Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Title: A Doll’s House
Author: Ibsen, Henrik
Length: 80 pages
Genre: Fiction, Play
Publisher / Year: Dover Thrift Editions / 1992
Original Published: In 1896 as Et dukkehjem (in Norwegian)
Translated by: Bartholomew House
Source: My shelf (I’ve had it for a few years).
Why I Read It: This is our March selection for the Year of Feminist Classics project.
Date Read: 15/03/11
Emily is leading this month and wrote a fantastic introduction to the discussion earlier this month. From that there has been a lot of discussion generated about the introductions found in the different editions and what different things can be found in them. My own copy has only a half page note, though I did find it helpful. I especially liked the following line:
Although social and artistic developments have lessened the shock value of A Doll’s House, it still retains power in its description of material dependency in affairs of the “heart” and in its forceful demonstration of the ways in which role-playing and expectation in human relationships can stifle an individual’s inner reality.
I thought the quote really highlights how relevant the play is. It reminds us all that we have to be careful ourselves not to become Nora’s and become simply shades of what we could be. We have to strive continually to learn ourselves in the same way that Nora realizes that she does. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here.
A Doll’s House is a play about what seems like a very happily married couple. Torvald has just received a fantastic new job, Nora flits around playing with him and the children, and they seem devoted to one another. As the play progresses, however, we realize that Nora isn’t as empty-headed and silly as she seems to be – she is simply playing a role for her husband, acting as he wishes her to. From sneaking chocolates to the bigger revelation that we hear, Nora truly has her own mind under all of the prettiness.
I love how Nora realizes at the end that all has been a sham. Her gradual coming to her senses, Torvald’s sense of unease and incomprehension, it works so well in print, though I’d love to see it performed as well. As Nora realizes she also is a human being worthy of her own attention, I love the following exchange:
Torvald: Before all else you are a wife and mother.
Nora: I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before else I am a reasonable human being just as you are – or, at all events, that I must try and become one.
In this respect, how Nora feels she has to put herself first and understand herself before she can focus on being a wife and mother, the play would still be shocking today to many. As the introduction points out, still a concern and still shocking, and something we still have to work toward achieving – a place where it isn’t ‘selfish’ for a wife and mother want time to herself.
I had read this play previously but reading it again with the participants of the Year of Feminist Classics project has really made me appreciate it so much more. I’m glad we chose this one. I hope that you’ll join with us and read the play as well. The discussion so far has been fantastic.