The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen

Persons in the Drama

Halvard Solness, the Master Builder
Aline Solness, his wife
Dr. Herdal, physician
Knut Brovik, formerly an architect, now in Solness's employment
Ragnar Brovik, his son
Kaia Fosli, his niece, book-keeper
Hilda Wangel

Act I

Scene.A plainly furnished work-room in the house of Halvard Solness. At the back, visible through an open door, is the draughtsman's office, where sit Knut Brovik and his son, Ragnar, occupied with plans and calculations. At the desk in the outer office Kaia Fosli is writing in the ledger. She is young, slight, and delicate-looking. She wears a green shade over her eyes. All three work for some time in silence.

Knut Brovik (rising as if in distress): No, I can't bear it much longer!

Kaia: You're feeling very ill, aren't you, uncle?

Brovik: Oh, I seem to get worse every day!

Ragnar (advancing): You ought to go home, father.

Brovik: Not till he comes! I'm determined to have it out—with the chief!

Kaia (anxiously): Oh, no, uncle! Wait awhile. Hush! I hear him on the stairs.

[They go back to their work. Halvard Solness, mature, healthy, vigorous, comes in.

Solness: Are they gone?

Kaia: No. [She takes the shade off her eyes.

Solness (approaching her and whispering): Kaia! Why do you always take off that shade when I come?

Kaia: I look so ugly with it on.

Solness (stroking her hair): Poor, poor little Kaia———

Kaia: Hush———

[Brovik comes into the front room.

Brovik: May I have a few words with you?

Solness: Certainly.

[Brovik sends Kaia out.

Brovik: It will soon be all over with me. (Solness places him in an armchair.) Thanks. Well, you see, it's about Ragnar. That weighs most upon me. What's to become of him?

Solness: Your son will stay with me as long as ever he likes. Brovik: But he wants to have a chance. He must do something on his own account.

Solness: Well, but he has learnt nothing, except, of course, to draw.

Brovik: You had learnt little enough when you were with me, and yet you cut me out. Now, how can you have the heart to let me go to my grave without having seen what Ragnar is fit for? And I'm anxious to see him and Kaia married—before I go.

Solness: I can't drag commissions down from the moon for him.

Brovik: He can have the building of that villa at Lövstrand, if you would only approve of his plans, and retire———

Solness (angrily): Retire? I?

Brovik: From the agreement, that is.

Solness: So that's it, is it? Halvard Solness to make room for younger men! Never in the world!

Brovik (rising painfully): Then I'm to die without any certainty, any gleam of happiness or trust in Ragnar?

Solness: You must pass out of life as best you can.

[Brovik reels. Ragnar enters and takes his father home. Solness detains Kaia.

Solness: You want to marry Ragnar.

Kaia: I cared for him once—before I met you. I can't be separated from you———

Solness: Marry him as much as you please. Make him stay here, and then I can keep you, too, my dear Kaia.

Kaia (sinks down before him): Oh, how unspeakably good you are to me!

Solness: Get up! For goodness' sake get up! I think I hear someone.

[Mrs. Solness enters. She is wasted with grief, but has once been beautiful.

Mrs. Solness (with a glance at Kaia): Halvard! I'm afraid I'm disturbing you.

Solness: Not in the least. What is it, Aline?

Mrs. Solness: Merely that Dr. Herdal is in the drawing-room.

Solness: I'll come later on, dear—later on.

[Exit Mrs. Solness.

Kaia: Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I'm sure Mrs. Solness thinks ill of me in some way!

Solness: Oh, not in the least! You'd better go now, all the same, Kaia. And mind you get that matter about Ragnar settled for me. Please give me Ragnar's drawings before you go. I might glance over them.

Kaia (happy): Oh, yes, please do!

[Mrs. Solness and Dr. Herdal enter.

Mrs. Solness: Halvard, I cannot keep the doctor any longer.

Solness: Well, then, come in here.

Kaia: Good-night, Mrs. Solness.

[Kaia goes out.

Mrs. Solness: She must be quite an acquisition to you, Halvard, this Miss Fosli.

Solness: Yes, indeed. She's useful in all sorts of ways.

Mrs. Solness: So it seems.

[Mrs. Solness goes out.

Solness: Tell me, doctor, did you notice anything odd about Aline?

Dr. Herdal (smiling): Well, one couldn't help noticing
that your wife—h'm———

Solness: Well?

Dr. Herdal: That your wife isn't particularly fond of this Miss Fosli. There's nothing of any sort in the case, is there?

Solness: Not on my side.

Dr. Herdal: On hers, then?

Solness: Hardly a fair question! Still, you know she's engaged to Ragnar; but since she came here she  seemed to drift quite away from him.

Dr. Herdal: She drifted over to you, then?

Solness: Yes, entirely. She quivers when she comes near me.

Dr. Herdal: Why on earth don't you tell your wife the rights of it?

Solness: Because I seem to find a sort of—of salutary self-sacrifice in allowing Aline to do me an injustice. It's like paying off a little bit of a huge, immeasurable debt I owe her. Oh, I know she thinks I'm ill—crazy. And, I think, so do you.

Dr. Herdal: And what then?

Solness: Then I dare say you fancy I'm an extremely happy man—Solness, the master builder!

Dr. Herdal: You've certainly had luck on your side. First of all, the home of your wife's family was burnt down for you. A great grief to her—but you rose on the ruins. Yes, you've had luck.

Solness: But luck must turn. The younger generation will come knocking at my door. Then there's an end of Halvard Solness, the master builder. (A knock at the door. Starts.) What's that?

Dr. Herdal: Someone is knocking at the door.

Solness (loudly): Come in!

[Hilda Wangel enters. She is dressed in a tourist costume, skirt caught up for walking, and carries a knapsack and alpenstock.

Hilda: You don't recognise me?

Solness (doubtfully): No. I must admit that—just for the moment.

Dr. Herdal: But I recognise you, Miss Wangel.

Solness: Wangel? You must be the doctor's daughter up at Lysanger?

Hilda: Yes. Who else's daughter should I be?

[Solness calls in his wife, an old friend of Miss Wangel's. Hilda asks leave to stay the night. Mrs. Solness consents amiably. She and the doctor go out. Hilda and Solness alone.

Hilda: Mr. Solness, have you a bad memory?

Solness: Not that I'm aware of.

Hilda: Don't you remember what happened up at Lysanger?

Solness: It was nothing much, was it?

Hilda: How can you say that? Don't you remember how you climbed the new church tower when it was finished, and hung a great wreath on the weather-cock; and how I stood with the other white-frocked schoolgirls and screamed, "Hurrah for Mr. Solness?" And you sang up there—like harps in the air! And afterwards you kissed me, kissed me and said in ten years I'd be your princess, and you'd come back and give me a castle in Spain—a kingdom—

Solness (open-mouthed): I did?

Hilda: Yes, you. Well, the ten years are up to-day. I want my kingdom! Out with my kingdom, Mr. Solness! On the table!

Solness: But, seriously, what do you want to do here?

Hilda: I don't want that stupid imaginary kingdom—I've set my heart upon quite a different one.

Solness (gazing at her): I seem—it's strange—to have gone about all these years torturing myself with the effort to recover something—some experience which I seem to have forgotten. What a good thing it is that you have come to me now. I'd begun to be so afraid—so terribly afraid of the younger generation. One day they'll thunder at my door.

Hilda: Then I'd go out and open it. Let them come in to you on friendly terms, as it were.

Solness: No, no, no! The younger generation—it means retribution.

Hilda (with quivering lips): Can I be of any use to you, Mr. Solness?

Solness: Yes, you can. For you, too, come—under a new banner, it seems to me. Youth marshalled against  youth! You are the very one I have most needed.

Hilda (with happy, wondering eyes): Oh, heavens, how lovely!

Solness: What?

Hilda: Then I have my kingdom!

Solness (involuntarily): Hilda!

Hilda (with quivering lips): Almost—I was going to say.

[She goes out. Solness follows her.

Act II

Scene.A small drawing-room in the house of Solness. Solness is examining Ragnar Brovik's drawings. Mrs. Solness is attending to her flowers.

Solness: Is she still asleep?

Mrs. Solness (looking at him): Is it Miss Wangel you are sitting there thinking about? She was up long ago.

Solness: Oh, was she? So we've found a use for one of our three nurseries, after all, Aline, now that Hilda occupies one of them.

Mrs. Solness: Yes, we have. Their emptiness is dreadful.

Solness: We'll get on far better after this, Aline. Things will be easier.

Mrs. Solness: Because she has come?

Solness (checking himself): I mean when once we've moved into our new house. It's for your sake I've built it.

Mrs. Solness: You do far too much for me.

Solness: I can't bear to hear you say that. Stick to what I said. Things 'll be easier in the new place.

Mrs. Solness (lamenting): Oh heavens, easier! Halvard, you can never build up a real home again for me. This is no home; It will be just as desolate, as empty there as here.

[Hilda Wangel comes in.

Hilda: Good-morning, Mr. Solness!

Solness (nods): Slept well?

Hilda: Deliciously! As if in a cradle. Oh, I lay and stretched myself like—like a princess. But I dreamed I was falling over a precipice. It's tremendously thrilling when you fall and fall——

Mrs. Solness (ready to go out): I must go into town now, Halvard. (To Hilda) And I'll try to get one or two things that may be of use to you.

Hilda: Oh, you dear, sweet Mrs. Solness. You're frightfully kind——

Mrs. Solness: It's only my duty.

[Mrs. Solness goes out.

Hilda: What made her say that about her duty? Doesn't it sting you?

Solness: H'm! Haven't thought much about it.

Hilda: Yes it does. Why should she talk in that way? She might have said something really warm and cordial, you understand.

Solness: Is that how you'd like to have it?

Hilda: Yes, precisely. (She wanders over to the table and looks over Ragnar's portfolio of drawings.) Are all these drawings yours?

Solness: No; they're drawn by a young man I employ.

Hilda (sits down): Then I suppose he's frightfully clever.

Solness: Oh, he's not bad, for my purpose.

Hilda: I can't understand why you should be so stupid as to go about teaching people. No one but yourself should be allowed to build.

Solness: I keep brooding on that very thought. (Calling her to the window) Look over there; that's my new house.

Hilda: It seems to have a tremendously high tower. Are there nurseries in that house, too?

Solness: Three—as there are here. But there will never be any child in them. We have had children, Aline and I, but we didn't keep them long, our two little boys. The fright Aline got when our old house was burnt down affected her health, and she failed to rear them. Yet that fire made me. I built no more churches; but cosy, comfortable homes for human beings. But my position as an artist has been paid for in Aline's happiness. I could have prevented that fire by seeing to a flue. But I didn't. And yet the flue didn't actually cause the fire. Yet it was my fault in a certain sense.

Hilda: I'm afraid you must be—ill.

Solness: I don't think I'll ever be quite of sound mind on that point.

[Ragnar enters, and begs a few kind words about his drawings to cheer his father, who is dying. Solness dismisses him almost brutally, and bids him never think of building on his own account.

Hilda (when Ragnar has gone): That was horribly ugly—and hard and bad and cruel as well.

Solness: Oh, you don't understand my position, which I've paid so dear for. (Confidentially) Hilda, don't you agree with me that there exists special chosen people, who have the power of desiring, craving a thing, until at last it has to happen? And aren't there helpers and servers who must do their part too? But they never come of themselves. One has to call them very persistently, inwardly. So the fire happened conveniently for me; but the two little boys and Aline were sacrificed. She will never be the woman she longed to be.

Hilda: I believe you have a sickly conscience. I should like your conscience to be thoroughly robust.

Solness: Is yours robust?

Hilda: I think it is.

Solness: I think the Vikings had robust consciences. And the women they used to carry off had robust consciences, too. They often wouldn't leave their captors  on any account.

Hilda: These women I can understand exceedingly well.

Solness: Could you come to love a man like that?

Hilda: One can't choose whom one's going to love.

Solness: Hilda, there's something of the bird of prey in you!

Hilda: And why not? Why shouldn't I go a-hunting as well as the rest? Tell me, Mr. Solness, have you never called me to you—inwardly, you know?

Solness (softly): I almost think I must have.

Hilda: What did you want with me?

Solness: You are the younger generation, Hilda.

Hilda: Which you fear so much——

Solness: Towards which, in my heart, I yearn so deeply.

[In the next scene Hilda compels Solness to write a few kind words on Ragnar's drawings, and send them to Brovik. He entrusts the portfolio to Kaia, and thereupon dismisses her and Ragnar from his service. Mrs. Solness re-enters.

Mrs. Solness: Are you really dismissing them, Halvard?

Solness: Yes.

Mrs. Solness: Her as well?

Solness: Wasn't that what you wished?

Mrs. Solness: But how can you get on without her——? Oh, no doubt you've someone else in reserve, Halvard.

Hilda (playfully): Well, I for one am not the person to stand at that desk.

Solness: Never mind, never mind. It'll be all right, Aline. Now for moving into our new home—as quickly as we can. This evening we'll hang up the wreath—right on the pinnacle of the tower. What do you say to that, Hilda?

Hilda (with sparkling eyes): It'll be splendid to see you up so high once more. Mrs. Solness: For heaven's sake, don't, Miss Wangel. My husband!—when he always gets so dizzy.

Hilda: He—dizzy? I've seen him with my own eyes at the top of a high church tower.

Mrs. Solness: Impossible!

Solness: True, all the same.

Mrs. Solness: You, who can't even go out on the second-floor balcony?

Solness: You will see something different this evening.

Mrs. Solness: You're ill, you're ill! I'll write at once to the doctor. Oh, God, Oh, God!

[She goes out.

Hilda: Don't tell me my master builder daren't, cannot climb as high as he builds. You promised me a kingdom, and then you went and—well! Don't tell me you can ever be dizzy!

Solness: This evening, then, we'll hang up the wreath, Princess Hilda.

Hilda (bitterly): Over your new home—yes.

Solness: Over the new house, which will never be a home for me.

Hilda (looks straight in front of her with a far-away expression, and whispers to herself. The only words audible are): Frightfully thrilling——

Act III

Scene.A large, broad verandah attached to Solness's dwelling-house. A flight of steps leads down to the garden below. Far to the right, among the trees, is a glimpse of the new villa, with scaffolding round the tower. Evening sky, with sun-lit clouds.

Mrs. Solness: Have you been round the garden, Miss Wangel?

Hilda: Yes, and I've found heaps of flowers.

Mrs. Solness: Are there, really? You see, I seldom go there. I don't feel that it is mine any longer. They've parcelled it out and built houses for strangers, who can look in upon me from their windows.

Hilda: Mrs. Solness—may I stay here with you a little?

Mrs. Solness: Yes, by all means, if you care to; but I thought you wanted to go in to my husband—to help him?

Hilda: No, thanks. Besides, he's not in. He's with the men over there. He looked so fierce, I didn't dare to talk to him.

Mrs. Solness: He's so kind and gentle in reality.

Hilda: He———

Mrs. Solness: You don't really know him yet, Miss Wangel.

Hilda: Are you pleased about the new house?

Mrs. Solness: It's what Halvard wants. It's simply my duty to submit myself to him.

Hilda: That must be difficult, indeed, when one has gone through so much as you have—the loss of your two little boys———

Mrs. Solness: One must bow to Providence and be thankful, too.

[Dr. Herdal enters and goes in again with Mrs. Solness. She wishes to talk to him about her husband's mad scheme. As they go Solness enters.

Solness: Poor Aline! I suppose she was talking about the two little boys? (Hilda shudders) Poor Aline, she will never get over it.

Hilda: I am going away.

Solness: I won't allow you to. I wish you simply to be here, Hilda.

Hilda: Oh, thank you. You know it wouldn't end there. That's why I'm going. You have duties to her. Live for those duties.

Solness: Too late! Those powers—devils, if you will!—and the troll within me as well, have drawn the life-blood out of her. I'm chained alive to a dead woman!—(in wild anguish) I—I, who cannot live without joy in life.

Hilda: What will you build next?

Solness (shaking his head): Not much more.

Hilda (with an outburst): Oh, it seems all so foolish—not to be able to grasp your own happiness, merely because someone you know happens to stand in the way——

Solness: If only one had the Viking spirit in life——

Hilda: And the other thing? What was that?

Solness: A robust conscience.

Hilda (radiant): I know what you're going to build next.

Solness: What?

Hilda: The castle—my castle. Build it for me this moment. The ten years are up. Out with my castle, Mr. Solness! It shall stand on a very great height, so that I can see far—far around. We shall build—we two together—the very loveliest thing in all the world!

Solness: Hilda, tell me what it is.

Hilda: Builders are such very, very stupid people——

Solness: No doubt—but tell me what we two are to build together?

Hilda: Castles in the air! So easy to build (scornfully), especially for builders who have a—a dizzy conscience.

Solness: We shall build one—with a firm foundation. (Ragnar enters with the wreath) Have you brought the wreath, Ragnar? Then I suppose your father's better? Wasn't he cheered by what I wrote him?

Ragnar: It came too late—he was unconscious. He had had a stroke.

Solness: Go home to him. Give me the wreath.

Ragnar: You don't mean that you yourself—no—I'll stop.

Hilda: Mr. Solness, I will stand here and look at you.

[Solness takes the wreath and goes down through the garden. Mrs. Solness, in an agony of apprehension, re-enters and sends Ragnar to fetch her husband back from the new building. She returns indoors.

Solness (re-entering): Oh, it's you, Hilda! I was afraid it was Aline or the doctor that wanted me.

Hilda: You're easily frightened. They say you're afraid to climb about scaffoldings. Is it true you're afraid?

Solness: Not of death—but—of retribution.

Hilda: I don't understand that.

Solness: Sit down, and I'll tell you something. You know I began by building churches. I'd been piously brought up. I thought it was the noblest task, pleasing to Him for Whom churches are built. Then up at Lysanger I understood that He meant me to have no love and happiness of my own, but just to be a master builder for Him all my life long. That was why He took my little children! Then, that day, I did the impossible. I was able to climb up to a great height. As I stood hanging the wreath on the vane, I cried, "O Mighty One, I will be a free builder—I, too, in my sphere as Thou in Thine. I will build no more churches for Thee—only homes for human beings." But that is not worth six-pence, Hilda.

Hilda: Then you will never build anything more?

Solness: On the contrary, I'm just going to begin—the only possible dwelling-place for human happiness———

Hilda: Our castles in the air.

Solness: Our castles in the air—yes.

Hilda: Then let me see you stand free and high up (passionately). I will have you do it—just once more, Mr. Solness. Do the impossible, once again.

Solness: If I do, I will talk to Him once again up there—"Mighty Lord, henceforth I will build nothing but the loveliest thing in the world."

Hilda (carried away): Yes—yes—yes! My lovely, lovely castle! My castle in the air!

[The others go out upon the verandah. The band of the Masons' Union is heard. Ragnar tells Solness that the foreman is ready to go up with the wreath. Solness goes out. The others watch eagerly.

Dr. Herdal: There goes the foreman up the ladder.

Ragnar: Why, but it's———

Hilda (jubilant): It's the master builder himself.

Mrs. Solness: Oh, my God! Halvard, Halvard! I must go to him!

Dr. Herdal (holding her): Don't move, any of you. Not a sound.

Ragnar: I feel as if I were looking at something utterly impossible.

Hilda (ecstatically): It is the impossible that he is doing now. Can you see anyone else up there with him? There is One he is striving with. I hear a song—a mighty song. He is waving to us. Oh, wave back. Hurrah for Master Builder Solness!

[The shout is taken up. Then a shriek of horror. A human body, with planks and pieces of wood, is vaguely seen crashing down behind the trees.

Hilda: My Master Builder!

A Voice: Mr. Solness is dead. He fell right into the quarry.

Ragnar: So, after all, he could not do it.

Hilda: But he mounted right up to the top. And I heard harps in the air. (Waves her shawl, and shrieks with wild intensity) My—my Master Builder!