A Doll's House
|A Doll's House|
Original manuscript cover page, 1879
|Written by||Henrik Ibsen|
|Date premiered||21 December 1879|
|Place premiered||Royal Theatre
in Copenhagen, Denmark
|Subject||The feminist awakening of a good middle-class wife and mother.|
|Genre||Naturalistic / realistic problem play
|Setting||The home of the Helmer family in an unspecified Norwegian town or city, circa 1879.|
A Doll's House (Norwegian: Et dukkehjem; also translated as A Doll House) is a three-act play in prose by Henrik Ibsen. It premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879, having been published earlier that month.
The play is significant for its critical attitude toward 19th century marriage norms. It aroused great controversy at the time, as it concludes with the protagonist, Nora, leaving her husband and children because she wants to discover herself. Ibsen was inspired by the belief that "a woman cannot be herself in modern society," since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint." Its ideas can also be seen as having a wider application: Michael Meyer argued that the play's theme is not women's rights, but rather "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person." In a speech given to the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights in 1898, Ibsen insisted that he "must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women's rights movement," since he wrote "without any conscious thought of making propaganda," his task having been "the description of humanity."
In 2006, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play. UNESCO has inscribed Ibsen's autographed manuscripts of A Doll's House on the Memory of the World Register in 2001, in recognition of their historical value.
- 1 Title
- 2 List of characters
- 3 Synopsis
- 4 Composition and publication
- 5 Production history
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Screen adaptations
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The title of the play is most commonly translated as A Doll's House, though some scholars use A Doll House. John Simon argues that the only significance in the alternative translation is the difference in the way the toy is named in Britain and the United States. Egil Törnqvist argues that the alternative "simply sounds more idiomatic to Americans." See Simon (1991, 55), Törnqvist (1995, 54), and Worthen (2004, 666–691).
List of characters
- Nora Helmer – wife of Torvald, mother of three, living out the ideal of the 19th century wife, but leaves her family at the end of the play.
- Torvald Helmer – Nora's husband, a newly promoted banker, suffocates but professes to be enamoured of his wife.
- Dr. Rank – Rich family friend, who is secretly in love with Nora. He is terminally ill, and it is implied that his "tuberculosis of the spine" originates from a venereal disease contracted by his father.
- Christine Linde – Nora's old school friend, widowed, seeking employment (named Kristine in the original Norwegian text).
- Nils Krogstad – Employee at Torvald's bank, single father, pushed to desperation. A supposed scoundrel, he is revealed to be a long-lost lover of Christine.
- The Children – Ivar, Bobby and Emmy
- Anne Marie – Nora's former nanny, now cares for the children.
- Helene – The Helmers' maid
- The Porter – Delivers a Christmas Tree to the Helmer household at the beginning of the play.
The play opens at Christmas time as Nora Helmer enters her home carrying a number of packages. Nora's husband Torvald is working in his study when she arrives. He playfully rebukes her for spending so much money on Christmas gifts, calling her his "little squirrel". He teases her about how she spent weeks making gifts and ornaments by hand last year because money was scarce. This year Torvald is due a promotion at the bank where he works, so Nora feels that they can let themselves go a little. The maid announces two visitors: Mrs. Christine Linde, an old friend of Nora's, who has come seeking employment, and Dr. Rank, a close friend of the family, who is let into the study. Christine has had a difficult few years, ever since her husband died, leaving her with no money or children. Nora explains that things have not been easy for them either: Torvald became sick and they had to travel to Italy so he could recover. Christine further explains that when her mother was ill, she had had to take care of her brothers, but now that they are grown she feels her life is "unspeakably empty". Nora promises to talk to Torvald about finding her a job. Nora then reveals that she borrowed money so they could travel to Italy. She told Torvald that her father gave her the money, but in fact she managed to illegally borrow it without his knowledge. Over the years she has been secretly working to pay it on.
Krogstad, a lower-level employee at Torvald's bank arrives and goes into the study. Nora is uneasy when she sees him. Dr. Rank leaves the study and mentions that he feels wretched, though, like everyone, he wants to go on living. In contrast to his physical illness, he says that the man in the study, Krogstad, is "morally diseased".
After the meeting with Krogstad, Torvald comes out of the study. Nora asks him if he can give Christine a position at the bank and Torvald is very positive, saying that this is a fortunate moment, as a position has just become available. Torvald, Linde and Dr. Rank leave the house, leaving Nora alone. The nanny returns with the children and Nora plays with them for a while until Krogstad creeps into the living room and surprises her. Krogstad tells Nora that Torvald intends to fire him at the bank and asks her to intercede with Torvald to allow him to keep his job. She refuses and Krogstad threatens to blackmail her about the loan she took out for the trip to Italy; he knows that she obtained this loan by forging her father's signature. Krogstad leaves and when Torvald returns she tries to convince him not to fire Krogstad. Torvald refuses to hear her pleas, explaining that Krogstad is a liar and a hypocrite and that he committed a terrible crime: he forged someone's name. Torvald feels physically ill in his presence of a man "poisoning his own children with lies and dissimulation".
Christine arrives to help Nora repair a dress for a costume party that she and Torvald plan to attend the next day. Torvald returns from the bank, and Nora pleads with him to reinstate Krogstad, claiming she is worried Krogstad will publish libelous articles about Torvald and ruin his career. Torvald dismisses her fears and explains that, although Krogstad is a good worker and seems to have turned his life around, he must be fired because he is not deferential enough to Torvald in front of other bank personnel. Torvald then retires to study his work.
Dr. Rank, a family friend, arrives. Nora asks him for a favour, but Rank responds by revealing that he has entered the terminal stage of tuberculosis of the spine (a contemporary euphemism for syphilis) and that he has always been secretly in love with her. Nora tries to deny the first revelation and make light of it but is more disturbed by his declaration of love. She tries clumsily to tell him that she is not in love with him but that she loves him dearly as a friend.
Desperate after being fired by Torvald, Krogstad arrives at the house. Nora convinces Dr. Rank to go into Torvald's study so he will not see Krogstad. When Krogstad confronts Nora, he declares that he no longer cares about the remaining balance of Nora's loan, but that he will instead preserve the associated bond in order to blackmail Torvald into not only keeping him employed but also promoting him as well. Nora explains that she has done her best to persuade her husband, but he refuses to change his mind. Krogstad informs Nora that he has written a letter detailing her crime (forging her father's signature of surety on the bond) and put it in Torvald's mailbox, which is locked.
Nora tells Christine of her difficult situation. Christine says that she and Krogstad are still in love and promises to try to convince him to relent.
Torvald enters and tries to retrieve his mail, but Nora distracts him by begging him to help her with the dance she has been rehearsing for the costume party, feigning anxiety about performing. She dances so badly and acts so childishly that Torvald agrees to spend the whole evening coaching her. When the others go to dinner, Nora stays behind for a few minutes and contemplates killing herself to save her husband from the shame of the revelation of her crime and (more importantly) to pre-empt any gallant gesture on his part to save her reputation.
Christine tells Krogstad that she only married her husband because she had no other means to support her sick mother and young siblings and that she has returned to offer him her love again. She believes that he would not have stooped to unethical behavior if he had not been devastated by her abandonment and been in dire financial straits. Krogstad is moved and offers to take back his letter to Torvald. However, Christine decides that Torvald should know the truth for the sake of his and Nora's marriage.
After literally dragging Nora home from the party, Torvald goes to check his mail, but is interrupted by Dr. Rank, who has followed them. Dr. Rank chats for a while, conveying obliquely to Nora that this is a final goodbye, as he has determined that his death is near. Dr. Rank leaves, and Torvald retrieves his letters. As he reads them, Nora steels herself to take her life. Torvald confronts her with Krogstad's letter. Enraged, he declares that he is now completely in Krogstad's power – he must yield to Krogstad's demands and keep quiet about the whole affair. He berates Nora, calling her a dishonest and immoral woman and telling her that she is unfit to raise their children. He says that from now on their marriage will be only a matter of appearances.
A maid enters, delivering a letter to Nora. The letter is from Krogstad, yet Torvald demands to read the letter, taking it from Nora. Torvald exults that he is saved, as Krogstad has returned the incriminating bond, which Torvald immediately burns along with Krogstad's letters. He takes back his harsh words to his wife and tells her that he forgives her. Nora realizes that her husband is not the strong and gallant man she thought he was and that he truly loves himself more than he does her.
Torvald explains that, when a man has forgiven his wife, it makes him love her all the more since it reminds him that she is totally dependent on him, like a child. He dismisses the fact that Nora had to make the agonizing choice between her conscience and his health, and ignores her years of secret efforts to free them from the ensuing obligations and danger of loss of reputation. He preserves his peace of mind by thinking of the incident as a mere mistake that she made owing to her foolishness, one of her most endearing feminine traits.
Nora tells Torvald that she is leaving him to live alone so that she can find out who she is and what she believes and decide what to do with her life. She says that she has been treated like a doll to play with for her whole life, first by her father and then by him. Concerned for the family reputation, Torvald insists that she fulfill her duty as a wife and mother, but Nora says that her first duties are to herself and that she cannot be a good mother or wife without learning to be more than a plaything. She reveals that she had expected that he would want to sacrifice his reputation for hers and that she had planned to kill herself to prevent him from doing so. She now realizes that Torvald is not at all the kind of person she had believed him to be and that their marriage has been based on mutual fantasies and misunderstanding.
Torvald is unable to comprehend Nora's point of view, since it contradicts all that he has been taught about the female mind throughout his life. Furthermore, he is so narcissistic that it is impossible for him to understand how he appears to her, as selfish, hypocritical and more concerned with public reputation than with actual morality. Nora leaves her keys and wedding ring and, as Torvald breaks down and begins to cry, baffled by what has happened, Nora leaves the house, slamming the door behind herself. She never comes back again.
Ibsen's German agent felt that the original ending would not play well in German theatres; therefore, for it to be considered acceptable, Ibsen was forced to write an alternative ending for the German premiere. In this ending, Nora is led to her children after having argued with Torvald. Seeing them, she collapses, and the curtain is brought down. Ibsen later called the ending a disgrace to the original play and referred to it as a 'barbaric outrage'.
Composition and publication
A Doll's House was based on the life of Laura Kieler (maiden name Laura Smith Petersen), a good friend of Ibsen. Much that happened between Nora and Torvald happened to Laura and her husband, Victor. Much like the play, Laura signs the illegal loan in order to save her husband. She wants the money to find a cure for her husband's tuberculosis. She had penned him to ask for his recommendation of her work to his publisher. She thought the sales of her book would repay her debt. At his refusal, she forged a check for the money. At this point she was found out. In real life, when Victor discovered about Laura's secret loan, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Two years later, she returned to her husband and children at his urging, and she went on to become a well-known Danish author, living to the age of 83.
Ibsen wrote A Doll's House at the point when Laura Kieler had been committed to the asylum, and the fate of this friend of the family shook him deeply, perhaps also because Laura had asked him to intervene at a crucial point in the scandal, which he did not feel able or willing to do. Instead, he turned this life situation into an aesthetically shaped, successful drama. In the play, Nora leaves Torvald with head held high, though facing an uncertain future given the limitations single women faced in the society of the time.
Ibsen started thinking about the play around May 1878, although he did not begin its first draft until a year later, having reflected on the themes and characters in the intervening period (he visualised its protagonist, Nora, for instance, as having approached him one day wearing "a blue woolen dress"). He outlined his conception of the play as a "modern tragedy" in a note written in Rome on 19 October 1878. "A woman cannot be herself in modern society," he argues, since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint."
Ibsen sent a fair copy of the completed play to his publisher on 15 September 1879. It was first published in Copenhagen on 4 December 1879, in an edition of 8,000 copies that sold out within a month; a second edition of 3,000 copies followed on 4 January 1880 and a third edition of 2,500 was issued on 8 March.
A Doll's House received its world premiere on 21 December 1879 at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Betty Hennings as Nora and Emil Poulsen as Torvald. Writing for the Norwegen newspaper Folkets Avis, the critic Erik Bøgh admired Ibsen's originality and technical mastery: "Not a single declamatory phrase, no high dramatics, no drop of blood, not even a tear." Every performance of its run was sold out. Another production opened at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden, on 8 January 1880, while productions in Christiania (with Johanne Juell as Nora and Arnoldus Reimers as Torvald) and Bergen followed shortly after.
In Germany, the actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to perform the play as written, declaring that "I would never leave my children!" Since the playwright's wishes were not protected by copyright, Ibsen decided to avoid the danger of being re-written by a lesser dramatist by committing what he called a "barbaric outrage" on his play himself and giving it an alternative ending in which Nora did not leave. A production of this version opened in Flensburg in February 1880. This version was also played in Hamburg, Dresden, Hanover, and Berlin, although, in the wake of protests and a lack of success, Niemann-Raabe eventually restored the original ending. Another production of the original version, some rehearsals of which Ibsen attended, opened on 3 March 1880 at the Residenz Theatre in Munich.
In Great Britain, the only way in which the play was initially allowed to be given in London was in an adaptation by Henry Arthur Jones and Henry Herman called Breaking a Butterfly. This adaptation was produced at the Princess Theatre, 3 March 1884. The first British production of the play in its regular form opened on 7 June 1889 at the Novelty Theatre, starring Janet Achurch as Nora and Charles Carrington as Torvald. Achurch played Nora again for a 7-day run in 1897. Soon after its London premiere, Achurch brought the play to Australia in 1889.
The play was first seen in America when, during 1883, in Louisville, Kentucky, Helena Modjeska acted Nora. The play made its Broadway premiere at the Palmer's Theatre on 21 December 1889, starring Beatrice Cameron as Nora Helmer.
It was first performed in France in 1894.
Other productions in the United States include one in 1902 starring Minnie Maddern Fiske and a 1971 production starring Claire Bloom. A 1973 production starred Liv Ullmann and a 1997 production starred Janet McTeer at the Belasco Theater, which received three Tony Awards and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play.
A Doll's House criticises the traditional roles of men and women in 19th-century marriage. To many 19th-century Europeans, this was scandalous. The Swedish playwright August Strindberg attacked the play in his volume of short stories Getting Married (1884). Nothing was considered more holy than the covenant of marriage, and to portray it in such a way was completely unacceptable; however, a few more open-minded critics such as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw found Ibsen's willingness to examine society without prejudice exhilarating. In Germany, the production's lead actress refused to play the part of Nora unless Ibsen changed the ending, which, under pressure, he eventually did. In the alternative ending, Nora gives her husband another chance after he reminds her of her responsibility to their children. This ending proved unpopular and Ibsen later regretted his decision on the matter. Virtually all productions today, however, use the original ending, as do nearly all of the film versions of this play, including Dariush Mehrjui's Sara (the Argentine version, made in 1943 and starring Delia Garcés, does not; it also modernizes the story, setting it in the early 1940s).
Because of the radical departure from traditional behavior and theatrical convention involved in Nora's leaving home, her act of slamming the door as she leaves has come to represent the play itself. One critic noted, "That slammed door reverberated across the roof of the world."
A Doll's House has been adapted for the cinema on many occasions. A 1923 German silent film Nora was directed by Berthold Viertel. Two film versions were released in 1973: one was directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard; and the other by Patrick Garland with Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson. Dariush Mehrjui's film Sara (1993) is based on A Doll's House, with the plot transferred to Iran. Sara, played by Niki Karimi, is the Nora of Ibsen's play. In Calcutta, India, a Bengali version "Putul Khela" was made in the 1950s based on Ibsen's play by Sombhu Mitra, a theatre personality. The Young Vic theatre in London has recently released a short film called Nora Hattie Morahan portraying what a modern day Nora might look like.
There have been several television versions. A 'live' version for American TV was transmitted in 1959 which was directed by George Schaefer. This version featured Julie Harris, Christopher Plummer, Hume Cronyn, Eileen Heckart and Jason Robards. In 1992, David Thacker directed a British television adaptation with Juliet Stevenson, Trevor Eve and David Calder. A 1974 West German television adaptation, titled Nora Helmer was directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starred Margit Carstensen in the title role. A 1938 US radio production starred Joan Crawford as Nora and Basil Rathbone as Torvald. A later US radio version by the Theatre Guild in 1947 featured Rathbone with Wendy Hiller and Catherine Rowan, his co-star from a contemporary Broadway production.
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|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to A Doll's House.|
- Texts and other resources at the Norwegian national library website
- A Doll's House at the Internet Broadway Database
- A Doll's House at the Internet Movie Database
- A Doll’s House: A Study Guide
- A Doll's House at Project Gutenberg
- A Doll's House at Project Gutenberg (alternate edition)
- Original Norwegian Text
- The Social Significance of the Modern Drama, a book by Emma Goldman, contains a chapter on A Doll's House.
- 1946 Theatre Guild on the Air radio adaptation at Internet Archive
- A Doll's House Review for the London production of the play by Simon Stephens.