“A Doll’s House” deals with the position of women in matters of marriage and society in the 19th century. To what extent do you agree that these ideas were ahead of their time? The inspiration for A Doll’s House came from the tragic events that happened to Laura Kieler a young woman Ibsen met in1870. Laura asked Ibsen to comment on a play she was writing and they became close friends. Some time later her husband contracted tuberculosis and was advised to visit a warm climate. Unfortunately they lacked the financial means so she acquired a loan.
Repayment was demanded and Laura had to forge a cheque. This was soon discovered and her husband treated her like a common criminal, despite the fact that she had these actions for his sake. She suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a public asylum. Eventually she begged him to take her back for the sake of the children. Ibsen then began to write A Doll’s House. A Doll’s house was first performed in Copenhagen on the 21st of December 1879. From the very start of the play we are introduced to an attentive, compliant and submissive wife, Nora.Order now
As the play continues the audience begin to see that there is something more to Nora, she is not simply Torvald’s pet, a “little skylark twittering”. My essay will attempt to show that the character of Nora was a very bold one that was not easily digested by the general public. To the audience of the time the play was seen as being outrageously controversial. This is clearly seen be the fact that the ending of the play had to be re-written so that Nora would stay at the final scene. This change was later reversed, a reversal that proved fruitful for the feminist movement.
Ibsen himself did not want to be associated with the feminist of the time. The Norwegian Women’s Rights League held a banquet to pay homage to Ibsen to which the Norwegian playwright Ibsen was guest of honour. In a speech he gave on 26th May 1898 he said “I thank you for the toast but must disclaim the honour of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement. I am not even quite clear as to just what the women’s rights movement really is”1 This quote is best interpreted against the background of Ibsen’s frequently voiced declination to belong to parties or societies of any kind.
I believe that Ibsen was concerned with the state of the human soul as a whole. This “concern” that Ibsen has ultimately cuts across class and gender lines. Ibsen’s wife Suzannah Thoresen Ibsen and her stepmother Magdalene Thoresen were perhaps the catalyst for Ibsen’s conception of strong-willed female characters. These female characters include Svanhild of Love’s Comedy (1862) and perhaps more importantly Nora of A Doll’s House. Magdalene was a writer of novels and dramas and probably the first “New Woman” he had ever met. 2
Perhaps even more important in affecting Ibsen’s attitude toward women was Camilla Collett. Collett is regarded as Norway’s first and most significant feminist. Her novel The District Governors Daughter (1854) attacked the marriage institution because of its neglect of women’s feelings During the 1870’s Ibsen had impassioned conversations with Collett about issues such as marriage and women’s role in society. His great esteem for her is evident in a letter that Ibsen wrote to Collett for her seventieth birthday in 1883 in which he predicts that the future will benefit from her “intellectual pioneer work”.
Later in the letter Ibsen writes of Collett’s long-standing influence on his writings. 3 There are 52 references to doors opening and closing within Ibsen’s play. In closing the door on her husband and children, Nora opened the door to the women’s movement. Gina Krog, a leading Norwegian feminist in the 1880’s and editor of the feminist journal Nyloende, called A Doll’s House and its potential repercussions on how women would be treated a miracle. Amalie Skram was Norway’s foremost naturalist writer and first Norwegian to write about female sexuality openly.
Skram praised the play dramatically and psychologically and she saw that upon seeing the play women would wake up to the injustices committed against them. These feminist beliefs were not restricted to the women of the time. M. J. Faerden, a pastor, preached to his congregation in 1884; “Just as Nora appears in the final scene free and unfettered by any bond, divine or human, without commitment or obligation to the man whom she has given her promise or to the children she has brought into this world- likewise we will find the modern marriage, from beginning to end.
“4 With the above statements from a broad range of Norway’s intellectuals I have come to the conclusion that although Ibsen may have not intended his play and Nora Helmer to become an iconic symbol for feminist’s policies directly it most certainly did have a positive effect on the feminist movement. But were these ideas ahead of their time? It is clear that other people of the time had these beliefs, but these were in great minority to those who did not.
I have come to the deduction that it is a fact that A Doll’s House propelled the feminist beliefs to a wider audience, Ibsen’s audience. It is also of interest that many of the audience of A Doll’s House would have been unaware that they were listening, and more importantly learning, about female oppression through a forth wall perspective. This perspective would have allowed them to analyse their marriage to their partners themselves that could have contributed to the revolution that was to follow. Nora is Ibsen’s most famous emancipated female character.
It is extremely fitting that Nora achieves self-realization occurs by turning her back on her husband and children. Upon first reading the play I thought that the ending was far too dramatic and Nora was portrayed as being cruel to leave the children. Upon closer observation of the play and its setting becoming a parent is traditionally the sign of accomplishing adulthood, as the title suggests marriage and motherhood for Nora has been a kind of Doll like existence. Nora has played with her children just as Torvald and Nora’s “papa” before him, played with her (v, 280-281).