Romantic remains: Ibsen's decadence, with and against Georg Lukács


  • Olivia Noble Gunn Norwegian and Scandinavian Area Studies at Pacfic Lutheran University



Georg Lukács, Decadence, Neo-romanticism, Realism, Ideology


This article emerges from two big questions: Who is Lukács’s Ibsen? and How does he fit into Lukács’s understanding of the history of bourgeois literature? Although many critics have insisted on Ibsen’s (counter)romanticism, Lukács locates Ibsen – whom he calls a romantic à rebours – more decisively in the “era of decay.” Of course, themes of degeneration are common in Ibsen’s plays and covered extensively by the scholarship, but Ibsen himself is infrequently described as decadent (in Nordau, he is “a mystic and an ego-maniac”). Even less often does one assert that Ibsen’s realism was subject to some form of late 19th century degeneration. In order to better understand what decadence can mean in the case of Ibsen, I consider Lukács’s readings of The Wild Duck and When We Dead Awaken. I then offer my own reading of When We Dead Awaken and, via that reading, my own definition of Ibsen’s decadence. At stake is a more comparative (and less idealized) understanding of what makes Ibsen’s drama modern.

Author Biography

Olivia Noble Gunn, Norwegian and Scandinavian Area Studies at Pacfic Lutheran University

Olivia Noble Gunn ( is Visiting Assistant Professor of Norwegian and Scandinavian Area Studies at Pacfic Lutheran University. She completed her PhD in comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, in June 2012. Her research interests and specializations include Scandinavian and Francophone neo-romanticisms (Decadence, Symbolism, etc.), European culture at the fin de siècle, literary expatriation and cosmopolitanism, modern drama, queer theory and feminism, deconstruction, avant-garde performance and performance theory




How to Cite

Gunn, Olivia Noble. 2015. “Romantic remains: Ibsen’s decadence, with and against Georg Lukács”. Nordlit, no. 34 (February):129–139.