Henrik Ibsen.

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Pillars of Society

A play in four acts.


Henrik Ibsen

Translated by R. Farquharson Sharp


Karsten Bernick, a shipbuilder.
Mrs. Bernick, his wife.
Olaf, their son, thirteen years old.
Martha Bernick, Karsten Bernick's sister.
Johan Tonnesen, Mrs. Bernick's younger brother.
Lona Hessel, Mrs. Bernick's elder half-sister.
Hilmar Tonnesen, Mrs. Bernick's cousin.
Dina Dorf, a young girl living with the Bernicks.
Rorlund, a schoolmaster.
Rummel, a merchant.
Vigeland and Sandstad, tradesman
Krap, Bernick's confidential clerk.
Aune, foreman of Bernick's shipbuilding yard.
Mrs. Rummel.
Hilda Rummel, her daughter.
Mrs. Holt.
Netta Holt, her daughter.
Mrs. Lynge.

Townsfolk and visitors, foreign sailors, steamboat passengers, etc.,

(The action takes place at the Bernicks' house in one of the smaller
coast towns in Norway)


(SCENE. - A spacious garden-room in the BERNICKS' house. In the
foreground on the left is a door leading to BERNICK'S business room;
farther back in the same wall, a similar door. In the middle of the
opposite wall is a large entrance-door, which leads to the street. The
wall in the background is almost wholly composed of plate-glass; a door
in it opens upon a broad flight of steps which lead down to the garden;
a sun-awning is stretched over the steps. Below the steps a part of the
garden is visible, bordered by a fence with a small gate in it. On the
other side of the fence runs a street, the opposite side of which is
occupied by small wooden houses painted in bright colours. It is
summer, and the sun is shining warmly. People are seen, every now and
then, passing along the street and stopping to talk to one another;
others going in and out of a shop at the corner, etc.

In the room a gathering of ladies is seated round a table. MRS. BERNICK
is presiding; on her left side are MRS. HOLT and her daughter NETTA,
and next to them MRS. RUMMEL and HILDA RUMMEL. On MRS. BERNICK'S right
are MRS. LYNGE, MARTHA BERNICK and DINA DORF. All the ladies are busy
working. On the table lie great piles of linen garments and other
articles of clothing, some half finished, and some merely cut out.
Farther back, at a small table on which two pots of flowers and a glass
of sugared water are standing, RORLUND is sitting, reading aloud from a
book with gilt edges, but only loud enough for the spectators to catch
a word now and then. Out in the garden OLAF BERNICK is running about
and shooting at a target with a toy crossbow.

After a moment AUNE comes in quietly through the door on the right.
There is a slight interruption in the reading. MRS. BERNICK nods to him
and points to the door on the left. AUNE goes quietly across, knocks
softly at the door of BERNICK'S room, and after a moment's pause,
knocks again. KRAP comes out of the room, with his hat in his hand and
some papers under his arm.)

Krap: Oh, it was you knocking?

Aune: Mr. Bernick sent for me.

Krap: He did - but he cannot see you. He has deputed me to tell you -

Aune: Deputed you? All the same, I would much rather -

Krap: - deputed me to tell you what he wanted to say to you. You must
give up these Saturday lectures of yours to the men.

Aune: Indeed? I supposed I might use my own time -

Krap: You must not use your own time in making the men useless in
working hours. Last Saturday you were talking to them of the harm that
would be done to the workmen by our new machines and the new working
methods at the yard. What makes you do that?

Aune: I do it for the good of the community.

Krap: That's curious, because Mr. Bernick says it is disorganising the

Aune: My community is not Mr. Bernick's, Mr. Krap! As President of the
Industrial Association, I must -

Krap: You are, first and foremost, President of Mr. Bernick's
shipbuilding yard; and, before everything else, you have to do your
duty to the community known as the firm of Bernick & Co.; that is what
every one of us lives for. Well, now you know what Mr. Bernick had to
say to you.

Aune: Mr. Bernick would not have put it that way, Mr. Krap! But I know
well enough whom I have to thank for this. It is that damned American
boat. Those fellows expect to get work done here the way they are
accustomed to it over there, and that -

Krap: Yes, yes, but I can't go into all these details. You know now
what Mr. Bernick means, and that is sufficient. Be so good as to go
back to the yard; probably you are needed there. I shall be down myself
in a little while. - Excuse me, ladies! (Bows to the ladies and goes
out through the garden and down the street. AUNE goes quietly out to
the right. RORLUND, who has continued his reading during the foregoing
conversation, which has been carried on in low tones, has now come to
the end of the book, and shuts it with a bang.)

Rorlund: There, my dear ladies, that is the end of it.

Mrs. Rummel: What an instructive tale!

Mrs. Holt: And such a good moral!

Mrs. Bernick: A book like that really gives one something to think

Rorlund: Quite so; it presents a salutary contrast to what,
unfortunately, meets our eyes every day in the newspapers and
magazines. Look at the gilded and painted exterior displayed by any
large community, and think what it really conceals! - emptiness and
rottenness, if I may say so; no foundation of morality beneath it. In a
word, these large communities of ours now-a-days are whited sepulchres.

Mrs. Holt: How true! How true!

Mrs. Rummel: And for an example of it, we need look no farther than at
the crew of the American ship that is lying here just now.

Rorlund: Oh, I would rather not speak of such offscourings of humanity
as that. But even in higher circles - what is the case there? A spirit
of doubt and unrest on all sides; minds never at peace, and instability
characterising all their behaviour. Look how completely family life is
undermined over there! Look at their shameless love of casting doubt on
even the most serious truths!

Dina (without looking up from her work): But are there not many big
things done there too?

Rorlund: Big things done - ? I do not understand - .

Mrs. Holt (in amazement): Good gracious, Dina - !

Mrs. Rummel (in the same breath): Dina, how can you - ?

Rorlund: I think it would scarcely be a good thing for us if such "big
things" became the rule here. No, indeed, we ought to be only too
thankful that things are as they are in this country. It is true enough
that tares grow up amongst our wheat here too, alas; but we do our best
conscientiously to weed them out as well as we are able. The important
thing is to keep society pure, ladies - to ward off all the hazardous
experiments that a restless age seeks to force upon us.

Mrs. Holt: And there are more than enough of them in the wind,

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, you know last year we only by a hair's breadth
escaped the project of having a railway here.

Mrs. Bernick: Ah, my husband prevented that.

Rorlund: Providence, Mrs. Bernick. You may be certain that your husband
was the instrument of a higher Power when he refused to have anything
to do with the scheme.

Mrs. Bernick: And yet they said such horrible things about him in the
newspapers! But we have quite forgotten to thank you, Mr. Rorlund. It
is really more than friendly of you to sacrifice so much of your time
to us.

Rorlund: Not at all. This is holiday time, and -

Mrs. Bernick: Yes, but it is a sacrifice all the same, Mr. Rorlund.

Rorlund (drawing his chair nearer): Don't speak of it, my dear lady.
Are you not all of you making some sacrifice in a good cause? - and that
willingly and gladly? These poor fallen creatures for whose rescue we
are working may be compared to soldiers wounded on the field of battle;
you, ladies, are the kind-hearted sisters of mercy who prepare the lint
for these stricken ones, lay the bandages softly on their wounds, heal
them and cure them.

Mrs. Bernick: It must be a wonderful gift to be able to see everything
in such a beautiful light.

Rorlund: A good deal of it is inborn in one - but it can be to a great
extent acquired, too. All that is needful is to see things in the light
of a serious mission in life. (To MARTHA:) What do you say, Miss
Bernick? Have you not felt as if you were standing on firmer ground
since you gave yourself up to your school work?

Martha: I really do not know what to say. There are times, when I am in
the schoolroom down there, that I wish I were far away out on the
stormy seas.

Rorlund: That is merely temptation, dear Miss Bernick. You ought to
shut the doors of your mind upon such disturbing guests as that. By the
"stormy seas" - for of course you do not intend me to take your words
literally - you mean the restless tide of the great outer world, where
so many are shipwrecked. Do you really set such store on the life you
hear rushing by outside? Only look out into the street. There they go,
walking about in the heat of the sun, perspiring and tumbling about
over their little affairs. No, we undoubtedly have the best of it, who
are able to sit here in the cool and turn our backs on the quarter from
which disturbance comes.

Martha: Yes, I have no doubt you are perfectly right.

Rorlund: And in a house like this, in a good and pure home, where
family life shows in its fairest colours - where peace and harmony
rule - (To MRS. BERNICK:) What are you listening to, Mrs. Bernick?

Mrs. Bernick (who has turned towards the door of BERNICK'S room): They
are talking very loud in there.

Rorlund: Is there anything particular going on?

Mrs. Bernick: I don't know. I can hear that there is somebody with my

(HILMAR TONNESEN, smoking a cigar, appears in the doorway on the right,
but stops short at the sight of the company of ladies.)

Hilmar: Oh, excuse me - (Turns to go back.)

Mrs. Bernick: No, Hilmar, come along in; you are not disturbing us. Do
you want something?

Hilmar: No, I only wanted to look in here - Good morning, ladies. (To
MRS. BERNICK:) Well, what is the result?

Mrs. Bernick: Of what?

Hilmar: Karsten has summoned a meeting, you know.

Mrs. Bernick: Has he? What about?

Hilmar: Oh, it is this railway nonsense over again.

Mrs. Rummel: Is it possible?

Mrs. Bernick: Poor Karsten, is he to have more annoyance over that?

Rorlund: But how do you explain that, Mr. Tonnesen? You know that last
year Mr. Bernick made it perfectly clear that he would not have a
railway here.

Hilmar: Yes, that is what I thought, too; but I met Krap, his
confidential clerk, and he told me that the railway project had been
taken up again, and that Mr. Bernick was in consultation with three of
our local capitalists.

Mrs. Rummel: Ah, I was right in thinking I heard my husband's voice.

Hilmar: Of course Mr. Rummel is in it, and so are Sandstad and Michael
Vigeland, "Saint Michael", as they call him.

Rorlund: Ahem!

Hilmar: I beg your pardon, Mr. Rorlund?

Mrs. Bernick: Just when everything was so nice and peaceful.

Hilmar: Well, as far as I am concerned, I have not the slightest
objection to their beginning their squabbling again. It will be a
little diversion, any way.

Rorlund: I think we can dispense with that sort of diversion.

Hilmar: It depends how you are constituted. Certain natures feel the
lust of battle now and then. But unfortunately life in a country town
does not offer much in that way, and it isn't given to every one to
(turns the leaves of the book RORLUND has been reading). "Woman as the
Handmaid of Society." What sort of drivel is this?

Mrs. Bernick: My dear Hilmar, you must not say that. You certainly have
not read the book.

Hilmar: No, and I have no intention of reading it, either.

Mrs. Bernick: Surely you are not feeling quite well today.

Hilmar: No, I am not.

Mrs. Bernick: Perhaps you did not sleep well last night?

Hilmar: No, I slept very badly. I went for a walk yesterday evening for
my health's sake; and I finished up at the club and read a book about a
Polar expedition. There is something bracing in following the
adventures of men who are battling with the elements.

Mrs. Rummel: But it does not appear to have done you much good, Mr.

Hilmar: No, it certainly did not. I lay all night tossing about, only
half asleep, and dreamt that I was being chased by a hideous walrus.

Olaf (who meanwhile has come up the steps from the garden): Have you
been chased by a walrus, uncle?

Hilmar: I dreamt it, you duffer! Do you mean to say you are still
playing about with that ridiculous bow? Why don't you get hold of a
real gun?

Olaf: I should like to, but -

Hilmar: There is some sense in a thing like that; it is always an
excitement every time you fire it off.

Olaf: And then I could shoot bears, uncle. But daddy won't let me.

Mrs. Bernick: You really mustn't put such ideas into his head, Hilmar.

Hilmar: Hm! It's a nice breed we are educating up now-a-days, isn't
it! We talk a great deal about manly sports, goodness knows - but we
only play with the question, all the same; there is never any serious
inclination for the bracing discipline that lies in facing danger
manfully. Don't stand pointing your crossbow at me, blockhead - it might
go off!

Olaf: No, uncle, there is no arrow in it.

Hilmar: You don't know that there isn't - there may be, all the same.
Take it away, I tell you! - Why on earth have you never gone over to
America on one of your father's ships? You might have seen a buffalo
hunt then, or a fight with Red Indians.

Mrs. Bernick: Oh, Hilmar - !

Olaf: I should like that awfully, uncle; and then perhaps I might meet
Uncle Johan and Aunt Lona.

Hilmar: Hm! - Rubbish.

Mrs. Bernick: You can go down into the garden again now, Olaf.

Olaf: Mother, may I go out into the street too?

Mrs. Bernick: Yes, but not too far, mind.

(OLAF runs down into the garden and out through the gate in the fence.)

Rorlund: You ought not to put such fancies into the child's head, Mr.

Hilmar: No, of course he is destined to be a miserable stay-at-home,
like so many others.

Rorlund: But why do you not take a trip over there yourself?

Hilmar: I? With my wretched health? Of course I get no consideration on
that account. But putting that out of the question, you forget that one
has certain obligations to perform towards the community of which one
forms a part. There must be some one here to hold aloft the banner of
the Ideal. - Ugh, there he is shouting again!

The Ladies: Who is shouting?

Hilmar: I am sure I don't know. They are raising their voices so loud
in there that it gets on my nerves.

Mrs. Bernick: I expect it is my husband, Mr. Tonnesen. But you must
remember he is so accustomed to addressing large audiences.

Rorlund: I should not call the others low-voiced, either.

Hilmar: Good Lord, no! - not on any question that touches their
pockets. Everything here ends in these petty material considerations.

Mrs. Bernick: Anyway, that is a better state of things than it used to
be when everything ended in mere frivolity.

Mrs. Lynge: Things really used to be as bad as that here?

Mrs. Rummel: Indeed they were, Mrs. Lynge. You may think yourself lucky
that you did not live here then.

Mrs. Holt: Yes, times have changed, and no mistake, when I look back
to the days when I was a girl.

Mrs. Rummel: Oh, you need not look back more than fourteen or fifteen
years. God forgive us, what a life we led! There used to be a Dancing
Society and a Musical Society -

Mrs. Bernick: And the Dramatic Club. I remember it very well.

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that was where your play was performed, Mr. Tonnesen.

Hilmar (from the back of the room): What, what?

Rorlund: A play by Mr. Tonnesen?

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it was long before you came here, Mr. Rorlund. And it
was only performed once.

Mrs. Lynge: Was that not the play in which you told me you took the
part of a young man's sweetheart, Mrs. Rummel?

Mrs. Rummel (glancing towards RORLUND): I? I really cannot remember,
Mrs. Lynge. But I remember well all the riotous gaiety that used to go

Mrs. Holt: Yes, there were houses I could name in which two large
dinner-parties were given in one week.

Mrs. Lynge: And surely I have heard that a touring theatrical company
came here, too?

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that was the worst thing of the lot.

Mrs. Holt (uneasily): Ahem!

Mrs. Rummel: Did you say a theatrical company? No, I don't remember
that at all.

Mrs. Lynge: Oh yes, and I have been told they played all sorts of mad
pranks. What is really the truth of those stories?

Mrs. Rummel: There is practically no truth in them, Mrs. Lynge.

Mrs. Holt: Dina, my love, will you give me that linen?

Mrs. Bernick (at the same time): Dina, dear, will you go and ask
Katrine to bring us our coffee?

Martha: I will go with you, Dina. (DINA and MARTHA go out by the
farther door on, the left.)

Mrs. Bernick (getting up): Will you excuse me for a few minutes? I
think we will have our coffee outside. (She goes out to the verandah
and sets to work to lay a table. RORLUND stands in the doorway talking
to her. HILMAR sits outside, smoking.)

Mrs. Rummel (in a low voice): My goodness, Mrs. Lynge, how you
frightened me!

Mrs. Lynge: I?

Mrs. Holt: Yes, but you know it was you that began it, Mrs. Rummel.

Mrs. Rummel: I? How can you say such a thing, Mrs. Holt? Not a syllable
passed my lips!

Mrs. Lynge: But what does it all mean?

Mrs. Rummel: What made you begin to talk about - ? Think - did you not
see that Dina was in the room?

Mrs. Lynge: Dina? Good gracious, is there anything wrong with - ?

Mrs. Holt: And in this house, too! Did you not know it was Mrs.
Bernick's brother - ?

Mrs. Lynge: What about him? I know nothing about it at all; I am quite
new to the place, you know.

Mrs. Rummel: Have you not heard that - ? Ahem! (To her daughter) Hilda,
dear, you can go for a little stroll in the garden?

Mrs. Holt: You go too, Netta. And be very kind to poor Dina when she
comes back. (HILDA and NETTA go out into the garden.)

Mrs. Lynge: Well, what about Mrs. Bernick's brother?

Mrs. Rummel: Don't you know the dreadful scandal about him?

Mrs. Lynge: A dreadful scandal about Mr. Tonnesen?

Mrs. Rummel: Good Heavens, no. Mr. Tonnesen is her cousin, of course,
Mrs. Lynge. I am speaking of her brother -

Mrs. Holt: The wicked Mr. Tonnesen -

Mrs. Rummel: His name was Johan. He ran away to America.

Mrs. Holt: Had to run away, you must understand.

Mrs. Lynge: Then it is he the scandal is about?

Mrs. Rummel: Yes; there was something - how shall I put it? - there was
something of some kind between him and Dina's mother. I remember it all
as if it were yesterday. Johan Tonnesen was in old Mrs. Bernick's
office then; Karsten Bernick had just come back from Paris - he had not
yet become engaged -

Mrs. Lynge: Yes, but what was the scandal?

Mrs. Rummel: Well, you must know that Moller's company were acting in
the town that winter -

Mrs. Holt: And Dorf, the actor, and his wife were in the company. All
the young men in the town were infatuated with her.

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, goodness knows how they could think her pretty. Well,
Dorf came home late one evening -

Mrs. Holt: Quite unexpectedly.

Mrs. Rummel: And found his - No, really it isn't a thing one can talk

Mrs. Holt: After all, Mrs. Rummel, he didn't find anything, because the
door was locked on the inside.

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, that is just what I was going to say - he found the
door locked. And - just think of it - the man that was in the house had
to jump out of the window.

Mrs. Holt: Right down from an attic window.

Mrs. Lynge: And that was Mrs. Bernick's brother?

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it was he.

Mrs. Lynge: And that was why he ran away to America?

Mrs. Holt: Yes, he had to run away, you may be sure.

Mrs. Rummel: Because something was discovered afterwards that was
nearly as bad; just think - he had been making free with the cash-box...

Mrs. Holt: But, you know, no one was certain of that, Mrs. Rummel;
perhaps there was no truth in the rumour.

Mrs. Rummel: Well, I must say - ! Wasn't it known all over the town? Did
not old Mrs. Bernick nearly go bankrupt as the result of it? However,
God forbid I should be the one to spread such reports.

Mrs. Holt: Well, anyway, Mrs. Dorf didn't get the money, because she -

Mrs. Lynge: Yes, what happened to Dina's parents afterwards?

Mrs. Rummel: Well, Dorf deserted both his wife and his child. But
madam was impudent enough to stay here a whole year. Of course she had
not the face to appear at the theatre any more, but she kept herself by
taking in washing and sewing -

Mrs. Holt: And then she tried to set up a dancing school.

Mrs. Rummel: Naturally that was no good. What parents would trust their
children to such a woman? But it did not last very long. The fine madam
was not accustomed to work; she got something wrong with her lungs and
died of it.

Mrs. Lynge: What a horrible scandal!

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, you can imagine how hard it was upon the Bernicks.
It is the dark spot among the sunshine of their good fortune, as Rummel
once put it. So never speak about it in this house, Mrs. Lynge.

Mrs. Holt: And for heaven's sake never mention the stepsister, either!

Mrs. Lynge: Oh, so Mrs. Bernick has a step-sister, too?

Mrs. Rummel: Had, luckily - for the relationship between them is all
over now. She was an extraordinary person too! Would you believe it,
she cut her hair short, and used to go about in men's boots in bad

Mrs. Holt: And when her step-brother, the black sheep, had gone away,
and the whole town naturally was talking about him - what do you think
she did? She went out to America to him!

Mr. Rummel: Yes, but remember the scandal she caused before she went,
Mrs. Holt.

Mrs. Holt: Hush, don't speak of it.

Mrs. Lynge: My goodness, did she create a scandal too?

Mrs. Rummel: I think you ought to hear it, Mrs. Lynge. Mr. Bernick had
just got engaged to Betty Tonnesen, and the two of them went arm in arm
into her aunt's room to tell her the news -

Mrs. Holt: The Tonnesens' parents were dead, you know -

Mrs. Rummel: When, suddenly, up got Lona Hessel from her chair and
gave our refined and well-bred Karsten Bernick such a box on the ear
that his head swam.

Mrs. Lynge: Well, I am sure I never -

Mrs. Holt: It is absolutely true.

Mrs. Rummel: And then she packed her box and went away to America.

Mrs. Lynge: I suppose she had had her eye on him for herself.

Mrs. Rummel: Of course she had. She imagined that he and she would
make a match of it when he came back from Paris.

Mrs. Holt: The idea of her thinking such a thing! Karsten Bernick - a
man of the world and the pink of courtesy, a perfect gentleman, the
darling of all the ladies...

Mrs. Rummel: And, with it all, such an excellent young man, Mrs.
Holt - so moral.

Mrs. Lynge: But what has this Miss Hessel made of herself in America?

Mrs. Rummel: Well, you see, over that (as my husband once put it) has
been drawn a veil which one should hesitate to lift.

Mrs. Lynge: What do you mean?

Mrs. Rummel: She no longer has any connection with the family, as you
may suppose; but this much the whole town knows, that she has sung for
money in drinking saloons over there -

Mrs. Holt: And has given lectures in public -

Mrs. Rummel: And has published some mad kind of book.

Mrs. Lynge: You don't say so!

Mrs. Rummel: Yes, it is true enough that Lona Hessel is one of the
spots on the sun of the Bernick family's good fortune. Well, now you
know the whole story, Mrs. Lynge. I am sure I would never have spoken
about it except to put you on your guard.

Mrs. Lynge: Oh, you may be sure I shall be most careful. But that poor
child Dina Dorf! I am truly sorry for her.

Mrs. Rummel: Well, really it was a stroke of good luck for her. Think
what it would have meant if she had been brought up by such parents! Of
course we did our best for her, every one of us, and gave her all the
good advice we could. Eventually Miss Bernick got her taken into this

Mrs. Holt: But she has always been a difficult child to deal with. It
is only natural - with all the bad examples she had had before her. A
girl of that sort is not like one of our own; one must be lenient with

Mrs. Rummel: Hush - here she comes. (In a louder voice.) Yes, Dina is
really a clever girl. Oh, is that you, Dina? We are just putting away

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