the love encounter in Bergen and its immediate aftermath, such as the wedding, the second deals with the Ibsens´ early marriage years in the capital city Christiania (today´s Oslo).  We have named the episode The Pact, inspired by Astrid Sæther´s biography over Susanne/Suzannah.  Her hypothessis about the relationship is that it was based on a kind of pact, in which Susanne agreed to dedicate her life to what she saw as her husbands´s genius. 

In what has later been seen as Henrik´s proposal, the poem To the One and Only,  he thematizes this. The poem is not one of his best, nor has it stood the test of time, but it is still a rich source when it comes to understanding the dynamic of their meeting, what he saw in Susanne,  and the vision he had for their life´s journey together.  A journey Susanne embarked on knowingly. 

In the poem he writes that if only he dared to name her his bride, to delve into her "rich, spiritual well", to plumb the depths of  her "blossoming, childlike soul",  he would be able to realize his abilities as a "poet" ("dikter", the word he used for writer/author/dramatist):

For then would lovely poems
Have soared from my breast on high,

Then I´d have sailed as freely
As birds in a clouded sky.
And all of my scattered visions
would blend into one ere long;
So that life´s loveliest visions

would be  mirrored in my song.

To be cast in this significant role in the life of a man she considered a great poet (after all, he had written Lady Inger, which she admired) must have felt like a great honor and calling for Susanne, aged 19.  Her great love in life so far had been literature and drama. Our impression is that she went into this "pact" willingly.  She was never a victim who sacrificed her own great talent and career dreams,  like a number of other artists´ wives during that century and the next. In other words, it is not a tale of victimization we want to tell. However,  we do want to delve into the numerous hardships of the marriage that now lay ahead of them. In Episode 2, the pact is challenged over and over.

We are a long way into the writers´ ritual  of sheets and titles on walls whenwe realize that our grasp of the material is not as mature as in the first episode.  The Christiania period begins right after their wedding in June 1858.  The couple sets off for their new life in the capital where he has been appointed artistic director of a new theatre, dedicated to Norwegian plays (the onlt major theatre in the town was run by Danes with Danish actos and language). The project was inspired by the nationalist cultural movement, in which young Norwegian intellectuals aspired to building their new nation through literature and cultural revival.

A major obstacle is the fact that the Christiania years were marked by a veritable chain of setbacks and failures, with some success scattered in between.  Our ambition is to include the first three of the six Christiania years in the episode.  The amount of material and incidents is overwhelming.  Painstakingly, we attempt to reduce, concentrate, find the essence. Paradoxically, we reach a consensus when Ole Christian proposes that the episode encompasses even more - that is, the entire theatre journey of  Henrik Ibsen the artistic director and his director´s wife.  In other words, we end the episode in 1862, when the theatre goes bankrupt.  Yes, it gives us even more of a challenge in squeezing four years into 60 minutes. But it also gives the narrative a framework we could name "the theatre dream". 

Christiania Norske Theater in Møllergaten, location for Henrik Ibsen´s theatre dream. The building no longer exists. 

The interior of CNT. Ibsen had the auditorium upgraded, demanding that the Board took up a major loan. This eventually crushed the theatre´s finances and left it bankrupt

We work ourselves into a sweat over the structure of Episode 2,  the storyline of which gives me a few sleepless nights in the weeks to come.  Well, so we did not quite reach our goal of working out two whole episodes. And, yes, we remain in the phase of "creative chaos" - the phase I frequently tell my students to remain in for longer than they think wise. This to make sure one is not making premature, major decisions that will later create the kinds of obstacles that may come from disconnecting a project from its "original impulse". 

As we pack up our things and start the 30 minute walk to the bus/boat, I still have a sense of accomplishment. The next challenge is mine, it lies in the writing out of the new outlines. They will be sent to Iben Gylling before my next visit to Copenhagen, now only a few days ahead. Of course, I am short of time and the work will be rushed. 

The arrangement of more incidents

Departure day

Blog nr. 8:  COPENHAGEN SCRIPT MEETING nr. 2. April 2024.

We have only three hours together this time, a quick meeting in a café before I jump on a train. 

Poor Iben. I have drowned her in timelines, scenes and skeches of synopses for all four episodes  in advance of our meeting. Since I hate writing outlines (dry, boring, soulless, superficial), I have also written out some scenes and some treatment material - it just happens every time I sit down, that is what "imagining for the screen" is about for me.  I envision,  detail, embroider.  "Short" episode outlines become 12-15 pages and contain up to 100 outlines scenes. Ole Christian has been the one to count; our sketches of scenes are not numbered yet.  He reminds me sweetly that an episode should jave roughly around 60 scenes at most. 

Most of the material is rather undigested, as we are still in the phase of discovering, searching, wondering and wandering around in our creative chaos. Resisting decision, fretting about selecting, hesitating about cuts. Should we really not see Henrik, hung over and in bed, accept the assignment of writing a farewell poem to the dying King Oscar, paid for by the stanza, as he delivers them, one at the time (in the meantime, the king died)?  Should we not see Susanne have her amazing hair weighed at a Bergen market? Writing biographical drama means committing an ever-increasing number of "kill-your-darling" acts.  Not my specialty, I´m afraid.

But Iben sobers me up.  "This is way too much material", she says ( I know, I know). "I suggest you only work in outline format from now on."  She tells me, above all, to strain the material and to keep Susanne´s perspective in focus.  

She is right about the amount of materual, of course.  Because of his fame and the vast, biographical material available, most incidents on our timelines focus on Henrik, not Susanne.  Iben now asks me whether we are going for the "double journey" or the drama of a woman  "married to a narcissist" that  we discussed so intensely last time.  

I answer confidently that we are talking about a "double journey", not mainly Susanne´s story.  I realize that the more I immerse myself in the material, the more I feel I am able to get a sense of our character Henrik as a vulnerable human being,  a man behind the turbulent and egocentric genius.  An empathy-path is gradually opening up toward him. I  think that path is directed by a deep sense of loneliness that I recognize. I feel excited and relieved as I make this discovery in the course of our meeting. 

I board the train to Christiania/Oslo with a strong feeling of purpose and a bit of awe at the thought of what lies ahead.