A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen (1879)

A Doll's House - IbsenSince we went to see some local community theater the other day, I thought it might be fun to read another play (especially since my last reading of a play on-line was rather strange). So – I dug up “The Doll’s House” by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen and published in the later nineteenth century.

I hadn’t really realized (or perhaps noticed), but reading a play forces the reader to add most of the details of what is happening in your head. There is solid dialogue to go on, naturally, but the background details – the rooms, the house, the characteristics of each person in the narrative – are vague so it’s rather like reading a blank slate. When I think about it, I suppose that same argument would hold for reading a novel, but it still seems that reading a play is a different and more imaginative experience.

And I don’t say this in a judging way at all – there are great plays as well as great books – but just a different experience to go through. Perhaps I hadn’t really paid attention to this as I don’t have a great deal of reading of plays as background. It was just interesting to note.

ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

Back to the play itself: It’s the story of a middle class family and the wife who has a large unwieldy secret that she needs to keep secret from her controlling husband. (He was one of the more annoying characters that I have come across in a long time. Sorry, Torvald husband guy. You were.) As the play progresses and the audience/reader learns more about the reasons and motivation behind this big secret, Ibsen keeps you guessing what will happen until the third Act when the beans are spilled. It’s a well written critique of women’s roles in the Victorian time in Norway and elsewhere, and this is really what the play is famous for, I believe. Ibsen’s lead female character, Nora, realizes that the only way that she will ever blossom and become who she wishes to be is to leave. Her awful husband, Torvald, is so controlling (and will always be) that she can not see an end – an epiphany that only arrives at the same time as the secret is revealed. (Trying not to give the game away here.)

I think this would be one of the earliest feminist plays, although Ibsen himself argued that he was not really writing about women’s suffrage (on various levels) when he penned this work, but more that he was writing a “description of humanity” and the importance of learning about the world and yourself freely. It’s obvious that this is a message that strikes with many people as this is of most performed plays in history. It’s a quiet play – no loud drama etc. – but it packs a punch in its understated way. I’d love to see this performed somewhere live.

After the slight disaster of my reading of Chekhov’s play (see here), this was a really good read and it was a surprise to me to read about women’s rights in this context. The wife compares her marriage as the husband treating her like a very silly doll, only concerned with looking pretty and raising her children (also ”silly” people in the eyes of moron husband). So she feels that she lives in a “Doll’s House” and thus the title of the work. Her only hope is to leave and to learn things for herself.

This was much better than I had thought it was going to be so I recommend it. (And definitely go to see the play if it’s available as I think would be really good to see.)

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